Liverpool will be taken back in time next week, with the arrival of the first ever horse-drawn canal boat at the city’s canal link. The special visit, organised by the Horseboating Society, marks the completion of a 128-mile journey which began on Leeds canal in April, to mark the year of the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee.
The history-making horse is Bilbo Baggins, a 15.1hh cob type stallion. He will be drawing the 150-year-old, 60-foot Yorkshire narrowboat Elland onto the Pier Head on Tuesday 14th August at approximately 2.00 pm.
The arrival of the horse, pulling the brightly adorned, wrought iron hull, will give people a rare glimpse into yesteryear, when working horses were a part of everyday life at Liverpool’s docks. On-board will be volunteers from The Horseboating Society and Leeds and Liverpool Canal Society, as well as local community groups. They will be joined by the city’s World Heritage Officer, John Hinchliffe; and Sue Day, who is Chairperson of The Horseboating Society and owner and trainer of Bilbo Baggins.
The £22 million Liverpool canal link, connecting the Leeds and Liverpool canal opened in 2009. Although there is no towpath at the site, Bilbo will use his five years’ boating experience to complete a horse pull of the boat to the canal link. He will then go on to meet the Carters’ Horse statue, erected at the Pier Head in 2010 in honour of the horses which worked to and from Liverpool’s docks.
World Heritage Officer John Hinchliffe said:
“This will be a fantastic occasion for Liverpool, and the arrival of a horse-drawn canal boat at the Pier Head will be a sight to behold. Horses were a common sight on our waterfront from the 18th century, right through to the 1960s. They maintained the vital link between the docks and the rest of the city and were instrumental in placing Liverpool as one of the world’s most prominent and prosperous ports.
“This visit, the first of its kind at our canal link, will help to give meaning to some of the historic structures on our waterfront and will give people a rare opportunity to see a working horse in action. And it will provide a fascinating insight into our past and the activities that historically took place at our World Heritage Site, before they were superseded by advances in technology.”
Bilbo and Elland embarked on their journey from Leeds canal on World Heritage Day, 18th April, heading to Saltaire’s World Heritage Site, before moving on to Skipton, Blackburn and Burscough. They will leave Litherland on 13th August and will travel down Stanley Locks before completing their journey in front of the Three Graces on 14th August at 2pm approx.
The Horseboating Society hopes to promote heritage education and community involvement throughout the route. They are marking the Olympics by giving the journey the theme of a ‘b(o)aton relay’, with the canal boat being passed from one community to another along the canal, and token cargoes being taken on-board en-route. Further links to the Diamond Jubilee and Olympics are provided by the decoration of the boathorse harness with Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games brasses and red, white and blue paintwork, while the boat chimney chain is adorned with brass diamonds.
The canal boat is also decorated with red, white and blue wool and cotton bunting, as a reminder of the importance of the textile trade on the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
The completion of the journey in the city will mark a Diamond Jubilee triumph – because as well as being the first ever horse-drawn boat to arrive at the city’s canal link apart from Maria arriving from Manchester in 2007, it will be the first to arrive in Liverpool from Leeds during the reign of the Queen, with the last such trip taking place 68 years ago. The Liverpool leg of the journey is supported by the city council and other local organisations including National Museums Liverpool and the Mersey Heritage Trust.