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Saturday, June 16, 2012

On to Ellesmere Port and Out Again!!

"Being on a boat that's moving through the water, it's so clear. Everything falls into place in terms of what's important and what's not." ~James Taylor 


  After a lovely night cocooned on the boat with a bright wood fire crackling away inside while wind and heavy rain buffeted everything outside, we awoke to....overcast skies and rain more or less.
  The weather really does come in bands over here so it will sprinkle lightly for ten minutes, stop and be overcast for twenty minute--then start raining again; stop for five minutes then open up and piss down rain for an hour--maybe two, then slacken off gently over the next sixty minutes; the sun will make an appearance at dawn and occasionally at dusk.
   One day in five or six will be partly cloudy with blue sky and sunshine breaking through. When this happens the temperature rises to 66 degrees and I am hot! Mind you I am not complaining--except it would be lovely to have a bit less rain. So there you have it--English weather in a nutshell.
   Last night and early this morning we were visited by a family of swans. The male is the largest and his size was impressive. Swans are the largest water birds here in England according to my book on birds. They appear so regal floating on the water; wait until they heave themselves up on land. They are huge and odd looking, with the same short, wide, ungainly feet as me--only no toes! The cygnets in this family have a way to grow to develop those lovely, graceful swan wings.

    We cast off just past ten a.m. yesterday, bidding the swans goodbye in the rain and headed for the end of the Shroppie at Ellesmere Port where the mouth of the tidal Mersey River empties and fills beyond the Manchester Ship Canal.

   This end of the canal is heavily industrialized. Tall metal electricity towers crisscross the landscape carrying bundles of wire filled with electricity for the masses, while smoke stacks belch fumes from petrochemical plants, and sewage works sit chin by jowl with the canal.

   We cruise out from underneath a canal bridge upon which a British Waterways crew has parked for lunch in their rig. A blue BW working barge is moored up along the cut.

   As we near the mighty Mersey River and Ellesmere Port, the Shroppie is also laced overhead by carriageway (highway or freeway) overpasses. I like this shot directly below, of NB Valerie; it appears to be black and white but is actually color.

   A flash of sky and trees between freeway overpasses. Canal bridges are marred with graffiti although not as much as we saw on the Coventry canal.

   Dozens of pipe bridges either cross the Shroppie or travel next to it along the towpath. Mother Nature works extra hard in these parts to impress with her early summer beauty.

   I especially like the view below of the canal bridge with pipe attached, juxtaposed against the carriageway overpass. Some might not find it eye catching but I did! A canal side sculpture is lost amongst it all over on the left.

   The Shropshire Union Canal Society installed mooring rings along some of these sections but no sane boater will use them. Delinquents and ruffians hang out along the cut using the area for their less than legal or moral pursuits. To moor along here would invite trouble we don't seek.

   This pipe bridge wears a decorative fan--to keep hooligans and juvenile delinquents from climbing on the pipe. The final bridge up ahead will bring us into Ellesmere Port.

   We arrived at the Ellesmere Port National Waterways Museum just after 11 a.m. The air was thick with humidity and heavy rain threatened. Up ahead to the right beyond the car park is a vista encompassing the ship canal and the Mersey... ahead and to the left is the museum.

   The Manchester Ship canal curves by in the mid-ground and the mighty tidal Mersey stretches out in the background of the two pictures below.

   In the upper basin across from where we moored one sees the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum with its tall stack, and restored working boats moored alongside.

   The basin down below was full so we moored up at the top by the car park and moseyed toward the exhibits. Here is a submerged working boat hull. The museum hopes to restore some of these...

   The pictures below show what is left of Porter's Row. Porter's were the men who worked on the docks moving cargo between the boats and the warehouses.

   In 1851 twelve members of the Grimes family lived at number twelve; six members of the Harrison family lived at number eight; six members of the Thomson family lived at number ten Porter's row. Census records indicate that by 1871 blacksmiths, shipwrights and watermen were also living amongst the Porter's in the row houses.
   Originally there were twelve small row houses built in 1833 for a sum of £780.00 to house workers for the Ellesmere and Chester Canal Company. In 1846 the company was amalgamated into the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company. In 1863 gas works were built on the nearby docks for the company and the Porter's houses were the first to be lit with gas lights. In 1921 the Manchester Ship Canal company takes over and employees living in Porter's Row have rent deducted from their pay. In 1921 row houses 1-8 are demolished to make way for a garage.
   Number ten was lived in continually until 1981 when the Museum purchased the building for restoration. After speaking with those whose families lived in them, the museum has restored the cottages in its care to accurately reflect how they looked between 1840 and 1950--furnished to provide a look at domestic life in Porter's Row. The interiors--from gas lamps to wall paper were carefully researched and chosen for accuracy. (Information courtesy of the National Waterways Museum, 2012.)

