Guest Post by Shelley Davis
In England today, narrowboats are floating homes, or holiday cottages, moored on the nation’s inland waterways.
They can range from a small 20ft long day boat to around 80ft long for some liveaboard craft that will never be taken around the whole country, but must always be under 7ft wide to retain the narrowboat name. Inside the boat, this can give up to a luxurious 420 sq ft of space, once you exclude the engine and other ‘service’ areas.
Photo credits – R-P-M
However, historically Narrowboats were working craft, where the majority of the length was dedicated to moving coal to London, chocolate from Birmingham, crockery from the potteries in Staffordshire. This left only up to 10ft of one-room space for living for an entire family with multiple children. Most furnishings were multi functional:
A small wood and coal fired stove for cooking, hot water, and heating. One single bed that doubled as seating, and another double which would be folded across the cabin from where it had been used in the day as a cupboard door. A smaller cupboard door, hinged at the bottom, which could be folded down into a table.
There was no room for a bathroom of any sort. Chamberpots were used, and for washing, a bucket full of water was plenty. Some families had the luxury of a tin bath which could be strapped to the roof. Not just used for washing bodies however, the clothes were also scrubbed clean here and hung up on the roof of a boat or on the canal side if the family had stopped for a while.
Storage too, was at a premium, with cubby-holes made in every possible place to tuck away cleaning materials, eating utensils and necessary papers. Food was bought through the journey as a boat family had no room to grow their own. This was often from the lock-keepers who grew vegetables in their gardens, or the pub-owners who often doubled as shopkeepers for the busy passing trade of the canals.
As opposed to the peaceful bareness of a lot of modern tiny homes, decoration was bright and lavish, each boatman being the proud captain of his ship. The outsides were painted brightly. Not only the owner’s name, but also traditional patterns: roses, castles and harlequin diamonds. The interior walls of the cabin would have been festooned with keepsakes such as painted plates and polished brasses, but also with crochet lace, the traditional boatwoman’s craft. The longer leisure boats today are usually still painted with the traditional paint techniques as a nod to this history.
There are three magazines available in the UK on narrow boats. If you would like to keep up with what is happening on a regular basis you may want to subscribe to one of them. Here are the links: