Our History

Some history from the archives of our original narrowboat which served for community for 30 years

The Beginning

The Bernard Sunley

  • Original boat built in 1977 by Cammell Laird Shipbuilders and named ‘The Bernard Sunley’
  • It is likely that surplus steel from HMS Coventry was used in its construction
  • Each year the Cammell Laird training school gave their first year apprentices a project to build a narrowboat for charities
  • The Prince’s Trust and the Bernard Sunley foundation supported the build and this is how the boat got its original name

A Charity Narrowboat for the Community

  • In 1989 the Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough Council Mayor, Councillor Tom Hargreaves, ran an appeal to raise funds to purchase a community narrowboat
  • It is believed an initial hull was purchased but deemed not suitable for passenger transport and further options were required
  • A log record exists for narrowboat “Bernard Sunley” being used by the Salvation Army, Furnace Parade, Tipton on Saturday 29th July 1989
  • Mike Malyon (Trinity Mirror news) and “three men in a boat” collected the current boat and moved her to Nuneaton

A Change of Name

  • At some point thereafter the boat changed names to ‘The Hargreaves’ which remains to this day
  • Noel Kelly (former chairman Boro FC) had the brass nameplates cast for the name change

Unloved and Sunk

  • Sadly, around two years later two original volunteers found The Hargreaves SUNK and on the bottom of the canal outside Magpie Line cruisers on The Coventry Canal
  • The Hargreaves was bailed out, fitted with some new parts and got her started and afloat again. Little money remained in the kitty for maintenance,  but it was quite clearly she needed help and fast if to continue to provide trips for the community
  • A couple of good men… used their days off, evenings, holidays, weekends etc. to try and get the project off the ground by skippering trips
  • Contact was made with British Waterways about licences and Insurance – we soon realised that we needed to get ourselves properly sorted out as this wasn’t simple work
  • Trips started again in 1991 and continued, The Hargreaves was beginning to deliver its initial concept to provide the community with trips on the local canals

1991 The Start of a Successful Charity

  • An inaugural meeting took place aboard The Hargreaves at Boot Wharf, Nuneaton on the evening of Wednesday 3rd February 1993 (attended by Steve Sayers, Brian Willis, Mike Parsons, Trevor Prisk and Darren Lloyd) and eventually on the 31st May 1994 the registered charity “Hargreaves Narrowboat Trust” was established
  • 5 trustees signed up – each using several hundred pounds of their own money – the plan – to operate the boat for 12 months and if the community wanted a boat they would use and (more importantly) fund it – if it failed we’d have to accept that it was a good idea but there was not the need, and contemplate selling the boat to get our money back
  • And the good news is the evidence still apparent today in the success of The Hargreaves Narrowboat Trust!  

And With Plenty of Help Along the Way

  • We had lots of engine problems in the early days and needed help. Fortunately there were some lovely people out there who always came to our help
  • Tony Redshaw kept our old Lister engine going relentlessly. A new oil lift pump in 2002 and a complete engine rebuild in 2006
  • A local scaffold company donated and built us a landing stage at the Boot Inn and the landlord, Bob Golightly gave us rent free mooring, a storage room and provided a warm regular meeting room
  • Harry Glover at The Boot Wharf became a friend and trustee. When he retired from work Tony Gallimore took over the boat yard, renaming it Star Line boats.  This remains our base and the staff there are fantastic to us.
  • There are many others, too many to mention here but all who have played a part in the success of The Hargreaves Narrowboat Trust

Early Trips and Events

  • We started by taking enquiries and then trying to find someone who could crew the trip, not ideal but everyone has to start somewhere…
  • As we got busier it became necessary to change and only offer trips on days we knew crew was available
  • We started with 3 or 4 days a week from May to October. Demand grew rapidly, with trips booked for every day of the week. Still demand grew, so we added one Saturday or Sunday a month.
  • You guessed it this was soon 7 days a week. Then we added April thinking no one would want a trip in April, but again it got fully booked. So we added November and that got fully booked too!
  • A dedicated phone line meant that Jenny could at last use her phone for her own calls. A custom made computer based booking system simplified some of the admin, again put together by generous computer expert
  • Events – We have attended lots of events over the year.  Coventry Canal Society, Nuneaton Canal Festival in Tomkinson Road May 1995 (when an electric boat attended), and another CCS rally in Nuneaton in 2002. We also held our own millennium boat rally 18th 19th 20th May 2001 in Trent Marine, Boot Wharf,  Coventry Canal
  • The Hargreaves has been used as a fund raiser for other charities, being bow hauled from Birmingham once. We have carried wounded soldiers for purple salute amongst others

Still Lots to Do

  • We are lucky and have lots of help from our dedicated volunteers now
  • 23 qualified crew operate the boat
  • All captains and most crew are Royal Yachting Association license holders
  • We are undertaking vigorous training of more new volunteers all the time

