Billinge Green Flash in Cheshire, has an intentionally sunken wooden boat in it. The history of the boat is somewhat unclear, but it remains something of a local landmark when passing along the canal. The following is based on my limited exploration in September 2009 and the information available at that time.
On the Trent and Mersey Canal, between Anderton Boat Lift and Middlewich, there are a couple of flashes. Each of these flashes was caused by subsidence from salt mining and brine extraction in the Northwich area. The drop in the land height caused the off-side bank of the canal to collapse in places and then for the canal to spill into the adjacent (now lowered) land.
I'm not the only person with good eyesight and it seems that a significant number of people have noticed:
The fact that the boat is noticeable is most likely the reason it was placed there. One BW bod suggested that it had a dual role, both as both an ornament and as a discouragement to other navigation, demonstrating the depth of the flash at that point. The vessel is fairly centrally placed and its position was clearly chosen done with intent:
From the 1950s onwards, the shallow pools were used by the British Waterways Board to sink a number of unneeded and old vessels.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Ian Riley recovered—apparently with a grappling iron and a Landrover—many hulls, allowing these to be restored as viable floating wooden vessels again.
The hulk there now must either have been deemed nonviable for rescue by Ian, or it arrived at a later stage.
There is some speculation that the hulk may be that of the wooden FMC "Fish Class" motorboat nb Brill, later used as a BWB maintenance vessel denoted RB/128/NWS and there's a whole page on this possibility:
At various points from 2005 onwards, planning information appears regarding the use of one, or both of the flashes as possible marinas/mooring basins:
In the case of a marina, the outcome would mean a proper clearance of the flash and the dredging up of this particular vessel and any other remains. Whether such a marina development goes ahead at some point is indifferent. The boat is deteriorating (and increasingly speedily). Less of it will be above the waterline the next time...
The extra rainfall during Thursday 3 September 2009 allowed getting Jubilee sufficiently far into the flash to take a closer look. The flash is shallow, that means even shallower than the Ashby Canal and definitely shallower than the River Weaver Navigation. No trying loops-the-loops like you can in Tixall Wide! Bilinge Green flash is the type of place you can safely sit on the bottom without bothering to tie up for the night.
I was able to get Jubilee's bows close enough to access a limited area around the front of the original cabin on the hulk. I succeeded at not getting my feet wet at any point, although I suspect that any further examination would need to be done from something like an open canoe that has the necessary low draught and could be brought along side.
As approached, the boat is the back half of a thoroughly rotted working boat. One that appears to have been used for maintenance purposes, operating with "squared-off" bows in the process and chopped down to 35–40-feet in length. It is primarily wooden; a wooden hull with a wooden cabin, but a steel-enclosed engine room—at least for the part above the gunwhales.
It's not moving, and even if it were, it's been strongly roped down to something extremely solid, heavy and probably made of concrete.
The [square] bow points upstream towards Middlewich—being moored parallel to the canal which means that the starboard side (facing the canal thoroughfare) has taken considerably more punishment than the port side (facing the farm). The vertical sides forward of the cabin bulkhead are extant, but the timbers below the cabin are virtually absent, particular the starboard side.
The swim was sunken below the waterline and I wasn't able to make educated guesses about its shape.
About one-metre forward of the engine bulkhead, a rear of a "shed" construction remains, complete with swinging door in the middle (up to the height of the top of the hold). Very much a shed; this is constructed from roughly sewn timber arranged in an overlapping sloping fashion. The door (gate) has a chrome or aluminium bolt lock on it (still attached). Just forward of this low-level "shed" partition wall there is the remains of a work bench surface on the port side with a cut in the middle that could have been for a sink.
Half way along what remains of the hold are the eyes for the rear-most set of bracing chains.
Fastened all around the outside of the hold are clips with figure-of-eight tags for tying down hold cloths... these are galvanised and look virtually like new. There ware a few bits of canvas—probably last ditch attempts at waterproofing before finally giving up.
My interest lies with the cabin structure. Compared to previous photographs, whatever was holding up the starboard side has given way and the roof sloped over as a result. Within a couple of years I suspect most of it will be level with the water-line.
The cabin appears to have been fairly straight and boxy without obvious curves.
The back cabin is of wooden construction, with wooden boards over the top. There is in addition a metal brace in an inverted 'U' shape running around the inside of the frame just before where the hatch would have been.
The width of the cross-bed appears to have been just under three foot judging by the spacing between the cabin beams. That end of the boat was mostly out of reach of the tape-measure ...and mostly missing anyway. Earlier photographs show a plank nailed across at forty-five degree to provide some rigidity; again, missing now as of 2009.
I gingerly laid a series of 2x4 lengths of timber across in front of the cabin bulkhead between the tops of the gunwhales, and with a plank on top of those this gave reasonable access for measuring. I was able to place the drawing-board on the roof for noting the details... roofs are very convenient things, but I wouldn't wish to put any serious weight on this one.
The Engine 'Ole is angle iron, with all of the steel plates appeared to be about 4 millimetres thick, but massively corroded down to various levels of nothingness. Prior to any attempt at boarding it was possible to just sit there and listen to the occasional "plop" as the wind (it was a very windy day) carried bits off. The bulk head was a single sheet above the gunwhales and another sheet below with a further supporting strip running across between the two gunwhales at the join.
In the centre of roof is the pigeon box hole, with the hole for the exhaust stack aligned just in front of the starboard side.
There are hatches on both sides, each composed of two doors held by two hinges (eight hinges total). Each hinge then had eight coach bolts holding it. Part of the forward starboard hatch door remained and a couple of the other solitary hinges. All were rusted and immovable but basically two plates and a pin bolted on the outside so that the hutch doors open outwards and can swing flat again. The port side hatch door also has a curved section cut out of the roof. Around the top edges would have been the extra wooden panelling but primaryily there are just rusted, eroded lines of coach bolts sticking up like under-sized mushrooms.
Whilst it's still just there to see, one might as well measure it as well. Tape-measure, cereal packet and drawing board in hand I got what I could without taking risks. My wish is that it's a useful record, since the boat will fade away into the flash eventually.
On the off-chance that British Waterways has anything in their records, I've asked them:
(If you've read this far, chances are that you're curious too... perhaps we'll get an answer from somebody who remembers).
No. The hull is pretty much a goner, which is why it's where it is. Hulls that have survived in soft silt are going to be in much better condition and wooden boats tend to have more admirers than willing owners... so look elsewhere for your next project.
The only recognisable parts of iron-mongery on the boat are the bracing chain eyes and the back end rail—the latter having survived through simply starting off so much thicker than anything else. Interestingly, there was no ring on the rail. In addition, for the desperate, there are fourteen iron, or steel knees keeping the hold square.
I was not really set for anything beyond using a tape measure and pen but in the end took pity on the back end rail, ...helping it to safety with a hacksaw, rather than allow it to fall the rest of the way off and disappear below the waves to meet the fishes. Once upon a time a blacksmith somewhere spent some large amount of time making it... Hopefully, along with the drawings and a bit of research it'll be possible to discover where that might have been.
Update mid-2011: Good news; the handrail has now been passed to a group people behind a similiar-era restoration project. It's been restored and is now destined to continue its life safely above the waves and touring the British Canal System (and visiting Braunston) as it did before.
If you happen to know anything concrete (or iron, steel, or wood) about the origins of the boat and what it might have done before it took up residency at picturesque Bilinge Green. Please do get in contact, or at least tell lots of other people!Paul Sladen, 2009-09-05.