Volunteers needed

Please think about volunteering for admin work for The Wooden Canal Boat Society Help to spread the word about the history of our boats and local heritage. Work at Portland Basin, where our boats are, or in.our shop / small office in Stamford St, both in Ashton under Lyne.


GENERAL MARKETING VOLS work to broadcast the work of the Society by contacting local organisations and businesses, ensuring that the leaflet holders in our shop and at Portland Basin are kept well stocked, liaising with Portland Basin museum staff re our displays and ensuring general maintenance of all marketing materials by working with the relevant managers.
PUBLICITY / EDUCATION VOLS are involved with arranging for our volunteers to give talks / show the public around our boats, talking about their history. We are looking for volunteers to visit local schools or societies to update them about our work and the boats’ industrial heritage
We are looking for a GRANTS VOLUNTEER to help us find funding opportunities and to write bids
THE SPONSORSHIP SECRETARY will keep the current sponsorship records updated by liaising with the treasurer and membership secretary. They will also be involved in finding new sponsors especially businesses to enable us to maintain Hazel for her well-being trips. THE MEMBERSHIP SECRETARY will be help to maintain the current record of members, send out the newsletters and help with membership drives and publicity.
We are looking for someone that has some knowledge / experience of ONLINE SELLING, with websites such as EBAY.
DRIVERS are always needed for our shop deliveries and collections.

WCBS is taking part in The National Trust’s Heritage Open Days events.

If you live near to Ashton under Lyne please can you volunteer to help us

man an information stall and show our boats off to the public.

Contact : Tony Hewitson – hewitson.tony@gmail.com

Thank you.

OUR EVENT – Wooden Canal Boat Society Heritage Boats

The Wooden Canal Boat Society boats, Portland Basin Boatyard, Portland Street South, Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, OL6 7SX

The Wooden Canal Boat Society have 6 heritage wooden canal boats based at Portland Basin. All of them are over 100 years old and were used in various places around the country during the canal system’s industrial heyday. Normally, due to volunteers working on the boats, we cannot allow public access.
We have rescued these and restored them, to differing degrees, for use in the community.
Our pride of the fleet is Hazel who has been completely restored and is now working as Tameside’s well-being boat for those suffering poor mental health. You will be able to see her in her modern state.
You will be able to see the back cabin on Forgetmenot as it would have been with a family living on her while she worked the canals.
You will be able to talk with our volunteers about the boats, their industrial past and their current work in the community.
Suitable for all ages as long as children are accompanied. Disabled access available on Hazel.

Opening Times

  • Saturday 10 September: 1100-1600
  • Sunday 11 September: 1100-160


Brown road signs are all around the area directing traffic to Portland Basin Museum. The canal is behind the museum and can be accessed separately. By bus, the 330 bus, Stockport to Ashton, stops opposite Asda and there is a small footpath leading down to the canal (not signposted but the only footpath) From Ashton town centre on foot, go along to Lidl, cross the road and follow the sign posts or find the footpath as above.

Organised by

Anne Louise Black

Anne Louise Black


HOW WE STARTED: a potted history of the society

In 1974 Chris Leah was a student at Chester College, living on boats to save money. He bought a full length wooden narrow boat called “Lilith” for one hundred pounds. The boat needed repairs and Chris set about doing them. Before long Chris had acquired a second boat “Sarah”, later renamed “Forget me Not”. In May 1987 the Wooden Canal Craft Trust was formed. Initially this was a small group of friends who wanted to build a future for “Lilith” and “Sarah”.

The 1989 British Waterways Bill threatened to introduce new regulations that would make the work of the Wooden Canal Craft Trust virtually impossible and force most owners of historic wooden craft to destroy them.

The Trust petitioned against it and their case was put at the Lords Committee stage and several witnesses called. 

This, and negotiations over the next two years, resulted in substantial changes in the legislation together with the beginnings of a recognition of the importance of the floating heritage by British Waterways.By the Spring of 1995 The Wooden Canal Craft Trust owned six boats, Elton, Forget Me Not, Hazel, Lilith, Southam and Queen. Over the next couple of years the Trust changed and eventually was wound up with its assets going to the new charity we have today and our first boat had moved to the Portland Basin Museum. In 1999 Tameside Council provided a much-needed boatyard site at Knowl St in Stalybridge and there the first major renovation was started – on Hazel – resulting in the modern well-being boat that we now have.


All our boats are now based on the canal behind Portland Basin Museum in Ashton under Lyne. Come along any time and say hello to any volunteers working on them.

