Monday, 26 March 2012

Making a traditional Rag Mop

I know this has been covered before on many different web sites and blogs but I thought I would detail my version here.  I have said before that I remember boatmen using ‘Croxley blanket’ for making the best rag mops but any supplies of this material used in the paper making industry have long dried up.  So here I have used what I consider, apart from the colour, a good substitute.
1 off 8’-0” (2400mm) X 1 ½ “ (35mm) diameter dowel (B&Q, Wickes etc about a tenner)
1 off rubber tap washer (B&Q, Wickes etc pennies)
1 off 4” x 3/8” ( 100mm x 10mm) coach bolt
1 off 2” (50mm) of 1 ½”(40mm) plastic waste pipe.
I roll of standard masking tape
1 piece of cotton open weave material (enough to make about 20 pieces 15” x 3” (375mm x 75mm)
1 tin of striped paint or
1 tin each of red, yellow, white, blue and green.

1 off ¼ “ (6mm)drill bit
Bowl of boiling water.

Method (handle)
Ensure when you select the piece of dowel that you choose a piece that has little knots and is made out of one piece (they are sometimes made out of pieces of timber glued together along its length which can be recognised by the zig-zag cut joint going across the dowels width.
To prepare the coach bolt you need access to a grinder so that you can grind the bolt down along its length to a tapering square section.  Years ago they used hand forged square ‘cut nails’ which were abundant at wooden boat builders yards but again now as rare as hen’s teeth.
Start by shaping one end of the dowel with whatever means at your disposal ( wood chisel, carving knife, sanding disk, grinder, sandpaper etc) just to take the square end off it and round it up somewhat. Now concentrate your efforts on the opposite end.  Start by removing the sharp edge off the other end with sand paper to put a slight taper on the very end to act as a leading edge.  Take the 2” length of plastic waste pipe and remove any rough edges etc from the inside of the diameter with a sharp knife then pop it into a container of boiled water.  After it has stood for a minute or two carefully remove it and locate it on the leading edge of the dowel.  Making sure it is on square, use a large mallet or hammer etc and knock it onto the end of the dowel the full 2” so that the end of the dowel is level with the end of the plastic pipe.  Now use a soft leaded pencil to mark the centre of the dowel on the end you have fitted the plastic pipe, using the ¼ “ drill bit, make sure you are straight and level and drill a hole down the middle of the end of the dowel to a depth of about 4”.  It is at this point that I usually paint the mop as it is easier to handle without its head.
Start by preparing the dowel with smooth sand paper then an all over coat with a good undercoat(I use an all purpose grey primer) You will find that standard masking tape is not far off the right width to make four spirals along the length. Use a pencil to put a mark on each of the four quarters around the one end of the dowel, split the circumference into four and mark with a pencil.  Fix the edge of the tape against one of the pencil marks so that it is running at about 15 degrees to the dowel , then rotate the dowel which will wrap the tape along its length.  Repeat with a second piece of tape starting on the opposite pencil mark to the first.  After you have two parallel pieces of tape then wrap a piece of tape around the dowel about 12” from the handle end. Paint between the two pieces of tape to give you your first two stripes.  When almost dry remove the tape then leave to dry.  When completely dry, paint between with the other two colours, when these are dry paint the handle end and the plastic collar at the other end green. (the colour order for your four stripes are White, blue, yellow, red.)
Method (Head)
Lay out your strips of cloth in the following fashion on top of a wooden surface (suggest you don’t use the kitchen table) lay them out like the numbers on a clock face with each one covering the gap between the last two until the area is completely covered and all your strips are used.
lay one vertically, lay next horizontally, next 45° down, next 45° up, then alternating sides spanning the gap between two existing strips until all strips used.

Take the rubber tap washer over the end of the tapered coach bolt and push it down to the underside of the head.  Place the point of the bolt on the centre of the piled up strips of cloth and hammer it through, lift the mop head off the bench/board and push the bolt right through the cloth.  Locate the end of the pointed bolt into the hole you drilled in the end of the dowel, then hammer home until the bolt goes right into the handle and grips the cloth between the bolt head/washer and the end of the dowel.  Place the mop onto your cabin top, stand back and admire.  Next you need to learn how to spin the mop to dry it!
Ok so there you have it, your own traditional rag mop for just over a tenner, so no excuses now for not keeping your boat clean, and in emergencies can always be wedged down the side of your boat so you
don’t bang ‘em about.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Thomas Bantock was born in 1823 in the little village of Golspie near Inverness, the son of Benjamin Bantock, a gamekeeper. Though a prize-winning schoolboy, he left school at 16 and was taken into the employ of the Trustees of the Duke of Bridgewater, who had large interests in collieries and canals. He started work undertaking various duties in the collieries, canal and transport departments, a position which he held until 1849.  Bantock moved to Wolverhampton in 1849 and married a local woman called Mary Dickinson in 1852 and by 1867 he had moved into Bantock House, then known as Merridale House, with his wife and ten children (seven daughters and three sons).  He was sent to Wolverhampton as an agent of the Trustees in 1849, at the age of 26. Here he soon saw that the transport of goods in the future would be by railway and that the canal traffic was bound to decline. By 1858 he had a valuable contract in his own right with the Great Western Railway. By 1861 he was the Trustees' district agent, though he also worked for the Great Western Railway.

