It has occurred to me that regular visitors to this site will be unaware if and when I have added new information.  So from now on (September 2011),  I will briefly summarise and link new or corrected facts.....

12th March 2024 Tim von Nardoff has updated the restoration of Victory at Brinklow Boat Services.  Many thanks, Tim.

28th Feb 2023 Lorna York has kindly supplied details of the boats taken in census on the 19th June 1921. There were seven steamers, Admiral, Countess, Emperor, Marquis, Prince, Speedwell and Viceroy.

7th July 2022 The summer edition of NarrowBoat magazine had an article "Refuelling at Ricky" by Chris M. Jones, which contains much detail about FMC's Countess. Chris has kindly provided a copy of the magic lantern slide of Countess.  Many thanks, Chris.

7th February 2021: Mike Clarke has kindly sent me another image of the Thorneycroft Gas Engine modification of the former FMC steamer Duchess, together with a copy of the report from the Manchester Courier of a trip from Birmingham to Manchester. See Duchess. In addition to that, he has supplied the General Manager and Engineer’s Reports to the Directors of the Bridgewater Navigation Co Ltd 1874-1879. I have extracted the Little Packet references. See Bridgewater Tugs page and scroll down. Thank you, Mike.              

29th January 2021: The publication of "Waterways of England 1950 to 1982 as seen through the lens of Philip Weaver" by the Historic Narrow Boat Club. has given me the opportunity of gleaning five new photographs of steamers or ex-steamers. My grateful thanks to the HNBC and to Mike Harrison who compiled the publication.  See Admiral, and  Vanguard.      

28th January 2021: Many thanks to Ian Sharpe for alerting me of the existence of a postcard which identified the location of the photograph at the head of the Bridgewater Tugs page.  Also to Peter Blackmore, chairman of the Runcorn & District Historical Society for allowing me to use their image.

6th November 2020: Still in lockdown! Thanks to Paul Molyneux-Berry, who sent me this colour image of Dovedale in Manchester Docks in about 1958. She was photographed by the late Leslie Gordon. Dovedale (and scroll to the bottom)

26th July 2020: Still locked away! But Paul Murray Thompson has sent the second new item in this strange year.  Scroll down to  "Early Steamers" below.  Many thanks, Paul.

10th June 2020: It been a long time since I added new information, but this is good - many thanks to Giles Eyre for finding it and for telling me about it.  Pioneer, the first GJCC steamer, now has a record of crew members from the 1861 census.  There is also a remarkable contemporary article from Chambers Edinburgh Journal in 1861.  It tells of a voyage on Pioneer from City Road Basin to Paddington stop.  There are also 1871 census returns for early GJCC steamers Lark, Fidget and Tickler

13th May 2019: Brian Goggin has alerted me to the fact that Sir William Fairbairn's book concerning Steam on Canals can now be accessed, thanks to Google.  See below under Early Steamers.

12th May 2019:  Tim Von Nardroff has reported that Victory has recently returned to the water after being re-bottomed in timber by Rex Wain at Brinklow Boat Services

20th April 2019:  Brian Goggin has provided this description of a "Tug tug".  Have a look at https://irishwaterwayshistory.com/2019/04/14/a-tale-of-a-tug/.  As always, many thanks, Brian.

3rd May 2018: Dr Roger Butler provided this image, which was published in Gongoozler, the newsletter of the Canal Card Collectors Circle. The subject of the photograph caused a lot of speculation as to the identity of the steamer and the butty. After a protracted email discussion with Pete Harrison, Alan Faulkner, Paul Hunter, Laurence Hogg and Christopher M Jones, (and with many thanks for their contributions), it was decided that the craft were Earl and butty Orange.  

 27th April 2018:  A wealth of new steamer information is included in Alan Faulkner's article "The Steam Narrowboats of Fellows , Morton & Clayton" in the Spring 2018 edition of "NarrowBoat".  The cover has an image of F.M.C's Sultan in action, towing a well -loaded butty, one of Chris M Jones's images that he has created for the cover of the magazine since it was first published in Spring 2006. The magazine also contains a "new" photograph of Nelson's Jason.

