ENTERTAINMENT

One of the UK's oldest horse barges that was forced to stop river travel


The owner of one of the oldest horse-drawn barges in the country had to stop her river trips after colliding with users of the Snowflake Canal.

Jenny Roberts, who owns Iona, shut down the Godalming Packetboat Company after 35 years, citing criticism from people who use the towpath.

Her horses Buddy, Alizee and Espoir were retired and the 1935 Iona was loaned to the Tiverton Canal Company on the Grand Western Canal in Devon.

There are currently only three sites in the UK that operate horse-drawn barge rides – Llangollen, Newbury and Tiverton. Apart from Iona, all boats will be recreated later.

But Jenny says that "snowflakes" who don't understand the nature of the business accused them of cruelty to animals.

Jenny Roberts, who owns the Iona barge (pictured), had to stop her river trips after clashes with canal users of the Snowflake Canal, who accused them of cruelty to animals

Jenny has retired her horses Buddy, Alizee and Espoir. Iona, which was built in 1935, was loaned to the Tiverton Canal Company on the Grand Western Canal in Devon

Jenny has retired her horses Buddy, Alizee and Espoir. Iona, which was built in 1935, was loaned to the Tiverton Canal Company on the Grand Western Canal in Devon

The businesswoman said she had encountered clashes with people who refused to step back to allow the horses to pass through, which made the trips too stressful. Pictured: Jenny Roberts begins her journey from Godalming to Reading, where IONA was loaded onto a large articulated lorry

The businesswoman said she had encountered clashes with people who refused to step back to allow the horses to pass through, which made the trips too stressful. Pictured: Jenny Roberts begins her journey from Godalming to Reading, where IONA was loaded onto a large articulated lorry

And clashes with people who refused to step back to allow the horses through made the trips too stressful.

The large number of people who use the area for recreation, playing on inflatables and maneuvering boats in the water and overcrowding the towpath means they cannot safely operate their boat.

"Nobody is sadder than me because I've been doing it for 35 years."

"It's gotten worse and worse over the past few years," she said.

“All passenger boats can only be operated according to the rules of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and we have come to the conclusion that the River Wey is no longer a safe area to operate a horse-drawn boat.

The Godalming Packet Boat Company had become famous over the years with bus parties from all over the country to enjoy a trip on the river. Pictured: Iona is lifted out of the water in Reading

The Godalming Packet Boat Company had become famous over the years with bus parties from all over the country to enjoy a trip on the river. Pictured: Iona is lifted out of the water in Reading

Her horses Buddy, Alizee and Espoir were retired and the 1935 Iona was loaned to the Tiverton Canal Company on the Grand Western Canal in Devon. Pictured: Iona is taken from the Wey River

Her horses Buddy, Alizee and Espoir were retired and the 1935 Iona was loaned to the Tiverton Canal Company on the Grand Western Canal in Devon. Pictured: Iona is taken from the Wey River

Iona was built in Woolwich on the Thames by Harland and Wolff in 1935 for the Grand Union Carrying Company. The ship began life as the & # 39; Bellerophon & # 39 ;, a narrow-boat cargo hauling coal between London and the Midlands (bottom right picture).

Iona was built in Woolwich on the Thames by Harland and Wolff in 1935 for the Grand Union Carrying Company. The ship began life as the & # 39; Bellerophon & # 39 ;, a narrow-boat cargo hauling coal between London and the Midlands (bottom right picture).

In 1960 she was in the film The Bargee with Ronnie Barker and Harry H. Corbett (picture). A few years later she was retired and converted to passenger on the Shropshire Union Canal, pulled by a horse the old-fashioned way.

In 1960 she was in the film The Bargee with Ronnie Barker and Harry H. Corbett (picture). A few years later she was retired and converted to passenger on the Shropshire Union Canal, pulled by a horse the old-fashioned way.

“There are now an unprecedented number of unlicensed paddle boards and inflatables with inexperienced people.

“This is just an accident waiting to happen when trying to dodge them on a 17 ton narrow boat that won't stop on a sixpence.

“The towpath is very narrow with heavy undergrowth on either side, and it's getting harder and harder to get the National Trust to do something about it.

& # 39; With a large number of racing bikes, runners, off-leash dogs, and people with strollers, we also suffer from some verbal abuse. The towpath has become completely unusable for a horse.

With people filling the waterway with unlicensed paddle boards and towpaths that were dangerously overcrowded, she decided to close her company. Pictured: Iona arrives aboard the Grand Western Canal Tiverton with owner Jenny Roberts and new manager Philip Brind

With people filling the waterway with unlicensed paddle boards and towpaths that were dangerously overcrowded, she decided to close her company. Pictured: Iona arrives aboard the Grand Western Canal Tiverton with owner Jenny Roberts and new manager Philip Brind

Jenny says that & # 39; snowflakes & # 39; who don't understand the nature of the business have accused them of cruelty to animals. And clashes with people who refused to step back to allow the horses through made the trips too stressful. Pictured: Iona begins his journey to Tiverton

Jenny says that & # 39; snowflakes & # 39; who don't understand the nature of the business have accused them of cruelty to animals. And clashes with people who refused to step back to allow the horses through made the trips too stressful. Pictured: Iona begins his journey to Tiverton

Pictured: Iona owner Jenny Roberts leads 14-year-old horse Buddy along the towpath while tourists enjoy a trip on the barge that is pulled behind them

Pictured: Iona owner Jenny Roberts leads 14-year-old horse Buddy along the towpath while tourists enjoy a trip on the barge that is pulled behind them

& # 39; It's the end of an era and a sad loss for Godalming. I can't walk safely and if I can't walk safely I can't walk, ”she said.

