The Thomas Clayton [Oldbury] Ltd. carrying fleet

An interesting variation from the standard long distance narrowboat came from the long established company of Thomas Clayton of Oldbury.


They operated a fleet of wooden narrow boats especially equipped to carry liquid in bulk – tar, crude oil and creosote. Instead of conventional canvas covers over the hold, each boat was fitted with sealed bulkheads near the bow, stern and centrally, with a permanent weatherproof deck fixed over the hold, thus converting most of the boat into two massive wooden tanks, with shapely ends.

If it was waterproof from the outside it could be presumed to be oil proof from the inside. They were built at a number of different boatyards but were maintained at their own dock at Oldbury.

Because of the preservative nature of much of their cargo, soaking and seeping into the woodwork, several of these old boats still survive, instantly recognisable by their characteristic long unencumbered deck, broken only by some small loading hatches, and all named after British rivers.

Motorboat Ferret
Motorboat Ferret and her dumb butty Ilkeston at Ellesmere Port in 1999 displaying the two different colour schemes that the company wore during its history.

The company carried on trading until 1966 and still had a few horse drawn boats in commission until the end.

Only one Thomas Clayton horseboat now survives in an unconverted condition, the Gifford, restored and maintained by the Boat Museum Society at Ellesmere Port. As one of the society’s basic principles is to keep her in working trim as a travelling museum exhibit, she can be encountered almost anywhere on the narrow canal system, although the museum is her regular home port.

Unconverted Thomas Clayton motorboats still surviving include Dane, Spey, Stour, Tay, Towy*, Severn and Umea. (*Towy had her deck removed in 1965 and has a sheeted up open hold. Thanks to John Parry for the information.)

Fellows Morton & Clayton
FMC motorboat Shad in early British Waterways colour scheme

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