The Company had its genesis in retail coal operation set up by David Blagrove in association with Ashby Canal Transport following the cessation of regular trade on the Grand Union and associated canals in 1970. We operated with the butty boat “Elton” and a variety of sub-contracted motors including Keith Christie's josher ‘Lynx’ (of Midland Canal Transport) until the five-year-long closure of Blisworth Tunnel, 1979-84. During those years the coal business shrank to a mere retail of packaged fuel whereas until then coal had been dealt with in bulk.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Burge operated a fleet of fast road delivery vehicles under the name of Circle Transport. Malcolm began Circle Transport as a teenager, starting with a second-hand Morris Traveller delivering US newspapers from Heathrow to American air bases in the South East as far up as USAF Heyford. By the 80s this had been built up into a fleet of fast vans.
In the early 1980s he had a full-length modern cruiser called "Olympian". He lived near West Drayton in those days and kept the boat above Cowley Lock. His first working boat was "Greyhound" acquired from Alfred Matty & Co in 1986. He had this painted in the old FMC colours but with the name of Circle Transport on the cabin sides and ran it as part of the firm's advertising budget. Over the years he acquired more Joshers then, when he amalgamated with another firm to form Captain Cargo Ltd he changed the livery to red and green.
With the re-opening of the Blisworth tunnel David Blagrove formed a partnership to carry on and revive the business, now named South Midland Water Transport Company. The Commercial Narrowboat Operators Association was conceived in 1989 by Andy Rothen and the following partners in South Midland Water Transport Co: David Blagrove, Brian Green, John Bowen, Trevor Morley and Nigel Heath. Our associate Albert Barnett was another founder member. At that time we were regularly loading house coal at Rothen's wharf at the Top of Atherstone. The CNOA was formally founded at a meeting held in the Museum Schoolroom, Stoke Bruerne in June 1990, when the Committee was formed and Sir John Knill appointed as President. The name was later changed to CBOA.
Captain Cargo Limited was acquired by a Cardinal Business Group Plc in 1994 however the boats did not fit in with Ambition plans of the new company, Fastrack Parcels.
The South Midland Partnership ceased to trade as such in 1992 and David carried on as a sole trader under that name until Malcolm Burge bought the business, adopted the old trading name of South Midland but operated as a Limited Company, not a partnership or sole trader. His other boats were then incorporated in the fleet.
During the end of the 90’s SMWT ran all the solid fuel retail trade from Buckby to Battlebridge, the southern Oxford along with the Royal Thames and Kennet and Avon Canal. Archimedes paired with Australia under command of the Akhurst family plied the Southern GU full time while Clover and Fazeley worked from Stoke Bruerne north and carried out shuttle runs to London and carried out the Kennet Valley deliveries. Regular loadings occurred at the Family run, canalside coal yard ‘Tarry’s’ in Northamptonshire. While the Northern Fleet loaded at Simpsons coal yard Alvecote and continued with more local deliveries.
Frequent Thames runs were made delivering solid fuel to lock keepers and local businesses by David Blagrove and Malcolm Burge then Lawrence Williams following David’s retirement. Andrew Burge also ran the single motor Greyhound on long distance carrying contracts while also taking over the role as Chairman of the ‘Commercial Boat Operators Association’,from David Blagrove.
David Blagrove Retired from active service with SMWT in 2001, some 30 years after founding the company. Although he continued his work in the promotion of canal carrying in general and was still finding us "Traffic" for another 14 years!
In 2016 David Blagrove MBE sadley passed away, not only was this a great loss for the canal system but also the loss of a great friend. His legacy however will live on for years to come in his songs, stories, books and teachings.
Malcolm Burge and Lawrence Williams have now taken over Directorship of South Midland Water Transport Ltd. Both are still working closely with those who played vital roles in the company’s history and these are the Men responsible for the fleet today. The next generation is very keen to continue the hard work already started by their predecessors.
Although Objectives and Carrying potential has changed since 1970, SMWT has earned its place, in it’s own right ,in the History Books. Being the last large carrying fleet still in existence and seeing the very tail end of long distance carrying whilst enjoying the beginning of the canal solid fuel retail trade.
In recent years more boats have been acquired and essential maintenance has been carried out to the existing fleet. Old Traffics and new carrying potentials are being investigated. We are here to ensure canal carrying continues for the next 40 years although these days a lot of time is taken up travelling to boat shows and rallies advertising and promoting the cause. The fleet is currently ‘Waiting for Orders’.
The Boatyard, Robeys Lane, Alvecote, Staffs. B78 1AS
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