13th April 2016


Barnet was built by Harland & Wolff in 1936 for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company (GUCCC) as part of their massive modernisation programme of the canal between London and Birmingham. The programme saw locks widened, dredging and modernisation of the canal itself and was combined with a new fleet of modern boats which pioneered the use of steel over iron and were able to carry more cargo than their predecessors.

In early 1935 the GUCCC placed orders for 24 pairs of boats with Harland & Wolff of North Woolwich and similar orders for 12 pairs from Yarwoods of Northwich and 6 more pairs from Walkers of Rickmansworth. These boats were named after stars and constellations and became known at the “Star” class. Before the last of the Star class boats were delivered more were placed on order with the same builders, this second batch of boats were to have a deeper (4ft 9 1/2in) hold and a slightly shallower draught. Harland & Wolff were asked to build 24 pairs of the larger boats, followed by a further 24 single motors, Yarwoods built 38 motors and Walkers 62 wooden buttys. These bigger boats were named after towns and became known as the “Town” class. The GUCCC boats as a whole are now often described by the shorthand of Big Woolwich (a Harland & Wolf “Town” Class) or Small Northwich (a Yarwoods “Star” Class).

Barnet is a Big Woolwich, part of the first batch of 24 pairs built by Harland & Wolff and originally designed to be paired with butty Barrhead. Barnet was delivered in September 1936 and was given it’s public health inspection No 181 in November 1937. It’s probably likely that the boat began to operate from mid 1937 and has been in service ever since.

Despite originally being built to operate on the Thames and the Grand Union Canal, Barnet has spent most of its working life in the Midlands on the BCN. After being transferred to what became British Waterways on nationalisation in 1948, Barnet found it’s way into the maintenance fleet when commercial carrying ceased. Initially based in Hillmorton for piling works, Barnet soon ended up on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) and became used for various maintenance tasks and eventually being used for little more than carrying mud from dredging. During this time on the BCN the original cabin was replaced with a more utilitarian one and the engine original National engine was replaced with the present Lister HR2.

By 1991 Barnet was put up for sale by British Waterways with an asking price of £12,000. There were no takers and it seems likely the boat would have been scrapped had it not been for a group based in Walsall called the Beechdale Canal Trust. The Trust required a boat so Barnet was leased to the group by British Waterways. During this period Barnet was re-bottomed and re-footed and the utilitarian Bulls Bridge cabin replaced with one similar to the original. The Beechdale project eventually ran out of momentum and the boat again fell into disrepair, was repossessed and put in storage by British Waterways in 1998.

After the success of the Walsall Boaters Gathering in 1998 Laurence Hogg was leased the boat to promote the Walsall canal and the new facilities in the town wharf. As part of this agreement the boat had to be restored. Barnet was docked at Bradley Workshops in 1999 and a full mechanical overhaul was undertaken by British Waterways staff with Laurence taking on restoration of the cabin with support from numerous friends.

Laurence operated the boat for over 10 years achieving huge success and countless column inches promoting the often less explored waterways of the BCN from a base in Wolverhampton. On September 9th 2011 Barnet received BCN gauging number 2393 in recognition of the boats work on the BCN. The date of gauging papers marking exactly 75 years of working service.

We bought the boat in August 2015 and are returning Barnet to the waters she was originally built for around London. After being re-clothed cleaned up Barnet is now starting to continue a working life on London’s waterways. As well as supporting London Waterways Projects own community projects we seek to work in partnership with various volunteer groups to support maintenance and clean-up volunteering around London’s waterways.

A few photos of our time with Barnet can be seen below: