NarrowBoat Logo

Wide-boat at Watford

A Broader Outlook: NarrowBoat, Winter 2018

Christopher M. Jones

Chris M. Jones studies the details of a pre-WWI image showing a broad-beam boat on the Grand Junction Canal at Cassiobury Park

Nostalgic Picture Library

Wide-boats were a common sight at the southern end of the Grand Junction Canal, seemingly preferred by their owners to pairs of narrowboats, in spite of carrying less weight. Running such craft was clearly economically viable, perhaps because they required fewer crew members to operate them than their narrow-beam siblings.

This photograph, taken at Cassiobury Park Lock (No 76), shows the wide-boat Integrity owned by Emanuel Smith of Brentford. She was built in the autumn of 1901 for James Peasland of Cowley, who had two wide-boats in his ownership early in 1899 named James and Perseverance. Peasland operated as an independent contractor over the lower Grand Junction area, transporting brick-making and other materials, mainly in Middlesex.

Two more followed: Integrity in 1901 and Perseverance in 1903. His original Perseverance of 1899 was renamed Thrifty about that time. With these four wide-boats, Peaseland continued trading until early in 1907 when he bought a pair of narrowboats. Gradually his small fleet of wide-boats was sold off, with Integrity going to Emanuel Smith early in 1910.

Emanuel Smith

Emanuel Smith’s principal traffic was imported grain transhipped from lighters at Brentford and, to a lesser degree, timber, also transhipped there. Smith had his own fleet of river lighters, tugs and, eventually, motor-barges to bring these materials upstream from the docks in London – otherwise, carriers such as the Thames Steam Tug & Lighterage Company or other lighterage firms were used.

Grain formed the main cargo for Integrity, which was taken down the Grand Junction to a variety of millers and merchants. At the time this photograph was taken, in about 1911, corn and flour merchants Colin, Taylor, King & Company (1911) Ltd was a frequent customer, with deliveries to his wharf at Hunton Bridge, Kings Langley, or Batchworth Wharf, Rickmansworth.

Other destinations were Linslade, Leighton Buzzard, most likely for steam millers,Thomas Brantom & Company Ltd, as well as Berkhamsted where corn millers J.G. Knowles & Son was based. More well-known places were William Newman Mead’s, Tring Roller Flour Mills and Thomas William Toovey’s mills at Kings Langley (NB Spring 2016).

The captain of Integrity at this time was George Savage, who is probably the boatman holding the tiller. He was born in 1876 and was living with his mother in Tipton at the turn of the century. By 1911 he was on board Integrity with his wife Eliza Jane, after they had married three years earlier. Prior to taking over Integrity, he had been working a pair of Emanuel Smith’s narrowboats, taking grain inland to the same mills, and others at Birmingham and Northampton where wide-boats could never reach.


Apart from grain and occasional cargoes of timber to Cassio Bridge and Leighton Buzzard, he more rarely carried asbestos to Harefield for the Bells United AsbestosCompany (NB Winter 2017). Brimstone was also taken to William Cooper & Nephews at Berkhamsted for making sheep dip, weedkiller and agricultural chemicals. This traffic was the preserve of canal and river carrier Alfred Buck & Son, tug and barge owners of Brentford, which sometimes sub-contracted the work to others, such as Emanuel Smith.

Mixed loads were quite common when loading at Brentford – just a few tons of one cargo and a few tons of another to make up the full weight. Or it could be one type of cargo, such as grain, but for several different customers, with a few tons unloaded at various points along the route.

The cargo shown aboard Integrity is mixed. Timber boards have been loaded up to the height of the cabin roof, with bales of wood pulp, used for paper manufacturing, on top. This latter material was taken to John Dickinson & Company’s Apsley Mills in Hertfordshire. Dickinsons regularly employed various carriers on this traffic including independent owner-boatmen. Wood pulp was an importedload carried as a lightweight deck cargo aboard ships and, as can be seen, a very bulky one. This image clearly shows George Savage steering from the cabin roof with an upturned tiller to see over the bales.

Emanuel Smith eventually sold Integrity to river carrier Charles Walter Beckett of Kingston-on-Thames, most likely in 1924. In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, George Savage was working as a dock labourer.


Thank you to canal families historian Lorna York.