Life and Death on the Canal
The reminiscences of Bob Grace . . .
People who lived and worked on the canal boats were called 'Bargees'.

Being a bargee was not a good job, it was a killing job and most of them died very young, many in tragic circumstances, from illnesses such as consumption (tuberculosis), through being wet, cold and miserable, working in all weathers and working extremely hard to load and unload the boat, and then sometimes having to walk with the horse all day and wind the locks.  Also, the health hazards were increased by the gypsy-like existence of travelling all the time.  Equally, the life was not particularly pleasant for the canal staff who lived at the lock houses and isolated pumping stations and who were as cut-off as anyone in the old days. 

To give an example, there was a small pumping station at one time known as The White House on the Wendover Arm pumping solely from a spring leading into what is now the Wilstone Reservoir.  The people who lived there could only approach the White House by a winding track through the fields from Wilstone or along the towpath.  The result was that when one of the household died, they would not allow the coffin to be brought across the field path because in those days it was believed that if a coffin was carried along a field path, that path became a public right of way.  Consequently, there was a boating funeral.  One of the flat boats (I think they were called ‘flats’) from the works at Bulbourne was covered with ivy and flowers and the coffin was carried on it.

[Biographic notes, c.1977] Bob Grace lived in Tring for most of his life.  He was born at Parsonage Farm, which formerly stood on the site of Bishop Wood School.  As a boy he attended the old National School at Tring.

He worked in Tring all his life and eventually joined the family’s corn and milling business which had been in existence for 250 years before it ceased in about 1977.