I am enchanted by the narrowboats on the Grand Union Canal near Denham

10 May 2013

We drove to nearby Denham, just to the west of London, to have a look at the narrowboats on the Grand Union Canal. I thought these canal boats looked so cosy!

Morton explained that narrowboats like these were built in the 18th, 19th and 20th century, specifically to transport cargo along the narrow canals of Britain’s inland waterways, where the locks and bridge holes would have a maximum width of 7 feet or 2.1 metres. So these boats cannot be wider than that.

Narrowboats on the Grand Union Canal
Narrowboats on the Grand Union Canal

The first boats were made out of wood, and they were drawn by horses that walked along the towpath at the side of the canal. The first narrowboats were mainly used for cargo, but some were also used to transport passengers, parcels or letters.

A swan glides effortlessly along the canal
A swan glides effortlessly along the canal

Originally, the boatmen and their families lived ashore, but when rents on land became more expensive, and when competition with the railways increased, they began to live on these boats; it also meant that the families could stay together, and work over longer hours and longer distances.

And so does this duck, closely followed by her fluffy yellow ducklings!
And so does this duck Egyptian goose, closely followed by her fluffy yellow ducklings goslings! (Thank  you for correcting my mistake, Sybil.)

In the early 20th century, the horses towing the boats were replaced by diesel and steam engines. The new diesel-powered narrowboats were strong enough to tow a second, unpowered, boat behind them; these were called “butties” or “butty-boats”.

Narrowboats, usually pulled by horses or people on the adjacent towpath, were used to transport cargo goods on canals - but now they are mainly used for leisure activities
Narrowboats, usually pulled by horses or people on the adjacent towpath, were used to transport cargo goods on canals – but now they are mainly used for leisure activities

Narrowboats are steered from the stern of the boat; traditionally, the steerer would stand on a small deck behind the rear doors of the cabin, from where he would have a good view of the canal up ahead. In some designs, the steerer could stand on a step just in front of the rear doors, with his lower body in the warmth of the cabin, and only his top half exposed to the often wet and damp weather. In pleasant weather, passengers could sit on the bow in the front. Modern boats often have a larger deck at the back, with enough room for the steerer and the passengers to stand.

In the background is one of the 'locks' on the canal
In the background is one of the ‘locks’ on the canal

Nowadays, these boats are rarely used to transport cargo; they are mainly for recreation, or rented out to tourists or visitors, or used as cruising hotels.

I can imagine that it must be a lot of fun to cruise along the canals on one of these boats, don’t you agree?


2 thoughts on “I am enchanted by the narrowboats on the Grand Union Canal near Denham

    1. Ooohhh! I didn’t realise that! Thank you so much for pointing it out, Sybil, I shall have to correct that right away.

      Yes, I also thought it must be rather cosy to stay on one of those… but I suppose not when it’s miserably cold and rainy all the time, then you’d have water below you and above you. Hm… But it would be fabulous in summer!

      Like

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