   Above, a view from outside the rows. Around the back was a neat kitchen garden, a shed to house animals such as chickens and rabbits, and a communal outhouse and laundry room.
   Below, standing in the kitchen doorway of the 1950's house, looking outside at Ellesmere lower Basin.

   Below we are standing in the doorway of the 1950's Row house which opens into the front room. the back wall is out of sight on our left. Beyond the baby pram is the door to the kitchen. the black and white telly is broadcasting an interview with a very young Brigitte Bardot!

   That is the extent of the first floor space. A small set of steep steps off the kitchen led up to two rooms upstairs for sleeping quarters. It is hard to believe families of six to ten or more crammed themselves into such tiny living spaces!

   Below we are standing in the kitchen doorway looking into the Victorian front parlour as it was known then.

   And below, inside the Victorian kitchen with its wonderful cast iron stove and oven. There are no spacious counters on which to work up a loaf of bread or a meal for a family of ten--just a small table cluttered with the tools of a wife and mother's trade in home economics, while the iron sits warming near the flames.

   On the left kitchen wall is the Welsh Dresser for china with storage underneath for a bag of flour and other comestibles.
   The drying rack hangs from pulleys attached to the kitchen ceiling, allowing one to pull it down to load with wet laundry and hoist it up again where the heat from the kitchen fire bakes everything dry.

   Stepping through the back door of the kitchen one comes to the communal laundry shed. For those who've never set eyes on such a sight, the item directly left is called a mangle. One feeds the wet clothes through it after washing and rinsing and it wrings out the clothes.

   The stick standing up in the large barrel is actually a wooden plunger with dowels at the bottom which turn the wet, soapy clothes. This is a manual tumbler! Imagine the upper arm muscles a woman would develop!
   A fire was lit underneath the white brick square to the right and it would heat the water in the large copper bowl which sits under the round wooden lid. It's easy to understand why Monday was wash day--and laundry literally took all day to complete. Tuesday followed as ironing day! (Remember the iron warming on the kitchen hearth, two pictures up?!!)

   After touring Porter's Row and the Museum with its exhibits of all the parts of working boats, the canals and wharfs, we went outside and looked into the living space of a typical working narrow boat, below.
   A man and woman and all their children would live in this tiny hold! A wood cook stove provided heat and a place to fix meals. On the left wall just past the stove a round edged cupboard flipped down to provide a counter/table.
Opposite is a built in bench with storage. The curtain provided a modicum of modesty and privacy. Beyond, another cupboard opened out of the wall, and another wooden section dropped down to connect with the bench opposite creating a bed the width of today's single beds. Mum and Da slept there; children slept on the kitchen bench or floor near the stove.
   A boat wife had to heat water for washing up, laundry, and bathing in this tiny space, as well as store, prepare and serve meals, and get a gaggle of children asleep every night. It makes the cramped quarters of Porter's Row look quite spacious by comparison!

    After lunch back on NB Valerie me and Les discussed what to do and where to go next. We didn't want to stay in Ellesmere if we couldn't go down in the basin overnight--teen vandals are notorious in the area for cutting boat ropes and lobbing rocks and other crap at boats moored up top.
   The tide on the Mersey headed out; the skies opened up and poured. Les slipped into his rain gear and winded NB Valerie. We motored back to our spot at bridge 134 near Chester zoo. It is quiet here and peaceful.
   As soon as Les moored up--it quit raining! That's okay--the forecast for evening was black clouds with heavy rain and wind gusts to twenty eight miles an hour at points.
   We brought in wood and coal yesterday morning so we could have a lovely warm fire. Dinner was Tuna Noodle casserole and salad. Les put up the wind genny as we decided stay here until Sunday or Monday and then cruise back in to Chester for a short foray into the city before heading for the Middlewich arm and eventually the Anderton boat lift.


Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the pulley in the kitchen. If you didn't remember to take down the washing before Mum started to cook, your school uniform smelled of roast dinner!


Neil Corbett said...

Come on! This year there is more rain than even us English are used to!! :-) I would be hard pressed to remember a year this wet - and I have a lot of years to remember :-)
Kath (nb Herbie)

Les Biggs said...

Hi Sally,
LOL! I guess that could be a downside to drying one's laundry in the kitchen. I think the gizmo itself is brill--I could have used one when living in Alaska in a cabin with no mod cons. I wonder why that contraption never crossed the pond?
Love Jaq

Les Biggs said...

Hi Kath,
I am Alaskan born and bred. I've also had heat stroke three times and I just don't tolerate heat well at all. I do tire of the rain, but it doesn't make me wish I could peel off my skin like the hot weather does. You can have my measure of hot sun. I'll share!!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs