canal society logo (3K) Booklet Archive


- D.W. Horsfall[Published 1981]

book front cover (22K)


Foreword by Hugh McKnight
Introduction — On writing the biography of a boat.
Chapter 1 —Adelina, from Thy Dark Exile
The finding, raising, and naming of Adelina; her history, from being opened as a Boys' Club by the Duke of Gloucester; moving her to Shardlow.
Chapter 2 — In Friendship's Name
Making the boat more or less inhabitable; fed-upness of colleagues with canal obsessivenesss and method of getting own back; moving Adelina to Burton upon Trent.
Chapter 3 —Hitting the Trail
Journey of Adelina to London, mainly towed by Willow Wren working boats; problems of finding residential moorings in London.
Chapter 4 — All Mod Cons
The next phase of making Adelina into a home; odd plumbing system and sanitation.
Chapter 5 —Duckett's Cut
Life on a canal in the East End of London; peculiar method of access; amiable encounters with the police, and the dog that couldn't climb ladders; decision to move home.
Chapter 6 — The Basingstoke
Brief account of the tribulations of the Basingstoke Canal, and what life on it was like; Floating Homes in a floating suburb.
Chapter 7 — Water Music
Further civilising of Adelina, with description of curious systems of pumping and electric lights.
Chapter 8 —The Canal Press
Account of setting up a miniature printing and book binding activity on board, which culminated in the production of two small books.
Chapter 9 — Memorabilia
The collecting mania and canal enthusiasm combined; filling Adelina with teapots and books; painting her in a traditional fashion.
Chapter 10 — Deep Waters
Narrative of a journey on the remarkable underground canal system (now closed) used in the coal mines established by the Duke of Bridgewater at Worsley.
Chapter 11 — Rallying Round
Recalls some personally memorable highlights of Rallies at Aylesbury, Woking, London; Dinners at House of Commons, attended whilst resident on Adelina.
Chapter 12 — Goodbye
Final account of Adelina as she was just before her owners departed for new country; toddlers on board and their life.
Description of a visit by the family in 1977, the first time Adelina had been visited by the Horsfalls in 12 years, seen through the eyes of 15 year old Amelia.


The family lived on a boat, took part in waterways functions, helped to organise Rallies, visited friends afloat, and generally agreed with Rat's dictum about the joys of messing about in boats. For relaxation, to get away from it all, we visited other canals. A particularly memorable excursion was a sightseeing visit to the underground section of the Bridgewater Canal system.

When the canal was opened in 1760, the use of boats was not confined to taking cargoes of coal into Manchester. Those selfsame boats were designed to penetrate deep into the mine, along drainage channels, and fetch coal virtually as it was hewn from the seam. The underground waterways had origins as interesting as the Bridgewater Canal.

Coal was mined in the Worsley area from Roman times, and the small tonnage of coal produced from the Duke of Bridgewater's pits helped to keep the family in grand style at their country estate. However, the terrain was wet (rain is not unknown in Manchester), and flooding constantly plagued the mining operations. Drainage tunnels or "soughs" were constructed, themselves emptying into a large basin at the foot of the coal bearing hills. The basin was known as the Delph, from an old word signifying a drainage channel ("delved" is from the same root).

The Duke, after his celebrated tiff with the Duchess of Hamilton (Miss Gunning that was) became a misogynist, resolving to devote his energies to developing still further the large reserves of coal on his estate. There can be few other instances of love's embers turning a lovesick swain into a coal magnate.

To achieve his objective, a solution of the flooding problem became imperative. One of the triumvirate of the Duke, Estate Agent Gilbert, and Engineer Brindley, proposed making the soughs wide and deep enough for specially designed, ultra-narrow boats to navigate them. The boats, penetrating deep into the mine, served as a transport system to get the mined coal out. At the same time, the enlarged soughs greatly improved the mine drainage system.

As the soughs progressed into the mine and intersected the coal seams, side soughs were driven along the seams, in order to extract the coal. These were driven to left and to the right of the main sough. Many seams were intersected, so that a map of the system has the appearance of a herring bone.

Eighteenth century ingenuity was manifested at its best in the underground canal system, both as first designed, and as the network grew to accommodate the increasing extent of the mining operations. Water percolating from the coal bearing strata into the underground canal was impounded at intervals by guillotine sluices known as "doughs" (the word is still in use on the Leeds and Liverpool canal to describe the sluices, or paddles, in the locks).

A train of full boats was retained behind one of the cloughs, at a given signal the gate was raised, and the train of boats flushed out of the canal, presumably not stopping until they popped out of the tunnel in the Delph, like corks from a bottle.

Contemporary records show that one lad could control twenty boats at a time, resulting in about 150 tons of coal being flushed out with each flash. Modern underground haulage systems would have a hard time to compete with that scale of handling.

The water, after reaching the Delph from miles within the mine, still hadn't finished working: debouching into the Main Line of the Bridgewater Canal, the perpetual flow served the navigational needs of that enterprise as well. After emerging from the mine, boats were assembled in the Delph and made into trains of four or five craft, which were then towed into Manchester by pairs of mules. Quite apart from the tonnage handled by one lad, the economy of handling the coal was in marked contrast to the methods of today.

In a modern mine, coal extracted from the seam will be transferred from belt to belt and container to container before reaching the surface; and more handling stages are required before the fuel finally arrives at the customer's premises. Contrast such multiplicity of transfers with the scheme operated in the Duke's mine: after being mined, the coal was loaded into little tubs, which were then pulled — usually downhill — to a loading chute, from which the coal was tipped into a boat. The mass remained undisturbed until Manchester was reached, and was moved only once more, into the cart that would deliver the coal to the customer's yard.

Modern mining methods also use a great deal of energy to get coal out of a mine: at Worsley, energy usage was minimal, water flow being virtually all that was employed. Empty boats, however, had to be hauled by hand back into the mine, hauliers pulling against a rope suspended from the tunnel roof. The boats used were about fifty feet long, four wide, and two feet three inches deep.

Over the years, their draught seems to have been increased slightly, resulting in the carrying capacity changing from some seven tons to about twelve tons. Contemporary accounts variously give the weight of the boat as being three to nine tons. The boats had heavy ribs to give them the necessary strength, and this feature, combined with their long thin construction, resulted in the nickname starvationers being coined for the craft.

Starvationers - in the mine (15K)
34. Starvationers - in the mine.

Starvationers - in the mine (13K)
35. Starvationers - in the mine.

When the system was opened, in the year that the Bridgewater Canal carried traffic, the underground section was considered a wonder of the age, and visitors flocked to see the workings. Consequently numerous descriptions of the Styx-like mines were published, some of the earliest being as letters. A few were written to newspapers, but one of the most descriptive was simply a Letter to a lady. The idea is tempting that the lady may have been Miss Gunning-that-was: a sort of "I told you so'' epistle. By then the lady was well on the way to becoming the Duchess of Argyll — the attraction between her and the higher orders of nobility was intense and irresistable — so perhaps a description of her ex-fiance's coal mines had little appeal for the wench.

The various beautifully written documents combine technical description with moral philosophising. To quote, in edited form, from one of them:

"The sough made to drain water from the mines is navigable for boats of six or seven tons and forms a subterraneous lake which runs a mile and half underground. At the mouth are two folding doors which are closed so soon as you enter and you then proceed by candle light which casts a livid gloom and only serves to make the darkness visible. But this dismal gloom is rendered still more awful by the solemn echo of this subterraneous lake which returns various and discordant sounds.

"One while you are struck with the grating noise of engines which by a curious contrivance lets down the coals into the boats: then again you hear the shock occasioned by blowing up the hard rock, which will not yield to any other force than that of gunpowder. The next minute your ears are saluted by the songs of merriment from either sex, who thus beguile their labours at the mine. When you have reached the head of the works a new scene opens to your view.

"There you behold men and women almost in the primitive state of nature toiling by the glimmering of a dim taper. Some digging the jetty ore out of the bowels of the earth; some loading it into little waggons made for the purpose; and others drawing those waggons to the boats. When we behold a part of our species deprived of sunshine and buried in a dismal and confined cavern in which they can scarce rear their form, our feelings prompt us to pity their condition; but when we observe the lively ray of cheerfulness in this darkness and distress; when we behold the glow of health in the midst of damp and suffocation ... we are con­vinced of the truth of the maxim . . . that 'happiness is everywhere or no where'".

Those words were written about 1764, when the mine had been in operation only some five years. Continued extraction of the coal seams led to the system becoming very extended, and eventually, to reach untouched parts of the coal reserves, other canals were driven at different levels.

In all, three more canals were driven, one above the main canal and two lower down. To get coal from the lowest level to the main level, an in­genious water hoist was used. From the surface, a shaft was driven right down to the lowest canal. It also intersected the main underground canal level. A surface stream was diverted to flow down the shaft, but was prevented from going right down to the lowest level. The flow normally discharged into the main level and so eventually reached the Delph.

