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Carry on Canals

People have lived and worked along the canals of East London since they first opened.

Audio One:

“We came in ’53 – Coronation year. It was a quiet place then – horse drawn barges, steam trains. Over the years it’s changed from steam to diesel and now electric. And it’s the same with the barges; horse drawn then tug drawn and then they disappeared altogether.”


Audio Two:

“I looked for a job. I got this job eventually as an office boy in late 1944 at the Lea Conservancy Board. The conservancy Board managed the River Lea and the River Stort. After being there for some months as an office boy I liked the engineering work because there were engineers doing improvements to locks and weirs and steel sheet piling for river walls and so on. And I got quite interested in that and I asked if I could be trained as a draughtsman.”


Audio Three:

“I used to work down Marshgate Lane, right at the end. I used to work for a chemical company and we were rather isolated down there so it would take too long to get back into Stratford lunchtimes so we used to out for a walk down to the canal which was just a few yards away and along the towpath to where there was a lock. We’d sit down by the lock and watch the lockmaster down there and we’d eat our sandwiches sitting by the lock. On of lovely sunny day it used to be lovely…”


Audio Four:

“In the old days the river was wider than it is now it used to come practically right up to the door and they made it narrow. That must have been the 60′s. In those days the river was that polluted there was nothing living in it because the factories they used to have on the riverbank used to throw all their rubbish in it. Soon as they got rid of all of those it was cleaned up a hell of a lot and now we’ve got fish living in it, it’s quite nice.”


Audio Five:

“The engineer’s office was based in a place called Enfield Lock. It was a quite fascinating place because as well as the engineering works it was a base for boat building, you know. So they were doing boat building and repairs and things of that sort. They had the horses there to pull the barges and they were fascinating because they were massive horses you know. And as they arrived at the top of the yard, I used to dash up there and I’d have a ride on the horse, which used to be very nice down to where they were stabled.”


Audio Six:

“Years ago it used to be a working canal all the time but parts of the canal were silted up so lots of barges could only go up one part of it and some barges did used to come through while we were there. Sometimes we would see a shire horse down there that used to pull these barges so they were still in existence, that must have been in the 60′s. They weren’t put to use all of the time but they were down there and obviously they used to pull the barges along.”


Audio Seven

“In those days when the barges were on and the rowers used to row coz the rowers they used to row at night after work and it got dark and they’d have a light on the boat you know. They were coming under Lea Bridge, one crew, the transport, and somebody had let a barge off this side of the bridge and they was coming from the other side and of course they smashed into it and they all went in and one went right underneath the barge and one of the fellows on there dived under and saved him. He got, the Transport gave him a medal for that. There was another time, when was this, in the 70′s I suppose, the old milk float, he parked his milk float half way up the hill there and the next minute it was down, through the fence and in the river. We had Police, divers, fire brigade, ambulance. Everybody was down here.”


Audio Eight

“The lock is about transferring a barge from one level of water to another and there are 2 pairs of gates which are closed one at a time so that the boat goes down and so on. Now during times of flood sometimes if there is a danger of a flood at a particular place one or a number of the lock keepers would be instructed to open and close the lock gates without there being a barge with the intention of transferring a load of water from one side to another.”