As I explained when I did it for "Sickle", it is hard to know what level to pitch such an explanation at. A serious enthusiast may want a lot of detail, and is highly likely to already know anything I might say to explain it to those with only a scant knowledge of working boats. As I did for "Sickle" I will try to steer a middle course for those who want to know a bit more than it is a boat about 70 feet long and 7 feet wide, built to carry cargoes. In particular I'll attempt to explain how how it fits in amongst other boats with a similar origin, such as "Flamingo". The next several paragraphs are really little more than a cut and paste, though, due to both boats having similar origins.
In the 1930s, a massive program was under way to try and improve the Grand Union Canal from London to Birmingham with a view to trying to revitalise trade on this canal. Alongside that initiative, a new company called the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company was formed, and after taking over a number of already existing narrow boats, it started an ambitious plan to build large numbers of brand new boats in anticipation of all the new carrying contracts they hoped to secure.
The new boats were still built in line with the then traditional methods, and basic layouts, but also standardised on what were then modern 2-cylinder diesel engines, and provided new facilities like electric lighting. The boats were built theoretically able to carry larger loads than on many existing boats, although ultimately the depth of water available on the routes actually meant that the bigger boats were never loaded near to their theoretical maximum.
|"Sculptor" is a "Star" Class "Small Northwich" built by W J Yarwood & Sons|
|Whereas "Chertsey" is a "Town" Class "Large Woowich" built by Harland & Wolff|
Steel or iron boats were either built by Harland and Wolff at Woolwich, or W. J. Yarwood and Sons at Northwich on the River Weaver. This has led to the boat types having nicknames like "Small Woolwich", (a shallower sided "Star" class boat built by Harland and Wolff) or "Large Northwich", (a deeper sided "Town" class boat built by Yarwoods).
Just to confuse an otherwise neat pattern though, "Sickle" was however a motor boat delivered amongst 8 pairs of the "Star" class boats differed somewhat from the other "Stars". These were all built by Yarwoods of Northwich, in all steel, but with 4' 6" hull sides, being part way between a more typical "Star" and a "Town". But additionally the boats were built with a slight 'V' shape to the bottom, as well as having very rounded "corners", (known as "chines"), at the point that the sides would normally join to the bottom in a more angular way on other boats. Such evidence as is available suggests the "Middle Northwich" boats were probably less used, and the fact that four motors, including "Sickle", were converted to ice boats in 1942, means half the available motors were lost as carrying boats very early on.
|"Flamingo" with steerer Ron Green, Oct 1963 (Photo: Mike Webb)|
|Paired with Beverley (Photo Jon Talbot) - 1965 stated, but believed later|
|Temporarily out of use at Braunston (Photo Hugh McKnight)|
There are good records that show "Letchworth" at work in the 1940s and 1950s, although we have yet to find any pictures. However by the late 1950s narrow boat carrying was very much in decline, and Brtish Waterways were increasingly disposing of surplus craft. In the meantime an independent entrepreneurial carrying company, "Willow Wren", had been formed and was energetically trying to keep the traffics alive, and to seek out new opportunities, which it did with some success. "Letchworth" was one of a batch 8 of motor boats that Willow Wren purchased from British Waterways in 1961, (for just £1,900 for all 8 boats).
|Paired with Beverley, probably about 1968 (Photographer unknown).|
|The doors were painted by Jess Owen (Photo by unknown).|
|Willow Wren colours retained when in use as a trip boat (Photo by unknown)|
Note: I am not in a position to be able to seek permission for all the photos used, even though some are now in my possession as original prints. If anybody objects to the use of any image, or wants a credit added, please send me a message to that effect - thanks.