Print this page

John (Jack) Poole




Resident of Middlewich

Ex Boatman, W.H. Cowburn & Cowpar Ltd


John Poole sadly passed away late March 2006 aged 82 years.  He had been ill since October 2005 and  his funeral was on Wednesday 29th March at Middlewich.


John (Jack) Poole was one of the last of the boatmen who worked for WH Cowburn and Cowpar Ltd of Trafford Park, Manchester who had the fleet of eight motor boats all named after birds beginning with the letter 'S', as well as horse drawn boats and butties.  He was Captain of ‘Skylark’ from 1947 to 1951.


In his retirement John often was to be seen at Middlewich (his home town) watching the boats go through the locks, deriving great pleasure in particular from seeing the ex WHC&C boats as and when they made their way through, maybe attending the Middlewich Festival.  He was a welcome visitor always, on Swallow, whether taking her through the locks, or when we were moored up, and always seemed to know when we were arriving!


John had a wealth of genuine knowledge, learnt the hard way, growing up, living and working on the boats, and he delighted in sharing anecdotes and stories of life on the Cowpar boats.  John was also very willing to answer questions on such topics as liveries, the tanks, and the ill-conceived conversion of ‘Swallow’ from a motor boat to a butty – thus providing valuable historical information about this small but important fleet.


He was also generous with his time spent helping people repair or paint their boats, and making model boats for others.


John’s health was not what it might have been having suffered a stroke some 6 years ago.  Nevertheless on 3rd July last year he joined 'Swallow' at Middlewich, steering down the locks with enthusiasm. Indeed he was most unwilling to relinquish the tiller until Croxton Aqueduct - a fair walk back for him.  There we bid him goodbye, and he surprised us by jumping off the moving boat, stick in hand, as we passed under the bridge.  He then stood quite still watching us as we left him, until we were well away and rounding a bend, out of sight.  It was a poignant moment, as I remarked to my crew that maybe he knew he would not see us again.


I feel privileged to have known John Poole and to have been allowed to share his memories.


David Lowe




An Impression


   The first time I met John Poole he surprised me greatly, I was sitting on the side bed in Swallow’s back cabin, mixing the serenity of this unique boat with the urgency of the mobile phone (I owed my wife a call, she had lost her husband to yet one more weekend of boating) Rata-Tat-Tat! I sprang upright (no mean feat in the confines of a back cabin) on investigation I found an elderly gentleman with a walking stick (obviously the source of the Rata-tat-tat!) He told me who he was and of his connection with WHC&C boats, my skipper had mentioned to me about John Poole, so I felt honoured to meet the man at last. I explained to him that my skipper (David Lowe) had not yet arrived and we chatted about C&C boats, their livery and the current fine condition of Swallow.

    While he was talking about the boats in his life and past events he had this twinkle in his eye, a man with a walking stick proudly strolling down memory lane. I enjoyed his conversation and hunger was the only reason it ended, I needed food and John Poole shared with me the best kept secret of Middlewich (the location of the finest fish and chip shop). He walked with me some way towards the best kept secret and suddenly bid me goodbye and for a man his age fairly sprinted across the road, a fact commented on by a passer-by.  

   The last time I met John Poole he surprised me greatly, he had steered Swallow through the locks of Middlewich to Croxton Aqueduct it was obvious he was born to be a boatman, the look in his eyes (the twinkle was there) told me that he would need little persuading to do one last trip (where to?.... Anywhere of course), and for a man his age he fairly leapt from the counter of the moving boat to the towpath as Swallow continued her journey. My skipper and I observed John Poole standing silently watching (no doubt wishing that he were still aboard) David prophetically saying “I wonder if that will be the last time we shall see John Poole”? ….It was.


  John Poole’s life touched mine very briefly, but he left an impression…. I am glad I met the man before he passed on into history.


Steve (Swallow)



Malcolm Poole (John Poole’s son)

visits Swallow at Middlewich (2006)