EVERY year since 2019, the Chesterfield Canal Trust has put on displays of horseboating in Worksop. Charlie, the horse, could be seen on many summer Sundays towing Dawn Rose along the canal from Shireoaks to Worksop and back.
This always attracted crowds of people keen to see a spectacle which dates back 250 years to when the canal first opened.
Unfortunately, earlier this year Charlie was diagnosed with arthritis, so the vet said that his towing days were over. As you can imagine, this caused much disappointment because Charlie had become a star in his own right.
The search for a suitable replacement was on, causing much frustration, but then along came Tilly! She is a 16-year-old cob x dales and placid – a vital character trait when there are lots of people around.
A trial was held at Shireoaks, and all went well, so the date for her first public appearance was set for Sunday, September 17. Her owner, Kevin Morgan, took her over from Thorne and it turned out to be a triumph with lots of people delighted to see horseboating again.
Unfortunately, there are no plans for a repeat this year, but dates are already being arranged for 2024.
Dawn Rose is the only Chesterfield Canal Boat in existence; they were sometimes known as cuckoo boats and were unique to the Chesterfield Canal.
The design scarcely changed from the 1770s right up to the 1920s when the last ones were made. Up to the end of commercial use in the 1950s, they were still horse drawn; they were never equipped with engines. A mast was used when they ventured on to the River Trent. The last cuckoo boat on the canal rotted away over 40 years ago.
A group of Chesterfield Canal Trust members decided to build a new cuckoo boat. After much research, they drew up a list of all the timber that was needed. This was published in the trust’s magazine, and sponsors were found for every piece within a few weeks.
Seven-and-a-half tons of fresh Lincolnshire oak and boat-skin larch was then bought and stored in a secret location to season. An appeal also went out for traditional hand tools of the type used a century ago because the volunteers wanted to discover the old way of doing the work. No power tools were used at any stage. Construction started in 2011 in a corner of Shireoaks Marina.
The work was led by David Bownes who has a vast knowledge garnered by talking with working boatmen on the Chesterfield Canal. He was involved with working on cuckoo boats as a young man, so he was one of the very few people alive – possibly the only one – with real working knowledge of their construction. As a result of this build, there are now several others who have picked up this knowledge. David was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Chesterfield Canal Trust at its AGM in 2015.
It took four years to complete the boat. Some of the planks (or strokes) that make up the sides are 27ft long, 10in wide and 2in thick. They had to be planed exactly and then put into a home-made steamer for several hours before being bent into place. There are 90 planks along the bottom. Each one had to be shaped precisely and they were then fixed into place by 360 home-made nails, each 9in long and hammered upwards.
Vast quantities of old rope, tar, pitch and linseed oil were used to make the boat watertight.
Dawn Rose was finally launched in 2015 and was the subject of a very elaborate naming ceremony a few weeks later.
The Friends of Dawn Rose was formed to raise funds to keep the boat in good condition. They run an annual boat pull where groups can tow the boat for a fee and raise money for their chosen cause. In September, a group led by the chairman of North East Derbyshire District Council, Coun Martin Thacker, pulled Dawn Rose from Shireoaks to Worksop and back, raising more than £2300 for the Chairman’s Civic Appeal supporting the Ashgate Hospice in Chesterfield.
Coun Thacker said: “It was a glorious day and I’d like to thank everyone who took part for raising such a magnificent sum for my charity appeal.
“I’d also like to express my sincere gratitude to the Chesterfield Canal Trust for their support, along with the crew of Dawn Rose who assisted us on the day.”