Extract from Household Words:  Third Stage

Not far from Braunston in Northamptonshire (the head of the Grand Junction Canal) we came upon a small boatman’s village.  It was the only place we had seen on our journey where the people on the land seemed to belong to the people on the water: where everybody knew everybody, and seemed glad to see everybody, and where there was some provision made for a boatman’s requirements - to say nothing of his hungry friends and visitors.

This boatman’s village consisted of only a few houses, all crowded round a lock and a bridge.  There was a boatman bootmaker’s, from the recesses of whose workshop came a most deafening clinking of hammers closing rivets up, showing clearly the metallic character of the article produced.  There was a boatman’s tailor’s and hosier’s, with many pairs of the bright blue thick worsted stockings shining through the small window, and fustian trousers hanging up outside the door, dancing in the slight breeze.  Women were leaning over garden-rails in little front gardens on the towing-path, talking to boatmen; while other women in barges were coming out of cabin-doorways to join in the conversation, followed by children, who appeared one after the other, as the first got out of the way of the second, and the second of the third, like the figures that come through an archway on the top of the automaton-clock toys.  One precocious young boatman, aged eight years, dressed in the most approved style, with jacket-waistcoat, trousers, and cap, was attending to a large horse, and superintending the progress of his father’s barge through the lock-gates.

Inquiries were being made on land and water respecting journeys, families, relations, cargoes, provisions and persons passed on the road; while Captain Randle emerged from the Stourport cabin, and asked two women standing at the door of he tailor’s when he might expect the new plush waist-coat they had got in hand.  Close to the lock-gates was a long low-roofed tavern, grocer’s and butcher’s, all in one, kept by a female relation of our commander.  We left the barge in a body along with the cheerful giant and two of the butty-boat crew, to try the strength and flavour of the tavern’s best ale.  We entered a long room, with a very low ceiling, old diamond-paned, leaden-framed windows, containing seats, an enormous kitchen range, clean deal kitchen-tables, and a tall clock in a mahogany case like a small wardrobe.  Through a door at the end was seem the grocery department, communicating with, and terminating in, the butcher’s shop.  This passage formed such a tempting vista of food that we could not delay a moment, and, leaving the boatmen to drink their ale, we rushed through and immediately purchased several pounds of beefsteak.

Source:  John Hollingshead: On The Canal

It is quite possible that the ‘tavern, grocer’s and butcher’s’ referred to above was Dhavlos Cottage pictured in 1915 below, but still in existence.  It was once three dwellings including a shop providing boots, and other boaters’ needs, also a cobbler.  I am indebted to Braunston History Society for this information.

G&W 10

Photo: Braunston History Society

     © Graham Nurser 2012