Staffordshire Working Lives
Letter from a local boatman accused of appropriating a missing helm, and related correspondence, 1881

Letter from a local boatman accused of appropriating a missing helm, and related correspondence, 1881.

(© Staffordshire Record Office:(D1323/T/1/29, 31; D1323/M/6-7 )

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The Stolen Boat Helm

This letter is found amongst an increasingly bad-tempered sequence of letters between the Stafford Town Clerk and the Sandwell Iron & Axle Works in 1881.
The transcript shows the full correspondence, taken from original in-letters to the Town Clerk and copies of his out-letters.

A boat had been purchased by the Borough, and it had apparently been taken away using a helm belonging to another boat. The company that owned the other boat challenged the Borough to return the helm, but did not get much satisfaction. The matter was still unresolved over two months later.

Twice the company uses the analogy of a stolen horse where the owner had the right to seize it back if found. The letters describe how the boats had been moored at the dock. The matter was referred to the Borough Surveyor, which prompted this response from the accused boatman. He states that the helm had apparently been left behind, as it was the only one there for him to use on the boat by the time he departed, and that he was authorised by the “landlord” on the dock.

This particular boat was to be used for to transport gravel between Stafford and Tixall. There had been notable stone quarries at Tixall although barely in use by this time, and there were gravel pits in use in the same area. This gravel would have been used by the Borough Council for road-laying. One of the pits was right on the edge of the canal, making for easy transit back to Stafford Wharf which was near Green Bridge on the River Sow. The canal joined the river system at the junction of the rivers Sow and Penk, where there was a wooden “ladder bridge” for the boatmen to cross.

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