28th February 2018: An amazing discovery by Chris M Jones of a Grand Junction gauging sheet for Pioneer dated 7.3.1857 (the earliest steamer gauging sheet). Again  - many thanks, Chris.

3rd January 2018: Eddie Oades sent a link to a feature on BBC Northern Ireland News, which is copied here "The Lough Erne steamboat that amazed in 1842".  Thanks to Eddie and BBC Northern Ireland News.

2nd January 2018: Chris M Jones found a Canal Inspection Journal from Heston & Isleworth and kindly extracted all the steamer references.  They are: Griffith's Ant (previously FMC's Duchess); Griffith's Enterprise; Griffith's Speedwell; and FMC's Count; Earl; Emperor; General; Hecla; Phoenix; Prince; Queen; Speedwell; Swan; The King; Viceroy; Victoria and Vulcan.  Many thanks Chris.

19th November 2017:  Chris Clegg found four images of Admiral in the I.W.A. Collection.  Many thanks Chris.

25th May 2017: Tim Von Nardroff bought Victory in November 2015. At present at Brinklow.

27th January 2017: An email from Dave Whorwood in Victoria, Australia alerted me to a book by John Bourne "A treatise on screw propellers" which contains a wealth of fascinating information on their development.  There are a number of references to early steam driven canal craft.  Many thanks, Dave.  Go to " https://archive.org/details/ATreatiseOnTheScrewPropeller "  You may have to log on with Archive.org.

8th October 2016:  Dai Carver is the new owner of Countess, which is now based on the Llangollen Canal near Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

.6th July 2016: Thanks to Christopher Jones for identifying image number 9 in the List of Unidentified Steamers as Countess.  This came from the fascinating article by Alan Faulkner in the Summer 2016 edition of NarrowBoat, about the Paper Dashers.

29th May 2016:  I have added a new section "Blow-up Bridge", the bridge in Regents Park whose name evokes the events of 2nd October 1874, when the steam tug Ready was towing five narrowboats along the Regents Canal.  The third boat in the tow was  "Tilbury", carrying gunpowder and petroleum.  The full story is detailed in the report by Major Majendie.  Scroll down to the section almost at the bottom of this page.

27th May 2016:  An excellent article "Commercial Steam in Inland Waterways" by Terry Kavanagh is included in the equally excellent "Waterways Journal, Volume 18".  The article provides detailed research into the developing use of steam power on the waterways.  The Journal has been published since May 1999 and is always a fascinating read.  It is published by the Boat Museum Society is available from the shop at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port.  Mail Order: Please download an order from from the Boat Museum Society website: www.boatmuseumsociety.co.uk/publications 9.99 incl p&p.
21st May 2016:  And Brian again, this time with some more Bridgewater early steam and propellers.  See below under EARLY STEAMERS

24th January 2016:  And Brian again, with (as he puts it) "another piece of steam lunacy!"  See below under EARLY STEAMERS

19th January 2016:  Brian Goggin has come up with yet another fascinating steamer link with his Irish Waterways website.  See below under EARLY STEAMERS.

5th December 2015:  Chris Clegg spotted an error in the caption of one of Admiral's photos. Thank you Chris - duly corrected.

9th November 2015: An addition to Colonel's photo collection, with a third image of the celebrations at Langley Bridge Lock in 1973.  Thanks to Val Roberts, editor of the Historic Narrow Boat Club's excellent Newsletter, for printing it in their 2015/4 edition and to Michael Golds for allowing me to add it to the site.

4th November 2015: As from January 2015, The King has been owned by Matt & Rebekah Parrott.

15th August 2015: Kez Dainty has been searching archives and has sent two very interesting early press cuttings. The first, from the Manchester Courier, is dated 1st August 1903, concerning a steamer called Jack Sharp. See the Bridgewater Tugs page.  The second is from the Manchester Times of 15th May 1841 concerning a steamer fitted with Mr P Taylor's revolving screw scullers. It can be found under EARLY STEAMERS, just below the Introduction on this page).  Thank you for them, Kez.

8th April 2015: Brian Goggin alerted me to a paper which contained a description of an early steam-driven oar-powered boat on the Sankey Canal in 1793. See below under EARLY STEAMERS.  Many thanks Brian!

