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Jack Jackson (Photos and account by courtesy of Jack Jackson)

This site is not just about facts and figures, its as much about the people who have been touched by Swallow during her 'lifetime'.
As  a former chemist at Cowburn & Cowpar Mr. Jackson would recognise that Swallow and the other 'S' boats are catalysts
that  allow a bye-gone age to bubble over into modern times.
We thank him for allowing his quest to be published here. (MB Swallow Admin)

Jack Jackson aboard Swallow at the Black Country Living Museum 4th August 2007




I started this project at the beginning of May this year when my wife and I visited the National Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire although my interest had been aroused about eighteen months earlier by a programme that I had seen on RealTime TV and a Daily Telegraph Supplement concerned with inland navigation.

The background to my interest in narrow boats stems from the fact that during my working life I was employed by two companies with working boats on the canal system as follows:

W H Cowburn & Cowpar Limited.

As the second world war was drawing to a close I was allowed to leave my job with the Ministry of Supply (Chemical Defence Division) to take up a peacetime job and also to catch up with my technical education which had been interrupted because of my war work. Accordingly, I found a job within reach of the Manchester College of Technology (later to become UMIST). This was with Cowburn & Cowpar Limited who had a chemical manufacturing site in Trafford Park bordering on to the Bridgewater Canal. The roots of Cowburn & Cowpar stretch back to 1870 when the founder William Cowburn, founded a company specialising in the marketing of chemical products. By 1877 he had a partner, a Mr Parkinson, and in that year the Cowpar Chemical Company was established with premises at Castlefield Basin, Manchester. The business expanded rapidly, mainly because William Cowburn was working closely with Samual Courtauld, who was at that time developing a process for the manufacture of viscose rayon (artificial silk). The Cowpar Chemical Company made arrangements for the production and supply in bulk of the main chemicals required for the operation. In about 1914, the company acquired a site on the newly opened Trafford Park Industrial Estate, selected with canal traffic in mind. A large chemical works was constructed - mainly to supply the expanding Courtaulds business which had opened operations in north Wales at Flint, in Coventry and in Wolverhampton. In 1916 the original Cowburn company and Cowpar Chemicals amalgamated to form W H Cowburn & Cowpar Limited. It appears that the company did not become involved in the major consolidation of chemical companies in 1926 which resulted in the creation of ICI. By the time that I came on the scene in 1945 Courtaulds had in addition to the rayon factories at Flint, Wolverhampton and Coventry a further plant at Preston and a cellulose film plant at Bridgewater in Somerset. Cowburn & Cowpar, still owned exclusively by the Cowburn family, had by this time become a major UK importer of sulphur in bulk ship loads from Texas which arrived by way of the Manchester Ship Canal to Manchester Docks. They employed rail tankers for delivery of sulphuric acid.

They also used Scammel articulated road vehicle with tank trailers for sulphuric acid and the highly inflammable carbon disulphide, Scammel articulated flat vehicles for carboys, drums and hessian sacks and a fleet of eight narrow motor boats of which some had detachable bulk tanks for the exclusive delivery of carbon disulphide to the Courtaulds works at Coventry and Wolverhampton. All of the boats were designed to accommodate two tanks in line but not all were fitted.

With the tanks detached, the canal boats were also employed for transporting chemicals in carboys, drums and hessian sacks. All of the eight narrow motor boats were built and designed by W & J Yarwood at Northwich between 1933 and 1936, the first two being composites with timber bottoms and steel structures and the remaining six being all steel. The first two boats were 70ft. 6 inches long, 7ft. 1inch beam with a hull depth of 4ft. 2 inches. The following six boats were of the same length with the hull beam reduced to 7ft. 0 inches and the hull depth reduced to 3ft. 11 inches. Steel construction was a departure from the traditional timber construction that had been employed previously and seems to have been pioneered by both Yarwoods and Harland & Wolfe. All of the boats were fitted with Gardner 4VT single cylinder two stroke 12 HP semi diesel engines. All were equipped with a flood valve to enable the boat to be sunk quickly in the event of fire. The tanks were kept full of liquid at all times and the carbon disulphide (Sp Gr 1.26) was displaced with water under pressure on delivery. After discharge the boats returned to Trafford Park with the tanks full of water.

