Memories of Fazeley, written by Joseph T. Hunter in August 2008 when he was 88 years old.

Fazeley Canals

In the early twenties I guess a lot of people thought the coal bearing barges were pulled by horses, but in fact a lot were pulled by mules, large lean rangy animals very much like horses with very large floppy ears. They were a cross between a horse and a donkey and thousands were employed on the western front pulling heavy guns, and I reckon that some of them had seen action in France for on their flanks was burnt W D.

The stretch of canal from the junction to the Drayton Road bridge past Millfield School was very straight going towards Birmingham. There would be stress on the rope after negotiating the junction, with it pulling the coal laden barge and sometimes it would break and off would gallop the mule. The boatee, with the aid of a pole, would clamber out of the cabin, with the boat floundering and the rope dangling in the water and would give chase.

We children, on the way to school, standing on Tolsons Foot Bridge, had a birds eye view of the action, the boatee gave forth a tirade of abuse as we kids learned all the swear words. It was said the mules would perhaps run half a mile before they were caught.

The barges would travel to Birmingham laden with coal and return to Glascote in one day, probably 16 miles each way, so no time could be lost. The boatees or bargemen would have long whips which they would carry not to hit the animals but to urge them on for the bargeman and his horse were good friends and the bargeman's livelihood.

So the crack of the whips were the sounds we heard as we went to school, like the sounds of traffic today. Later in the afternoon, at 4pm as we came out of school the boats would be returning, travelling much faster back to Glascote unladen, the bargemens faces blackened with coal dust. I do not know if they had help to barrow the coal out of the boats but they were as black as miners. It was a hard life for them especially for the families who lived on the boats.