Latest News Letter with details of Boat Gatherings for 2013 and Officers of Register in Newsletter Section
In lost and enquiry section request for news of an early wooden top boat from the 1970's 'Matilda' Sold about 15 years ago after having a steel cabin added in 1983 by the Allens.
Another enquiry from a former owner who wishes to know if there former boat is still about. The Duke of Lancaster reg no 61652 lenght 52ft. Appears on licence list would love contact with present owner, as previous owner has photo's and logs going back to when she was built for him at the yard in the 1970's.
Following the sad loss of Bryan Brock who founded the Register earlier in the year, the Register has stood still. Much thought has gone into the future. Bryan was the centre of the Register, his organising skill was based on personnel content coupled to his travels around the canal system on his beloved boat Maudelayne.
It has proved impossible to continue his style, so we have decided on a new style which we hope will continue the Register in the honour of both the Allens and Bryan.
The Register has a new domain site (www.allensregister.com: Presently active but still in the BCNS guise, will be update shortly) following the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society having a new site , the register having been hosted on the old site. A Yahoo Group chat room has been started by Martin O'Keeffe for members or new owners to talk:
Martin O'Keeffe has obtained the members lists Byran complied and is currently bringing them up to date.
He would welcome contacts from existing and new members especially by email: http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Again without Bryan the annual gathering had stopped in 2010 (although that year because of the Chasewater situation). In 2012 a gathering has been organised in May around the BCNS Summer Gathering at Titford Pumphouse Oldbury. details of which can be found in the latest News letter section. Also included in the letter are the details of other gatherings that may make a trip to the Midland area worthwhile.
At the moment all of these events are Midlands based but via the chat room we would welcome any members away from the midlands organising gatherings so that we midlands based owners can cruise to other areas with a view to meeting other owners.
The Allen's Register exists to recognise the life's work of the Allen brothers John and Bob who produced many hundred's of steel narrow boats and the relationship they had with there many customers, many who became friends.
They traded under the name of their father Les Allen who learnt his trade building wooden working boats. The exact number of boats built by the brothers is unknown but with the Register we make an attempt at recording the boats still about today as can be seen in the Allen Boat List.
Les Allen's boat yard at Valencia Wharf, Oldbury was the home of the one of the most famous and sort after type of narrow boats on the cut. The lines of an Allen hull are recognized by those in the know whilst other people just see a canal boat that looks right in every respect. Les Allen built and repaired wooden boats in the days when the canals where still full of working boats. He taught his two sons Bob and John his trade that steeped them in the traditions of the wooden working boats. There was a brass sign on the famous shed at the yard that probably sums up Les's view of boat building......
"If God had intended boats to be made of fibre glass he would have made fibre glass trees".
When the working boat trade died in the 1960's the family continued to repair boats finally moving into building steel boats as the leisure boat industry was born. This industry is today well established but when the Allen's started it was very much a new industry. Boat owners and customers of the Allen's in those days had to be capable of looking after themselves and many of todays appliances/services just were not available. So the yard grew up with a customer base that was mainly the self fit out brigade. Thus some of the first boats had crude but honest fit outs many of which have stood the test of time. But whatever the standard of the fit out the hull/shell of the boat was always first class. Many boats have since been re fitted that makes the quality of the shells stand out. One wonders just how many of todays boat builders products will stand the test of time. The boats of this era were always built with two motto's used at the yard in mind......
"There is only reason to paint a boat, thats to knock it off using the thing"
"Why put fenders all around your boat after we have spent hours putting solid metal rubbing strakes all around the boat".
Slowly over the years they perfected a shape of hull and cabin design that became their own. The shape was continually being refined even up to the last boat they built, all the boats having the same Allen mark but all different.
After Les Allen's death Bob and John continued the business at Oldbury in their father's name.
The yard was hidden from the rest of the world, being surrounded by factories the only entrance by road being through the yard of Holloway's Transport. No sign was ever erected stating that the yard existed and any new customer's first test was to find the yard. In latter years when a large DIY warehouse that later became a bingo hall was built on the other side of the cut to the yard, it opened up the yard to view from Whimsey Bridge. Many a new customer or visitor could see the yard but always struggled to find the entrance.
