“TENCH” and her owner, Alex Bennett

As we recently went to the historic boat rally in Braunston with Tench we thought it would be a good time to tell you a bit more about the 80 yr old boat and her owner, Alex Bennett. She began life in 1936 in Cheshire. Built by W.J. Yarwood and Sons Ltd., at Northwich for the North West fleet of Fellows Morton and Clayton (FMC) at Saltley. She started work in September 1936 powered by a 9hp single cylinder Bolinder engine, a much loved classic in the boating world. It’s a very distinctive sound,  like no other engine to be heard on the cut. Here is how she would have sounded (and looked) in her early days:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdMxgI2ywYo

Later, in 1955 to cope with the shortage of boat crews, and to enable her to pull a butty, the Bolinder was replaced with an Armstrong Siddeley twin cylinder diesel engine . Her captain at the time, Jack Lowe, disliked the engine, and later gave the boat up to Harold Clutton so that he could go back to a Bolinder!

She has carried all sorts over the years, mostly moving goods from Weston Point, Ellesmere Port, Manchester and Anderton to the Wolverhampton and Birmingham area via the Shropshire Union canal. Regular twenty ton cargoes were wheat, flour, sugar, cocoa residue, copper, spelter, aluminium, steel tubes, felspar, bentonite, coal and a variety of imported bagged goods and foodstuffs. She wasn’t a boat worked by the trainees (they mostly worked for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company) but was busy throughout the War, with Mr & Mrs Jim Morton mainly carrying sugar and flour to Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

After the war carrying by water became increasingly difficult – the boats had struggled to compete with rail for years and now the roads were taking more cargo as well. Tench carried on working, for various companies under various captains, in the North West until 1967. Tench ended up lying at Hayhurst Yard, Northwich, left to rot.

Mr A.W.Gregory (trading as G.M. Engineering Co.) bought her in May 1976, in a semi sunken state with uninhabitable cabin, and badly corroded engine room housing an engine that had been left open to the elements. All the running gear – planks, mast, stands, cratch and shutts were missing. She must have looked a sorry sight.

Between 1976 and 78 she was completely restored, and formed part of the Midland Canal Transport company, delivering coal along the Staffs & Worcs canal as well as some unusual loads – furniture removal  from and to an inaccessible property at Kinver; rock salt from Middlewich to Northampton; bricks from Aldridge to Birmingham, newsprint form Ellesmere Port to Brentford for the Daily Mail returning with baled waste paper.

Alex Bennett, her current owner bought her in 2014 after a many years of holiday boating and several of living aboard a modern boat. Here is how it all came about…

My first boating holiday was in 1979 with my first boyfriend – think we went from Napton and I did really well. Till I fell when we got back to the boatyard. Didn’t put me off though, and we had a boating holiday every year for three or four years. Then in 84 I met my (now ex) husband so I suggested a narrow boat holiday because I loved it so much. We invited my younger brother and did the Warwickshire ring. It wasn’t my favourite holiday because I ended up doing most of the cooking and cleaning (for eight men and one woman). But it got my brother into boating as well as my fiancé, then my mum and dad and sisters. So we had a succession of family boating holidays, we went once or twice a year plus some day boat outings for special occasions. Last family trip was about ten years ago – we hired two boats and redid the Warwickshire ring. Had youths throw bricks at us in Newbold.

I divorced in 98 and in 2000 told my children was going to buy a narrowboat and live on it. The family all said ‘you’ll never do it’. Then in 2012 my brother died and that, as well moving for a temporary NHS post in Stafford  made me re-evaluate my life. I was cycling along the canal to work each day and  thought ‘sod it, do it’. So bought Jemima in 2012, I’d never single handed before but set out from Great Hayward and just got on with it.

I was fortunate to meet people with connections to working boats and boatyards, I’ve always been practical, always maintained my own car and I decided would like a ‘proper boat’. I’d been to the Alvecote gathering of historic boats several times, I’d steered the supply boat Auriga. Then I noticed Tench for sale via Facebook. I’d seen her at Alvecote, I knew she was a nice boat – she’s a Joshua fish class and they’re  streamlined, swim really well, easier than the really heavy Woolwich’s of the Grand Union. I contacted Matt and Sarah Parrott who had her since 2011. Went to see her, and that was it. I paid, picked her up at Alvecote 11am on Nov 18th 2014. That’s when the baptism of fire began! I didn’t have a headlight – fortunately I managed to follow someone through the tunnels.  Bought some coal ton for balance and ballast but my steering wasn’t very good so it shifted about which changed the balance. Got stemmed up quite a lot and grounded. Got loads of polythene and rope on the blade [propeller] but managed to get off with boat hook. There were times when I got very discouraged but I stuck at it. And there were good moments – I passed Hartshill, going slow – ‘you’re so brave boating in this’ said one passer-by. Got through the next bridge and the wind came howling across the field, and just pushed Tench into the towpath. Moored her perfectly! Into a space that was exactly the right size.

A lot of people thought me mad to take on a working boat ‘why do you want a working boat’. Oddly, it was sometimes the women who were really critical and unkind but many were very supportive and have become good friends over the years.

I spend as much time on her as work allows and I’ve travelled all over the system.

Here is an album of pictures of Tench on the Idle Women tour

https://www.facebook.com/pg/alarumtheatre/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10154765747203857