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President was built in 1909 at a cost of £600 in Fellows, Morton and Clayton’s company dock at Saltley, Birmingham; and registered on 23rd June. One of the directors of the company, Joshua Fellows, gave his name to the distinctively shaped “Josher” hull which has riveted wrought iron sides and a 3 inch elm bottom. The company built and operated 31 steamers between 1889 and 1931. The specially developed compound steam engine and coke fired boiler took up much valuable cargo space. Steamers could carry only 18 tons compared to over 25 tons in a horse drawn boat, but were powerful enough to tow several unpowered boats ( called butty boats ).

President at Buckby Lock - 1910

Steamers usually worked “fly”, that is day and night, on the canals between London, Birmingham, Coventry, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. The busiest part of the route was between London and Braunston. Here steamers often unloaded or exchanged cargoes and butty boats, returning to London or working alone to Birmingham where narrow locks made it easier to use a horse rather than tow the unpowered boats. Steamers usually took 54 hours between London and Birmingham non stop using about 1 ton of coke as fuel and drawing water direct from the canal.

Most cargoes were valuable ones such as spices, tea, wool, cheese, soap, sugar, wheat, barrels of beer and spirits, tinned goods and even bedsteads and bicycles.

The maximum crew of a steamer was four men or women working shifts. All male crews were usual except during the Great War when family crews ran several steamers. Steamer captains, whose distinctive uniform included unbleached corduroy trousers, took great pride in the appearance of their boats. Practical blue overalls were worn by the engine driver and his assistant, whose job also included boiler stoking. A curtain protected the engine from dust when firing or cleaning boiler tubes.

Spartan sleeping accommodation in the cabin was little used because on many runs, crews were frequently changed. In front of the boiler a hammock was provided for the driver. Any cooking was done on the “bottle” stove in the cabin or using heat from the boiler. Bell signals provided the only means of control for the steamer over the engine driver.

The problem of lack of space for cargo and crew was solved by the introduction of the compact Swedish Bolinder Crude Oil engine. Fellows, Morton and Clayton tried their first motor boat in 1912 and other steamers were soon being converted. President had her boiler and engine replaced by a 15 horse power Bolinder in 1925 and returned to the FMC fleet as a Motor Boat.

Diesel era

p_old_dieselWith it’s carrying capacity increased by nearly 8 tons and the newly introduced colour scheme of red, yellow and green, President became part of the Fellows, Morton and Clayton motorised fleet and was soon able to tow a butty direct to Birmingham on the newly formed and widened Grand Union Canal. New routes and cargoes probably took President to Ellesmere Port, Liverpool and Manchester before she was sold in 1946 to the Walsall based coal carrier Ernest Thomas, a director of Fellows, Morton and Clayton. President was resold to George and Matthews of Wolverhampton to carry coal in 1948, the year in which canals were nationalised. President ended her working days with the British Waterways northern maintenance fleet based at Northwich working on the Trent and Mersey, Macclesfield and Shropshire Union Canals.

Restoration

Advertised for sale as a derelict hull in 1973, President was bought by Nicholas Bostock and Malcolm Braine for restoration to its original appearance complete with working steam plant. After extensive major repairs to the hull and building a complete replica cabin and boiler room, the major difficulty was finding a suitable engine and boiler, because the originals had been scrapped. A 1928 vintage Muir and Findley boiler of “Scotch” return type, virtually identical to the original but working at 100 PSI was installed along with a contemporary simple twin cylinder steam enginpresident-olympic-torche, originally from a Thames launch. The boiler is fed with filtered canal water by a 1927 Worthington Simpson horizontal steam pump. The President Steamer Company operated the boat from 1978 as a museum piece throughout the canal system.

President was bought by the Black Country Living Museum in January 1983. Friends of President was formed in October 1984 to assist in the operation and maintenance of this unique vessel. In 1990 the Muir and Findley boiler was replaced by a Cochran dryback return flue boiler.

new-engineDuring 2001 to 2003 President underwent a major refit, with new steam engine and pipework, new cabin and major hull repairs. The new engine came in the form of a single cylinder 15Hp engine built in the 1950’s by Sissons, Originally built for training purposes the engine was essentially new and while not the original engine, this is similar and suited the needs of President perfectly.

In 2012, President joined a flotilla of boats for the Queens  Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant in which President represented Staffordshire before carrying the olympic torch for the 2012 Olympics as the torch passed through the Black Country Museum.

In 2016, President ventured to pastures new as she traveled to Liverpool and the Salthouse dock to celebrate the relaunch of the Danial Adamson steam tug.

To delve further into the history of President please purchase the “First Hundred Years” from our online shop!