25th March 2015:  Martin Engewicht is an artist who lives in Bavaria. He has created some drawings of steam narrowboats and I have included them in Anslow, President, and Pioneer.  Another of his illustrations is featured lower down this page. He also has a website of his work at www.planks-and-waters.jimdo.com

7th February 2015: Lorna York spotted the 1901 Census record for Buffalo - and that the captain's name was mis-spelled!  Thank you Lorna.

19th December 2014: A photograph of Sabey's tug Fastnet, courtesy of NarrowBoat magazine, Winter 2014.

12th December 2014: An interesting discovery of an image of GJCC tunnel tug Pilot, telling a little story.  Courtesy of NarrowBoat magazine, Autumn 2014

9th July 2014: Images of Colonel as a motorboat, with Samuel Stokes as the one-legged captain, taken from George Hancock's photograph album, published in the Spring 2014 edition of NarrowBoat magazine.

31st August 2013: Another Census entry, this time 1911, for Speedwell. My thanks to Andy Sadler for finding this.

14th August 2013 ;  An 1891 Census entry in Jason. Thanks to Jon Millard

27th July 2013: An addition to Dennis Ashby's postcard collection - a card of Spider at Bulbourne Yard, posted in 1908.

29th May 2013: From the cover of the Historic Narrow Boat Club (HNBC) newsletter 2013/2, Admiral, fully laden at the Braunston Gathering 2012, also an update of her restoration.

14th February 2013: The strike which took place at Braunston in 1923 brought several carrying companies, including FMC to a halt. I have been particularly interested in the photographs which were taken of this event. The Braunston Strike pages are a summary of what has been found so far....

21st January 2013:  For those interested in Irish waterways history, with quite a few references to canal steamers (some of them narrow!), follow this link.  See "Early Steamers" (just below the Introduction on this page), for his article on a 120 foot steam driven narrowboat.

15th January 2013:  Many thanks to Jon Millard, who has sent me a record of the Canal Boat Registration Counterfoils for Warwick which includes details for Charles Nelson's  Janus, Jason & Jupiter. Jon's great grandfather, John Millard, was captain of Jason in 1890.

21st December 2012: A new "old" image of Emperor, photographed by A N Neal, for an illustrated talk, reviewed in July 1907. Courtesy of the London Canal Museum. To visit , click on www.canalmuseum.org.uk

9th December 2012: Thanks to Reg Bailey for new information, identifications and images to add to the pages for the Bridgewater Tugs.

10th November 2012:  Postcard image almost certainly of Hasty.  Thanks again to Keith Ward

27th October 2012: Details and photographs of a new old steamer.  Hasty .  See bottom of this page.  Thanks to Keith Ward.

23rd October 2012: The discovery of an image of John Griffiths' Speedwell in the Bert Dunkley Collection at the Waterways Archives, Ellesmere Port, led to Christopher M. Jones modifying a painting he had created for a cover of NarrowBoat,

30th September 2012: The addition of a newly-found old enamel sign from the days of steam tunnel-tug haulage.  Thanks to Keith Ward. See lower down this page.

15th September 2012: News from Graham and Sue Russell about The King and news from Steve Harmer about Admiral , both with new photographs.

23rd August 2012: A pub sign image of Marquis, at Layer Marney Tower, near Colchester, Essex photographed by David Powell

29th July 2012: I am indebted to Richard Andrews, the great-great grandson of George Carman, who was the Tug Superintendent for the Manchester Ship Canal Co, for the information and images of Latchford, Worsley, and Stretford.

14th June 2012: A newspaper report of the inquest on John Kingston, captain of the Sultan, who drowned in the bottom lock at Braunston on 10th June 1913. Added by permission of his grandson, Tony Rowney, who found the report while researching his family history.

19th May 2012: A snapshot of Fastnet, spotted by (and thanks to) Keith Ward.

3rd May 2012: New photographs of General, a new historical photograph page for President.  A link to the early steamers on the Macclesfield Canal (see below). A link to a song about steamers and waterways songs (see below).