He then set up in business in 1858 as Thomas Bantock & Company, with offices within the Great Western Railway’s Wolverhampton low level station and in his own right he became an ironmaster, mined coal at Ettingshall Lodge Colliery, Springvale in Bilston and built boats and wagons at Ettingshall dock, Millfields, Ettingshall. It was as head of Thomas Bantock & Co. that he escorted Queen Victoria on her visit to the town in 1866.  He had strong Christian principles which led him into politics as a Liberal and he was elected in 1861 to represent St Mary's Ward, which was one of the poorest areas of the Town.  In 1869 he became Wolverhampton’s Mayor, and spent the next thirty-three years as a member of the Council before retiring in 1893.  At the time of his mayoral election, in 1869, Thomas Bantock was working for the Great Western Railway Company in the transport department, as well as having his commercial interests in the local coal and iron trade, having his own Company offices at Herbert Street, at the rear of Albion wharf and also at Ettingshall Lodge Colliery, Bilston.

He died on 20th July 1895 and was remembered as "invariably found honourable, straightforward and honest in all his transactions".

Thomas Bantock’s main boat building business was carried out at Ettingshall Dock, Millfields and was located on the off side of the BCN main line between Ettingshall road bridge and Jibbett Lane bridge.  The dock was 224' deep and 47' wide leading due south off the canal and ending right at the roadside. This was 160 yards west of the Jibbett Lane bridge.  This is clearly shown on maps right up until 1938. The 1919 map shows that immediately on the other side of Millfields Road was the Bilston Flour Mill and next to that (to the east) Holy Trinity Church. The vicarage was on the north side of the road and to the west of the dock, by the canal. Beyond that to the west was the Highfields Boiler Works and then the Britannia Boiler Works.

Thomas Bantock & Co built mainly for themselves, a fleet which was shared with the GWR and having a fleet number system which encompassed both concerns, the last fleet number being 99 for a boat built in 1910.  They did build a few boats for private buyers and they certainly built some fully fitted long distance horse boats, but the majority of the boats they built were not ‘buttys’, as they are wrongly advertised nowadays, but were horse drawn day boats used on short haul work around the BCN, however they were built to unusually fine lines for day boats.  By 3rd July 1895 they had built a total of 116 boats

The original Bantock boats were built to a unique design, of composite construction and having a wooden lower strake of oak and an elm bottom, hence the dog leg knees evident in some boats.

The next generation of boats had iron sides and bottoms and were not so fine lined having omega iron guards instead of proper guard irons.  The last boats they built had a few very subtle differences to the bow and stern.
 Manny of the Bantock boats still exist in the form of shortened, motorised and converted pleasure boats, unfortunately due to the large number of boats just being known by numbers, many of them have been given names by their owners and their original identities have been lost.  I have listed a few below, just as examples of these unique craft.

No 15
Built by Thomas Bantock for the Great Western Railway Company in about 1900.  One of the cCompany later designed boats, being of all iron construction and having Omega iron guards. This boat is on permanent exhibition at the Black Country Living Museum in Tipton.

Built for short haul traffics from the  railway transhipment depot’s around the BCN. In the 1950s a cabin was added by Alfred Matty & Sons of Deepfields, Coseley and was used as a spoon dredger for canal clearance work.

Originally an open day boat built for the Great Western Railway. She was converted to an un-powered hotel boat in 1958 with a new wooden. She was taken over by a private owner for residential use in 1962. Her stern was replaced and she was converted to diesel power in Coventry in 1976. Her wooden topsides were over plated with steel and major renovations were carried out in 2006.

Of iron construction, with a steel bottom, believed to have been built in 1884 by Thomas Bantock of Wolverhampton. She was originally a horse drawn boat but now has a Petter PJ4 diesel engine.  Probably used as a 'railway boat' by the Great Western Railway on the Birmingham Canal Navigations system. Around the turn of the century ORIANNE was sold to the T & S Elements fleet and renamed EILEEN
In 1972 she had ceased commercial carrying and was discovered in a poor state at Fradley Junction. She was then purchased by Tony Higgins and shortly afterwards taken to Ken Keays boatyard in Walsall where a new steel bottom was fitted.

