Legendary boat-builder remembered through donation to steam narrowboat President

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) Lichfield Branch has donated £2,000 in memory of Malcolm Braine, founding member of Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Society. The donation will support the current restoration work and design and installation of a new boiler for President – one of the world’s only surviving boats of its kind and part of the National Historic Fleet.

IWA’s donation honours Malcolm, a renowned boat-builder and restorer who formed a link from the historic working boatyards to the modern leisure-boarding era. Malcolm’s abilities for boat renovations were second to none; he worked on almost 150 historic boat conversions during his lifetime.

A hugely respected figure in boatbuilding, Malcolm was recruited by Tom Rolt into IWA in 1948, which led to his honorary life membership 70 years later. Sue Gurney, Lichfield IWA, states that the donation is “particularly fitting as Malcolm was instrumental in originally rescuing and restoring President in the 1970s.

President was built in 1909 by Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd and is the only existing restored ex-Fellows Morton and Clayton Ltd steam powered narrowboat. She could carry 18 tons of cargo such as tea, spices, beer and bicycles, and was powerful enough to tow several unpowered boats, known as butty boats. They worked “fly”, that is day and night, between London, Birmingham, Coventry, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. Unfortunately, the compound steam engine and coke-fired boiler took up valuable cargo space. To solve the issue, the steam engine and boiler was replaced with a 15 horsepower Bolinder in 1925, increasing carrying capacity by nearly 8 tonnes. She spent the remainder of her working life as a motorboat. 

The Museum took ownership of President in 1983 and the following year, dedicated volunteer group ‘Friends of President’ (FoP) formed to support her maintenance and operation ensuring that President is regularly seen on the UK’s waterways. Notable ‘appearances’ include joining the flotilla of boats as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames in 2012 and carrying the Olympic Torch into the Museum in  the same year!

However, after more than 30 years’ service a new boiler is needed, as well as restoration work to the woodwork of the vessel, at a cost of almost £100,000. Thanks to many dedicated supporters, like the IWA, much of this has been raised but the Museum needs your help to raise the last £20,000. Your donation will help bring an important part of Black Country industry and transport back to life, ensure key heritage and boating skills aren’t lost and inspire our audiences, both at the Museum and in our communities.

Let’s get President back in steam!

Left to right: Carolyn Sankey, Director of Development, BCLM; Nick Haynes, Chairman, Friends of President; Sue Gurney, Treasurer, IWA Lichfield Branch; Pete Gurney, Chairman, IWA Lichfield Branch.

President makes its way back to the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley, West Midlands in 2004.