All boats were named after a bird beginning with the letter “S” the fleet thus comprised: “Swan”, “Swift”, “Swallow”, “Stork”, “Skylark”, “Seagull”, “Snipe”, and “Starling”.

In addition to the eight boats built by Yarwoods, the company also employed butty boats for the transport of chemicals. The names of three of these are: “Ivy” built 1927, “Jodie” built 1927and “Lottie” built 1928. “Ivy” and “Jodie” were fitted with tanks in 1935. Other butty boats reportedly in the fleet include: “Alice”, “Tom”, “Darby”, “Minnie” and “Sirdar”. “Darby” sunk during the second world war as a result of enemy bombing.

The log records for 165 round trips between Trafford Park and Coventry between January 1934 and May 1939 for “Swallow” have survived and these give details of cargo and running costs. In some instances the log records show that “Swallow” had a butty in tow.

I was employed by Cowburn & Cowpar between May 1945 and September 1949. After 1949 I lost all contact with the company. I was, however, aware as the years went by, that viscose rayon was being rapidly replaced with other synthetic fibres such as acrylics and nylon. Consequently, the whole future of the Cowburn & Cowpar operation was bound to become progressively less viable.

Henry Seddon & Sons Limited.

Between 1949 and 1968 I was employed by Cerebos Limited at their works in Booth Lane, Middlewich. In 1950 Cerebos acquired Henry Seddon & Sons Limited, salt manufacturers with three small open pan works in Middlewich. As a consequence of this acquisition I found myself, once again, involved in a business which employed canal traffic for the shipment of product to market and also for the movement of coal from the north Staffordshire pits to the three works. Henry Seddon had a fleet of timber construction narrow boats (some with diesel engines and some unmotorised butty boats) that were used for moving “Light Lagos Salt” packed in 40 lb and 90 lb linen sacks to Anderton where the load was transferred to river boat for shipment to Liverpool and thereafter onward shipment to Nigeria. The narrow boats owned by Henry Seddon were, for the most part, named after woodland animals such as Badger, Rabbit, Fox, Stoat, Hare etc. One boat that did not conform to this nomenclature was “Sweden” which is still in existence under the Henry Seddon livery. Henry Seddon also owned two river boats on the Weaver - “Weaver Belle” and “Gowanburn” (a dumb barge).

Henry Seddon like most of the salt producers in Sandbach, Middlewich and Wincham were sited on the Trent & Mersey canal whilst the Winsford producers were sited alongside the river Weaver. The canal system enabled easy shipment of product and an easy means for the delivery of coal.

The manufacture of “Light Lagos Salt” came to an end in about 1965 for environmental and cost reasons. Thereafter the west African market was supplied with “Dendritic Salt” produced by ICI using the more economic and environmentally friendly vacuum process. The three Henry Seddon sites were ultimately sold and used for housing developments.

On the occasion of our visit to the National Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port we made contact with Linda Barley the archivist and we were fortunate to additionally become acquainted with a committee member of the Boat Museum Society. I explained to these two individuals my background in businesses that had employed working boats and further explained that I wished to find out how many of the boats that I knew in the 1940s and 1950s might still exist and how I might be able to see them. Following this Linda Barley carried out a search and within a week provided me with a copy of a paper ( which gives very full details of the Cowburn & Cowpar fleet including data provided by the builders, W & J Yarwood. At the request of Linda I prepared a short paper for possible inclusion in a future News Letter of the Society and having completed this Cath Turpin, the committee member that we had met, sent out details of my interest to those members of the Society who might be able to provide me with information.

This opened the flood gates and as a consequence I was bombarded with emails from current owners and invitations to visit them.

Visits that I made with my wife include the folllowing:

Cowburn & Cowpar boat “SWAN” at Malkins Bank, Cheshire. Owned by Mary Gibby who is now resident in Edinburgh.

Cowburn & Cowpar boat “SWIFT” at the British Waterways Wharf in Birmingham. Now part of the BW “Heritage Fleet” and in the care of very competent volunteers Len Ilsley and his colleague Mick Perry.

Cowburn & Cowpar boat “STARLING” at the old Cadburys Wharf at Knighton in Staffordshire. Owned by David Jones who knew and worked on the boat in the 1950s when his uncle was owner.

Cowburn & Cowpar boat “SNIPE” which is undergoing renovation at Brinkley Boat Services in Warwickshire under the supervision of Rex Wain.

