Since 1994 The Wooden Canal Boat Society has been looking after “Queen”. She has always been a bit of a mystery boat.
What we believe to be her history is as follows:-
Originally named “Walsall Queen” this boat was built as part of a small fleet operated by malleable iron fittings manufacturer Hildick & Hildick during the first world war. The boats appear to have run between the Walsall area and Brentford but it is not known exactly what they carried or why. Another mystery about “Queen”s early days is where she was built.
“Walsall Queen”s known gauging numbers were B.C.N. 22719 and Grand Junction 12015. Her butty appears to have been “Queen of the Ocean”, B.C.N. No 22718. For some reason she was not registered as a dwelling until 21st January 1919 when she was numbered 387 in the Brentford register.
In the 1920s the fleet was dispersed and “Walsall Queen” was sold to Harvey Taylor of Aylesbury in 1924. Her name was shortened to “Queen” and the original heavy oil engine was replaced with a water drip Bolinder, possibly second hand. She was re-registered as Tring No 97.
After 30 years of hard work “Queen” was abandoned and left to sink in 1947. That would have been that, but for the intervention of John Gould. He needed boats for his campaign to keep the Kennett & Avon open and in 1949 he obtained a job lot of redundant craft from Harvey Taylor. The best pair, “Colin” and “Iris”, also ex Hildick & Hildick, were pressed into service. “Queen” and at least one other were sold for conversion.
“Queen”s new owner was Bernard Barker who built a conversion and used her as a pleasure boat for 38 years. Based at Ashwood Basin on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal she travelled widely around the canal system and attended some of the early campaigning rallies.
By the mid 1980s “Queen” was becoming difficult to keep afloat and she was replaced by a modern steel boat. Sunk again and waiting her turn to be dragged out and burned, she was again rescued and went to Rickmansworth where she had considerable work done on the hull to stop her leaking. She then took on a (probably) bogus identity as the 1887 F.M.C. steamer, also called “Queen” but apparently broken up in 1911.
In 1993 another new owner neglected to keep the bilge pump batteries charged and “Queen” sank in deep water at Denham on the Grand Union. British Waterways put a section 8 notice on the boat and would normally have sent in the dredger to break her up but, recognising her heritage value, they offered the then Wooden Canal Craft Trust the opportunity to mount a rescue. This was carried out in March 1994 with great help from the staff of the adjacent Denham Country Park and local boaters. “Queen” was then hitch hiked 200 miles to safety at Runcorn.
Since 1997 “Queen” has been with the rest of the W.C.B.S. boats at Portland Basin Museum, Ashton under Lyne.
The Wooden Canal Boat Society has set up a fund for “Queen”s full restoration, which will take place after “Hazel” has been restored. Discussions are taking place within the society as to whether to restore her to her original condition or her later guise as Harvey Taylor’s “Queen” and what her eventual role will be.
The main questions that we have are:-
1) Where was she built? Some people are adamant that she was built by F.M.C. possibly as a rebuild of their old steamer. Others are adamant that she wasn’t. I don’t think she is an F.M.C. product because of the swim shape. This is quite short and bulbous, rather like a horseboat. It suggests to me that whoever built her had not constructed a motor boat before.
Just a thought, did the earlier F.M.C. steamers have a less elegant shape underwater than their later sisters?
2) What was she built for? Hildick and Hildick were apparently malleable iron fittings manufacturers. For some reason, in the middle of the First World War they seem to have built up a small motorised fleet of narrow boats.
These seem to have been used to carry coal to Brentford. Did Hildick & Hildick set up a branch factory in Brentford to cope with extra war production? The fleet seems to have been dispersed in the mid 1920s, which would support that theory. It seems odd that she was not registered until 1919.
3) Does anyone have details of her original engine? We believe it was a single cylinder British Kromhaut. Is that correct? Do any such engines survive?
4) Jack Monk used to relate fond memories of his time on “Queen” at Harvey Taylor. She was his first motor boat. Arthur Bray is also believed to have skippered the boat whilst at Harvey Taylor. One story associated with “Queen” is that she carried the last load to Harvey Taylor’s mill at Buckingham, though this is dismissed by Buckingham Canal Society members. Any information regarding crewing or carrying work whilst with Hildick & Hildick or Harvey Taylor would be greatly appreciated.
We would also like to hear from anyone with recollection’s of “Queen”s career as a pleasure boat. We believe that she attended some important waterway events in the 1950s and travelled extensively on the canal system.