Identifying ancestors who worked the canals can be problematic and researchers have found that canal boat ancestors may not have registered the births of their children, or even their marriages. However, one set of records which may help are the boat registers, which although they don’t give address information, can provide other information of interest to family and other historians.
Boat Number 1
Pictured above are the individual registrations of a 22-ton canal boat Boat No.1 respectively in the names of two masters, James Griffin and William Neale. From the boat registers of 17951, it was not uncommon for one boat to be registered with a number of masters, and conversely, for one master to be named in the registration of several boats. Boat No. 1 was indeed registered with a third master by the name of John Smith.
All three registrations are dated 1 September 1795 and cover the same route and extent of navigation – from Fenny Compton to Tipton extending 105 miles. James Griffin was also master of another boat owned by the same person, once again registered on the same day and following the same route. This boat was referred to as Boat No. 2 in the register.
Ownership of the canal boats
William Griffin was the owner or co-owner of the two boats described, and the registers make no mention of any other boats owned by him. In 1795 most of the canal boats in operation were owned by substantial capitalists. The question of whether this description applied to William Griffin is difficult to answer in the absence of alternative sources of information.
However, the Griffins were involved in a dispute over unloading facilities with another boatman Henry Wright in 1794 at Fenny Compton. The incidence of loading and unloading facilities constituted one of a host of difficulties experienced by many small operators. Larger companies built their own wharves and warehouses or else were in a position to rent such facilities.
In the case of Henry Wright, he was refused permission by James Griffin to unload coal at a wharf near Fenny Compton, and the latter served him with a trespass notice when he subsequently unloaded coal on ground near Turnpike Road which was rented by Mr Griffin. The latter’s hostility seems to have been driven by the more competitive coal prices set by Henry Wright. Notwithstanding this dispute, the boats and masters of each party appeared in the registers of 1795.
1 Warwickshire County Record Office reference QS95/6/167-168
This article was Document of the Month for the Warwickshire County Record Office in September 2010. Further articles can be found on their website.