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Genealogy and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

The Census is the obvious place to start, though very few boatmen appear, certainly far less than worked on the canal. The enumerator would not have visited local canal wharves at the appointed time, so when asking people on boats if they were there at a particular time, the answer would usually have been 'No', and hence the lack of boatmen recorded in the Census.

The next official record would be by local health officials under the Canal Boats Act of 1877, where every boat fitted out with living accommodation had to be registered. Some insight into this can be found at www.old-merseytimes.co.uk/canalboatsact.html.

Registers for boats on the L&LC survive for Leeds, Burnley, Blackburn, Wigan and Liverpool, either in the local record office or museum. They sometimes record the master of a boat, and sometimes record changes in the master, but they are not comprehensive. Also they only apply to boats on which people could live, and there were other boats just used during the day which were not registered.

The Canal Company, as with most canals in this country, was a private business with no need to retain records, so few details of canal workers survive. There are some daybooks for the men employed as carpenters at Apperley Bridge and at Bank Newton, but they are purely an outline of the work undertaken, and are difficult to interpret unless you know about the type of work involved with canal maintenance.

For boatmen, those on general cargo boats were employed by the canal company from around 1870 to 1921. They were then employed by one of four carrying companies until 1930, when Canal Transport Ltd was formed. The records for Canal Transport Ltd survive, as do those for Lancashire Canal Transport Ltd, and these do include some information as to which boats men were employed upon. The records are in the Waterways Archive, and are being moved to Ellesmere Port, where they should be available from Spring 2012. Records for general cargo boatmen are virtually non-existent prior to 1921, with very occasional mentions in the canal company minutes held at Kew, but only when an unusual problem was being discussed. For boatmen other than those on general cargo boats, there are virtually no records at all.

The best source for those who worked on boats is www.boatfamilies.org.uk which gives details of families based in the Burscough area. Burscough was the main base for many boatmen, particularly those involved in the long distance general cargo traffic, the grain trade, and coal carrying from Wigan to Liverpool. However, boatmen and their families could be found in communities in many places along the canal.

Please note, that apart from these sources, there are few other places where details of L&L Canal workers can be found. The following could help:



Books and articles

  • Brightwork, Traditional paintwork on Leeds & Liverpool Canal boats, Mike Clarke and Sam Yates, ISBN 0-9519236-2-5
  • Burscough Boatmen, Their marriages and their boats, Robert Cheetham-Houghton, ISBN 1-90231-12-7
  • Canal Workers and Boatmen around Accrington, Mike Clarke, Aspects of Accrington, ISBN 1-871647-65-7, pp 61-75
  • Hodson's of Whitebirk, Mike Clarke and Sam Yates, Waterways Journal, Vol 12, ISSN 1466-3732, pp 37-54
  • The Leeds & Liverpool Canal, a history and guide, Mike Clarke, ISBN 0-948789-40-9
  • The Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Yorkshire, Dr G Firth, ISBN 0-7524-1631-6
  • Liverpool and Its Canal, Mike Clarke, ISBN 978-1-84306-336-0