Built circa 1890 by Thomas Bantocks either for themselves or the Great Western Railway. She worked on the Birmingham Canal Navigations.She is an unpowered narrow boat and is one of the few surviving examples of an unusual composite narrow boat construction, whereby the main upper sections of the hull sides, in wrought iron, are fastened to a timber strake; the timber strake then being fastened to bottom boards in the manner usual with timber constructed narrowboats.

An early Bantock boat originally having a wooden bottom plank. In the 1960’s was converted and used as a horse drawn hotel boat.

Worked for the Great Western Railway Co. based at Withymoor Basin, where there was a major transhipment centre. The name was given by Dudley Canal Trust.. The bulk of the traffic at Withymoor was that connected with Noah Hingley’s Iron works, although goods from Dolton’s Rowley Pottery and the Hartshill Iron Co. were also handled. Withymoor basin closed in July 1965 and GWR boatages ended in 1969. 

Well once again there you are, a potted Blossom history and as always,
Don't bang 'em about

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Braithwaite & Kirk

Just thought it might be of interest to some readers if I were to record some of the information that I have gathered about some of the lesser known boat builders.  Especially as this one was based on my local patch, so to speak.

History in Brief.
Riley, Fleet & Newey set up Engineering Company at Crown Works, Swan Village.
producing wrought-iron steam engines, boilers, gas-holders, purifiers, tanks, bridge and other girders, iron roofings, Thames and canal boats, evaporating and sugar pans, water-barrels, barrows, and miners' tools.
Company changed name to Braithwaite & Kirk
FMC commissioned Braithwaite and Kirk of West Bromwich to build 24 iron composite butties
Braithwaite & Co Structural Ltd was established as the  Indian subsidiary.
Braithwaite & Co Engineers Ltd moved all operations to South Wales
Now part of the Rowecord Group of Companys.

Braithwaite & Co Engineers Ltd is now part of the Rowecord Group, and has a diverse portfolio which includes the design and supply of the largest GRP and Steel water storage tanks in the world. It’s heritage can be traced back to the company Braithwaite & Kirk, engineers and contractors of Crown Bridge Works, West Bromwich, which was established in 1884. At some point in the early twentieth century, the name Braithwaite & Co Engineers Ltd was adopted. The Company was engaged exclusively for a number of years on the manufacture of steel Bridges, the majority of which was for export.

Very early beginnings

Joseph Newey, who became a member of the construction engineers, was born on 15 December 1846 in Poplar, London, the fourth child of eleven children born to George and Sarah Newey. His father was a boiler maker employed by the shipbuilders Ditchburn & Mare of Deptford, London. Later as CJ Mare & Co, George Newey was employed as one of five foremen on the construction of the Britannia bridge, where he met up with Thomas Fleet and together
with James Riley, formed the firm of Riley, Fleet & Newey in 1848, as subcontractors to the Britannia bridge fabrication.

 In 1861, aged fourteen years, Joseph Newey was articled to his father's firm, the Crown Works of Fleet & Newey of Henry Street, Swan Village, West Bromwich. There he learnt all aspects of working with iron, and with time he was involved in the design, working drawings, manufacturing supervision and erection on site of lattice girder iron bridges, in England and abroad. Projects such as railway bridges over the Itchen river, Southampton in 1866, along the railway line from Port Louis to Mahbourg in Mauritius for Thomas Brassey in 1864, along the railway line from San José to Puerto Limón in Costa Rico for Minor Cooper Keith in 1871, along the railway line from Santos to Sao Paulo in Brazil for Robert Sharpe & Son in 1867, and other bridges in New Zealand, Jamaica and India.

By 1861, Fleet & Newey, were producing a wide range of engineering facilities at their Crown Works near Swan Village including wrought-iron, steam engines, boilers, gas-holders, purifiers, tanks, bridge and other girders, iron roofing’s, Thames and canal boats, evaporating and sugar pans, water-barrels, barrows, and miners' tools. They also advertised themselves as general smiths.

A Company name change in 1884 and Fleet & Newey became Braithwaite & Kirk, engineers and contractors of Crown Bridge Works, West Bromwich.
The extensive Crown Bridge Works of Braithwaite & Kirk Ltd. Was located on the Balls Hill branch canal Just off Henry Street and south of Ryder Street the site originating in the mid-19th century when Riley,

Map of Swan Village 1890, Braithwaite & Kirk were situated on the outside of that sharp turn by the words Swan Village. 
Fleet & Newey started their structural engineering  business there.  The works was serviced by two basins provided for the delivery of raw materials as well as the despatch of finished goods.
In 1912, FMC commissioned Braithwaite and Kirk of West Bromwich to build 24 iron composite butties, at £190 each. They are recognised by having much finer fore-ends than the Saltley butties, with very little tumblehome on the top bends. Many of these boats had fore-cabins, and the majority were named after towns. The batch commenced with GRANGE in May 1912, and was completed in April 1914 with YARMOUTH. Particularly well regarded by boaters, as they will bow haul into a lock at almost any angle without stopping.
The 24 Braithwaite Horse Boats
FMC Fleet No
Build Year


Braithwaite’s Spreads it’s wings.

