Forget Me Not

This boat has gone through a number of changes over the years. She was built for Henry Grantham in 1927. Mr Grantham was a number one ( owner boatman) and seems to have been relatively well off. He owned a house beside the locks on the Grand Junction Canal at Whilton as well as a pair of boats. It seems that he had a new boat built every couple of years. They were always called Forget me Not or Sarah Jane, giving plenty of scope for confusion among historians. As far as I know Mr & Mrs Grantham only had two children, Henry and Sarah Jane. In 1929 when only 2 years old, Forget me Not was fitted with an engine, though at this stage the cabin was not altered too much. In 1931 the stern was rebuilt with a counter, so that the boat could tow a butty, and this necessitated the complete reconstruction of the cabin.

In 1941 Forget me Not was sold to the Samuel Barlow Coal Company ,on Henry Grantham’s retirement, and renamed Sarah. Young Henry Grantham tried to join the Navy. They sent him back because boating was a reserved occupation and he began work for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company. A serious accident, when he fell between the motor and butty and got badly crushed, finished his boating career. He became lock keeper on the Buckby flight, a post that he held up until retirement.

Sarah’s first skipper at Barlows was Enoch Winlock. I don’t know much about him but the only photograph I’ve seen of him on Sarah suggests that he was quite elderly at the time. In the early 1950’s Bill and Rose Whitlock had the boat for a time, though they didn’t like Sarah very much.. Their son Michael was born on board and they made a cot for him which could slide into the larger than usual counter. Jack and Rose Skinner had the boat next and apparently they did like it. I believe they had a young family on board. The boat’s final skipper was George Phipps who I believe lives afloat to this day and again, I understand, had a young family on the boat.

In 1959 Sarah was sold off to be converted to a pleasure boat. The cabin seems to have survived until the early 1970’s when it was replaced with a monstrosity of plywood and T&G. This was a pity as, even if the original was rotten, it would have provided something to copy. As it was we had to start from scratch when rebuilding the boat as Forget me Not. The cabin was fitted out by Tony Forward who knew young Henry Grantham well. Unfortunately Henry died in 1989 and so did not see his old boat re-launched.

Like most things, Forget me Not’s cabin is not yet finished. It still needs to be grained and painted completely and fitted with lace curtains, brasswork and plates.

Where did they all sleep?

The main bed is the cross bed which drops down across the forward end of the cabin. Despite being only 3 feet wide this is a double bed. In the daytime the bed flap is lifted and the mattress rolled up inside the bed’ole. At night the flap is dropped across the cabin and the bedding rolled out so that the boating couple can sleep across the width of the cabin. The part of the cabin occupied by this bed is known as the bedroom.

Running along the right hand side of the cabin is a bench. This is the sidebed. Legally the cabin could be occupied by two adults and two children or three adults. The sidebed is where the children would sleep, though it was quite common for a very small child to be squeezed into the bedroom with its parents. Nowadays we have a comfortable mattress on the sidebed but in the old days many children had to put up with no more than a blanket or a hessian sack to cover the bare boards. At the back end of the sidebed is the monkey box. This contains cleaning materials , brasso, black lead for the range etc. It can be removed at night to make more space or used as a wooden pillow.

The 1877 act states that “The part of the cabin which may be used as a sleeping place by a husband and wife shall, at all times while in actual use, be effectually separated from the part used as a sleeping place by the other occupant of the cabin by means of a sliding or otherwise moveable screen or partition of wood or other solid material, so constructed or placed as to provide for efficient ventilation”. It doesn’t actually state how big this partition should be so the small hinged modesty flap which separates the two beds satisfies the requirements of the law. In practise lace edged curtains were hung across the entrance to the bedroom to provide some privacy.

Today’s crews and boat sitters may like to bear in mind another provision of the 1877 legislation. ” A cabin occupied as a sleeping place by a person of the male sex above the age of fourteen shall not at any time be occupied as a sleeping place by a person of the female sex above the age of twelve years unless she be the wife of the male occupant”. Luckily, although the law is still on the statute books there is no longer any machinery to enforce it.


As you step down into the cabin from the counter you may notice that the lower step doubles as a box for holding solid fuel. Known as the coalbox this item of furniture can slide in and out of the space below the counter. As its name implies, coal was the fuel used for heating and cooking, burned on the range on your left as you enter the cabin. Coal used to be freely available on the cut as it was one of the staple traffics of the waterway. Nowadays it is expensive so we mostly burn wood WHICH SHOULD NEVER BE CHOPPED UP IN THE CABIN! Forget me Not’s range is an Epping, the kind of small range that was normally fitted in a motor boat cabin. Butties generally had larger ranges. Pans and kettles can be heated on top of the range while there is also a very effective oven. If burning coal the range could often be persuaded to stay in all night in the winter. In later times primus stoves or similar paraffin cookers were often carried for use in the summer when lighting the range would make the cabin uncomfortably hot.

