I’ve written a few articles over the years that might end up on here, of which this was the first. Written in 2004 for the Historic Narrow Boat Owners Club, as it was then called. I’m not going to edit this to bring it up to date, but this is what my understanding was at the time. Maybe any corrections can go into the comments – feel free to chip in!
I’ll split it up over a few posts and include a few photos I had at the time (some of which may not have appeared in the article, I’m not sure and don’t have my copy to hand.)
The Fish Class is a set of 18 boats built for Fellows, Morton and Clayton between 1932 and 1936. My own interest comes as the owner since December 1999 of Bream, the first of the class. Since then, I have met and corresponded with many people who either own or know something about these boats and have assisted me in my sharp learning curve! They are far too many to name here but I would firstly like to thank them all for sharing their knowledge.
The early history of all these boats is similar. They were built for use in the Northern Fleet of FMC. The shorter than usual cabin was in order to maximise the carrying capacity, given that they were all intended as single motors. All had 9hp Bolinder engines fitted. Cargoes carried included metal tubes from Bilston to Ellesmere Port and flour and sugar in the opposite direction.
The boats all passed into the NW Division (Southern) of the British Transport Comission when FMC were liquidated on 1st January 1949. Cargoes at that time included copper sludge in drums from Darlaston to Manchester Docks via Shropshire Union; copper, borax, aluminium and Bentonite from Weston Point to Wolverhampton; flour and sugar from Ellesmere Port to Wolverhampton; pottery materials from Weston Point to Stoke-on-Trent; coal from Stoke to Middlewich.
When BWB ceased carrying, the entire fleet (and the carrying contracts) were taken over by Willow Wren in the early 1960s. They then passed to the new Anderton Canal Carrying Co fleet in 1967 when Willow Wren ceased trading and were used for another two or three years, at which time ownership passed back to BWB.
Variations and details are as follows:
Coppered steel hull, built at Yarwoods, Northwich. Yard no 422. Left yard 29/11/32. Cabined at Saltley. Commissioned 02/33 Registered Birmingham 1545. FMC fleet no 310.
The coppered steel construction of this boat was unique among the Fish Class, though four FMC boats had been built this way previously. Other than the material, the design was similar to the other hulls built for FMC at this time.
The boat was cut in two by BWB in the 70s. BW used the front 55’ (with a squared-off stern) for maintenance on the Coventry Canal. Eventually it was abandoned on Fradley Airfield. The boat was subsequently bought by Keith Ball and restored to its original length with a new steel bottom. A full-length cabin was also added and a Lister HA2 was fitted. After several changes of owner, including a year spent on the Lancaster Canal (is this still the only ex-FMC boat to visit this waterway?) I have used the boat as a continuously cruising liveaboard since 1999.
The rear 15’ of the boat were sold by BWB to Union Canal Carriers as a pusher tug in 1974. This was later joined to the front 30’ of a BCN day boat (reg. Tipton No. 1909) and used as a hire boat. It is now in private ownership and based on the Grand Union near to Cheddington (north of Marsworth Junction.) An Armstrong AS2 is fitted, but it is unclear whether this is the one fitted before the original boat was split in two. The Bolinder fuel tank is still in this section of the boat. Wooden cabin was replaced with a steel one around 1994, when the step in the gunwale caused by the two halves not joining exactly, was also corrected.
Wooden hull, built at FMC Uxbridge. Commissioned 08/33. Registered Uxbridge 582. FMC No. 311.
Little is known of this boat, which no longer exists, having been broken up in 2000 at Runcorn.
Wooden hull, built at FMC Uxbridge. Commissioned 03/34. Registered Uxbridge 584. FMC No. 312.
The boat was abandoned below Brentford Dock in the late 70’s. It was subsequently recovered and used by Graham Holland as a coal boat until it sank near Rickmansworth in the late 80s while fully loaded and was broken up by BW. The last engine in the boat, a National, is now in the tug Algol.
Steel hull, built at Yarwoods, Northwich. Yard no 449. Launched 20/01/34. Left yard 29/01/34. Cabined at Saltley. Commissioned 03/34 Registered Birmingham 1547. FMC fleet no 313.
Little is known of this boat, which was broken up at Northwich by BWB in the 70’s. The reports of the boat still being around are incorrect and actually refer to a newly built BW maintenance boat of the same name. There are several of these around, including Rudd, Skate and Salmon (which wasn’t even a Fish boat name first time around!)
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