29th December 2011: Addition of a newspaper report to Empress.  Many thanks to Christopher R. Jones, who found this whilst researching his family history and his connections with the Barlow family. This report, from the Tamworth Herald of June 6th 1908, gives details of an accident in Braunston Tunnel. There are a number of parallels with my own accident in Blisworth Tunnel on President in 2000 - although thankfully with a happier result!

3rd November 2011:  Location for Colonel in the title photograph, thanks to Ian Wilson.  New image of Powerful, thanks again to Mark Pullinger.

14th October 2011: 1901 Census sightings for tugs Antelope and Powerful at Paddington.  Thanks to Mark Pullinger for spotting them.

17th September 2011:  The "Little Packets" or Bridgewater Canal Tugs: A summary of the history of these craft, with all the identified photographs I can find.



You are welcome to use information gleaned from this site but if you publish it anywhere, please acknowledge where you got it from!



(and how to use this site!)

The material for this research has been gathered from many sources, published and ferreted out. The goal was to compile as complete a history as possible for, initially, the Fellows, Morton & Clayton fleet of steamers. However, I was advised by Alan Faulkner to widen my search to cover all narrowboat carrying steamers and to look backwards at the early Grand Junction steamer fleet. Then Alan Brown suggested I should go even further and cover the narrow tugs as well.

This research was going to form the contents of a book but we decided that if the information was published, it would become fact and any errors would become fixed as the truth. To put it on the web allows all interested people to become involved. We can keep the research continuing. Maybe we will publish at some stage in the future.

I would not claim that what I have produced is complete, as there are certainly more records tucked away in attics, archives and record offices which need to be found. What I offer here is the distillation of what I have found so far – if you can add anything, no matter how small, please email me and I will include your contribution. If you disagree with anything I have shown, please also contact me and we can discuss your information.

It is impossible to compile a record like this without enormous help from others and I would like to thank particularly the late Alan Faulkner, the late Alan Brown, Pete Harrison and the late Mike Webb for their generosity with their own researches and records and their patience with my questions. Paul Hunter, too, for his knowledge and his intuition, without which I would have missed connections that rewrote some histories. Tony Conder, David McDougall, the late Roy Jamieson and Diana Sumner all formerly of the Waterways Trust Museums and Archives have contributed their knowledge and skills to find answers to my questions. Caroline Jones of the Archives at Gloucester continued this help to the closure of the Gloucester Archive.  Waterways archives are now combined at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port - where they are looked after by Linda Barley.

Lastly to everyone who helped and should be named in the sources and to anyone I have missed – thank you.

Any information for which I can find no proof or where there is reasonable doubt is shown in italics.

Richard Thomas
If you wish to email me click here

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Published work and links to information on the development of  steam driven boats on the canals.

An article from from the Leeds Intelligencer of October 6th, 1831, which Paul Murray Thompson found when he was researching his book on Matthew Murray and his firm Fenton Murray & Co, with reference to early steam powered craft on the Aire and Calder.

"CANAL STEAM NAVIGATION. The engineer of the Aire and Calder Navigation Company has been engaged for some days past in making experiments with an iron boat, just launched from the works of Messrs Fenton Murray & Co and intended for a steam tug on the navigation between Leeds and Goole; the result is highly satisfactory, as it establishes indisputably that inland navigation is capable of affording dispatch adequate for every useful purpose. The steam tug was propelled at the rate of 12 miles an hour, with the current in the river, and of 6 miles against the same or an increased current. She towed two loaded boats on the river at the rate of six miles per hour, and 4 on the canal; with one loaded boat she proceeded at the rate of five miles, and in no case of her towing was there any injury done to the banks of the navigation. The bare fact that steamboats have now been plying on this navigation for nearly two years, is the best answer to the objections raised against them, that they are not applicable to inland canal navigation."