Before lighting the range should be blacked with the blacklead which is kept along with rags and brass polish etc in the monkey box.


The food cupboard or table cupboard is behind the table flap which drops down to make a convenient surface on which to prepare and eat meals. This cupboard contains crockery as well as tins, jars and packets of food. Perishable food should be kept in the stern cupboard. On a butty or horse boat this is located outside at the back of the hatches, the small well deck that is a feature of unpowered narrow boats. Motor boats don’t have an outside stern cupboard but one was often built into the counter space. Forget me Not has one in the counter to the left of the range. Provided that the sliding door is kept shut this keeps remarkably cool.

Below the table flap is the knife drawer, sometimes referred to as the crumb drawer as that,’s where crumbs end up if you forget to wipe the table before you put it up. Below this is the pan cupboard where pots and pans are stored.

Water is kept in the painted can on the roof, which should always be situated just in front of the chimney with the spout sticking out over the cabin side. We have cheated a little on Forget me Not by putting a water tank inside the counter. A tap on the range shelf lets water out to fill the enamel jug which is normally kept in the space under the counter.

Food preparation can be carried out on the table flap. Sitting on the sidebed this is a very convenient work surface. Boatwomen used to prepare excellent meals on the cabin range and use the oven for baking bread and pies.


Originally the only lighting would have been the oil lamp hinged on the corner of the table cupboard. There are now electric lights fitted in various places. While the original cabin would not have had electric lights, care has been taken to use lights and switches that look right for the period of the boat. Sometimes hurricane lamps or tilley lamps are used to avoid flattening the battery. These have to be used with care and CANDLES MUST NEVER BE USED ON ANY OF THE BOATS. . Any candles found on board will be confiscated!

The Bathroom

There isn’t one. Some boats would have carried a tin bath in the laid ‘ole by the boat’s mast or under the cratch. In the days when narrow boats were regularly carrying there were public baths in most urban areas for people who had no bathroom of their own. Boat people could make use of these. The painted handbowl, hanging to the left of the range when not in use, is used for routine washing , as well as for washing up. It should not be put on the range to heat water as this destroys the paintwork! Water is heated on the range in a kettle.

A horse drawn boat would have a chamber pot kept under the sidebed. This would be emptied discreetly over the side. Motor boats like Forget me Not often carried a bucket in the engine room for use as a toilet. Again this would be emptied into the canal. The boat now has the luxury of a modern chemical type facility in the engine room. It is not emptied over the side.

The Engine “Ole”

Many motor boats had a steel engine room which could be unbolted and lifted off to allow the engine to be removed. Forget me Not is different in having a wooden engine room which is more spacious than most. Originally there was no doorway from the cabin to the engine room , access being only through the side doors. Modern “safety” rules require there to be two exits from the cabin.

When Forget me Not was first motorised it is thought that she had a small 9 H.P. Bolinder. These Swedish engines were very popular on narrow boats. They have a single cylinder and run with an uneven beat because they are fitted with a crude ‘hit and miss’ governor. Bolinders fire on top dead centre and so can run in either direction. There is no gearbox, to reverse the engine has to be made to backfire so that it will begin running the other way. The Bolinder is a semi-diesel engine. Before it is started the top of the cylinder has to be heated with a blowlamp so that it is hot enough to ignite the fuel when it is injected. Once the engine is running the blowlamp can be turned off and the running of the engine will provide enough residual heat to ignite the fuel on each power stroke..

A 9 H.P. engine was insufficient for towing a butty so when the counter stern was fitted in 1931 it was replaced by the 20 H.P. version. For a comparison, most modern small cars have at least 50 H.P. Forget me Not and Sarah Jane would have carried over 50 tons between them. That is two large lorry loads..

Unfortunately, when the boat was converted in 1959 the old Bolinder was scrapped and replaced with a Kelvin 4 cylinder petrol/paraffin engine. This was taken out in the early 1970s in favour of a Petter PD2 air cooled diesel ( as fitted by British Waterways to its narrow boat fleet during the 1960s) . The engine currently fitted is a Perkins 4108 dating from the 1970s. Originally powering a standby generator, it has been marinised by W.C.B.S. volunteers based in Sussex. Ultimately we hope to fit a Bolinder or similar vintage engine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box