Cowburn & Cowpar boat “SWALLOW” which is owned by David Lowe and is kept at the Black Country Museum at Dudley.

Cowburn & Cowpar boat “SEAGULL” moored at Aylesbury canal basin which has been converted to a house boat which the present owner, Michal Porter, lives in.

Cowburn & Cowpar boat “STORK” moored at the Lymm Cruising Club wharf at Lymm Cheshire which the present owner, Paul Entwistle lives on. This boat has the original Gardner 4VT single cylinder two stroke semi diesel engine installed.

Cowburn & Cowpar boat “Skylark” owned by Chris Williams and which, at the time of my visit, was moored at the Black Country Museum at Dudley

Henry Seddon motor boat “SWEDEN” at Shardlow in Derbyshire. Now owned by Colin Bowles..

All of the boats that we visited, with the exception of “SNIPE”, which is undergoing renovation, are in first class condition. The present owners, with the exception of Michal Porter who prefers to remain anonymous, are proud to retain the original livery. The original Gardner semi diesel engines that were installed in the W H Cowburn & Cowpar boats have, in some cases, been replaced but “Stork”, “Skylark” and “Swan” still have their original engines. “SWIFT” and “STARLING” now have Lister engines whilst “Swallow” has a 1936 vintage National engine.

“SWEDEN” is the only remaining Henry Seddon boat that we have located. It seems that all other boats from the Seddon fleet have gone.

During the second world war several of the boats were turned over for the movement of coal on the Bridgewater canal and in 1941, “Swallow”, was used by the Ministry of War Transport to move agricultural produce between Winsford and Dunham.

In the late 1950s through to the mid 1960s the boats of both Cowburn and Cowpar and Henry Seddon were disposed of to private owners. According to reports, the WHC&C Coventry trade came to an end in 1951. “Swallow” was the first of the fleet to be sold and was purchased by the Manchester Ship Canal Company to be used as a maintenance boat.

I have learned from David Jones that “Swan” came out of service in 1956 when Charlie Preston retired having worked the boat from new. Slightly later “Skylark” and butty Ethel were the last boats to come out of service at the time that Ernie Woods and his wife retired. The pair were acquired by Jonathan Horsefield of Runcorn, who worked them for a while with Billie Wain as Captain before the uncle of David Jones, Joe Prescott, hired the pair and worked them on the Runcorn Gas run and the Broadheath Linotype run. David Jones worked these boats many times. “Seagull” moved to Gordon Waddington in 1954 and “Swan” in 1956. Ethel was the last wooden boat to leave the C&C fleet when David Jones took her on her last trip to Runcorn Pool by Simpson and Davies yard where she was left to decay.

“Snipe” became a hotel boat and “Starling”, after being used for transporting limestone and china clay to Mellor Mineral Mills in Etruria, was later used, as a trip boat in the summer and for transporting coal in the winter. Under new ownership a middle section was removed. After he purchased the boat in 1996 David Jones was fortunate to locate the removed section which he then arranged to have refitted at the boat restoration yard of Simon Wain at Brinklow in Warwickshire.

It is very satisfying to me to know that all Cowburn and Cowpar motor boats which were built in the 1930s are still there and in the hands of such enthusiastic and capable owners. I have not traced any of the Cowburn & Cowpar butty boats and it seems likely that none of these has survived.

It is a little sad to know that only one Henry Seddon survives. However, this is also in very good hands.

Thanks to Linda Barley at the Ellesmere Port Museum, Cath Turpin of the Ellesmere Port Boat Society and the owners of the various boats and other individuals that I have been in touch with I have, with very little difficulty, been able to satisfy the requirements of my original quest to establish the existence and excellent state of preservation of so many boats that I knew in the past. This project has increased my knowledge of the Cowburn & Cowpar fleet far beyond anything that I expected at the outset and much beyond anything that I, as an employee of Cowburn & Cowpar, ever came by during my years of employment with them.

Jack Jackson October 10 2007


Linda Barley, archivist at the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum for providing information on WHC&C and general assistance in my quest.

Cath Turpin, member of the Ellesmere Port Boat Society for making introductions to present owners of WHC&C and Henry Seddon boats.

David Jones, owner of “Starling” and his wife Liz for historical information on W H C&C boats and for helpful assistance in reaching other owners.

