Monday, 20 June 2016

A meeting with history

A famous name signwritten on our cabin side
A lot of people comment on our boat – usually an all-too familiar joke about our helicopter pad/sun deck/tennis court tug deck.
But the charming old boy on the towpath at Audlem was the first who's ever commented on the back cabin signwriting. "How wonderful to see that name," he enthused. "Of course I never knew George but I did know Herbert."
I was impressed but in case you're bemused, he was talking about George Tooley and his son Herbert whose yard in Banbury is where Harry was built. Sadly, the Tooleys had gone by the time of Harry but it can still claim to be one of the very last boats to be built at a legendary yard before it was bulldozed to create a shopping centre, a few remnants elbowed into a corner of the concrete and steel monster as a perfunctory nod towards its place in canal history.
And that place is as the yard where Tom Rolt's boat Cressy was prepared before the voyage around the canals which resulted in the book Narrow Boat, that effectively kickstarted the canal renaissance.
Roger pictured at a signing for his medieval history book
So, after that smidgeon of history, back to our towpath visitor. Roger Wickson, as he introduced himself, is one of those lucky people who knew the canals when they were still working waterways.
His grandmother was born on a narrowboat and, when he was a young lad in the early fifties, she ran The Three Pigeons pub by Pigeon Lock on the Oxford Canal.
"It was a simple boatman's pub, no running water, with a bar and stables for the horses," he recalled. "I loved it - the boatmen gave me lifts down to the next lock."
How I envy him that: as a lad I never even knew canals existed. To have ridden boats and played around canals in that freewheeling era when kids just disappeared on their bikes for hours and hours and their parents didn't have a worry in the world about it, would have been a dream.
The pub, isolated from any proper road or village, didn't survive the decline in the working waterways and had become a house by the late fifties. It recently sold for nearly £700,000 - how times change.
As for Roger, he moved a long way from his canalside childhood fun; education at Cambridge, followed by a career teaching and 20 years as headmaster of the prestigious Kings School, Chester. But he never lost his love of the canals; a keen boater until recently, author of a waterways history and since retirement a resident of canalside Audlem.
Meeting him more than made up for two more days of rain. Today we were tricked into moving by the appearance of the sun. And then it rained again! But between showers we've moved a little way north to Nantwich.

1 comment:

  1. Does your inner sole good to meet a character like that. Thankfully there are still a few like him that make our lives that little richer.......and after the past few months of hate, lies and lack of compassion for others it restores a little of ones faith in others (though not some politicians I could name)