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Home » The Human Element » Maritime Image of the Day: “Boat Legging”

Maritime Image of the Day: “Boat Legging”

PortandTerminal.com, November 10, 2019

Editor’s note: “Image of the Day” is a new feature that we have recently launched. We work in an amazing industry. Let’s celebrate its beauty together by sharing the incredible maritime imagery taken by our colleagues of what we do. Have a photo/video to share? Please send it to info@portandterminal.com along with the name of the photographer who took it (if available) so that we can give them the credit that they are due.

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Today’s “Maritime Image of the Day” is of two leggers moving a barge out of the 500-yard Barnton Tunnel near Northwich, Cheshire in England.

Boat Legging is the act of moving a narrowboat through a canal tunnel while lying on your back either atop the boat or—as was most common—on a plank jutting out across its bow at both sides, and walking along the tunnel’s roof or walls.

Early canals tunnels were often built without towpaths to save money and labour. Without motorised engines, the only way to propel horse-drawn vessels through the tunnels was for two people to lie on their backs on the boat and walk their feet along the walls. This ‘legging’ was damp, dark and claustrophobic work.

Without a towpath or a barge with an engine, Boat Leggers were the only practical solution to get through the narrow tunnels built during the Industrial Revolution in England

Legging usually requires two people, one on either side of the boat and each holding onto the plank for stability, keeping their legs at a 45-degree angle as they “leg it” with equal pressure through tunnels that could stretch over three miles long.

“We put the boards out on each side of the boat at the front, and fastened them there. Then we slipped half a sack of corn under us, as a cushion, see, and just walked along the side of the tunnel, inside ‘arecastle that is, weaving our feet over each other, half lying sideways all the time. We jus’ kept on walking. It took two hours and a half…and very damp it was, too.”

Unnamed legger at Harecastle Tunnel, Canals and Waterways by AH Body (1969)

Legging was an actual profession during the Industrial Revolution. It was casual, poorly-paid work and many leggers simply loitered on the towpath waiting for their next customer, who paid them a shilling per trip. Often the leggers were in their 60s and 70s and were no longer capable of heavy full-time work on the canal. It was a tough life and some workers even slept rough on the towpath.

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