The brothers built hundreds of boats over the years the true number is probably unknown, at the height of production turning out a finished shell about every ten weeks. A list of boats known off today can be found in the Allen's Boat List found in the Index section (This not all of the boats by any means). Boats were built out in the open for many years and it was only in the last few years that the yard was equipped with a covered build area.
The yard had two canal arms that where both filled with boats, mostly Allen's in all stages of being fitted out with the owners of the boats forming a small community centred around the Allen's. Many boats remained unfinished so that they didn't have to leave this happy environment. The centre of the yard and the focal point of the entire operation was an eight by twelve foot shed that acted as a community room, tea room, and the only place to retreat from the elements on winter days. Dinner time and tea times were always lively affair's in the shed with all subjects being aired. Advice on the correct way of fitting out a boat was always given freely and everybody helped everyone else.
This community was most active at week ends when more talking was done than work but a visit to the yard in the week showed that Valencia Wharf was a true working boat yard full of the sounds off metal being worked.
Next to the shed was a work shop made from the old bottoms and sides of wooden working boats. This shop was full of old tools left over from the days of building wooden boats and also housed the few machines that the yard had, most operations being done by hand. Later a machine shop was added when Albert Brook's joined the yard and became the resident engine fitter. Albert could make anything on the lathe and fitted and re built many of the engines that went into most of the later boats. Albert was also the owner of a very early mobile telephone that had a very large battery by modern standards; this was the first and only telephone at the yard.
This happy place was treasured by all who knew of it and it seemed that it would go on for ever. However all good things come to an end and the brothers finally retired in 1997, both brothers being well into their sixes. The community left the yard, the equipment was sold off and the boats dispersed all around the system.
You would think that would be the end of the Allen's story after all they just built boats, good boats but never the less just boats. However for anyone who owns one of their boats or knew the Allen's the closing of the yard left a void in their lives.
To have experience the yard was a privilege, like walking back into a world less complicated than to day's world. A deal struck with the Allen's was never written down in a contract but it was safer than any contract, you had their promise. If you asked for a smart brochure and a price list you wouldn't get one usually the quote and specifications were written down on the back of a blank betting slip. They never advertised and always had a full order book, turning customers away even at the very end.
The product was second to none, many owners when out growing their first boat came back for another Allen. They would always help any passing boat that was in trouble sorting out many a boat built by someone else . They worked on many boats not their own and touched these boats with the Allen magic.
They gathered around them many craftsmen, Albert Brookes, John Horton, Arthur East, Glynn Phillips and many others over the years, who's skill complimented the quantity of the hulls and added to the uniqueness' of the place.
There are very few of us regardless of status or wealth that years after we have retired are held in such high esteem by those they dealt with, that people wish to set up a monument. So the Allen's Register was set up in 2000 by the late Bryan Brock who like many others just couldn't let the Allen's name pass into history without some recognition.
A gathering of boats is held once a year, the first being in 2001, any boats are welcome but especially Allen boats. The first gatherings were held at the Waterfront Development, Merry Hill, on the Dudley No 1 Canal on the Birmingham Canal Navigations.
The venue was chosen as it afforded all the attractions of the Merry Hill complex, the local Canal Society the BCNS (some of its boating members have Allen boats) helped to get the register and first gatherings off the ground.
These events were a great success, many old and new friends met up with the Allen's over the weekends, the sun shining on all of the events in the early days. The gathering in 2003 moved to Oldbury at the top of the Titford Canal around the restored Pump house and the home of the BCN society. This brought the event as near to the yard at Valencia as is possible, re kindling memories for many and informing others as to where it all happened.
Bar facilities and refreshments are always available, and a large marquee is available for each venue when required. Many Allen boats are not based in the Midlands and find it difficult to attend, members visiting the events by car and all are welcome. Because of this fact the event has been held at other venues but good sites are difficult to find, and in later years venues that can support all amendities with the minimum of logistics have been chosen. Because the founder members and logistics have been Midland (Birmingham) based, the site usually is the midlands, but any site will be considered.
