New exhibition open at National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port

Morna belonged to the ‘Water Miss’ class of leisure cruiser built for British Waterways in 1961 to meet the new demand for boating holidays on the waterways. The sales brochure boasted that the experience of hiring her would be ‘Healthily active, mildly adventurous and abounding in interest!’ She was first displayed at the London Boat Show in 1962 and proved to be very popular. Despite being only 24 ft long, she was very well designed and surprisingly spacious; although the 1960’s idea of luxury is slightly different to today. The Water Miss had no hot water, no electricity and a toilet that discharged straight out into the canal! PHOTOS SUPPLIED

A NEW permanent exhibition has opened at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, exploring life on the waterways through the stories of six very different boats.

The Canal & River Trust has used new technology to bring the boats to life, and visitors will discover the fascinating significance of each one – during hard times and holidays.

These boats include: a custom-made ice boat, Marbury, built in 1900 to keep the canals clear through freezing winter weather; cargo vessels Ferret and Oak who each began life as working boats but followed second careers as leisure cruisers in the 1960s and 70s; narrow boat Merak and her motorboat Merope built to work together but separated for 50 years and Morna one of the first Water Miss leisure boats designed to meet a new demand for holidays on the waterways.

Museum visitors will be able to break through iced-up canals by rocking Marbury, hear Bob Doyle talk about his 1963 holiday on a Water Miss cruiser (described at the time as offering a holiday experience that is ‘healthily active, mildly adventurous and abounding in interest!’) and trace the history of Merope and Merak through their decades apart.

There is also a chance for visitors to test their skill at loading narrow boat Oak. This ‘Tow Rag’ of the River Severn regularly carried chocolate crumb, milk, sugar and coal to the Cadbury’s factory. And a Virtual Boat Explorer gives a 360 view around Ferret transformed from working boat to 1960s holiday home.

Canal companies used icebreakers to clear a channel through frozen waters. Marbury was one of these, built for the Shropshire Union Railway & Canal Company in 1900. She was worked by up to ten men, five on each side of the central bar. To preserve their timber hulls and keep them watertight, during the summer months they were sunk, then pumped out and re-floated in the autumn, ready for a big chill. At 41 ft long, with a flat platform and a bar fixed along her centre she was worked by up to 10 men, five on each side They would rock her from side to side as she was drawn forward by a team of horses with the iron plates on her hull breaking up the ice. Usually the rockers were company men, but sometimes boatmen were recruited and paid 10 shillings a day. They would rock the boat so vigorously that their jacket tails would dip in the water either side and icy water would wash over the top of the boat, soaking the men and the poor person tasked with steering as it rocked – a difficult and bitterly cold job!

Graham Boxer, head of museums for the Canal & River Trust, gives the background for the exhibition: “These boats are currently in the museum’s national collection. The funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund has helped us plan the conservation and display programme for them, so that we can make them relevant to present and future generations.

“This exhibition brings them back to life, showing the central role these boats and the waterways play in our lives – both at work and play.  They give a unique glimpse into our past, reminding us how we’ve used waterways to help us work, rest and play through the decades.”

The museum is open daily from 10am-5pm

Admission (includes unlimited return visits for 12 months):


Adults                          £9.75

Children (6-15)            £6.00

Under fives                  free

Other ticket options are available