Steam on Canals      This is the text of the chapter “The Steam Narrow Boat” from C.P. and C.R Weaver’s definitive book “Steam on Canals”, published by David & Charles in 1983.  It provides an excellent introduction to the craft researched in this website.  The book is available through specialist booksellers or on the Internet under ISBN 0-7153-8218-7

Steam Power on Canals, 1867.       ....and this is the text of conferences held at the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1866 and 1867.  It includes mention of the early steam boat trials on the Forth & Clyde and Monkland Canals. It also covers the design and trials of boats designed by John Inshaw and the Grand Junction Canal Company.  The experiments carried out by Mr Pole regarding wash from powered boats still holds good today.  The document will open in a separate window. This extract from the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers Vol XXVI, 1866-67 is reproduced here with the Institute's kind permission.

A 120-foot steam-powered narrowboat on the Irish Canals  An article by Brian J Goggin, from his excellent website on Irish Waterways History.

http://www.brocross.com/canal/steam.htm   Steam boat use on the Macclesfield Canal in 1836 and 1838.

An early steam powered boat on the Sankey Canal in 1793 is mentioned in a paper on "The Early Steam Engine on Merseyside" by J. R. Harris, M.A., Ph.D. which was read on the 18 December 1952 to the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire.

Mr P Taylor's revolving screw scullers from the Manchester Times of 15th May 1841.  This report tells us that steam towage on the Bridgewater Canal and through Preston Brook Tunnel was happening before 1859 when the 16hp tug Result carried out a trial (see The Bridgewater Canal Tugs article by Edward Paget- Tomlinson)

From Brian Goggin:  A steam-powered chain haulage system on the Bridgewater in 1859 and the Grand Canal in 1860. Perhaps this is the Result mentioned above,  See 


Again from Brian:  https://irishwaterwayshistory.com/2016/05/18/new-engine-and-propellers-for-canal-navigation

And the latest....http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/George_Beadon  with a link to a photograph of this one.. https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/2932784/ichthyon-taunton-somerset

The Fairbairn book is "Remarks on canal navigation, illustrative of the advantages of the use of steam, as a moving power on canals", published in 1831.  The link is https://books.google.ie/books/about/Remarks_on_canal_navigation_illustrative.html?id=YKwQAAAAIAAJ&redir_esc=yIt contains his description of the early use of steam on the Forth & Clyde Canal. 


If there are photographs of the steamer, they are included in the Data Sheet.

The Buckby Photographs are a series of images taken at the Buckby flight of locks on the then Grand Junction Canal

There are many images where it is impossible to identify the steamer and these are collected together in the List of Photographs of Unidentified Steamers.

You may be interested in the process involved in identifying a boat. Click here to follow the detective story of one postcard.

Although a rather tenuous link to steamers (there were only three FMC steamers involved, Speedwell & Hecla in steam and Baron as a motor boat), the photographs taken at Braunston during the FMC strike in 1923 provide a fascinating capture of conditions at that time.  Also interesting, I think, was the research carried out to identify the photographer.  This was published in the Spring 2012 edition of that excellent magazine NarrowBoat (http://www.narrowboatmagazine.com).


It came as a quite late surprise to me that there was a waterways' song about life on the steamers.  It is called "The Greasy Wheel" and can be read in full, complete with a commentary by David Blagrove on Ian Bruce's fascinating website http://www.waterwaysongs.co.uk/greasy_wheel.htm

THE BOATS.......

The boats are divided arbitrarily into four sections to make the mass of information more manageable. To search for any steamer irrespective of owner use the Main Index or click on one of the four titles below to go to the relevant section index.

Fellows, Morton and Clayton’s steamers and those early steam craft that passed through their hands or of their predecessor companies. These are shown in greater detail with a Data Sheet, Post FMC History, Sightings and Photograph Record as separate tables. To obtain extra information on Registration and Gaugings refer to the summary tables mentioned below

Each boat in the following three sections has a data sheet which includes all the above information, though you still need to refer to Registrations and Gaugings for extra information.

Grand Junction Canal Company’s steamers including all their craft (so far traced), irrespective of type.

Other Cargo Carrying Steamers not included in the above.

Steam driven tugs not included elsewhere. Tugs were a later addition to the research and the list is not necessarily complete. I have recently added the five steam tugs used on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal using, with her permission, Cath Turpin's research, published by The Boat Museum Society in the Waterways Journal, Volume 7.  The Trent & Mersey Tunnel tugs are added courtesy of Waterways World and Mrs Pam Paget-Tomlinson.  The Bridgewater Canal Tugs or Little Packets are now included, with particular thanks  to Reg Bailey.


