Tuesday 9 January 2018


Now better known under its trading name of Middlewich Narrowboats, Willow Wren (Kearns) Ltd. is seen here in 1972, just one year after the company was established in Middlewich.
Our photograph is taken from Brooks Lane bridge and shows the company's base at Canal Terrace on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
The building in the centre of the photograph with the single chimney is a toll office, and you may just be able to make out the bow-fronted window which enabled toll collectors to see boats approaching from both directions. The whole complex of buildings at Canal Terrace is very historic, and includes stables in which canal horses were kept overnight.The low white building to the left of the toll office is the shop where maps, canal souvenirs, ice-creams, soft drinks etc. can be obtained.
Willow Wren, of course, is a well-known name in the canal carrying trade. They set up a hire cruiser company, Willow Wren Hire Cruisers Ltd, at Rugby in 1964, but, as far as can be ascertained, Willow Wren (Kearns) was always a separate company established here in 1971 and using converted working boats in the early years as well as boats based on custom built steel hulls.
The company's boats have always borne the names of trees: Ash, Beech, Oak, Larch etc.
Beyond the bend in the canal is a lock (the first of the 'Big Three' in Brooks Lane) and beyond it the canal makes an abrupt ninety-degree turn to the left before descending  into the town centre at Wych House Lane and heading in the direction of the Town Bridge, the Big Lock and Northwich. Next to this first lock is a dry-dock which was also at one time run by Willow Wren (Kearns) Ltd. Contrary to popular belief, this was not always a dry-dock, but was, originally, a loading bay for Seddon's Salt in Brooks Lane, served by a tramway which ran across the road into the salt works.
These were early days for Willow Wren (Kearns) Ltd and nowadays there are many more boats in evidence than shown in our 1972 picture.
One welcome enhancement which has appeared since those days is a picturesque Victorian style canopy, very reminiscent of something from an old-fashioned railway station, in front of the canal shop where boats are serviced, and cleaned.
Most of the information about the company in this posting comes from the internet. We welcome any additional information, especially about the relationship between the original Willow Wren Company and Middlewich Narrowboats.

UPDATE: As from the end of 2011 Middlewich Narrowboats is under new management.
UPDATE (January 2018) Middlewich Narrowboats ceased trading during 2017

See also MIDDLEWICH NARROWBOATS (link now defunct)

First published 15th October 2011
Revised and re-published 9th January 2018

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