Operating in the shaft were two counterpoise masses carried on a rope passing over a pulley at the surface. One mass consisted of a drum that could, by means of a movable chute, be filled with the water cascading down the shaft, and then emptied, as required, into the main canal level. The other mass consisted of a cage into which baskets of coal could be loaded from boats on the lowest level. After the cage had been loaded, the drum, positioned somewhere between the surface and main level, was filled with water, the mass being sufficient to raise the laden cage to the main canal level.

Once the counterpoised masses were in their new position, the cage was secured whilst its cargo was transferred into boats on the main level; the drum was discharged; and then the cycle repeated. When no coal was available for loading, the system could operate as a water hoist, lifting water from the lowest level into the main level to prevent the workings from being flooded. No steam energy, only water energy: and how efficient!

The connection between the main canal and the upper level was also extremely ingenious, taking the form of an inclined plane, down which full boats descended, in doing so pulling up empty boats to the higher level. A pair of locks (in parallel) at the top of the inclined plane led into the upper canal. A loaded boat went into one of the locks, and as the water was let out, the boat descended onto a trolley previously positioned in the lock. The boat came to rest on the trolley, which then set off down the plane.

Between the locks stood a large gin wheel. Around the wheel passed the rope connecting the trolley bearing the full boats (at the top of the plane) to a similar trolley, bearing an empty boat, at the bottom of the plane. At the lower end the plane just sloped down into the canal: no locks were needed. As a full boat on its trolley slowly trundled down, controlled by the gin wheel, the empty boat, on its trolley, ascended.

The Duke was evidently particularly proud of the inclined plane, for in 1800 he caused a detailed paper on the contrivance to be presented at the Royal Society of Arts. Happily therefore the technical details were recorded. It appears that the plane's upper end was some 60 yards below ground, and the length of the plane was 151 yards. The boats rose a vertical distance of 35-1/2 yards in passing from the lower level to the higher level. According to the paper, the boats weighed about 9 tons and carried 12; further evidence of the gradual increase in boat capacity over the years. About sixteen minutes were required for a loaded boat to travel down the plane, and a bell from the lower level signalled when an empty boat was correctly positioned on the cradle.

The gin wheel between the locks was provided with holes into which spikes could be inserted to lever the wheel round, just to get the cradles moving. Once started, braking had to be applied. The Duke's paper earned him the Society's Gold Medal for that year. The system was kept in busy use until the late eighteen eighties, and at peak use about 120,000 tons per year poured out of the soughs into the Delph.

After the mines were closed, some of the canals were kept open as drainage channels for new mines built in the area, and this usage continued until 1970, when the tunnels were finally closed to visitors. Right up to closing, regular inspection of the used parts were carried out, the team working inevitably, by boat. A fellow trainee, who once worked in the area, told me of the inspections and eventually in 1961, I got around to arranging an expedition to Worsley.

The NCB officials in the area were very helpful, and no objections were raised to the visit. Such an excursion represented a 200 year line of sightseeing tradition, for the Duke admitted visitors from the time the underground canals were opened, charging rubbernecks a guinea-a-head. He even had the boatman keep a stock of wine on hand to restore the faint-hearted to consciousness if the experience proved too much for them.

I mentioned the impending visit to Robert Aickman, who expressed keen interest in going along as well — and thus the party doubled. Then John Smith (of Stratford Canal fame, and later the MP for Westminster) asked to be included, so the group tripled. Next came Peter Froud, a pioneer of the hotel boat trade and finally, Eric de Mare, the gifted and perceptive canal photographer.

The NCB took the quintupling of the party with equanimity and a day was fixed. As the party decided to go there and back in one day, and motorways were not as comprehensive as nowadays, an early start was deemed necessary. I was invited to spend the night at John's residence, appropriately Number 1 Smith Square (he could fully understand my Horsfall's Basin syndrome) making a pre-dawn departure feasible; relying on public transport to get from Adelina to Westminster by 5.00am would have jeopardised the entire expedition.

The Smiths were in the process of moving ino the house, in fact I think that night was probably the first there, consequently several of the domestic comforts were not available. I recall breakfast consisted of milkless cornflakes, with the worried host wondering about the long term effect of such a start to the day, and suggesting making it liquid with, if I remember correctly, honey, which appeared to be available in quantity. We ate it with forks.

The journey there was far less eventful; consisting simply of picking up the other three members at Robert's flat in Gower Street, and then we were away. Eric was particularly excited about the prospect of getting some unique shots and had brought along a large amount — almost a bootful when loaded — of fine photographic equipment.

