Ferret and Ilkeston

Sponsorship of Historic Boats


Ferret and Ilkeston are boats in the national collection, at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port. London Canal Museum is sponsoring the maintenance of these boats in partnership with the National Waterways Museum and the Boat Museum Society. We are providing funds to enable the BMS and the NWM to work together on the maintenance and restoration of the two boats.

History of the Boats


Narrowboat painted red and green alongside building, in the water

The motor narrowboat Ferret was built by WJ Yarwoods of Northwich in 1926. She worked for Fellows, Morton and Clayton on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (registration no 1231; Birmingham registration no 1492). She was paired originally with the boat Urmston. Ferret is of composite construction, with wooden bottoms and steel hull sides. She is powered by a 15hp Bolinder engine and has a cargo capacity of 30 tons. The photographs show Ferret in late 2008 and late 2009 at Ellesesmere Port.



Ilkeston was built as a horse boat in 1912. For 33 years Ilkeston travelled the canals carrying all sorts of cargo until, in 1945, she was sold to the Bridgewater Department of the Manchester Ship Canal Company for £344. With her cabin and gear removed, Ilkeston was used as a mud boat on dredging operations on their Bridgewater Canal. She was renamed Mud Boat No. 3 (MB No.3), also just plain No.6. 1975 saw Ilkeston sold to Tim Wood and kept at Bull’s Bridge Basin, where an extended back cabin was added to increase the living space. Use for a while as a camping boat, later being sold to a family from Nottingham in 1980, paired with ex-FMC steamer Vulcan, and used as a home.

Ilkeston, cabin roof removed in dark covered area in water, looking in bad shape

When the wooden bottom eventually became unsound and leaks were making life unpleasant, in 1987 she was sold to Nottingham Canal Museum. A restoration to its original condition began with the renewal of all the bottom planking and the removal of the forward cabin. The boatman’s cabin was renovated and repainted on the outside in the original Fellows, Morton and Clayton livery. Following closure of the Nottingham Canal Museum, the boat was transferred to the Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port, in 1999. A considerable amount of renovation work was done on Ilkeston and, after extensive research into similar horse-drawn narrow boats, running blocks were added to take the towline to a T-stud in the back cabin roof (through the framing at the front of the slide hole). This allows the steerer full control over the towline. In the years since 1999 the boat has deteriorated and now needs significant work, primarily on the cabin.

Forecabin in dark surroundings painted cream with faded lettering

The pictures above in this paragraph show Ilkeston in 2009 at Ellesmere Port, where she is seen protected in covered accommodation but in obvious need of maintenance work.

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The Partnership

The Heritage Boatyard is a project led by the National Waterways Museum and the Boat Museum Society. The BMS provides a great deal of voluntary labour and other support. The Heritage Boatyard is Lottery funded to train a number of young people in heritage skills that will keep alive the traditions and skills of boat maintenance. The sponsorship partners are the National Waterways Museum (Now part of The Canal and River Trust), the Boat Museum Society, and The Canal Museum Trust (the charity that runs London Canal Museum).

London Canal Museum is financially healthy but has no resources of labour or expertise or management time available for the project so our role is to pay the bills, within an agreed annual limit, for the materials and other expenses of restoration and repair of the two boats. The Boat Museum Society has an incredible team of dedicated volunteers who support the National Waterways Museum in many ways, including a substantial commitment to practical maintenance and repair work at the Heritage Boatyard. The National Waterways Museum owns the boats, provides curatorial guidance, employs a Boatyard Supervisor and manages the site and the overall programme in consultation with others.

By coming together in this partnership, we can ensure that these historic boats are preserved for the future benefit of the public and remain well cared-for in the national collection for many years to come.

Ilkeston's Centenary Journey

In June July and August 2012, Ilkeston made a centenary journey from Ellesmere Port to the London Canal Museum, to celebrate its restoration, its centenary, and the partnership between museums that had helped to make restoration possible.

The day of arrival was 23rd August 2012 and a day of great celebration. The museum's tug Bantam IV towed Ilkeston from near Greenford to Regent's Park, and then a horse called Buddy took over and towed Ilkeston to King's Cross, accompanied by the media and many well-wishers. At the museum, there was a big welcome with a band playing, and 100 helium balloons were released from her hold as she approached the museum. The boat stayed at the museum until 24th September.

cargo hold of ferret painted red-brown, wooden bottom, showing poor condition

The interior of Ferret's cargo hold. The condition of the steelwork and the timber bottom planks, whilst not dangerous, is such that planned maintenance must be programmed before too long.

dereriorating yellow striped paintwork in cabin alongside roses decoration

The interior of Ferret's cabin. The traditional striped painting of cabins has deteriorated and requires restoration.

new timber and an apprentice working on cabin interior

An apprentice in the Heritage Boatyard scheme is seen working on the cabin of Ilkeston, September 2010. Ilkeston's cabin was undergoing a complete restoration at that time and new timbers can be seen in the picture.

tiny forecabin interior with seats and yellow paintwork

Ilkeston has a small forecabin, which is in reasonably good condition. The interior is shown here in 2010. A forecabin would have been used as sleeping accommodation, often for children.