Lily Jane – a 1920’s Thames Slipper Launch
It’s odd, according to my internal calendar I thought I’d bought my first boat – the little 28ft 1920’s slipper launch ‘Lily Jane’ – getting on for 25 years ago, in 1987; however, a quick browse through my diaries has shunted the timescale some two years forward, to the Spring of 1989.
My sister and her boyfriend, living frugally in London, had been renting an old converted lifeboat ‘Claudetta’ on the Regents Canal and were moored in a small community of boats that’d grown up at the southern end of the Islington tunnel above City Road lock.
My diary entry for April 5 records:
‘Was today the beginning of my next step? T&M’s boat – small and beautiful, cluttered yet refreshingly basic – created in me such a sense of elation, immediate, total – afloat is the next step!
We share a meal laid out on an upturned chest; construct a make-shift bulk for me; we drink red wine, watching the candles putter in the draughts; we eat hot apple pie and I, for the first time in a long while, feel complete, content and happy.
It feels so right here, despite the slight rocking of the boat making me mildly nauseous, I lie awake, smiling, planning, absolutely certain that I will find, and buy, a boat of my own…’
on April 7 I take friends to see T& M’s temporary home:
‘P. and K. are, in the instant they clamber aboard T&M’s boat, fully converted to the idea of me buying a boat. They stand, stare, smile, agree. An afternoon of drinking and dreams, sunlight and grand plans. On a crowded, boisterous boat, on a Spring afternoon in watery sunshine, I confirmed my decision – I do want a boat… and what’s more I want to moor it here in London.’
A photograph still exists of the early part of that fateful afternoon:
Re-reading the ’89 diary now, what surprises me most was the speed of subsequent events…
I returned to Derbyshire, and by April 9 I was wandering around the busy marinas and yards around Sawley and Trent Lock, in wide-eyed ignorance, soaking up the brave new world I’d discovered. And, falling in love with just about every boat I saw.
Names litter the diary entries, the ‘Kathleen’, the ‘Wyvern’, the ‘Olenka’ (heck, I remember I nearly bought that one, utterly seduced by it’s varnished bow, totally unaware that it was much too wide for the narrow canals, and rotten as a pear structurally!) and, finally finding ‘Lily Jane’ in Steve Mill’s yard above Trent Lock.
By the evening of April 21 I’d arranged with ‘Lily Jane’s’ owner to take a short trip, not onto the wider Trent but up the first section of the Erewash Canal:
‘On Lily I feel less intimidated, she hardly causes a ripple as we meander towards the first lock.’
On April 26, just three weeks after I’d first sat on ‘Claudetta’s’ cabin roof, drunk on wine and dreams; I was the proud owner of a historic wooden boat!
‘At £3400.00 we shake hands. I feel a surge of adrenalin-fuelled nerves. I suppose it’s right to feel those nerves, after all this is a plunge into the unknown… and yet, within this utterly unsuitable and cramped coffin of a boat I really can see my future.’
From April through to the end of July 1989 my life became dominated by preparations for moving to London.
Lily entered the dry dock at Mill’s Yard where she was revarnished. Steve Mills fitted a more robust fore-cabin replacing the original canvas tonneau cover. The interior was stripped back and made sound. A solid fuel ‘Princess’ stove was added. The cooker restored. Even curtains were made by the PE mistress of the school where I was working. A three month blur of optimism and activity.
Family visited, friends visited, wine was drunk, plans were made, a video too of my Grand Life Plan. My car was sold, and I thinned out my possessions to the barest of essentials. I thought and re-thought about every object – would this object or that really be a necessary part of my new, minute and minimal home. Objects that passed the test included:
1x chair (an old Parker Knoll recliner)
2x canvas ‘Director’s Chairs’
1x ‘Princess’ solid fuel stove
3x narrow bookshelves filled with my most treasured books
1x chest containing letters, photographs and journals)
1x portfolio of artwork and drawing equipment
1x side bench, which converted into an (almost) double bed
1x futon mattress
1x calorgas double burner camping stove
A minimal selection of clothes
1x basic tool set
and that’s pretty much it…
These are the photographs I still have of that adventurous time…
My ‘Trip Report’ from that 1989 three week journey to London can be read if you click HERE
In fact ‘Lily Jane’ only remained my home from August 1989 through that Autumn and Winter and into the Spring of 1990. During that time, and as I’d only dared hope, an exciting, rich and creative new life really did open up in London, centred on the canal. It’s a journey I’ve never regretted.
‘Lily’ was replaced by a second boat – ‘Arun’ – but that as they say is another story.