Unfortunately, on arriving at the area office in Walkden, the management pointed out, very kindly, that although the mine was disused, the workings were still classed as "fiery", and only flame-proof equipment could be taken underground. Eric had never considered the need for flame-proof cameras for shooting canals, only waterproof. Although there was a great sympathy, nothing could be done, and a crestfallen photographer took away all his equipment without a single exposure being made.

The underground canals provided a unique mine transport system, and quite apart from their contribution to England's industrial growth, have great historical value. It was quite a tragedy that such a specialist's series of pictures could not have been obtained for industrial archaeological records. Pictures do exist of them; but anyone who has seen Eric's The Canals of England can envisage the sort of views that could have been brought out of the Worsley waterways.

The journey itself was one of the most remarkable I have ever made, either in a mine or on a canal. Access into the mine was via the Ellesmere shaft, located somewhere on the hills behind the Delph and probably about four miles distant from that point. Our journey into the past started with the descent, for the cage itself had an archaic look, in comparison with modern coal mine shaft equipment. The mine personnel accompanying us hardly wore three cornered hats and knee breeches, but the little cage was old fashioned and dropped in a somewhat uncertain manner.

The rather slow descent, and close proximity to the shaft walls, allowed a close inspection of the strata as we went down into the depths. Water streamed down the walls, remin­ding us that the underground canals were built for drainage in the first instance and their transport use followed. To stress the reminder, at one of two points jets of water sprayed through the open walls of the cage. It really did recall Churchill's remark about "liquid history", though that great man would probably have made a tarter comment had a paragraph or two gone down his neck.

underground harbour (16K)
36. The underground harbour.

Walking against the roof (13K)
37. Walking against the roof.

At the shaft bottom we followed our guides in indian file along narrow brick lined passages: the bricks seemed worn smooth by bodies constantly rubbing against them in transit, and we were told that much of the brickwork was original eighteenth century. At the end of the passage was a truly astonishing sight which for sheer surprise has never been equalled by anything I have ever seen elsewhere in a coal mine: there, revealed by the lights from our cap lamps, and deep inside the earth, was a tiny harbour, with three small boats in it.

The boats were the ultra narrow boats used to transport coal along the restricted underground canals. Timber built, with heavily planked sides, their ribs were massive and prominent: in fact they were latter-day starvationers! The harbour was in a fairly well enlarged cavern; but from each side of it a low, narrow and totally black tunnel led off, with the inky waters of the canal providing the only mode of access.

For anyone eager to have a preview of the Styx, a visit to Worsley cannot be bettered; but instead of Charon's grumpy tones asking us to "move along there",. we had the friendly gruff voices of the mine officials pairing us off: two visitors and a deputy to a boat. Wine was not taken on board. The boats were moored to the side of the tunnel, and the waters of the canal, vivid red in the lamps, showed a surprisingly strong current. Our guide untied the boat and told us to sit well down, though he actually lay on the bottom of the boat. After pushing us off with his deputy's stick, we were away.

Immediately after leaving the harbour area, the roof of the tunnel declined to such a level that our guide could easily walk against it. Legged in this way, steered by pushing the stick against the roof, and assisted by the water flow, we must have proceeded at a steady walking pace. The boat rocked slightly as each foot pushed in turn, and apart from a few hollowly echoing remarks, the only sound heard as we went along was the scrape of boot against rock.

Initially, I think, we visitors were slightly overawed by the occasion, which was hardly surprising. The quoted comments of earlier visitors to the system showed that they were equally awestruck. We were the direct descendants of those early rubbernecks (the drippings from the roof almost made me long for a rubber neck); and really, in some respects what they saw and what we saw were probably surprisingly similar. It must be uncommonly rare for a visitor to an industrial site, going there after close on a hundred years of disuse and two hundred years after descriptions of its activity were published, to find a great deal recognisable from those descriptions.

We didn't see the "jetty ore" being worked at all, let alone by figures in the primitive state of nature; candles were no longer permitted but the darkness was clearly visible in the lamp-light; happily the sound of exploding gunpowder was absent, but unfortunately, singing voices were not to be heard. Although these and other aspects of the mining were absent, the method of propulsion, the boats, the tunnels, the brickwork — all were as recorded by the eighteenth century dilettante — all looked and performed just as they had been described. The whole scene was living archaeology par excellence.

