The Wickham Tractor

Preserving our heritage

Our Wickham tractor is one of the very few survivors of the age of the tractor on London's canals. We bought the tractor from a private collector in 2013 and exhibited it at the National Waterways Festival in Watford that year. For several years it was loaned to the Walthamstow Pump-House Museum, but in 2018 was returned to us and taken to a specialist for an overhaul and complete repaint in the colour Anchusa.

Tractors have a long and somewhat neglected history on the canals and were mainly used in London. Barge haulage by tractor in other parts of the UK was rare.

The first experiments with tractor haulage were carried out on The Regent's Canal in 1925. The tractor is thought to have been a Fordson type F tractor - a machine mainly intended for agricultural use, but adapted for the narrow canal towpath. Not much is known about these early towpath tractors or their use before the Second World War. Anecdotal evidence suggests they were not very stable and could topple over on occasions. However, it is believed that some of these tractors survived into the 1950s at least, although there are no known survivors to the present day.

The post-war period saw new tractors introduced, notably the Garner light industrial tractor, with some minor modifications for canal use. It had a JAP petrol engine and a centrifugal clutch. This tractor seems to have been a successful design as the Garner tractor appears in more photographs than other models and there were examples still to be seen in the mid 1970s. There are no known survivors of this one-common type of canal tractor.

In 1959 a new model of tractor was specially designed for canal use by Wickhams of Ware, famous for their railway maintenance vehicles and railcars. It had a Lister diesel engine. We do not know how many were made but three are thought to have survived. One is in the National Waterways Museum, one is in private hands, and one has been restored to original livery and is maintained in working order at London Canal Museum.