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The History of 'Thistle'

A ship that survived two sinkings and being cut in half

In the beginning

Back in the late 1960's a company called Mid-England Narrow Boats was setting up a fleet of hire-boats on the canals of England and Wales. They were very successful and soon changed their name to Anglo-Welsh Narrow Boats. Their boats were built at Market Harborough and had a distinctive high bow that gave them their nickname "window smashers".

Although the first few Harborough boats had been built with wooden tops, they were soon being fitted with fibre-glass (GRP) cabins. One of the first GRP-top boats, started in 1969 and destined to be based at the Anglo-Welsh hirebase at Trevor, was called 'Worcester'. She was funded by a marine mortgage, to qualify for which she had to be registered as a ship - so 'Worcester' was registered at Hull as a 13-ton ship complete with all her "boats, guns, ammunition, small arms, and appurtenances". At 48 feet long with 6 berths, she was regarded as a really luxury canal cruiser, and could be hired for just 50 per week.

 

Excerpt from the 1973 Anglo-Welsh brochure

From the 1973 Anglo-Welsh brochure; "Worcester" was one of their Lincoln class boats

 

The first "sinking"

After 5 years at Trevor she was getting rather too old for a hire boat. Anglo Welsh wanted to sell her but to retain the name for her replacement; to avoid the time, effort, and cost of changing the name of a registered ship, she was instead declared "sunk without trace near Llangollen". Lloyds were happy to accept this as long as there was no loss of life and no insurance claim was being made. We were told that after a statutory 28 days the Lutine Bell was rung and she was officially declared to be lost. So she was sold, and renamed 'Thistle'. She was much loved despite her endearing quality of leaking copious amounts of water whenever it rained; she leaked all the way along the gunwales where the GRP met the steel, she leaked all around every one of her outward-opening windows, and she leaked at every point where the handrail was screwed to the roof.

The second sinking

The bottom had been built from 6mm plate, and had worn extremely thin especially along the chines where the sides met the bottom. Soon after being sold again in the early 1980's, Thistle sank and was abandoned on the Ashby canal. But even in a sunken condition she was still useful as a "boat of convenience" for a couple who were having a restaurant boat built and had been told by BWB that they needed to put their commercial licence on to a boat if they were to retain it - so for several months until the restaurant was completed, the sunken wreck of Thistle was officially licensed as a floating restaurant!

Raised and Born again

Thistle was sold again, and raised up from the bed of the canal. Clearly a refit would be needed, so it was the ideal time to have her lengthened. She was supposed to be lengthened to 60' but a slight mistake involving taking a measurement to the wrong side of a cupboard, meant that she actually ended up as 58'6". Also she wasn't cut quite straight nor was she joined straight, so in fact she bent first to the left and then upwards (as if the bow wasn't already high enough). This gave her interesting handling characteristics, especially in reverse.

For several years she was a family home in the Midlands, towing the butty "Dipper" behind her. The owners said it was wonderful that their teenage daughter lived on Dipper - if they had an argument, all they had to do was to untie the tow-rope and come back for her a few days later.

Modernisation

We bought Thistle in 1987. She was very homely inside although she looked a little tatty. It seemed as if every repairer in the Midlands had helped to fix something on her; as a result the plumbing was "interesting" with every pipe changing diameter several times on each run, the electrics shared so many circuits that every time you turned something on something else would turn off, she still leaked like a sieve whenever it rained (although at least the hull didn't leak, courtesy of lengths of angle welded along the chines), and so on. It seemed as if a previous owner preferred painting to cleaning, for I counted 11 coats of paint on the cabin with a layer of dirt between each one; when we bought her, the roof and gunwales were red and the cabin sides were black, a colour scheme that looked so good we kept it and even painted our next boat 'Keeping Up' the same colour.

 

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Thistle on the day we bought her in 1987. Distinctive high bow plus rather over-large cratch.
Thistle on the day we bought her. We loved the cruiser stern and replicated it on our next boat.
Interior view. We loved this woodwork and replicated it on our next boat.
A year later, at Stourbridge. Mainly repainted (but not yet the name board)

Over the next 4 years we cruised everywhere on Thistle from the River Thames to the Leeds and Liverpool canal, while bringing her up to standard. A new kitchen, new electrics,  new plumbing, and general painting and decorating were needed, although we did keep the amazing "Woodwarm" stove that nearly filled the lounge and powered the radiators. The direct-exit sea-toilet was replaced by a Port-Potti, and the shower was re-installed. In the end she looked just great, and we started looking to sell her to finance the building of our new boat, "Keeping Up".

 

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Eventually I repainted the name board too.
Note the outward opening windows that could knock you off the gunwale, or get broken if you opened them fully in a narrow lock.
Thistle and the Wolverton Trunk both looking smart with fresh paint.
At Stratford on Avon, 2 weeks before we sold her in 1991

She was sold in 1991 by Longport brokerage at Stoke-on-Trent. I wonder what she's doing now ... ???

Update 2008

Thistle was apparently abandoned on the Bridgewater in the late 1990's after a fire in the galley, then in 2001 she was fixed up and sold. The new owner was unable to maintain her and she was left with broken windows for a couple of years so the interior was again wrecked. With all her woodwork and fittings in very poor condition she was sold again, and her new owners completed a total refit in 2007. She has a new bottom and a very smart interior, which is in a relatively modern but warm and cosy style which has kept her unique character intact. Having passed all her surveys and BSS inspection she is once again in the water, being loved by caring new owners. She's an indomitable old lady whose story continues to be as chequered as ever.

 
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Thistle in 2008
Thistle in 2008
Thistle in 2008

 

 

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Go to Allan's Page Cruises with Thistle Canals Home Page The building of 'Keeping Up' Go to Deb's Page

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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