David Lowe, owner of “Swallow”and his associates Steve (engineer) and Tom (crew) for much detailed information on “Swallow” and other boats in the WHC&C fleet. The mbswallow website proved to be both interesting and extremely informative.

Paul Entwistle owner of “Stork” for much historical information and photographs and also for a tour of his very comfortable living quarters on “Stork”.

Rex Wain of Brinklow Boat Services for permission to view “Snipe” and also for much information on the construction and refurbishment of narrow boats.

Michal Porter for permission to view “Seagull” at Aylesbury Basin.

Chris Williams for permission to view and photograph “Skylark”.

Mary Gibby, owner of “Swan” for photographs and also for permission to view “Swan” at Malkins Bank.

Len Ilsley and Mick Perry, of the British Waterways Working Boat Project for information on the reconstruction of “Swift” and also for a very enjoyable trip through the canal system of Birmingham on “Swift”.

Colin and Teresa Bowles, owners of the former Henry Seddon boat “Sweden” for information on the history of their boat and also for granting permission to view the boat at Shardlow.



Admin Snippet

I was privileged to meet Mr. Jackson and his lovely wife last weekend at the Black Country Living Museum,  not being one to miss an opportunity to collect information, I asked him about the size and weights of carboys (the cargo that Swallow was built to carry), he immediately ran off a list of facts and figures which I could not remember, but fortunately he sent me a mail containing the information, I reproduce part of that mail below by kind permission of Mr. Jackson. Would anyone care to guess at how many carboys would make up a load of say 20 tons........?

Just to confirm what I said about carboys, the capacity of all carboys was 10 imperial gallons and the nett weight of sulphuric acid in each was somewhere between about 170 lbs and 180 lbs. In the early days the acid was produced in the lead chamber process and the product known as BOV (brown oil of vitriol) was approximately 77% in strength and would have weighed out at about 170 lbs per carboy. Later, when the contact process was introduced in the late 1930's 92% contact acid became available which would have weighed out at about 180 lbs per carboy.
As I mentioned to you I am pretty sure that the log records that you have for Swallow were written up by Mr Frost who was the sole non Cowburn Director of WHC&C in the time that I was with them between 1945 and 1949.


W H Cowburn & Cowpar Limited - personal recollections of

Jack Jackson.

-    I joined WHC&C in the early summer of 1945 in response to an advertisement in the Manchester Guardian for a junior chemist. I was 21 years of age at that time and my technical education had been interupted by my war work. I had, however, an ONC in chemistry and I considered myself adequately qualified for the job as advertised. I was interviewed by Arthur Cowburn who headed the company who at that time was in his 60’s and also by his son Brian aged 28 who was in charge of works operations. The wage offered was £6 per week and I thought that I was in clover! My primary duties were concerned with getting thiourea production under way and my secondary duties were to assist Brian in whatever way he needed. I was given full support by the company to enrol for classes at the Manchester College of Technology in General Chemical Technology.

-   The operations of the company were located on the Courtaulds chemical production site of about 5 acres on Textilose Road Trafford Park bounded by Westinghouse Road to the north and the Bridgewater Canal to the south. The site had originally been set up by the predecessors of WHC&C in about 1913 and was acquired by Courtaulds in about 1916. The main Courtauld operations on the site were plants to produce sulphuric acid (by both the lead chamber process and the contact process) and plants to produce carbon disulphide. The activities of WHC&C were: a) transportation by means of articulated road tractors in conjunction with tank trailers and flat platform trailers, rail tankers and motorised narrow boats which could be fitted with tanks and b) chemical manufacture and merchanting. The road and canal transport was almost entirely dedicated to the supply of bulk chemicals to the various Courtaulds viscose rayon plants (Coventry, Wolverhampton,  Bridgewater, Flint and Preston) - carbon disulphide and sulphuric acid from the Courtaulds Trafford Park site and other bulk chemicals from external manufacturers such as ICI. The main WHC&C  production operation was sulphur refining for the chemical and rubber industries and the supply of battery acid and distilled water to the motor trade. Production of thiourea was seen as an oportunity to move into a new area but unfortunately the market for this chemical did not open up as was originally anticipated and after three years the production plant was closed. The merchanting side involved the procurement of various bulk chemicals from a variety of manufacturers for onward sale to various industrial customers. A large part of this business was in pure hydrochloric acid purchased in carboys from ICI at Weston Point for onward sale to the food processors.

