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 Our Collections

We have a Designated Collection of National Importance which includes over 5,000 objects ranging from large boats to canal company buttons. They all help us to tell the story of canals and the people who worked on them. Many of the objects are on display at the museum whilst the rest are kept in store in our reserve collection.

Table Flap

This table flap is from the narrow boat Enterprise, although the boat was renamed Seal at some point in its life. Frank Jones, from Leighton Buzzard, who became something of a canal celebrity in the middle of the 20th Century, painted it. He was also responsible for the design for the transfers with which British Waterways decorated their fleet of boats.

Savings Poster

A poster issued by the National Savings Committee for use in schools etc to promote interest in waterways. It was printed by HMSO in 1973. The poster shows a map of the canal system with photographs and paintings of canals, boats, and items of canal ware with special reference to what was the Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne, and is now the Canal Museum.

Porters Row Cottages

The historic museum site is our most important object of all. This is the lounge in No. 12 Porters Row, furnished in the style of the early 1950s. Porters Row was built as dock workers accommodation in 1833. Four of the original cottages survive and you can step back in time from the 1840s to the 1950s as you visit them.


Ilkeston is an unpowered 'butty' narrowboat. She was built in 1912 as a horse drawn boat but was later towed by a motor powered boat as part of a 'pair'. You can step inside her cabin on a visit and see how people cooked, slept and worked in the smallest of spaces.
Here she is seen undergoing a repaint. The museum takes care to keep the boats in as near to their original condition as possible. Her paint scheme was carefully researched in the museum archive.

Bolinder 7hp single cylinder engine

The Bolinder engine is famous for powering many of Britain's canal boats. It was first installed in the Cadburys fleet of boats in 1911 and was the most popular engine on the waterways until the 1950s when lighter, more modern diesels began to take over.
This engine is on working display in the Power Hall where you will be able to hear its distinctive sound. It is on loan to the museum from Messrs. A. and T. Young

Ship Model 'Manchester Regiment'

This model of the liner Manchester Regiment is one of the newest additions to the collection. On loan from Furness, Withy & Company Ltd., it is an example of the type of ship that worked on the Manchester Ship Canal, which you can see from the Boat Museum.
When it was built, in 1922, the Manchester Regiment was the biggest ship in the Manchester Liners fleet weighing 7,930 gross tons. The model is currently on display in the Island Warehouse. You can find out more about Manchester Liners in the Manchester Ship Canal exhibition.

Rally Plaques

The museum continues to collect canal memorabilia, including these examples of rally plaques. It is important for the museum to record the history of present-day canal life in order to preserve it for future generations. These two rally plaques show the scope of the collection. One comes from the 1950 Market Harborough rally. This was an important event because this was first rally held by the IWA.* The second plaque was collected by the narrowboat Shad on her travels away from the museum throughout last year, and shows how the boat rally continues to thrive. More rally plaques are on display in the Hidden World, with many more being held in our reserve collections. *Roger W Squires, 'Canals Revisited', pp.38-39.

Table Flap

The Boat Museum has an extensive collection of painted ware by a range of painters. Bill Hodgson painted this table flap, with other objects in the collection painted by Frank Nurser, Isaiah Atkins, Fred Winnet, Dennis Clarke, Tony Lewery and many others. Bill Hodgson (1878-1957) worked for the Anderton Company. This table flap shows two features that are typical of Hodgson's work. The castle is painted centrally and the flowers are painted in a 'realistic' style. It is currently on display in the Island Warehouse alongside many other examples of painted ware.

'Barmere" winch

Currently on display in the Island Warehouse is this winch from the unpowered barge Barmere. The winch is on loan from the Sankey Canal Restoration Society, which is currently in the process of fully restoring her for use as a floating exhibition centre on the Sankey Canal in St Helens.

The winch itself has undergone extensive restoration to return it to its present condition.


Swage block

The blacksmith was central to any town, village or canal company. He was responsible for all metalworking, both manufacture and repair. Alongside the better-known anvil, forge and hammer, the swage block was an important tool.

Its distinctive shape served its purpose well. The holes, curves and notches of the swage block were to help shape heated iron as well as the punching of larger, more irregular shaped holes. As well as a display in the Island Warehouse, you can see a blacksmith on site most days.