On this page we present an edited selection of recordings from our oral history collection. Audio extracts were recorded by the museum's oral history team. They were selected and edited by Helen Lloyd.
Over the past few years, London Canal Museum's oral history team have recorded the memories of people who lived and worked on the canals. Extracts from these interviews can be heard at listening posts around the museum - and you can click below to hear an audio feature on "Life on Board", edited and presented by Helen Lloyd. "Life on Board" is a radio-style documentary feature lasting about 21 minutes. It brings to life all sorts of aspects of life on the working boats, from the joy of traditional narrowboat painting, to the horrors of children being killed in accidents in days long before the passing of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Right-click on the link below to download it and copy to your 'phone, MP3 player, PDA, laptop, Ipod or other portable device. Left click to listen now.
Life on Board - a feature presentation (MP3 format, 20 Mb, duration 21 minutes)
Script of Life on Board. (Adobe PDF format) At present, this does not include the transcript of what the speakers say. This will be added here at a later date.
Duration: 5 mins 11 secs
Larry White was born in 1928 and his wife Hazel in 1934 and when they were interviewed in 1999, they were still renting the same lock-keeper's cottage that they had lived in before Larry retired. They talked passionately about what they saw as a shameful decline in lock maintenance since the 1950s, when Larry joined British Waterways, first as a tractor driver and then as a lock-keeper.
Duration: 4 mins
Steven Carr was born in 1960 and lived in the lock-keeper's cottage at Osterley Lock in west London, where his father had become lock-keeper the previous year. When Stephen was eight, in 1968, his father moved to work Brentford Locks and the family moved into a cottage at Brentford Dock, on the wharfage. Steven saw barges carrying a great variety of cargoes during his childhood and he later worked for British Waterways as a lengthsman and in other canal-side jobs. By the time he was interviewed by Ben at the museum in 2008, he had been promoted to Length Inspector and was living in a lock-keeper's cottage on the Hanwell flight.
Duration: 5 mins
He talks about how the role of lock-keeper changed from when his father was lock-keeper at Brentford from 1968 until the time when this interview was recorded by Ben at the museum in 2008.
Duration: 4 mins 50 secs
Diana Gurney was born in 1917 and taught at St. Martin's School of Art and Toynbee Hall for nearly 40 years. In 1958 she moved to a house in Primrose Hill, backing on to the Regent's Canal, and when she was interviewed by Ben at the museum in 2008, she recalled the end of trade on the Canal and described the founding of the Regent's Canal Group in the mid 1960s. You can hear more about the work of the Regent's Canal Group in the Museum, at a listening post called "Revival".
Duration: 4 mins 36 secs
Zach Newton was born in London in 1942 and bought a boat on the Thames in 1982. He lived on it full-time from 1991 and crewed a variety of river and canal boats for many years until a leg injury forced him to leave the waterways. When he was interviewed in 2010, he still felt nostalgic for his former way of life, even though his boat had few amenities.
Duration: 3 mins 34 secs
Zach Newton passed on what he'd learnt from living on boats to the next generation, when he worked for nine years as a volunteer on the community narrowboat, 'The Angel of Islington'. When he was interviewed by Andy at the museum in 2010, he talked about meeting the Angel's driver, Paul, and about the most important advice he gave to children starting out on the water.
Duration: 5 mins 12 secs
For many years there have been three companies providing public boat trips between Camden and Little Venice. One of the tour guides, Sara MacDiarmid, was interviewed in 2008. She talks about how canal boat tours have changed over the years.
Duration: 2 mins 49 secs
Charles Collett was born in 1942 and was interviewed by John at the museum in 2008 about a trip on a horse-drawn boat from Llangollen to Wolverhampton in the late 1950s.
Duration: 5 mins 42 secs
John Merrill was born in London in 1943 and brought up in Sheffield and the Peak District. He began walking along canals in 1962 and since the early 1970s he has written walking guides to most of the canals in Britain. He now lives in Waltham Cross near the River Lee Navigation and when he was interviewed by Maryam at the museum in 2008 he talked about how he discovered the pleasures of canal walking.
Note: Guides by John are usually available from the London Canal Museum shop.
Duration: 5 mins 50 secs
Bert Smith was born in 1931 and joined the company United Preserves in 1948, working in the London Canal Museum building from 1956 to 1962, when it was a United Preserves warehouse. He was interviewed by Darrall on the first floor of the Museum in 2008 and talked about what the building and surrounding area used to be like and about his work as warehouse manager.
Note: Visitors may be reassured that the museum does not have rats any more!
Duration: 5 mins 25 secs
Eugene Secchi was born in 1944 and interviewed in 2008. He talks about his family's connection with Carlo Gatti's family, which had ice wells at 12/13 New Wharf Road (now the Museum), and gives a history of a typical London Italian family involved in the ice trade.
Duration: 5 mins 57 secs
When Eugene Secchi helped his father on his ice round, he often visited the ice depots and so learnt a lot about the traditional trade and manufacturing of ice.