Tunnel Tugs from Millner
A distillation of the George Freestone Archive of Thomas Millner’s correspondence held at Northampton County Records of all references to the Tunnel Tugs owned by GJCC and used at Braunston and Blisworth Tunnels. Thomas William Millner was the Northern District Overseer and later Assistant Engineer for the Grand Junction Canal Co from 1895 until 1930.  


Photograph courtesy of the owner, John Goldrick

This board was found in an antique shop in Lewes, Sussex.  It has been examined by a number of experts and is thought to be original, although there is a certain amount of doubt remaining.  There is the distinct possibility that it has been repainted at some stage in the past.

It confirms the towing charges in 1892 but also reveals that there was a colour coded ticket system in use - a fact that had not previously been known.









Photograph courtesy of the owner, Keith Ward

This enamelled metal sign is indisputably genuine. Most of the charges have sadly disappeared with the passage of time but the price for empty boats would appear to be the same at 1s. 0d. The colour coding system is confirmed. The sign also uniquely confirms the long hours the tugs and their crews worked.

Keith Ward owns the steam tug Hasty, a newly built craft following the design of the Hasty tunnel tug built in 1922 for the GJCC.  

See bottom of the page for fuller details and http://www.tunneltug.org.uk/index.html







Hubert Thomas was the father of Gordon Cale Thomas who was the Engineer of the GJCC and the designer of the Foxton Inclined Plane.

Steamers from Millner
A similar distillation of references to the steamers belonging to FMC and other owners, which appear in the correspondence.

Grand Junction Canal Company minute books
The result of a trawl through the extensive minute books at the Public Record Office at Kew. All the references to steam and steamers have been extracted and are listed here. The reference to R Thomas in the minute of 26th April 1871 is genuine!

A comprehensive compilation of the main details from Steamer Gauging Sheets. The colour scheme is Wood, Steel, Composite. The entries in italics are from other records than the actual gauging sheets, that is, I do not have a copy of the actual sheet. The source of the information is shown in brackets. Refer to the abbreviations lists for expansion.

A similar compilation of Registrations. The same colour scheme is employed. The entries in italics are from other sources than the actual registration document. The source of the information is shown in the source column. Refer to the abbreviations lists for expansion.

Reports of the Accident involving the GJCC Steamer Bee in Blisworth Tunnel
The steamers BEE and WASP were involved in a tragic accident in Blisworth Tunnel on 6th September 1861. Here are the transcriptions of the two newspaper reports of the inquest and the official report from the GJCC minutes.

Thirty Days on English Canals, with some remarks on Canal Development
An article by Rodolph Fane de Salis, (Director of the Grand Junction Canal Company.) Printed for Private Circulation, by James Parker and Co., Crown Yard, Oxford 1894. Contributed by Matthew Searle, secretary of the R.C.H.S.

Blow-up Bridge

This document gives the whole story of that incredible morning, when five tons of gunpowder exploded in the middle of London. 

The report by Major Majendie is split into sections, as listed below




                    A.      Metropolitan Police return

                    B.      Statement of damage to Zoological Gardens

                    C.      Relief Fund report

                    D.      Copies of Invoices and boat manifests

                    E.       G.J.C. consignment note

                    F.       Experiments on timber

                    G.      Experiments with petroleum

                    H.      Statement of goods carried by GJCC’s boats


                    A.      Map of Regents Canal (see also PDF 7)                   

                    B.      Plan and Elevation of “Tilbury”   (see PDF 4)

                    C.      Destruction of Macclesfield Bridge    (see also PDF 5)

                    D.      Bridge before explosion    (see also PDF 6)

                    E.       Map of area around bridge

                    F.       Map of damaged areas around bridge

                    G.      Map of area in which window glass was broken

Other interesting steamers
A look at some of the other historical steam driven craft to be seen on the canals today. Click on the name to see photographs and potted biographies.

 Laplander                                        Adamant                                      Hasty                                 














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