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James Loader
JAMES LOADER is a wooden tug with a 28 horsepower Gardner engine, built in 1946 by Joe Worsey of Walsall for Leonard Leigh Ltd.
Registration number 1405 in the National Historic Ships Register


Nothing happened to the tug in 2012, but on May 9th she was lifted out at Braunston Marina and brought by road to the yard. Work will now start on plank and knee replacement, and a complete exterior refurbishment. The photos show the fine underwater shape of the tug hull, giving her excellent steering and swim properties.
JL lift out 2013  P Boyce JL in yard 2013  P Boyce
Lifting JAMES LOADER, May 2013 - P Boyce


This year JAMES LOADER was docked with BETELGEUSE at Stockton Dry Dock, for tarring and inspection. Several blocks of oak were inserted in the port side. The number of blocks indicates this plank needs replacing soon, as each block weakens it.
JL on dock 2011  P Boyce JL patch 2011  P Boyce
JAMES LOADER on dock, March 2011 - P Boyce

The tug returned to Braunston, and work has now started on replacing the foredeck and repairing the fuel tank. Further hull problems were uncovered during removal of the tank, and he will have to be put on the bank for major hull repairs.
JL foredeck removed 2011  P Boyce JL tank winched out 2011  P Boyce
Removing foredeck and fuel tank from JAMES LOADER, July 2011 - P Boyce


In 2010 JAMES LOADER towed BETELGEUSE to Coventry for the HNBOC gathering, and attended the tug gathering at the BCLM, Dudley, over the Mayday weekend.
Joeys and tugs  P Boyce
Joey boats and tugs at the BCLM, May 2010 - P Boyce
In June we were carrying guests and shepherding BETELGEUSE round the Braunston boat gathering. BETELGEUSE was towed to Stockton carrying materials for the restoration of FMC motor ADMIRAL, and then we took the butty to Banbury for the Canal Day in October. The tug is still waiting for work to start on replacing the foredeck.


JAMES LOADER was heavily involved with the recovery of NB LUCY, being used as a working platform and for transportation of materials, and in May towed the rescued LUCY from the puddle banks to the marina for lifting on the steel frame.
JL  P Boyce.... JL  L Sturrock....

In June the tug was drydocked at Braunston bottom lock, for hull repairs, painting and tarring.

JL  P Boyce....

In September we towed BETELGEUSE to the River Thames via the southern Oxford Canal, to a towing job on the Basingstoke Canal. The houseboat DRAGONFLY, a 100+ year old iron BCN day boat sitting in an outer steel hull, needed towing to Pyrford Marina drydock on the River Wey from above lock 2 on the Canal. DRAGONFLY needed an inspection, but after finding many holes in her outer hull, she needed a complete replating, too. While this was being done, I fitted a new wooden foredeck.

JL  P Boyce.... JL  P Boyce....

After the houseboat had been returned to her mooring, BETELGEUSE was loaded with fresh cut oak beams for ongoing restoration work at Braunston, and we returned to base in October.


JAMES LOADER collected BCN No108 (ex "JOE") from Lapworth at the New Year, towing it to Tess Wharf, Braunston, for fitting out for the sand traffic. JOE was delivered to Uxbridge after the stoppages were finished, after attending the Easter gathering of the Historic Narrow Boat Owners Club at Stoke Bruerne. JAMES LOADER with BETELGEUSE in tow then attended the Rickmansworth Canal Festival, and later, Banbury Canal Day.
In November we towed BETELGEUSE to Stockton dry dock, carrying timber for the new running gear for the town class motor STANTON. In late 2008, JAMES LOADER became the working platform for the work on the sunken LUCY, at one time supporting the outer leg of a gantry for lifting the heavier items out of the boat.

JL  P Boyce....


After delivering BETELGEUSE to her new job on the Denham to West Drayton aggregate traffic, JAMES LOADER collected the shortened BCN joey boat "JOE" from Braunston. JOE was towed to Lyons Boatyard on the Northern Stratford Canal for stretching back to its full length. See BCN No108 for more details of this restoration. JAMES LOADER then spent the rest of the year cruising to the Gardner Engine gathering at Parkhead, the Southern Stratford Canal (in the floods), and the IWA National Festival at St.Ives on the Great Ouse, where he was awarded the Alfred Ritchie Cockerel for best working boat.
At the turn of the year he took up moorings at Braunston Turn.


April saw a trip from Newbury to Deepcut on the Basingstoke Canal, with BETELGEUSE. The top bends fitted in 1985 were rotten after only 20 years, and needed replacing. We hired the Deepcut drydock for three weeks, and replaced three major planks in the bow, replaced fore end cants, and doubled the port hand fore end frames behind the top bends.
new plank bent on....