Fastened in the roof could be seen the remains of iron rings through which ropes originally ran: the lads bringing empty boats into the mine pulled against these to work their charges against the current. It must have been a hard task, but may not have compared unreasonably with conditions in other mines, where children pulled carts laden with coal along uneven, trackless floors.

From time to time, as our route passed by where the seams were intersected, the side canals followed them, going their mysterious but now un-navigable way. The seams could be seen clearly, steeply inclined and giving evidence of the faulting that caused them to reappear again further along the canal. In its heyday the system boasted about 46 miles of underground canal, on the four levels, but at the time we navigated, perhaps only five or six miles of the main canal were still in use.

Pausing at one point, our guide told us to feel below the water: there sunk just below the surface was a complete starvationer that had sunk at her berth after the last coal cargo moved out. Feeling the timbers, one gained the impression of a pretty strong vessel being down there and I became very keen to get a working party diving to raise the relic for display in a maritime museum. Discussing the project later, the mine officials pointed out that the underground salvage operation could be very difficult. One suspects that raising the boat would have been far less difficult than reclaiming the Egypt's gold; but the rewards also, alas, substantially less.

Success would have resulted in the preservation of the only remaining working starvationer. Those we travelled in were built on the same lines but had never carried coal, being used solely for inspection purposes. They were rather smaller than the original starvationers.

Our guides stopped the boats by one of the junctions with the seam-following side canals. Each of us disembarked, advanced to the substantial coal pillar left behind by the Duke's miners, and solemnly hacked a lump from it. The coal-face twinkled blackly in the cap lamp beam and seemed to indicate as much coal had been left behind as had been mined. At the point where the inclined plane entered the canal we moored, disembarked, and walked up the plane.

What a canal historian's feast! Rock falls had made the precise point of entry of the plane into the water level of the main canal difficult to trace. However, there was no difficulty at the other end. At the top of the plane, in a great chamber hewn out of the rock, the method of working was completely obvious. The twin locks at the head of the plane dominated the scene; they were gateless of course but otherwise in fine condition, with masonry fit for a pyramid. The sluices, the foundations of the gin wheel, even the lock collars: all were there.

One of the last named had fallen away from the lock and lay partly buried by rock falls. Ever the souvenir hunter, I picked up the hunk of wrought iron and carried it about with me the rest of the visit. The collar was later given by me on extended loan, together with my lump of the Duke's coal, to the Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne. So far as I am aware, few relics of this remarkable navigational system have survived; though probably the NCB has a few objets trouves stashed away somewhere. The last time I was in the Waterways Museum, fifteen years after our subterranean epic, I asked to see the relics. Though relegated to the storeroom, they were quickly produced and shown to the family: lumps of history, literally and figuratively heavy with nostalgia.

In the lock cavern, we signed our names on the rock wall in traditional fashion, and deeply regretted that our photographs could not be taken in what might, without exaggeration, be called the "Cradle of the Industrial Revolution". Without the Duke's canal, the rapidly growing industries of the north would have perished for lack of means to bring in raw materials and take away finished products.

Society's current and inevitable reappraisal of Industrialisation, Gross National Product, Planned Obsolescence, and all the other features of this wasteful Age of ours may eventually lead to the Industrial Revolution coming under attack as being a Bad Thing. Without any doubt, some of its manifestation must be indefensible, such as the domestic and industrial conditions of the working classes, poor, soulless housing, and wastelands left behind as industry marched on to gulp up pastures new.

In spite of this, the farsightedness of the Canal Builders, and the powerful yet at times ex­traordinarily simple ways in which they overcame problems, will always command respect, whatever the consequences of the developments they made possible. Few other relics of that Revolution, in their unchanged old age, have continued in the same way as canals to serve the nation, and find totally new uses. In fact, the less the waterways change, the greater the pleasure they give; which creates a conflict of interests for those wishing to see the canals both preserved and developed.

The thought didn't occur to me as the signing took place, but I have subsequently realised what a curiously assorted yet completely appropriate quartette of visitors had been assembled. Firstly, Robert Aickman who, without doubt, could claim to be the man who has done more than any other single person to ensure the survival of the Duke's legacy, by which I mean virtually the entire canal system.

Secondly, John Smith, whose work with the National Trust was to ensure that there would be at least one competent body ready to administer canals when the lineal descendants of their originators had grown tired of looking after their charges. Thirdly, Eric de Mare, whose photographs, initially published in journals but later crystallised into book form, brought the beauties of the canal system before the general public in a fashion previously unknown. The blend of engineering skill, unconscious beauty and sheer atmosphere present in so many canal works was faithfully captured by him.