-   Both Courtaulds and WHC&C used sulphur, imported in bulk shiploads from the USA, as raw material for their operations. A large open air strategic war time dump for his material was established by the Ministry of Supply immediatrely west of the Courtaulds/WHC&C site on Westinghouse Road which was enclosed by a substantial concrete wall. In the period immediately following the end of the war WHC&C was alllowed to draw material from this supply for  use in the WHC&C operation under the strict control of the Ministry

-   Arthur Cowburn was head of WHC&C and also served as general manager of the Courtaulds chemical works. The WHC&C  administration was mainly  accomodated in a two story building at the north east corner of the site with the offices plus the Courtaulds works laboratory on the upper floor. The lower floor was mainly warehousing and also accomodated the WHC&C laboratory/technical office, the WHC&C staff dining room and the changing room for WHC&C  plant employees. The traffic manager, Harold Heap and his assistant, Ivy Clarke had their office together with a vehicle maintenance workshop just inside the main entrance to the site about midway along Textilose Road.

-   I was not in any way directly involved in the transportation side of the business and my job required me to concentrate my attention on the chemical manufacturing side. .

-   Arthur Cowburn lived at Booth Hall close to Knutsford and drove to and from Trafford Park daily in his Daimler. He was a hard nosed autocrat and a sponsor of the arts. He was unusually short in stature. His elder son, Dave, lived in the lodge at Booth Hall and was an accountant by profession. He took up duties as a director of the company on his return from the war. He drove to and from the office in a pre war Ford Prefect. Brian the second son married shortly after I joined the company and took up residence in a cottage in Tabley. His main outside interest was field hockey and he played for the Bowdon team for many years. He ran a pre war Rover sports car and later bought one of the original Ford Anglias that come on the market in 1947. The other director of the company was Tom Frost who lived in Bowdon and who ran a limousine which he used to get himself to and from Trafford Park. Tom had many duties - mainly concerned with administration and sales. In earlier days he seems to have written up the journey logs for the motorised narrow boats and the MB Swallow logs which have been preserved are unmistakably in his handwriting.

-   The plant operations were under the control of Jack Battersby. Jack lived in Gatley and had joined the company via Simon Carves having been previously employed by the Anglo Persian Oil Company at Abadan.

-   A key function of the WHC&C business was purchasing bulk chemicals for onward sale. This was under the control of  Mr Young of Timperly and his assistant Fred Latham.

-   In 1945, shortly after I joined the company, Arthur Cowburn arranged a staff dinner at the Manchester Liberal Club to celebrate the end of world war 2.

-   The road tractors for hauling trailer tanks and flat platforms were entirely Scammell when I arrived on the scene but a  Foden tractor was purchased just prior to my departure from the company in 1949. The trailer tanks were 2,000 gallons capacity for sulphuric acid and four 500 gallon compartments in line for carbon disulphide. A paint shop for the vehicles was located in the stables at Booth Hall.

-   All eight of the motorised narrow boats comprising the “S” fleet were built by Yarwoods of Northwich in the 1930’s and were fitted with Gardner semi diesel engines. The bulk tanks, where fitted, were designed to carry carbon disulphide.

-   One of the off site interests of WHC&C was a joint venture contact sulphuric acid plant with Peter Spence of Widnes. I spent some of my time in a development project at this site.

-   In 1949 Arthur Cowburn ceased to be general manager of the Courtauld operation - he had probably reached their retirement age. He was replaced by a Courtauld nominee from Coventry and in no time at all a high brick wall was erected to divide the Courtauld operations from those of WHC&C, the Courtauld works laboratory in the WHC&C office building was closed and replaced by a new laboratory on the Courtauld side of the wall and numerous individuals who had previously worked between the two companies were reassigned. Courtaulds, at this time, took over bulk chemicals purchasing for their own use from WHC&C and Fred Latham accepted the offer of a transfer to Courtaulds and moved to Coventry to establish a new bulk chemicals purchasing office for them. This was the time when I thought it better to move on which I did at the end of September 1949.

Jack Jackson      September 25 2010.

Current Photos of the 'S' Boats taken by Mr. Jackson during his quest and  reproduced here by kind permission














Skylark & Swallow