HAZEL is one of the few surviving wooden boats from the Northern parts of the canal system. She was built at Runcorn in 1914 and is the last complete example of a Runcorn “Wooden Header”. These boats were deep, 6 plank boats, intended for use on the Bridgewater canal and connecting waterways. Being narrow beam they were able to work up to Ashton or down to the Midlands. Drawn by a single horse, woodenheaders could carry a good 30 ton load if the water was deep enough. Originally known as “Mull” she worked for the Salt Union, carrying coal, salt and chemicals to and from the Northwich area. It is possible that she may have brought some loads up the Ashton canal. In 1929 she was sold to Agnes Beech who renamed her “Hazel” and used her to carry coal from Leigh to Northwich and Runcorn. From 1948 she became a crude passenger trip boat. In 1951 she was fitted with an engine and converted into a luxury cruising houseboat and for many yearsshe was home to a series of families and travelled extensively around the canal network until she was donated to the WCBS in 1988,

LILITH was built in 1901 and spent her first 70 years carrying goods in and out of the Coombeswood Tubeworks on the Dudley No 2 Canal near Halesowen. She is a joey boat, built for short distance carrying work on the complex Birmingham Canal Navigations. Originally she had no name, being known simply as number 9, and no cabins. The hull is of a very simple shape and has been almost completely renewed since 1974. Similar craft were once used for short distance traffic on the Ashton Canal, carrying coal from the pits to canalside mills where it was used to fuel the mill engines. Unfortunately no examples of these local boats survive. In 2001 she celebrated her centenary by carrying the first load for 80 years over the summit of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

Dating from 1917 QUEEN is probably the oldest surviving wooden motor narrow boat. She is typical of boats of her period and is a remarkable survivor, having been discarded 3 times since 1947. Originally called “Walsall Queen” she worked for Hildick & Hildick, a Walsall based company of which little is known. From 1926 she worked for Harvey Taylor of Aylesbury. The post war decline in traffic resulted in her being abandoned and sunk in 1947, but she was rescued for pleasure boat use two years later. In 1994 volunteers recovered her from deep water in Buckinghamshire where she had been abandoned. With help from the Waterways Trust in 2002 she had essential conservation work carried out to ensure that the old boat survives long enough to be fully restored.

FORGET-ME-NOT was originally built as a horse drawn boat in 1927 and belonged to Number One ( owner boatman) Henry Grantham. He supplied coal to industrial premises and was always something of an innovator. In 1929 he had “Forget me Not” motorised, then two years later he had the stern end rebuilt with a counter. In 1941 Mr Grantham retired and the boat was sold to the Samuel Barlow Coal Company who used her for similar work and gave her the name “Sarah”. She was sold and converted to a houseboat in 1959, becoming derelict by the mid 1970s. In 1987 she was hauled out of the water for restoration work to begin. Relaunched in 1994 she has now reverted to her 1930s appearance. An original Bolinder engine has been renovated and fitted.

SOUTHAM and ELTON, built in 1936 and 1937 respectively, were 2 of the fleet of 62 wooden butties ordered from Walker Bros of Rickmansworth as part of the fleet expansion programme of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company.Intended to work with new steel motor boats, these craft were all named after towns. They mainly worked on the Grand Union main line between London and Birmingham but could travel to any part of the narrow canal network and carried a wide variety of commodities.They were both sold by British Waterways in the early 1960s . “Southam” was motorised and fitted with a full length cabin. “Elton” continued with limited carrying work for her new owner. Eventually both boats became sunk and were rescued by volunteers.


Now that Hazel is in action as Tameside’s Well-Being boat we have to think about the next steps. Every visit to Portland Basin smacks us in the eye of course as there are 5 more historic wooden canal boats sitting there all needing more attention ! Currently the trustees are having meetings regarding our vision for these – some are already in a decent enough state to be used for community projects like our monthly recycling trips for instance. These bring in lots of donations for us of course but they also provide respite trips for folk who would not normally get out into the peace and quiet of the canal system. If you are on Facebook have a look at Pauline Town’s posts about ‘Team Station’. She runs the Station pub in Ashton and many of her regulars are folk who regard the place as part of their family and know they can always find any needed help there.on the boatFor the past few months Pauline and Team Station have more or less taken over the Tuesday evening recycling trips; great for us and wonderful for them – being useful and in surroundings totally different to the town where they live their daily lives.

Another place where action is very necessary is at our Heritage Boatyard on Knowl Street, Stalybridge. This was a hive of activity as the hub where Hazel spent her restorative years. Now beaurocracy is stepping in and we really have to sort it out to comply with planning regulations before taking our next project boat there.  

