Trading Stories, Working Lives: the Polkey boatmen of Loughborough

As you stroll along the canal towpaths near Loughborough, inquisitive dogs poke their noses out from barge doorways. Wood smoke tangs the air. And pleasure boats sit, patiently waiting for a fair-weather jaunt.

Loughborough Wharf

It’s hard to imagine this peaceful backwater was once a busy thoroughfare, a channel for trade from the 1790s. Where modern apartment blocks now cluster around Loughborough Wharf, barge horses clip-clopped their way, transporting coal to Leicester and Nottingham. It was here that the Polkey family worked as boatmen. But how did it come about?

In the latest article in our Trading Stories, Working Lives series we look at life as a boatman on the Loughborough Navigation. The article brings together research from social and industrial history, coupled with family records, to provide a glimpse of the close-knit, waterside community living on Canal Bank, Bridge Street and Rushes.

Take a journey through sixty years and three generations of Loughborough boatmen: click to download.

Boatmen on a coal barge

“The banks of the Soar in the vicinity of this town already wear the appearance of increasing commerce. Speculations are increasing, Wharfs are preparing, and manufactories are erecting to welcome the approach of our expected Navigation.” (Leicester Herald, 1792)

Click here to see other articles in the series of Trading Stories, Working Lives occupational histories.

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