George Smith of Coalville’s successful campaign for the statutory regulation of living conditions on board canal boats. Some canal boats, particularly the narrowboats of the midland canals, were extremely overcrowded. The Canal Boat Acts of 1877 and 1884 specified minimum standards for living space and accommodation. Systems of registration and inspection were set up by local sanitary authorities to ensure that the law was complied with. The registers, if they have survived, are a good source for finding out more about your canal ancestors.
For example, the Wigan Canal Boat Registers for the Wigan Urban Registration Authority from 1878 to 1951 have been transcribed and put online by the Wigan Archives Service in collaboration with the Waterways Archive.
The boat’s entry in the register gives the date when the boat was first registered, owner’s name and address, master’s name, place of registration and number, specified what type of boat it was (e.g. fly boat), the number of people it was permitted to carry, and the cabin dimensions. The inspectors' records like these (also transcribed from the Wigan Archives collection), may also contain useful information on your ancestors.
National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port. A 1910 Leeds and Liverpool short boat built for the Wigan Coal and Iron Co.; a rare survivor. The crew cabin is aft. © Sue Wilkes.
Facsimile of a requisition form for a master boatman’s registration certificate under the Canal Boats Act, 1877. Our Canal Population (London, 1879). Author’s collection.