Mike Spick is a popular speaker at Stumperlowe Probus having already spoken to us about “J G Graves” and “Salesman to the World”. Today’s talk was about another passion of both his wife and himself who are part of a syndicate that own a longboat. It is moored to the south of Birmingham.
He started his talk by describing the limitations to industry during the age of pack horses and horse drawn wagons. The latter were unusable during parts of the winter because of the state of the roads. It was no coincidence that Sheffield only manufactured small items like cutlery at this time that could be more easily transported.
Whilst canals were probably invented by the Chinese and were built by the Romans, Lord Bridgewater was the first in more recent times to build one in this country. It was to connect the mineral deposits on his estate with the nearest industrial markets. There followed an age of impressive engineering when canals were built over much of England and parts of the rest of the UK. There are 2,200 miles of navigable waterways and rivers in the UK and abandoned canals are being constantly repaired and revived for the leisure industry. When the Manchester Ship Canal was opened in 1894 it was the largest canal in the world.
Mike explained how the 7 feet wide and up to 56 feet long narrow boat had developed from a cargo transport with only a tiny cabin in which lived boatman’s entire family to a boat in which the entire cargo space is now living space with all mod. cons. He explained how the boats were propelled initially by horse and man power and then by steam and then diesel engines. He kept us entertained by the engineering involved with aqueducts, boat lifts, inclined planes, locks and tunnels.
His talk was without notes. It was fresh, lively and very informative. It was well received by the Club.