Kennet’s Life Story

Kennet was built in 1947 at Yarwood & Sons in Northwich, as part of the Canal Transport Ltd fleet. Seventeen iron boats had already been built for the fleet in the 1930s and Kennet was one of three new boats built in 1947. A further six boats were added to the fleet in the 1950s. Canal Transport continued to carry goods along the canal into the early 1960s, with some of the boats being used on the River Weaver and around Nottingham. However, traffic was declining during the 1950s, and the boats were slowly transferred to the British Waterways maintenance fleet on the canal. Kennet was used for carrying maintenance materials into the 1980s, but was then modified to allow it to be used as a heritage boat. The boat was docked, a new traditional bow cabin fitted, and displays were installed so that visitors could come on board and learn about the history of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and its potential for leisure. It is classed as a Short Boat, as at 62 feet long (18.9 metres), it can pass over the whole canal; boats which are 72 feet long (21.9 metres) can only work between Liverpool, Wigan and Leigh.

After its refurbishment British Waterways (BW) used it as an exhibition boat capable of cruising along the canal enabling it to be open at events and to be used for educational purposes. A period followed when Kennet largely stood idle; and there was criticism of BW for this lack of use. The Society approached BW with the suggestion that the Society could help to bring the boat back into use, and in March 2008 the Society agreed to look after Kennet with the assistance of the North West Region of British Waterways (now Canal and River Trust)

After an initial period of limited visits, the Society entered the BW ‘Lease and Acquisition Scheme’ for transfer of redundant heritage craft. Over the period Kennet continued once again to visit festivals and events along the canal. During 2010 Kennet travelled from its home mooring at Greenberfield to a range of events, including festivals, school visits and celebrations, along the canal system from Blackburn in the west to Goole in the east. This saw a record number of visitors — 2,653 compared with 1,762 in 2009. Kennet was also admired and favourably commented on by towpath users along the canal. It also illustrated how many people there are who want to share their knowledge and experiences of the “good old days”. Experimental displays had been installed prior to the 2010 season to assess the public reaction and how the hold could be developed to fulfil once again an ongoing relationship of Kennet traveling the Canal with its cargo of heritage.

This resulted in an early foreclosure of the lease and transfer of ownership to the Society to enable a successful application for a Heritage Lottery Grant. This enabled the Society to fully refurbish Kennet.  On the outside this included renewing steelwork, a complete repaint into its current colours, reflecting how boat builders of yesteryear painted the boats. On the inside this involved a completely new entry, covers, and displays in the hold. The refurbishment culminated in the ‘relaunch’ of Kennet in Burscough at their Heritage Festival in 2012.

This led to Kennet continuing to travel to festivals/events and communities along the canal to the east and west ends of the canal in alternate years and including more visits from schools.

In 2016 Kennet was selected as the National Historic Ships UK Regional Flagship, the first time that this accolade was granted to an inland waterway boat. This was the Bicentenary year of the completion of the canal and the 1st complete crossing, which Kennet and a flotilla re-created in the October.

Since then Kennet has continued its journeys each year with the Society adding other types of uses to the programme (e.g. talks, arts displays, puppet shows and as a film venue) using Kennet’s flexible hold space.

In November 2019 the Friends of Kennet Group within the Society was awarded the National Historic Ships Marsh Volunteer Award for Engaging Communities in recognition of the Society’s use of Kennet to bring knowledge of the heritage of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to communities situated within and near to the Canal corridor.

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