Built by Bushell Brothers of Tring in 1936 for the Aylesbury coal merchant and canal carrier Arthur Harvey-Taylor, Roger was restored by Rickmansworth Waterways Trust from 1997 to 2000, for use as a floating classroom for young children and as a working boat for use by other age groups.
Roger is a historic boat on several counts:
- it is one of the last wooden canal boats left in working order.
- it is the last example of Bushell Brothers’ influential boatbuilding.
- It was the last wooden motor boat trading on the canal.
And her association with her captain, the well-respected boatman Arthur Bray, and his family between 1941 and 1968 is just part of her significance.
Bushells had been established at their yard at Gamnel Bridge, Little Tring, on the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal from 1875, and delivered Roger as part of the Harvey-Taylor fleet which built up to 9 pairs and two spare butties by the start of WW2. Bushells did all the maintenance of the boats from 1926 until their closure in 1952, but built only two boats for Harvey-Taylor: Albert in 1926, and Roger in 1936.
Bushells were themselves significant in the history of the working canals. Established on site of an earlier boat-repair business dating from 1850, the business trained a number of craftsmen who were to appear later in important positions in other yards. They built and maintained wooden boats for several small and medium-sized carrying businesses, and were also noted for the quality of their decorative paintwork, although the Harvey-Taylor boats were not themselves especially elaborate. Roger was paired with the butty Daphne and captained by Arthur Bray with his wife Rose from 1941. This continued during the decline of the Harvey-Taylor fleet during the 1940s and 50s, with the Roger and Daphne carrying the last load for Harvey-Taylor, coal from Baddesley Colliery on the Coventry Canal to Dickinson’s Croxley paper mill, in April 1955. They then passed to the ownership of the Samuel Barlow Coal Company, where Daphne, built in 1930 and worn out, was replaced by Raymond, the last wooden working boat built in England, in 1958.
Roger and Raymond passed in 1962 to Blue Line, and continued under the captaincy of the Brays until 1968, when Roger was replaced by the steel motor boat Nutfield and paid off.
These boats were of all-wooden construction and so had a limited life: of about 100,000 wooden canal boats built over 250 years or so, very few (less than 40) are now extant in any form.
On leaving carrying service Roger, like several such boats, was converted for residential use. Its last major outing was in 1986, when it went up to the Trent and Mersey Canal to recover the derelict Albert for restoration. Roger then ended up in very poor repair in the Maple Cross basin, but was rescued by Rickmansworth Waterways Trust in 1993, and the effort began to raise the funds to rebuild it. This was achieved in 1997. The boat was then rebuilt to the original design, with Heritage Lottery Funding, by the local craftsman Chris Collins at Batchworth, and re-launched in May 2000 for final fitting out, and painting in the original livery, at Troy Wharf. This took a further year. The main aim was to provide a living example of this rare type of boat for the information and education of young people, and for the residents of Rickmansworth in general.
Roger, now included on the National Register of Historic Vessels, has been back in service and meeting the original aims of the restoration since 2001. Registered and licensed as a Community Boat, it is permanently moored at Batchworth. The aims of the restoration are achieved by allowing parties of children to visit it as part of the Trust’s award-winning education programme "Learning at the Lock", by showing the boat off to the public at the Rickmansworth and other Festivals, and by using it in our training of boat captains and crews.
We are now working on expanding this latter use to give even greater access for young people, especially those at risk of social exclusion.
And a main concern of the Trustees is now increasing the range of uses to which this important historic boat can be put, to the benefit of young people especially.
You can support us in keeping the Roger available for posterity by contributing to our maintenance fund, or by helping as a volunteer to maintain or operate the boat. Contact the Canal Centre, or click on the Supporting Us/Volunteering tab.
Keeping Roger going and in good shape
Learn about how boats like Roger are conserved, with this film of work done at Bulbourne in the winter of 2012.