A news letter is circulated to all members and plaques are available, one as a gathering year plate (one for each year), and one as a maker's plate. With the boats built by the Allen's running into hundreds no true record of the boats exists. As the register grows a picture and record of the boats will be kept.
This record may in future years become a historical record of one of the first boat builders to have moved into the modern leisure boat industry as it stands today from the working boat era. The yard when it closed in 1997 being one of the last if not the last true working boat dock on the BCN.
So what do you have to do to join the Allen Register? You just have to be interested in Allen boats, you don't have to own one, and you can own any boat and be welcomed at any event. Any boat worked on by the Allens or that just visited the yard is welcome. Indeed any one who just came to the yard, knew or knew off the Allen's is welcome. Or anyone just interested in finding out what we are all about, is welcome, whether boat owners or not. You will find us an very approach able lot, we try to carry on the spirit of the yard, not for us blue blazers/flannels/commadors etc.
Included in this site are contact numbers if interested:Email to the following address will find the editor of this site who will collate all enquiries:http://email@example.com
That Was The Gathering, That Was
What a wonderful turnout! 25 Allen boats side-by-side, almost filling the Northern Basin of the Waterfront, and ranging in age from Ty Twt almost the very first one, to the very last of all, Ellen. It was fascinating to be able to see just how the shape developed over the years- while all were clearly from the same stable, the gradual alterations in proportions, and the subtle changes in shapes and curvatures showed that these hadn't been stamped out hundreds at a time.
One can only wonder what went through Bob and John's minds when they arrived on Saturday to see such a living museum of their working lives- or, for that matter, what their wives, Sybil and Hazel, must have thought when they saw what the boys had been up to for all those years when they were out of the house.
Two further generations of Allen's also attended - Kevin (John and Hazel's son), his wife Lyn and their family, arrived on the Sunday morning, and walked down to Delph Top to see us and Ty Twt safely on our way home. Arthur East, who'd been associated with the Allen's for many years, and was latterly the Chippy at Valencia Wharf, called in with his wife Joan.
It wasn't all Steel Boats, for from an earlier generation (in more ways than one), Lady Hatherton was also present. I'm particularly grateful to Hal Bagot, her present owner, for no Allen Gathering could be considered complete with out her- a tribute to Bob and John's father Les, the master wooden boat builder. The story of her new Hull has been told before and over 30 years on it's still going strong.
A totally unexpected pleasure was that Margaret Wood, whose late husband George was Lady Hatherton's captain on her last voyage to Worcester, spent most of Saturday with us, as did Max Sinclair, who was largely responsible for her being saved from the breakers yard.
The story about the Lady Hatherton…
The 'Lady Hatherton', was an Inspection launch worked on by the brothers' father Les. The original hull became rotten and Les stated that the boat could be saved as the cabin was sound. He famously made a new hull not having the cabin to fit it too just his own measurements. The cabin and hull were joined by floating the old hull that was rotten into a lock and lowering the old hull away from the cabin that was suspend by beams through windows. The new hull fitted perfectly first time and the story goes on to say Les just walked off satisfied that the job was well done. This was considered to be the work of a master craftsman.
Some photos of the gathering in 2001
Once again the Waterfront at Merry Hill was the venue and again the weather was kind with only a slight shower of rain on the Friday just in time to soak everybody putting up the marquee. About twenty boats attended the gathering that had been incorporated into Dudley's Festival week, the boats forming a colourful backdrop to various folk artists' who attended the Waterfront to perform.
Bob and John again attended with their families and spent the Saturday afternoon and evening with us. A jazz band played well into the night and even drowned out the music from the night clubs that surround the waterfront.
Sunday morning came too soon and all the gear was packed away and all members said farewell until next time. Some of the boats regrouped a week later at the BCN Societies opening of the Titford Pump house at Oldbury, where it is planned to hold the next Gathering.