Fourthly, Peter Froud; partly symptomatic of a general public awakened to what the canal despoilers were taking away from them and fighting back; partly a pioneer in his own right of methods of getting the man in the street onto the waterways, via his then novel Hotel Boats. It was just a pity that David Hutchings could not be there to complete the disciplines. My own role could be said to have been a coal mining representative, but it was more, in the long run, a sort of inept latter-day Boswell.

Back to the boats and on we continued. A particularly low hanging rock that almost brushed our guide's nose made everyone suddenly lie flat as we passed beneath it. The protuberance prompted him to remark, as he gave the rock a friendly poke with his stick — like Lord Emsworth prodding a pig — "you want to be careful: that's going to fall down one of these days". I've often wondered what could have been done had it fallen down, a couple of miles within the mine as we were: diving suits are not part of a normal mine rescue outfit.

Much of the tunnel was in the rock, but the wide junctions and occasional stretches of the canal itself were brick lined, the beautifully fashioned archwork giving a stateliness to the undertaking that commanded both technical and aesthetic respect. To flash back to the past, the contemporary account reads "The passages in those parts where there were coals or loose earth, are arched over with brick, in others the arch is cut out of the rock". It is still so today.

passages are arched over (14K)
38. The passages are arched over with brick
(see also sunken starvationer).

arch is cut out of the rock (14K)
39. In others the arch is cut out of the rock...

Inside the great lock chamber (21K)
40. Inside the great lock chamber, head of the inclined plane....

Finally, five hours at least after our start, the canal divided; not just to allow another minor canal to burrow off after a coal seam, but at the junction where the single main canal split into twin canals leading to the two entrances in the Delph. Soon afterwards a little semi-circle of light could be seen ahead.

Presumably when the mine was working, having two entrances meant that empty boats could be pulled in and held in one arm, whilst a full train of boats was being flushed out of the other arm. There were the remains of cloughs at each tunnel entrance in the Delph.

Emerging from the tunnel by boat into the Delph was quite an experience. It seemed odd to arrive in that well known, much photographed spot without having descended from the road bridge; though a hundred years ago, water transport was the most usual way of getting there. The remains of starvationers that had adorned the entrance since the mine ceased working were still present when we visited. Their ribs stuck out of the red water like dead animals in a desert.

Thy have since been cleared away, and one wonders what insane impulse can make a local council think that pulling up and destroying such irreplaceable traces of Britain's industrial past can count as "tidying up". Later generations, perhaps even this one, will view such deeds as we would view the actions of a person clearing away and burning a few sticks of broken furniture from an Egyptian tomb, because they made the burial chamber untidy.

Our next visit was to the boatyards, in which the Dukes' craft had been built. This visit, for me, completely bridged time: there on the stocks, in the yard where they were first constructed, were a couple of starvationers undergoing repairs. When the mines were Nationalised, a hotch potch of ancillaries were taken over, and in the case of the Bridgewater mines these included the boatyard, barges, and steam tugs.

Traffic was then still strong on the Bridgewater and as we inspected the boatyard, strings of barges, pulled by hissing, self important tugs — coal fired — glided past. The sheds, the boats, the methods, even the men seemed hardly removed from the Duke's era, and the curiously timeless air that invariably pervades Worsley was never more apparent for me than on that day at that spot.

Excellent refreshment by the mine, an inspection of some of Gilbert's account books, collar and coal dumped in the boot, and we were off back to London with a host of intriguing memories and some insight into what life was like where it all happened. Curiously, a little bit of the canals has survived in a recallable fashion.

In one of the National Coal Board Mining Review series, made about 1950, there is a sequence taken of the underground canals. The sequence covers the daily activities of the maintenance men, and shows them going down the mine, arriving at the harbour, climbing into boats, and legging down to the Delph. Brief though the episode is, the shots provide a fascinating glimpse of a system all too little known and now, unfortunately, no longer accessible.

Adelina was warm and welcoming when I got back. Maybe she couldn't hear the description of Worsley given to Ann; if she could it would have made her feel quite juvenile, to think that her owner had been visiting places and seeing boats that were old when she was but a grove of trees with not even a smear of spit on a tree feller's hands to foreshadow their conversion to a narrow boat.

It is said that the Duke of Bridgewater had only two topics of conversation: coal and canals. As his twin interests were largely responsible for Britain's industrial greatness, it is not unfitting that in books on the one, there should continue to be a few references to the other.

Ch 11: Rallying Round


Last updated April 2006