Extraordinary stoppage on the Grand Junction Canal for nearly twenty-six hours – enough to turn the milk sour!
“It appears that two boats got into the lock against Raven’s-lane at the same time, one under the charge of Mr. Harvey Bedford, carrier, &c., Berkhampstead, belonging to Mr. G. W. Costin, the well-known boat builder, of Berkhampstead, an empty boat, tail foremost, which it is said was the first to enter the lock. Two boats laden with straw, bearing the name of Mr. Marshallsay, of Wendover, followed, and one got inside the lock with the boat of Mr. Bedford’s, and as neither of the responsible men in charge would proceed, they persisted in obstinately waiting there in the lock and stopping the canal traffic to and fro.
As the time passed, boats from either way accumulated, some from as far down as Tipton, in Staffordshire. A pair of boats from Aylesbury were reported to be laden with condensed milk destined for a ship leaving London on Tuesday. Night came and no movement was made, people meanwhile congregating on the Raven’s Lane Canal Bridge, and some of the boat people resting at the adjacent public houses. Intelligence was sent to Mr. Thomas, junr., at Marsworth, surveyor of this portion of the canal, who arrived on Tuesday morning upon the scene, and soon afterwards the empty boat was drawn back. More than fifty boats had been delayed on both sides, and it is said that the claims for compensation will have to be divided between the two contending parties. When a move was made it took several hours before all the boats could be got off.” (Bucks Herald, Mar 1890).
Port of Berkhamsted
The area between locks 53 and 54 has been dubbed the Port of Berkhamsted. Next to the Castle Street bridge is the Crystal Palace pub…
“designed by Joseph Paxton, who also designed the London Crystal Palace which housed the Great Exhibition. The pub was used regularly by canal boatmen until the 1970s, when the industrial narrow boat trade ceased through Berkhamsted. In those days the floors were still covered with sawdust and there was clog dancing and an accordion player.” (Peter Such, The Graham Greene Canal Trail Part III — The ‘Port of Berkhamsted’).
If not Cowper, who was the poet?
Percy Birtchnell wrote: “…I hope the derelict building beside the ‘Crystal Palace’ will be pulled down. Once a charming cottage, known as ‘Poet’s Corner’, it is no longer likely to inspire an ode.”
The poet is thought to be Frank Reffitt, who stayed on as a lodger at the cottage after serving with the Inns of Court in Berkhamsted. (Townsman, Berkhamsted Review, Mar & May 1965).
“Valuable and important freehold mercantile property, known as the Castle Wharf, with its very substantial residence, weighing-office and counting-house, large coal-yard and wharfage, kitchen and flower gardens, large two-storey warehouse, stabling for 12 horses, an extensive dockyard, with boat-building sheds, &c. A valuable plot of building land, with a cottage thereon. The premises have a very important frontage to the canal of 650 feet or thereabouts. Also a Freehold Dwelling-house, situate in the upper part of Castle-street. The foregoing property produces an actual and estimated rental of upwards of £150 per annum.” (The Times, Aug 1883).
Picture the scene (oh where was that photographer?)…
“Mr. E.W. Costin, boat builder, of Castle Wharf, sent away, per rail, the second of a number of boats he is building for Eastern Counties navigation. The boat being about 50ft. long and 10ft. wide, and weighing seven or eight tons, was a difficult thing to convey to the station, but the removal was less troublesome than on the first occasion. By the aid of one of Messrs. East and Son’s timber carriages, and some of their firm’s experienced men, with assistance from the Railway Company, seven horses, under the direction of Mr. Harvey Bedford, conveyed the boat to the Goods Yard, from whence it was sent to Ely. (Bucks Herald, Feb 1890).
Mrs Halsey and her canal-side cottages:
In Feb-1893, “Mrs Jane Halsey’s belongings were got together and stowed away at the Union Workhouse, the old lady being in the Infirmary there. The six cottages are all now untenanted, excepting one occupied by Mrs Clack, who is reported to be unable to get a habitation elsewhere. A source of constant trouble for many years to the Sanitary Authorities, the local Bench and others, including rate collectors, who have obtained no rates on the property for years, has thus been abated. The property is by no means unpleasantly situate (although it has been let run to ruin); it faces the canal, and behind it is the new Station Road and the London and North-Western Railway. Across the canal, just opposite these cottages, is one of the busiest hives of industry in Berkhampstead, Mr. Costin’s boat building yard, and Mr T.H. Norris’s (late Wm. Key) saw mills and timber yard, both of which were formerly occupied by Hatton’s coal wharf and boat building yard.” (Bucks Herald).
According to census records, Jane’s husband James Halsey had been a Master Carpenter in London and in the High Street, but it appears her standard of living dropped when he died in 1879.
“With high-speed wires above and slow boats below, the canal was a doubly important line of communication. BBC programmes… were transmitted the canal way from London to Daventry, creating some obvious jokes about the use of the word ‘wire-less’. Some years before the 1939-45 war the overhead system was abandoned and… poles were cut down.” (Townsman, May 1971).