In the days that gas was obtained from coal, tar and gas water were valuable by-products so, from when she was built in 1926 until the early 1940s and horse drawn, Gifford carried gas tar from the gasworks at Oxford to the Midland Tar Distillers works at Banbury and from Leamington gasworks to both Oldbury in the West Midlands and Banbury.
The hold is decked over to make a watertight tank for the transport of liquid cargoes. The cargo was loaded by pumping it through hatches on the deck. It has a forecabin, which gives more living space than most working narrow boats. There is a bulkhead or ‘stank’ at each end of the hold, giving an air space between it and the living accommodation, which prevents noxious fumes from the cargo polluting the cabins.
In the 1940s and 1950s Gifford also carried fuel oil from the Shell refinery at Stanlow on the Manchester Ship Canal, through Ellesmere Port to the Shell Mex depot at Langley Green in the Midlands. After 1940, she was often towed by a motor boat and the 160 mile round trip would take 6 to 7 days. Crewed by Abel and Ellen Beechey and towed by the motor Stour, Gifford carried one of the penultimate loads from Stanlow in August 1955.
During her working life, Gifford was crewed by a number of well-known Clayton boatmen and their families: the Bakers, the Bellinghams and their five children, Steve Dulson (who had the last horse boat on the Stanlow run), the Gardners (who had been working for Claytons since the company was formed in 1889), the Smiths, the Beecheys, the Atkins and the Jones.
Gifford has had her fair share of births and deaths. In 1932, baby Joseph Thomas Gardner was born on her when she was tied up at Crescent Wharf, Birmingham. Nine years later, in 1941, tragedy struck Gifford when young Susan Agnes Beechey, aged only 13, was suffocated by fumes from the stove in the fore cabin. Her sister Clara survived.
After the Stanlow traffic finished, Gifford continued to work until 1963 carrying tar from gas works in the Midlands to Oldbury, once more horse-drawn. She was crewed by Ben and Mary Smith with Mary’s son Jack.
Max Sinclair saved Gifford from being broken up by paying a £60 deposit to Claytons. It was then owned by Martin Bunford at Norbury until 1970 when it was bought by Edward Paget–Tomlinson. Extensive repairs were carried out by Ken Keay at Walsall. Further major restoration work was undertaken by Malcolm Webster in the 1990s.
Gifford was one of the first boats in the collection at the Boat Museum (now the National Waterways Museum) when it opened in 1976. Since then she has attended many boat rallies throughout the country, from Reading on the River Thames, in the Jubilee year 1977, to Braunston and Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire in 2007. Gifford was taken, horse-drawn, to the site of the Clayton yard, now obliterated by the M5 motorway, at Oldbury in 2006.
She is owned, operated and cared for by the Waterways Museum Society volunteers at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port.
Length: 72 ft
Width: 7 ft
Capacity: 25 tons (approx.)
Year of original construction: 1926
Builders name: William Nurser and Sons, Braunston, Northamptonshire
For whom built: Thomas Clayton (Oldbury) Ltd., Fleet no. 60