THE National Waterways Museum (NWM) is seeking new homes for twelve vessels following a review of the historic importance of all boats currently in its collection.
Canal & River Trust, the charity responsible for the collection, will first offer the boats free of charge to accredited museums and then to individuals and private organisations who are able to meet the demands of caring for the vessels.
Like all museums, the NWM faces the challenge – from funding and conservation to exhibition options and storage – of looking after large numbers of objects in its care, and following a review by an expert panel, plans to focus its resources on a reduced number of the most historically significant vessels.
The decision to let any object go is not taken lightly. However, the Trust has identified the boats it needs to re-home. These range from the iron hulls of icebreakers to a salmon fishing boat. In some cases, the museum already has better examples of that type of vessel, while other boats don’t play a significant role in telling the history of the waterways that the museum focusses on, and so are likely to better suited to a new home. Some boats are of less interest as they have been changed so much over the decades that very little original material remains.
Graham Boxer, Canal & River Trust’s head of collections and archives explains: “As a collection of national significance we have specific obligations around the 68 boats in our care. Our dedicated staff and volunteers have strived to find solutions to the many challenges in caring for such a large fleet, but ultimately, with limited funds and storage space, we need to reduce the number of boats in the collection to focus our efforts on those of the greatest historic importance, and so re-homing some is the right option. We anticipate that there are museums that may be interested to take some vessels, and there are many enthusiasts who could provide the right loving homes for these displaced vessels, as they do for many of the most historic boats still in use on the waterways today.
“By re-homing some of the vessels we’ll be better able to safeguard the overall future of the National Waterways Collection. Our review concluded that it is far better to have a representative collection of fewer items, comprising the most historically significant, cared for in the most appropriate way and in the best possible condition, than many in a poor state.”
Hannah Cunliffe, Director of National Historic Ships UK said: “We support the approach being taken by the Canal & River Trust in reviewing its large collection and implementing changes necessary to ensure a sustainable future for the most significant craft. We are pleased that the Trust has chosen to adopt the principles set down in our guidance publications to inform this process and are happy to work with them during the decision-making period. We hope that a heritage solution is found for the vessels made available to re-home and would be glad to offer further advice to any individuals or organisations considering taking these craft on.”
It is hoped that new homes will be found for all twelve boats. If this is unfortunately not possible, some may have to be recommended for documented deconstruction, applying the Trust’s expertise in recording historic vessels to compile detailed records of the boat to preserve the boat’s story for future reference and potentially inform future conservation or restoration work on other historic boats.
The vessels are being offered free of charge, with the new owner being asked to pay only the transport costs. The deadline for expressions of interest is 2 November 2019. Details and an application form can be found on the Canal & River Trust website canalrivertrust.org.uk/nwm