were the express craft of the waterways. Running non-stop, day and night
they delivered the important and perishable goods, around the clock throughout
the waterway network.
Worked by four-man crews, changing horses on
the move, they ran to strict timetables throughout seasonal conditions,
except the thickest of ice. They had priority over all other traffic, except
during the era of passenger packets which took absolute precedence.
The days of the fly-boats began with the
success of the Bridgewater and Trent & Mersey canals in the 1770s and
despite railway competition lasted right through to the First World War. Pickfords - the famous carriers - developed fly-boat services to a fine art,
before they transferred their operations to rail.
Latterly however, the Shropshire Union
Railway & Canal Company became the best-known and ultimate operator of
extensive fly-boat services. Because they were owned by the London & North
Western Railway Company and their canal network probed deep into other
railway company’s territory, the fast fly-boats remained an effective form
of competition right through into the period of the First World War.
Port was the hub of the Shropshire Union’s operation. Fly-boats left this
premier canal port daily for such destinations as Birmingham, the Potteries,
Llangollen, Shrewsbury, Welshpool, Newtown and Trench (Telford); dropping
off and collecting goods at many intermediate points.
Shroppie fly-boat men were the elite of
boatmen. They developed the combination of boat horse and men into the
ultimate of precision teamwork Such well-known characters of the latter days
of canal carrying as ‘Chocolate” Charlie Atkins and Jack Roberts were
Shroppie fly-boat men.
The boats themselves were the ultimate
development of the art of wooden narrow boat building. They had to have a
unique combination of fine lines, light weight fast performance and great
strength. The Shroppie Fly represented the zenith of the craft of wooden
narrow boat construction before the final decline of canal transport.
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restoration story with images