Gifford was built as a horse boat for Thomas Clayton (Oldbury) Limited in 1926 at Braunston in Northamptonshire. In the days when gas was made from coal, the company specialised in transporting tar and other by-products of the process from gas works to tar distilleries.

At various times during the early 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Gifford carried tar from the Oxford and Leamington gas works to the tar distillery at Banbury in Oxfordshire.

Gifford also carried fuel oil and gas oil from the Shell refinery at Stanlow, Ellesmere Port, on the Manchester Ship Canal, to the Midlands until this traffic finished in 1955.

Gifford was horse drawn until the early 1940s and was later towed behind a motor boat.

Gifford finished its carrying life on the gas works traffic around Birmingham, again horse drawn, in 1963.


Gifford’s hold is a large tank for its liquid cargo. It has two layers of deck planking, one longitudinal and the other across the boat, to ensure that the hold is watertight. It was fitted with swill boards to prevent the cargo from moving about too much.

Hatches are set into the deck for loading and unloading the cargo, which was pumped in at the gas works, and out at the distillery. If the tar thickened too much, it was heated with steam pipes to make it more liquid. A concrete filled barrel was sometimes lowered onto the gunwales to tip the boat and to make it easier to remove all the cargo.

There is a double wooden bulkhead at each end of the hold to protect the cabins and storage areas from noxious fumes from the cargo. These cofferdams were also used for pumping water out of the cabins using a simple pump.

The cabin at the back of the boat was the home of the boatman and his family. It is a typical narrowboat cabin with all the available space used. The painting, lace, brassware and ‘hanging up plates’ make it appear more spacious. A coal fired range was used for heating and cooking, and at night a paraffin lamp would give light.

Gifford has a fore cabin, which increased the accommodation for families with large numbers of children.

Gifford Now

After finishing her working life in 1963, Gifford fell into disrepair and was rescued by a group of waterways enthusiasts who formed themselves into a society, with the aim of establishing a Museum to preserve and protect historic boats, artefacts, and to keep alive the skills and history of Britain’s inland waterways. Gifford was one of the first boats in the collection and was displayed at The Boat Museum (now the National Waterways Museum) when it opened in 1976. Gifford is owned, operated and preserved by The Waterways Museum Society and remains on display at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port.

Gifford’s initial restoration was undertaken by Malcolm Webster at Malkins Bank on the Trent and Mersey Canal. Gifford’s condition is monitored constantly, and preservation/restoration work is undertaken, as and when required, by professional boatbuilders and paid for by the Society. Society members take Gifford to events in order to demonstrate and keep alive the skills of operating a working boat, both horse drawn and paired with a motor boat, and attend to day to day maintenance.

In 2018/19, restoration work was undertaken by Adrian Polglase, and his team, at Alvecote, Staffordshire.

To find out more go to Gifford’s History or Gifford’s Photo Gallery.

Gifford is listed in the National Historic Ships UK register.