My travels on the cut continue. I passed this spot a while back, and again the other day. The significance for my adventures in family history is that boatmen in Andrew’s Kindred were recorded at Gigetty in the 1841 census (already covered in Evans the Boat). In 1851 they were at Ounsdale, a short haul to the north. I stopped for a pint at the Round Oak pub, next to Houndel Bridge, and contemplated the scene some 160-odd years ago.That day there were some boats tied up and a few kids let off steam in the play area, while parents (mostly) relaxed on a warm, school-holiday afternoon. No boats passed, which is unusual, even now. There were houses opposite where there were none in the 1880s – Wombourne has grown immensely more recently, so that Giggetty and Ounsdale were out in the countryside, not in the edge of what is tantamount to a small town today.
Back in the 1840s and 1850s there would surely have been a constant stream of boats carrying all manner of goods and materials from the Black Country to Stourport and back: import-export. I imagine Giggetty Wharf would be a hive of activity, with, in addition to the passing boats and the sound of horses clip-clopping, and sometimes whinnying and snorting, men talking and shouting, women and children also, goods offloading, barrels rolling, chains clanking, metal grating against metal, clanging, more horses hooves and cartwheels carrying goods from and to the wharf. Even on Sundays, when Evans maybe rested and went to church, the fly boats would be going as fast as they could.
But something was bugging me. Were the Evans based at Wombourne or was it just coincidence that successive censuses recorded them in more or less the same place? How could I tell? Perhaps birth places of children would help?
While in Wombourne I went to the parish church, dedicated to St Benedict Biscop. It was here that William and Priscilla Evans’ daughter Hannah was baptised on 14 Mar 1842, abode Giggetty, father boatman.
What of other children?
Their first four children (John, Robert, Jane, Thomas) were baptised at Doddleston, Cheshire, where William was an agricultural labourer. The first reference to work on the water was the baptism of Frances, 4 February 1833, St John the Baptist, Chester, abode Queen Street, father “Flatman”. Queen Street runs between the canal and Foregate Street, round the back of Tesco. A flatman was someone who operated or worked a flat-bottomed boat, which could navigate shallow waters, presumably on the River Dee.
In 1835 the Shropshire Union Canal reached Chester. It had wide locks to accommodate two boats at a time to speed up traffic. It also meant that a butty boat could go in alongside.
Then, in 1836, son Edward baptised 25 May, Steam Mill Street Primitive Methodist Chapel, abode Canal Bank, father boatman. From this I infer that Edward’s family lived on a boat.
Going down to Chester, these boats would be able to navigate the locks side-by-side (as they would on other stretches of canal, such as the Grand Union). Obviously, the aromas would have been different in Evans the Boat’s day! Less particulates and more methane! That written, at least the horse exhaust was recyclable.
Note that the cabins on these boats are about ten feet, and the engine has been installed to for’ard (where the opening is). I am glad my engine is not so noisy or smoky. (You can hear these guys coming for half a mile, but you can hardly hear my engine at the bow.)
Next was Priscilla, born Great Boughton 1838 (from census) – I have not found her baptism record in Staffordshire, Cheshire, Worcestershire or Shropshire, covering the Shropshire Union and Staffs & Worcs Canals. Great Boughton is in the east side of Chester, close to the centre, and might be the same place as Edward in 1836.
Then in 1841 the family was recorded at Giggetty, Wombourne. Several nearby records were boatmen, so it seems likely they lived aboard.
Then Hannah. above (1842). So they moved to Wombourne, Staffordshire. I guess they saw trade to Chester declining and heard about the growing trade from the Black Country, via the new port of Stourport, to the growing trade in the British Empire and took their chance, even in the advancing shadow of the burgeoning railway network.
No further children are recorded in censuses.
In 1851 the family was recorded at Ounsdale a short distance away. I think these must have been different locations, though the place name might simply have been enumerator preference. Again, nearby records (some at Giggetty) were boatmen, so they probably lived aboard then, too.
Today, the suburbia-type sprawl of Wombourne covers the land east of the canal, which, back then flowed through countryside.
In 1861 William and Priscilla Evans were at Giggetty, with other boatmen, near to the Navigation Inn. The Round Oak pub is listed separately, so the Navigation Inn is one of those thousands of lost pubs. The present-day Navigation Inn at Greensforge is another place. Son Edward and family were at “Blacklay”, today Blakeley, where many neighbours were nail forgers, or had other occupations not associated with life on the cut. Going on the 1881-1883 Ordnance Survey, Blacklay was some distance from the canal, and I suggest they and their neighbours lived in houses. By that time, I gather, most boatmen had moved off the canal.
To answer the question: the birth places of children leave me none the wiser as to whether the Evans’ were based near Wombourne, or if they just happened to be there on census nights and when Hannah was baptised. Perhaps, at least for a time their work centred on Giggetty Wharf, but I guess I will never advance beyond speculation.
There is another Bumble Hole in the Black Country. Apparently, it is so named because the loud noise made by the heavy machinery resembled a continual bumble, bumble …