Canal Cruising Company Celebrates 70 Years In Business
One of Stone’s longest established businesses celebrates a milestone anniversary this year as Canal Cruising Company marks 70 years in business, making it the oldest hire boat operator in the UK.
The company was started by Rendel Wyatt and wife Jean in 1948 and today third and fourth generations of the Wyatt family are involved in its running, with Rendel’s grandson Peter at the helm along with his wife Karen.
In setting up the business 70 years ago, Rendel Wyatt took his inspiration from the publication of a canal travel boat by LTC Rolt in 1944, entitled ‘Narrow Boat’. A friendship between Rendel and the author sparked the very new concept of providing holidays on the waterways; there was no company that offered this at the time, though there were one or two who started before them.
Rendel got the wheels in motion with the lease of historic premises on a wharf next to the Trent and Mersey Canal in Stone, enlisted the services of his 25 year old son David (who had spent part of World War Two on Russian convoys) and Canal Cruising Company came into being on January 12, 1948. The company remains at the same location today.
During this post-war period shortages of fuel and construction materials impacted on British industry but in spite of this the Wyatts were able to start building their fleet and in the spring of that year their first customers set sail. Karen Wyatt recounts some of the difficulties the business encountered in its early days and tells of frequent breakdowns which would have taken longer to repair in those days. However, the clients took this all in their stride.
“For the customers it was like an adventure if something untoward happened. Waiting all day for the engineer to arrive gave you time to fish, read a book, play cards or look at nature. There was no panicking or being stressed or demanding. Life used to go by at a much slower pace.”
With the boats being constructed of wood in those days, holes in the hull were not uncommon but the Wyatts had an innovative method of dealing with this.
“We used to go to the Joule’s Brewery tip across the canal in Stone and collect bucketfuls of barrel corks to bung up the holes,” recalls Karen.
Fuel supply provided its own challenges – until diesel became the norm in the 1970s, petrol had to be collected from a garage in containers and transported to the company vehicle, a former GPO van, there were also petrol coupons. And boat hire carried its risks too.
“Many a time David would return home after attending to a breakdown wringing wet, having fallen in the canal because it was dark and he forgot which side the towpath was,” says Karen. “Or maybe he had to get in the water to clear a prop. Or patch up a hole in a sinking boat.”
She mentions one particularly memorable night when the Wyatts had to pull a stricken boat through a bridge hole in pitch darkness. One member of the team suddenly found his foot planted on the naked posterior of a person lying on the towpath.
“You should have heard the screaming as the embarrassed couple made their undignified getaway!”
Sadly Rendel Wyatt died in 1955, shortly before grandson Peter, David’s son, was born. David continued to run the business before handing over the reins to Peter on retirement in 1988.
Canal Cruising Company is very much a family business with Peter and Karen’s children, Kimberley and Dominic, joining the family business in 2016, Kimberley taking on sales and marketing and Dominic working as an engineer. Even the narrowboats are like part of the family as they all feature names of Wyatt family members dating back as far as the 14th century.
This, combined with the name ‘Ginger’ – in honour of Kimberley’s flowing red hair – has produced names such as Lilian Ginger and Eleanor Ginger. 70 years on the company goes from strength to strength and its fleet of modern, purpose-built narrowboats with their distinctive green paintwork offer a more sophisticated experience than their post-war counterparts.
And just as the company now employs its fourth generation, some of Canal Cruising’s customers are also the second or third generation of families who recall holidays of yesteryear on the Trent and Mersey.
Congratulation to the Wyatts on their anniversary and here’s to another 70 years on the waterways!
WIN A CRUISE FOR FOUR – CANAL CRUISING COMPETITION
To celebrate their 70th Birthday Canal Cruising are offering one lucky reader the chance to win a Short Break for Four (excluding school holidays)
To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is answer this simple question
“What year did Kimberley and Dominic join the family business”
A) 1955 B) 1988 C) 2016
Answers via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or
by post to Canal Competition, The Stone & Eccleshall Gazette, 5 Globe Court, Stone, ST15 8JG
Answers must be received by 6pm Wednesday 28th February,
a winner will be chosen at random by Karen – and then notified.
Don’t forget to include your contact details in case you are the winner!
No cash alternative – No correspondence will be entered into, the editors decision is final.