Industrial Archaeology Recordings

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Gunnels Under

Re-floating a sunken narrow boat

Gunnels Under
Re-floating a sunken narrow boat

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Recording essential waterways skills and techniques

a sunken narrow boatBackground

Narrow boats used on British canals from the 1800's until recent times regularly carried loads of up to 25 and 30 tons. It was not uncommon for boats to hit underwater obstacles and to be holed below the water line. With the load completely filling the boat's hold, it was impossible to locate or fix the leak, and the boat could quite quickly sink.

If a boat sank between locks, the canal level could be lowered sufficiently to allow the boat to be pumped out and moved out of the channel. Boats blocking the channel would delay other boats and cause the canal company to lose revenue from tolls. On canals or rivers with few or no locks (the Birmingham Canal Navigation is lock-free for some 40 miles) it was not practical to lower water levels. This is where boat raising tackle would be brought into use.

In June 1996, during the making of the film "Warehouse at Work" at Wolverhampton's Broad Street Warehouse, boat raising tackle was discovered in store, and may well have ended up on a tip as the building was about to undergo alterations to make it into a night club. Sight Seen Partnership's chairman and ex B.W. manager Glyn Philips arranged for the equipment to be taken to The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port for safe keeping, and vowed that someday a film would be made to illustrate how to use it.

In May 2007, The Black Country Living Museum kindly allowed the Sight Seen team to sink their wooden Joey boat "Birchills" in a place where she would lie with her gunnels below the surface. Here was a chance to make use of the equipment, and with permission from the Waterways Museum's curatorial staff, the tackle was once more brought into use. Glyn was able to oversee the project and direct the film, as it is believed that he was the last person to use such equipment when he supervised the raising of a boat that sank in Netherton Tunnel during the major reconstruction work in the early 1980's.

So, here is an opportunity to watch and observe a technique that has disappeared from our waterways scene, but has been recorded for all to appreciate.


Black Country Living Museum Boat Museum Society Canal & River Trust Historic Narrow Boat Club

Gunnels Under DVD cover


  • Written & narrated by Glyn Philips
  • Music: Concertina - Ian Goodier, Guitar - Tom Browne
  • £ 12.95 - DVD
  • Running Time: 36 mins.
  • Edited by I.A. Recordings for Sight Seen Partnerships
  • All prices include worldwide delivery.
  • 'PAL' and 'NTSC' versions available.


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