In June 2006 JAMES LOADER towed BETELGEUSE carrying Tania Kovat's artwork "MEADOW" from Bath to London, via the Kennet & Avon Canal, River Thames, Grand Union Canal and Regent's Canal. See BETELGEUSE for more details. Later, the pair loaded coal for Reading and the K&A Canal at Hanwell, and attended the IWA National Festival at Beale Park. Before returning to the K&A, they delivered some bags of coal to the end of the newly dug Wilts & Berks Canal junction with the Thames at Abingdon.

JAMES LOADER in 2005 and earlier

I acquired JAMES LOADER in 2001 from Stockton on the Grand Union Canal, attended Braunston Rally, and brought him to moorings in Newbury. In September, attended the Boaters' Gathering in the Black Country Living Museum.
2002 JAMES LOADER crosses the Mersey
JL on the Mersey

In 2002, after a docking, a grand cruise was undertaken from Newbury to Lancaster and back to the Caldon, including seven tidal passages: Bristol to Portishead, River Severn to Sharpness, twice on the River Mersey, and thrice on the River Ribble. Attended Northwich Jubilee Festival and went down the Anderton Lift to cruise the Weaver and go across the Mersey to the River Festival. On to Preston for the opening of the Ribble Link, and up to Lancaster and Tewitfield. Back off the Lancaster in August to Manchester and a trip over the Rochdale to the National Rally at Huddersfield, then back via the Huddersfield Narrow and Peak Forest to Marple, my old navvying location with the PFCS.
On to the Llangollen, where we attended Whitchurch and Ellesmere rallies, and towed the unrestored SATURN to Welsh Frankton. Stayed at Trevor for a while, then onto dry dock at Ellesmere in December, for a repair piece in the hull and retarring. After that, got to Hazelhurst on the Caldon and wintered there in company of SPITFIRE and BEN. I passed an empty butty at Malkins Bank on the way up Heartbreak Hill.

2003: I bought the butty at Malkins Bank; it was BETELGEUSE, which I remembered as the Chester Packet back in 1973. She was just a bare hull with a new steel bottom, a rotten ellum, and no cabin back wall.In April we came off the Caldon with BEN, and picked up BETELGEUSE, and then on to Queens Head for the opening of a section of the Montgomery Canal. There we loaded the timber I needed for the butty's restoration to working condition. This was then taken to the Easter working boat gathering at Ellesmere Port. After the gathering headed south down the Shroppie to Wolverhampton and the 21, and then on to the Black Country Living Museum. After this, through the BCN and stalled on chain link fencing around the propshaft at Kings Norton. After removal of the wire at Lyons Boatyard, continued all the way down the Grand Union to the Thames and River Wey. BETELGEUSE was left at Godalming with IONA (formerly BELLEREPHON) for her restoration, and collected again to be taken to Beale Park National, and then on to winter moorings in Newbury.

During 2004 and 2005 JAMES LOADER and BETELGEUSE navigated the River Thames, Oxford and Grand Union Canals. Coal was loaded at Buckby for delivery to the Kennet & Avon Canal.

JAMES LOADER - history

JAMES LOADER was built in 1946 for Leonard Leigh Ltd. by Joe Worsey of Walsall. Leonard Leigh moved coal from mines to power stations and other customers on the Birmingham Canal Navigations using a fleet of powerful tugs and many open 'day' boats. Trains of up to six boats pulled by a tug would be seen winding along the Wyrley Cut, or waiting at locks for the day boats to be locked through. A tug below would take the train on, while the tug above would take the empties back to the mine. The tug fleet was enlarged after the war with two wooden tugs, JAMES LOADER and CHRISTOPHER JAMES, and steel tugs HELEN, JOAN and JOAN II. They worked until the harsh winter of 1962, when the big freeze put the coal traffic onto lorries and it never returned to the boats.

JL  Pete Boyce....

JAMES LOADER was originally fitted with a 56 hp four cylinder Fordson semi-diesel engine, but after other engines and private purchase in 1963 it was fitted with the present Gardner 2LW diesel in 1968, under a new cabin. He (she?) has 2" thick oak sides and a double planked 4" thick elm bottom, most of which is over 60 years old. Some planks have been replaced over the years, notably at the waterline, and the maintenance work never stops. The spring 2006 work in Deepcut dry dock on the Basingstoke Canal replaced most of three planks in the bow, the top bends (last replaced in 1985) and the next plank down on the port side.

For a brief history of the tug, CLICK HERE.
For a description of the work carried out in dock in 2006, CLICK HERE.

JAMES LOADER - historic photo gallery

1946 Joe Worsey with the new JAMES LOADER
JL new with Joe Worsey

1948 advert in Motor Boat and Yachting showing JL's stern gear
1948 Motor Boat & Yachting advert

1963 JL at time of purchase from Leonard Leigh Ltd.
1963 purchase

1963 Peter Freakley and his father take JL over
1963 purchase

Nick Hill's photo - meeting JL in the 1970s
JL  Nick Hill

Phobox Ltd. 2013 ----- Last updated: 20.5.2013