Braithwaite & Co Structural Ltd was established in 1913 as the Indian Subsidiary of Braithwaite & Co Engineers Limited (U.K.), for undertaking fabrication of Structural Steel Works. The Company was incorporated in Bengal as Braithwaite & Co (India) Ltd on February 28, 1930. The Clive works in Calcutta commenced manufacture of wagons for Indian Railways from 1934. In the year 1960, Braithwaite's Angus Works located at Bhadreswar, Hooghly District was setup for manufacture of Cranes, Foundry products, Machinery components etc. The Project Division at Calcutta was established in 1978 to execute turnkey projects for material handling plants. In 1987 Victoria Works was taken over, which was equipped with all facilities for manufacture of Pressure Vessels, Railway Wagons and Heavy Structures. Braithwaite & Co Limited was registered and incorporated on 1 December 1976 as a fully owned Government of India company and was put under BBUNL after the formation of this holding company in 1986. 

End of an Era.

Braithwaite & Co Engineers Ltd moved all operations to South Wales in the early 1980’s bringing to an end over 125 years of heavy engineering on that site
Braithwaite & Co Engineers Ltd became part of the Rowecord Group and is operated from the Neptune Works in Newport, South Wales. It has a diverse portfolio which includes the design and supply of the largest GRP and Steel water storage tanks in the world.
Finally, majority of the remaining Braithwaite & Kirk horse boats are now one hundred years old being built in 1912 so, if you see one out on the system,
Don’t bang ‘em about.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Podged rugs

Anyone who grew up in the Black Country in the 1950’s or earlier will know exactly what I am talking about as they will have probably been a party to this activity as a child or even observed mother or grandmother podging a rug.  No household worth its salt would have been without its podged rug on the hearth in front of a roaring coal fire and a wonderfully comfortable place for a small child to lay and also a wonderful habitat for another resident, the silverfish.  Anyway back to podging,  all you needed was an old erden bag (hessian sack), usually obtained from the husbands place of work, a broken dolly peg, the remaining leg whittled into a podger, and old worn out clothing , cut into strips approximately an inch wide and 3 inches long.
I can remember quite clearly when from about 8 -10 during the school holidays and while my parents were both out at work,  I would be ‘child minded’ by a woman down our street who had twin son’s a couple of years younger than me and a daughter the same age.  Our time, and our minds were always engaged during the whole time by educational activities.  These consisted of putting hook and eyes, press studs, knob pins and safety pins onto printed cards.  A local manufacturer in Tipton called Newey & Aires employed lots of local women as ‘home workers’ who went to the factory, collected the above cards and products in large quantities and returned home to ‘assemble’ them then return them to the factory and get paid.  No doubt very little payment (pre minimum wage days)  I remember going with this family on a couple of occasions armed with an old perambulator loaded up with empty ammunition tins to load with the educational toys.  Manny a happy hour I have spent sat on their hearth fitting thousands of pins or press studs.  Another activity she had us participate in was podging rugs.  One would sit cutting the old material into inch wide strips, another cutting the strips into 3 inch length and the remaining two armed with podgers making the rug.
How it’s done.  The podger is pushed through the erden bag, opening up the strands, then back up through missing out a counted number of strands (3 or 4) a strip of material is held over the pointed end of the podger and pushed through the holes created in the sacking taking the material with it, finally being pulled to equal out the two ends of material sticking out.  This process is then repeated a couple of strands away for the next loop of material and gradually the whole of the erden bag is filled to complete the rug.  It has become quite popular in recent years to have a podged rug in the back cabin, however this would have been highly unlikely years ago as 1 boat people would not have had the time to sit podging and 2 by the time boat people stopped wearing an item of old clothing there would not be a lot left of it to make into rug strips.  Over the last couple of years Dawn has took to podging rugs although she uses a modern podger

This is pushed through the erden bag then back up the opposite way, then the material is then gripped in the jaws of the podger and pulled back through.  She now sits on winters evenings with a pile of strips on her chest, the erden bag on her lap, and watches her favourite TV programs while busily podging, completing a small rug in several nights depending on the pattern of cause.  Traditionally podged rugs would be made from dark materials, so as not to show the dirt, and in the centre would be a red circle or diamond.  This was said to be attributed to their men folk off fighting the Crimean War. Dawn has followed this tradition with the red centres but tends to use brighter colours in a lot of cases.  Below I have pictured just a few examples of her podging.

And so there you are, so get podging, and if you don’t fancy it but would like a rug, why not ask Dawn next time you see her out and about as I’m sure she would oblige, so till next time,
Don’t bang ‘em about