Ben is unusual in being a full length BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations) motor boat. Most cargo carrying boats on the BCN were engine-less and were pulled by horses or tugs. These boats were known as “joeys” or “dayboats” and Ben would have pulled two or more of them, in addition to carrying up to 25 tons.
Built by Harris Brothers of Bumble Hole, Dudley, in 1934 as a cargo carrying boat for the Talbot Garage Company (Kidderminster) Limited, it originally carried coal for the carpet trade on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. In 1941 Ben was gauged at Tipton for work on the BCN. The gauging sheet shows that it would take a maximum of 33 tons although this was with half an inch of freeboard! At 25 tons the freeboard was 8”. Ben subsequently worked for T&S Element at Oldbury on the BCN and carried coal from the Anglesey Arm to GEC, amongst other cargoes. Later Ben was leased for a while to chemical firm Albright & Wilson and carried liquid phosphorous waste from the Chemical Arm (Oldbury) to a marl pit at Brades on the Gower Branch. Three watertight bulkheads were added to contain the waste forming two open topped tanks.
In the 1960s T&S Element Ltd decided to sell their boats and to concentrate on road haulage (a business they are still in today). In 1964 the company sold Ben into private ownership and three years later it was converted by Malcolm Braine for residential use. After several years as a family holiday boat, Ben was sold on to 3 other private owners before being de-converted shortly before the sale to its the present owner in 1988. Since then, there has been significant amounts of repair and restoration work done to the engine and hull with the addition of a small fore cabin in 1993. The present owner is in the process of re-panelling the back cabin built in 1994 by Chris Collins.
Ben is based on the Caldon Canal and supplies coal and diesel to local boaters and canal-side residents.