Built in 1817, Queen is now the oldest surviving wooden, motor narrow boat

Queen

The Wooden Canal Boat Society has been looking after Queen Since 1994. 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 is where she was built.

Walsall Queen’s known gauging numbers were BCN 22719 and Grand Junction 12015. Her butty appears to have been Queen of the Ocean, BCN 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 in 1947 and left to sink, . 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.

Queens 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 FMC 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 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 WCBS 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 FMC, possibly as a rebuild of their old steamer. Others are adamant that she wasn’t.

Just a thought, did the earlier FMC 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.

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