Fly-boats 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.

Ellesmere 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.

The Restoration
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The Shropshire Union Fly Boat Project c/o 7 Rydal Drive, Hale Barns, Altrincham WA15 8TE