Monarch was converted back to diesel in 2004 and the boiler was removed. Here it is being prepared for retubing.
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October 30th 2012
Video of the launch of a new tunnel tug 20/07/2011
Before the opening of the Blisworth tunnel in 1805 boats had to be unloaded at Blisworth onto a horse drawn tramway and carried over the hill to Stoke Bruern, a distance of about 1.5 miles where they were re-loaded onto waiting boats before completing the journey to London and the south. This was obviously a significant bottle neck and a hinderance so the need to complete the tunnel was always a very high priority for the directors of the Grand Junction Canal Company (GJCCo).
Work on a tunnel began in 1793 but after seven years and a collapse costing the lives of 14 men it was decided that a completely new tunnel had to be started. On successful completion of the second attempt to build the Blistworth tunnel the GJCCo had an unbroken link from London to Braunston where connections with other canals opened up traffic with most of the midlands largest cities.
Blisworth tunnel at 3076 yards was one of the two longest tunnels on the Grand Junction Canal, the other being Braunston tunnel at 2042 yards, both were two boats wide but had no tow path so the horses once again had to be lead across the top whilst the boats were legged through the tunnel. This was the only method of getting boats through the tunnels for more than fifty years until the 1860s when steam tugs started to appear on canals throughout the network and it soon became apparent that these were a reasonably practical method of speeding traffic through the now very congested Blisworth and Braunston tunnels
In September 1870 the GJCCo installed a steam driven wire rope system through Braunston tunnel which pulled boats through and initially this worked well except for the wire ropes wearing out reasonably quickly so the manufacturers were asked to provide cables that were guaranteed not to wear out but the refused and so in December 1870, barely three months later the whole mechanism was scrapped.
In April 1871 The Minutes for the Grand Junction Canal Company showed that a steam tug was at work in the Braunston tunnel. It is likely that this was either Pilot, Spider or it could possibly have been "Hasty" built by Morgan of Uxbridge with a length of 48" and a draught of 4" although I have to say the first records relating to "Hasty" talk about repairs and are dated 1876. Also in 1871 it mentioned that with the introduction of the tug at Braunston, the same charges as those for the Blisworth tunnel would apply which suggests that by this time there was also a tug in use there.
There appears to be no set design for the tunnel tugs and each one was different however they had distinguishing features which were common throughout the fleet. They were wooden hulled around 50' in length, fully cabined and of course had the distinctive white funnel. Beneath the waterline they all turned a very large prop and as a consequence were deep draughted, more than 3' in most cases and they all seemed to be painted black presumably to disguise the grubby appearance that resulted from a long sooty day's work.
In the 65 years following 1871 steam tunnel tugs were at work not only in the larger tunnels but also throughout the Grand Junction can doing maintenance and ice breaking work. Quite often they were loaned or rented to other companies proving their worth as useful work horses.
It is known that there was more than one boat to carry the name Hasty certainly two and possibly more. Definitely two wooden versions were built by Morgans and Bushell but also an iron hulled version most certainly existed at some time prior to 1900 when the canal company minutes state:
"the engineer had reported that the iron hull of the Tunnel Tug Hasty was very defective and advised that a new one be built of oak to receive the present machinery. Given instructions for a contract to be accepted for the same at a cost of about £220"
I have to confess that the records that I have read are a little confusing but I'm pretty sure that nobody alive today can claim to have an intimate knowledge of the technical specification of a GJCCo tunnel tug.
This enamel sign taken from the Braunston tunnel office shows that it was a long day for the tugs. Starting at 5:00am and continuing for sixteen hourly trips through the tunnel before stopping at 8:00pm. If this wasn't bad enough remember that the tug would take an hour to steam up before it could be used and there would be another 1/2 hour to shut down after the last trip had been completed. Perhaps the leggers had the better job after all. It's worth noting that the "SCALE OF CHARGES" are those set in 1871.
See this sign on Richard Harris's website www.steamershistorical.co.uk