Most of these survivors have been altered or converted to some degree, with extra cabins and home comforts to suit modern sensibilities, but a significant number have been preserved or restored to their original appearance by dedicated enthusiasts. A few even manage to earn a living delivering coal and fuel oil, and attempts are constantly being made to develop new traffics that will again prove the commercial sense of water-borne transport. But the twenty odd ton payload of a Midland canal boat is very small in modern terms, although the bigger barges on the Humber, Thames and Severn rivers might still provide the breakthrough that the waterways need, the renaissance of canal transport. In the meantime we can continue to admire the traditional skills of the boatbuilder in the examples that are left travelling the canals, preserved in museums or tucked away in odd corners of the waterway system.


The variety of styles and sizes of the old working boats is so diverse that the uninitiated visitor, however interested, can become quickly and understandably confused. The intention here is to offer a very general introduction to what is a complicated subject with some broad subdivisions that might help your understanding and enjoyment of our extraordinary waterway history.

canal narrowboats


Canal boats built small enough to travel through the interconnecting Midland waterways.

Fellows Morton Clayton general canal carriers.

Bulk liquid carriers.

Joey day boats & Birmingham Canal Navigation Tugs.

Mersey Weaver flats

Barges & River Craft

Short Boats, fourteen foot beam with round or transom sterns.

Mersey 'flats', deep sided barges about seventy feet long by fourteen feet wide made for estuary work.

Maintenance boats, spoon dredgers, hoppers and icebreakers.

Canal Heritage


Severn Trows and grain barges.

Thames sailing barges and horse drawn barges.

Norfolk Wherries and Fenland Lighters, wind or man powered.

Humber Keels with leeboards & a big square-rigged sail.

Caring for canals

Horse Drawn Boats

A horse pulling a barge is an extremely efficient form of transport.

It needs two people to work a horse drawn boat, one to steer and the other to drive the horse.

The actual work of keeping a loaded boat moving is not particularly hard.

Canal lino print

Canal & River Boat Bibliography

Brief bibliography of canal and river Craft.

Book with illustrations & photos of traditional working boat liveries.

Brightwork was the East Lancashire boatyard term for their decorative paintwork, the subject of a new book.

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