Jenny said while people who were too impatient to sit back quietly and wait while the boat went by are nothing new, the number of people she confronted each time she took Iona out became an issue.

"I get people screaming things like," This is really cruel, what are you doing with these horses? ".

“But they don't get it – it's an easy move for a horse. I could pull the boat, it's on the water so it's not difficult.

“It's a lot easier for the horses than it is for someone to ride them. It's far less strenuous. These are large, heavy horses that they are bred for.

The life and times of the narrow boat Iona

Iona was built in Woolwich on the Thames by Harland and Wolff in 1935 for the Grand Union Carrying Company.

The ship began life as a the & # 39; Bellerophon & # 39 ;, a freight with a narrow boat.

At 70 feet long and 7 feet wide, it is the maximum size for boats traveling in inland canals and can carry up to 35 tons of goods.

She worked as one of two boats and traded between London and the Midlands for most of her life.

It transported coal south from pits in Warwickshire and Leicestershire and returned north with imported goods: wheat, steel, lime juice and wood.

In 1960 she starred in the film The Bargee with Ronnie Barker and Harry H. Corbett.

A few years later she was retired and converted to passenger on the Shropshire Union Canal, pulled by a horse the old-fashioned way.

In 1984 the business was sold to the current owners and Iona traveled south to her new base here in Godalming, currently the southernmost point of the entire British waterway system.

Iona is also on the Register of National Historic Ships.

“People come along with their bicycles next to you and ring their bells, people's dogs fly towards you.

"Joggers won't hear you if you ask them to stay away from the horses because they're wired for noise."

“There are too many people on the towpath now and they are so impatient.

“Someone even tried to push one of my horses out of the way. He took both hands on the horse and tried to push it. He landed in the hedge with his headphones on and threatened to report to us.

“When you are stressed, the horses get stressed.

“I love my horses down to the last detail and when someone accuses me of being cruel to them it really hurts.

"There comes a time when you think you just can't do it anymore."

The Godalming Packet Boat Company had become famous over the years with bus parties from all over the country to enjoy a trip on the river.

The two-hour trips from Easter to the end of September took visitors from the quay in Godalming to the weir in Unstead.

Jenny's horses have also become independent stars over the years, with appearances on television programs such as Inspector Morse and The Victorian Farm, as well as in the 2000s film version of Railway Children with Jenny Agutter.

Iona itself has a long and interesting history: it was built in 1935 by Harland and Wolff of Woolwich and has served as an industrial workhorse over the years.

In her day she hauled coal, steel and even lime juice.

"It's a bit of industrial heritage," added Jenny. “I had 33 years on this boat, I know every inch of her.

“It's a piece of industrial heritage and I've found a good home for it.

"She's going to some very good friends of mine so I can still see her."

Tiverton Canal Company's Philip Brind said he was "very excited" to take over the historic boat but was saddened by the abuse that forced Jenny to close her company.

"Jenny complains about the young people who have never worked with a horse, haven't met a horse and don't understand the relationship between strength and weight on the water," he told MailOnline.

“A donkey could pull a barge and be pretty happy, but of course it looks big. The first reaction (young people) is to look at the boat, look at the horse and say, "This is unfair on the horse".

Iona as a working boat at Norbury Junction in Staffordshire in 1965/6

Iona as a working boat at Norbury Junction in Staffordshire in 1965/6

Horse barges became the preferred haulage company for goods and raw materials when suppliers realized that a horse on a ship floating on water could pull between 30 and 50 times its weight

"Everyone who knows Jenny knows that her horses are so well cared for, if anything, I'd say a little spoiled."

When asked if he was ill-treated on the Tiverton waterways, Mr. Brind said, “We have received some awake comments where people who do not understand horses and live in a bubble in the past believe it is a heavy horse should be left frolicking in a nice large open field.

"My answer to that is, if you ever want to piss off a horse, don't give it a duty, don't give it a job." This horse is going to be the saddest thing you have ever seen.

"They are like people, they like purpose and if you take that away from them, you kill them."

Horse barges helped revolutionize the industry, but also led to its own demise

They were once the nation's major arteries, helping Britain rule the new world of industry.

Nowadays people are used to diesel powered canal ships sailing leisurely up and down our waterways offering a unique form of mobile home.

But before the steam train changed things forever, canal ships started their own revolution by changing the movement of coal, steel, and other materials across the country.

Before the widespread development of the canal network, most goods and raw materials were transported by horses and mules that pulled road carts.

A horse-drawn barge moored on the Oxford Canal in Warwickshire in June 1936 when an LMS train passed by at full freight speeds

A horse-drawn barge moored on the Oxford Canal in Warwickshire in June 1936 when an LMS train passed by at full freight speeds

This became more of a problem when the volume and weight of the cargo began to increase at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

A strong horse could only pull about a ton of coal or iron ore along a road in a horse and cart.

When suppliers needed a solution, they found that a horse could pull 30 to 50 times more coal or iron ore on a barge floating on the water.

Because canal systems are usually located in flat areas and are not disturbed by tidal changes or currents, the work was considered safe for horses.

Although some companies have chosen to use gangs of human pullers instead of horses, most boat transport companies have preferred to use horses instead. Horses were cheaper than a team of men.

These horses had to be housed and fed, but the cost was generally low once a suitable animal was purchased.

This increase in productivity helped kickstart British heavy industry, and unfortunately canal tugs helped develop the steam-powered train. Demand would eventually move to this faster mode of transportation.

Even after the widespread introduction of steam and motor boats, horse-drawn carriages continued to operate and competed with them until the mid-20th century.

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