Working Boats


The first recorded boat, a wooden un-named earth carrying boat was launcched at Ellel 28th August 1793,  built by John Brocklbank, at Lancaster shipyard.

Other early wooden boats were Bee and Ceres in 1797, Elephant in 1798  and Cragg in 1800.  Other wooden boats were built up to the 1840s numerous boats being built for the Wigan Coal & Iron Company.

From circa 1850 boats were steel built at Preston, about 48 of them the last one in 1915. They were 72 feet long and of 14ft 6in beam and able to load up to 50 tons. The crew was normally 2  often with the man leading the horse and  his wife steerinf the boat. Most boats had a stern cabin with bunks and living accomodation, there was a small store in the bows for hay and horse harness.  A few boats were built without or with only a small cabin, they were intended as day boats for short journeys. All the above boats were buit for horse haulage, engines wer not added.  The normal haulage was a stout Welsh cob or occasionalyy two small horses or donkeys.  The boat hulls were water streamlined and when away from the bank underway and in 5 or 6 feet depth of water were not difficult to tow.  One horse could pull a fully laden boat at three and a half miles per hour and keep it up all day.

In 1920 a steam barge “Clara” was put on the canal runnung between Glasson Dock and Lancaster, it was not a success and was discontinued from  1921.   In 1917  the steam tugs “Asland”& “Cricket”were employed to tow trains of about 5   boats to Kendal, another unsuccessful experiment causing damage to the canal banks and taking hours to get through  Tewitfield locks.

The number of licensed boats working the canal.

1875  55 boats,        1907 33 boats,      1916 25 boats,       1920  21 boats,      1931 15 boats,      1942  7 boats,      1944  6 Boats.

1947 The final year,  5 boats operated by Ashctoft Canal Carriers were Kenneth, Herbert, Wasp, Benjamin and Ann.   Kenneth and Ann caried the final cargo, coal from Glasson Dock to Storey’s mill at Lancaster.  The delivery was late due to a series of heavy frosts and the boats frozen in and unable to move. After the thaw set in the boats reached Storey’s but the coal was frozen and could not be unloaded.  Storeys cancelled the contract and converted to oil.

Kenneth and Ann  were abandoned in the basin at Preston and are now burried under a development of shops and offices. Benjamin sank in the basin by the Lune Aqueduct. Herbert was towed to the Isle of Man. The end of Wasp is unknown.

One Lancaster canal boat “Pet”   had a long and varied  Career,  Built as a cargo carrier 1873 (small cabin)  later bcoming converted to  a  a spoon dredger, an ice breaker and a maintenance boat withdrawn in 1947  then stood idle for some years then sold by British Waterways. The new owner converted it into a pleasure boat and  named it “Lady Fiona”.   In 2003 rotten and leaking repair was uneconomical and the boat was abandoned in Lancaster later being moved to the dry dock.   In 2006  British waterways took interest and the boat was moved by road to the BW depot at Northwitch for restoration.  BW lost interest and once again the boat was abandoned this time bankside at Northwich. Eventually British Waterways became extinct and Canal & River Trust took intrest. The boat was moved by road to Canal & River Trust’s depot at Burnley on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Restoration is progressing with enthusiasm. Grants have been made and Ladt Fiona / Pet is now on the National Historic Ships Register.

Pet ubloading coal by Penny Street bridge Lancaster, c1898

Steam tug “Asland” hired from the Leeds & Liverpool Canal towing a train of 3 boats near Bolton le Sands in 1917. Short lived trial for one year.


  Drawing showing hull shape, towing mast, cabin chimny, hatch to cabin, ventilation holes each side of rudder, scrollwork stern decoration.