Life on the canal.
27 June 2020
The canals that run through Ancoats were an essential factor in it being at the heart of the industrial revolution. And did you know that when the Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 it lead to the Port of Manchester becoming Britain’s third busiest port despite being 40 miles inland? We (all too briefly) found out what it’s like to live on a canal boat when we spoke to Grace Mattimore, resident of New Islington Marina.
Hi Grace, what’s the name of your boat?
Malwen. It’s from Wales apparently, it means snail in Welsh! It was already called that when I got it and it’s bad luck to change the name of a boat while it’s in water. You have to rename them when they’re out of the water before you launch them back in. It’s a myth although I think it’s actually true because I renamed my last boat and then it sank. I’m never going to rename this one.
Oh wow, that’s unfortunate.
That boat had a little hole in the hull. The guy that I bought it off failed to tell me about it and it just had car body filler in it so obviously over time it washed away and that was that.
Were you on it when it sank?
No, I was at work and my neighbour rang me and said “Grace I think your boat’s sinking”. My dogs were on it though, my neighbour got them out.
How old is Malwen?
I think she was built in 1992.
If you don’t mind me asking, is it expensive to buy a boat?
This cost me £25,000 but it needed a lot of work, it wasn’t in the best of states. I’ve worked hard on it but there’s still loads of stuff that needs to be finished, some trims and grouting tiles and all that. Hopefully I’ll sell it on for a nice little profit but that won’t be for a while.
Is it expensive to moor up? Are there other costs involved?
No it’s alright, it’s £125 per month to moor here, they charge you by the length of your boat. Then you’ve got your council tax on top of that and you also pay a water licence fee to be on the water. It all adds up.
In comparison to buying a house it seems quite reasonable?
Yeah, boat prices vary. That one over there is up for £69,000. My mate bought one for £50,000. It varies; I think when I come to sell this I’ll get like £60,000 once I’ve finished doing it up.
And then will you buy another one?
I’ll have this for another five years and then I’m going to get a much bigger one, then that will be it.
How long is this one then?
This is 56 feet.
Apologies that I keep checking my phone but last time I interviewed someone, the recording just mysteriously stopped all of a sudden
(In about 2 minutes it will stop recording again, this time due to overheating)
What length do they go up to?
The biggest you can get is 72 feet I think. That’s the longest you can have because of the locks. At the back of each one you have a sill and if the back of your boat catches on it, it’ll tilt and sink.
Have you had any horror stories while canal boating, apart from sinking of course?
When I was pulling it in once I forgot to put it into neutral and it was still going forward and nearly pulled me in the lock. So not really… apart from breakdowns.
I see you have solar panels.
Yeah they keep me going when I’m out and about, giving me power. They’re connected to a inverter which converts my electricity into 240 volts, without them I can only have 12 volt. The converter is connected to a leisure battery. While I’m here though I can plug into the mains.
How long have you been moored here?
Six years in this spot. Before that I did constant cruising where you just boat around. That means you only pay for your water licence, you don’t pay council tax if you’re constantly moving because you’re not in a fixed space.
Do people tend to stay on a boat forever once they move in?
Yes although one of our neighbours just moved into a house. They already had a child but when a second one came along they just didn’t have the room.
What made you choose to live on a canal boat?
I don’t know, I always really liked them. Walking along the canals when I was a kid and I thought “I’d love one of those”. The opportunity came along to get one and I said to myself if I don’t do it now I’m never going to do it. I bought my first one for £10,000, did that up and then sold it on. I love it because I can just take off for a week or so, head out on my boat to explore the countryside and get some peace and quiet.
New Islington Marina seems like a great place to be moored.
It really is but I’ll be glad when the construction work is finished because it can be quite noisey. It’s much better here than it used to be, it’s safe, you don’t get so many idiots trying to climb onto your boat. Although there are still people who sit on the canal blasting music out until 1.30 in the morning.
The management of the marina is actually up for renewal so myself and some of the other boat owners have set up an organisation called NIMCIC and have put in a proposal to take it over. As a group we’re the ones that live right here and care for this area and we've already achieved some really great things. We built islands for the swans to nest in and we keep it clean and look after it.
What does the future hold?
I was a chef for a long time but I lost my passion for it. Now I’ve taught myself how to make things out of clay. I’ve even made my own kiln out of an old beer barrel so my plan is to make a living through that.
Grace lives with her dog, Marley and cat, Doris. You can follow her adventures on the canal and surrounding countryside through her Instagram @graceemattimore
Interview and photos by Christian at Blossom. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org