Pictures from Our Archive

Personal accounts

From the Archives

  • Early history is vague – but Pete Reid wrote in the Bedworth Echo – Tom Hargreaves launched the boat with a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale on May 13, 1990.  It seems the opportunity had arisen to purchase a suitable narrowboat from the Youth Afloat charity in Dudley. When Tom heard it was going for a bargain price, being valued at £28,000 but offered for £10,000 (if he could take it straight away), he knew there was only £2,000 in the appeal kitty. Tom took out an £8,000 personal loan to buy her and keep his dream afloat. The fundraising continued and by December 1989 the kitty had passed £7,000 with donations by Nuneaton Round Table and Navigation Inn Bedworth. Other gifts came from Nuneaton Dog Training Club, Nuneaton Car Crafts and Bedworth First School civic carol service. A raffle to win a Ford car helped boost the appeal and by May 1990 it was well on its way to the £50,000 target. The boat was idle ‘til spring 1991 when Tim Norton organised a certificate of compliance (MOT) following Noel Kelly and Alan Laws rallying round help and lots of volunteers finishing the necessary work.
  • Maiden voyage was in 1991. We did more than 40 trips that year 1991
  • On Thursday 14 May 1992, an article printed in the Evening News, wrote that a small team who have operated the Hargreaves for the last 2 years, now feel that a steering panel is needed.
  • By 2nd December 1994 we had done more than 150 trips. Also in 1994 we were very fortunate to get a generous donation of £2,000 from Sainsbury’s, the cheque handed over by Joanne Blurton and Rudi Cefai. Harry Glover at the Boot Wharf  agreed to try and crane our boat out for servicing. When his crane started to sink into the car park he decided to drop her back in the water quick. Considering that there is no ballast in the Hargreaves and that he had lifted 20 ton boats before, this failed lift was a disappointment to us all. 1994 saw us attend Coventry Canal Society festival and rally at Hawkesbury.
  • In 1995 we did over 90 more trips, being able to publicise our 200th trip during that year, this despite having a major refit. Because of her size we had to take her to Ashby Canal Marina at Stoke Golding to be taken out of the water. The process was to float her over a railway wagon under the water, which was marked by plastic pipes sticking up from the carriage, then using lots of manual winding on a winch to haul her up the slip. She was shot blasted (very messy) and lots of painting and other repairs done including a new inside ramp. In 1995 We also had a new landing stage and decking donated for our base at the Boot Inn. In May this year we finally got our new toilet fitted, so we could all sit more comfortably. Attleborough Rainbows did a lovely job of washing the Hargreaves 1/10/95
  • In February 1996 whilst attending a rally at Coventry Basin and doing short taster trips we were shovelling snow off the boat. At the end of the day Steve set off for home in Nuneaton. Thick ice meant that over and over again he had to reverse, backing into the ice he had just broken, take a rush at the ice in front, rising over it, hoping the weight of the boat broke it. Progress was in feet at a time. In complete darkness many hours later with a damaged rudder he abandoned her at Hawkesbury where she remained for many days awaiting a thaw.
  • In  April 1997 Tom Goodison volunteered to replace the hand rails. A working party fitted the new ceiling using planking Brian Willis had varnished.
  • In 1998 we purchased a new in-board 240v generator installed by Tony Redshaw.
  • Aug 6 1999, Heartland Evening news, Darren Lloyd as a trustee said it costs about £6,000 a year to run the boat. It’s operated by a committee of 5 trustees with the help of 12 volunteers.
  • Early May 2000. After some delay there was much building work near bridge 20 on the Coventry Canal in Nuneaton. A new disabled access ramp was started. This was specifically made for the Hargreaves to facilitate easy wheelchair use and help others with limited mobility to get onto the towpath.
  • Another article in the Nuneaton Evening Telegraph 2004 said the mayor’s boat was still giving pleasure.
  • Our 2006 project was to resurface the landing stage with new decking.
  •  In 2007 the Birmingham Narrowboat Trust closed and Bob Strachen helped when they donated their residue £5,000 to us.  
  • 30 November 2010 saw us breaking ice to move the boat for crane lifting. Survey and over-plating the front end required plus a fair bit of having her bottom blacked.
  • In 2012 – Hargreaves carried 1,841 passengers – on 173 trips – crew recorded 2,076 hours and this excluded all the time spent training, cleaning, shopping, refuelling, pumping out, getting gas, water, coal, engine maintenance, painting, booking trips, finance, general admin etc. In February we also refurbished our Squirrel stove that provides central heating.
  • Boot Wharf boat lift again in 2013 with a full exterior repaint and all windows refitted to cure leaks. Rudder repairs were done too. Staff volunteers from Jaguar Land Rover repainted ready for a celebration event when she was craned back in the canal Saturday April 20th. Tony Gallimore helped with catering and provided the venue with Burbage Silver Band entertaining.
  • In 2015 we did 212  Trips and carried 2275 passengers
  • In January 1996 Jewsons donated a generator to replace one that had been stolen.
  • Our old Lister air cooled engine was working hard and it showed. We had saved a little money for problem solving when a very generous bequest allowed us to have a replacement new Isuzu water cooled engine. This involved an enormous amount of difficult, dirty and technical work. Fortunately Martyn Plant was a brilliant engineer on “mates rates”. The much improved drive system was first used in 2009 and had done 77294 hours by 22nd August 2016.
  • The old kitchen on the boat was ship builder style and had been built to last. It’s welded metal frames and doors were however rusty and tatty. It was hard work cutting it out with angle grinders, really heavy to lift even in small pieces, but the new kitchen we fitted was a significant improvement.