River Canal Rescue is providing free breakdown and emergency assistance to the Alarum Theatre Group’s 15-week ‘The Idle Women; Recreating the Journey’ tour, following the 320 mile route wartime trainees working on the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company (GUCC) boats would have taken 75 years ago. Performers and crew will be on an historic 80 year-old working boat and a support narrowboat.
Their journey starts on 22 April at the site of the GUCC depot at Bull’s Bridge, West London, before heading into London on the Paddington arm and to Limehouse via the Regents Canal (where boats would have been loaded with steel or timber). Then it’s up to Birmingham via the Grand Union (where cargo would have been unloaded) and onto Coventry (where coal would be reloaded to bring back to London) before making their return journey to Camden on 5 August for the final show.
The wartime trainees took three weeks to do the journey, Alarum will take three months, performing ‘Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways’, 50 times in 40 venues. It tells the stories of the young women – later nicknamed ‘Idle Women’ – who worked on 72 foot narrowboats carrying 50 tons of cargo during World War II.
A skipper and two crew will be on the 70 foot working boat NB Tench which was built in 1936 and is a single motor craft constructed with wrought iron plate sides and a three inch elm bottom. ‘Tench’ was one of the last two narrowboats built at the WJ Yarwood and Sons yard at Northwich, Cheshire. Its modern counterpart NB Morning Mist will house the production team and two performers, Kate Saffin and Heather Wastie, providing catering and lock-wheeling support.
Alarum founder, Kate, approached River Canal Rescue for support as she believes there’s a natural synergy between her tour and the work of RCR: “We want to show the contribution women in the past have made to the world of boating and in the present day, this is something RCR’s managing director, Stephanie Horton, is doing too.
“RCR’s offer of support gives us great peace of mind during the course of the journey –both boats are well maintained – but we know if something does go wrong we can rely on prompt and expert help to get us on our way again. The wartime trainees weren’t expected to be mechanics as well as boaters and there are many accounts of them having to call out engineers, so it would be authentic if we did have to call upon RCR, but we hope we won’t need to.”
Stephanie Horton comments: “RCR has supported many charities and projects over the years, and we are always happy to support new and interesting events to keep our canal heritage alive.”