Plus, at the beginning, one of our volunteers created a garden for us between the outside wall and the pavement.outside garden Unfortunately that got a tad neglected during work on Hazel so that and an area just inside the gate is currently being worked on. Again – more beaurocracy – an out of work volunteer is happy to do the work but she is being stopped as evidently doing that doesn’t give her enough time to job search to the current regulations. Despite it giving her pleasure and fulfillment while unemployed.



Please don’t forget our Annual General Meeting this coming Sunday, April 24th in the shop at 173 Stamford Street, Ashton under Lyne OL6 7PS.

We need more members to support our work going forward with Hazel now fully operative as Tameside’s only wooden Well-Being boat. Especially a treasurer to work with our new online banking and QuickBooks – training given.

Also general help and folk who can come to monthly Council of Management meetings with a possibility of becoming a Trustee after a period of getting to know each other.

We’ve still got 5 old boats needing care and attention so even if you can only spare small amounts of time on these, do contact us.

Please leave a comment on this post with any questions. THANK YOU – see you on Sunday.


3 old ladies at Portland Basin


On the first Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of each month we collect donations for sale in our shop or for recycling.


You will get a free boat trip from Portlad Basin to Droylsden and return, learn about our Society, meet other volunteers and get a chance to steer the boat.   In Droylsden we collect from the local houses.

Sunday trips are from 9.30am to around 4pm dependant on how much is collected.

****** Bring your own lunch ******

Trips on Mondays and Tuesdays are from 6.30pm to around 9pm


APR     SUN 3rd      MON 4th      TUES 5th

MAY     SUN 8th      MON 9th      TUES 3rd

JUN      SUN 5TH   MON 6th      TUES 7th

JUL       SUN 3rd    MON 4th       TUES 5th

AUG     SUN 7th      MON 1st      TUES 2nd      

 Ring Chris Leah on 07931 952037 for more info.

Boat Maintenance help needed

In November 2015 "Forget me Not" went on dock at Ashton Packet Boat Co to have her skeg re-fitted, bottom caulked, shoeing and ice plating renewed and propeller rfurbished ready for lots more Hazel Rejuvenated towing and recycling trips in coming years.

In November 2015 “Forget me Not” went on dock at Ashton Packet Boat Co to have her skeg re-fitted, bottom caulked, shoeing and ice plating renewed and propeller rfurbished ready for lots more Hazel Rejuvenated towing and recycling trips in coming years.

Boat fans in the Northwest, here’s a rare opportunity to practise wooden boat maintenance skills on a genuine 1930s narrowboat!

Chris Leah of the Wooden Canal Boat Society is busy doing repairs to Forget-me-not while she’s out of the water at Guide bridge (near Ashton-u-Lyne). He could do with hands to help with caulking and putting the skeg back on over the next few days, and weather permitting, tarring the sides and replacing shoeing and ice-plating next week.

All of these jobs are fairly simple to pick up, amply assisted with cuppas, and I can personally reccomend the therapeutic effects of smacking things with hammers and glooping liquid tar around. Chris requires only that you let him know in advance if you intend to come and volunteer, by calling him on 07931 952 037 at least the day before.


On the 11th of November a lively general meeting was held in the shop premises. Many of our volunteers and members attended and heard about the recent happenings and future plans of the Society.

The minutes of the meeting can be read here   2015_11_11GeneralMeetingminutes.doc

To be invited to these quarterly meetings and have some say in the running of the society simply complete the Membership form – membershipapplicationform.odt  and if you’re a tax payer then also please complete the Gift Aid form – GiftAidDeclaration_singleformforemail



We would like to invite all members to the General Meeting to be held at 7pm on Wednesday 11th October in the shop at 173 Stamford Street, Ashton under Lyne.

Please let us know if you intend to come as we need numbers for seating.

Obviously at this time the society has a great future to look forward to. Hazel has been out and about on trips with volunteers and local sponsors to test the running of the boat and give the trainee crew some ‘hands on experience’ with guests on board. She will soon commence her new role and the other boats will hopefully be able to get more attention. During talks with the Canals and Rivers Trust about moorings for Hazel several opportunities came up for us to work with them and some very new (for us) and exciting project days have been enjoyed with more to come.

We are always looking for more volunteers, members and trustees. If you are interested in enquiring about any of these roles please comment on this post, email us or come to the meeting whether currently a member or not. Thanks to all our members for your continued support and we hope to see you on the 11th.