Pisces is the flagship of HNA’s boats, with an awful lot of history to tell. She’s our fully-traditional ex-working boat, with the engine between the steerer’s cabin and the rest of the boat. Originally, a family of upto five people would live in the small space which is today the steerer’s cabin – the rest of the boat forward of the engine would have been used for carrying cargo.
Fully refurbished by HNA, she now sleeps ten people plus a steerer, has two toilets and a shower on board, as well as a fully-fitted kitchen with full-size gas cooker, hot and cold running water, and fridge.
Pisces’ rear cabin is set in the traditional style, with a steerer’s bunk (and storage underneath) and a fully-working range for those cold winter nights or early morning breakfasts.
Moving forward is the engine room. Note that all hot or moving parts are protected, so whilst noisy, it’s perfectly safe to walk through whilst operational.
Next to the engine room is a small lobby with exits to either side of the boat, followed by a four-berth cabin.
Past the cabin are a toilet and shower on one side, with another toilet on the opposite side. Moving forward further still, is the galley area with ample worktop space.
The saloon area has seating along both sides of the boat, and removable tables in-between.
Finally, at the front of the boat is another four-berth cabin.
For a little on the history of Pisces’ refurbishment, read on…
Dave said to me, ‘’Have a look under the side bed.’’
I did and stifled a sharp intake of breath. Where there should have been plenty of metalwork, there was none-or what little there was consisted of rust held together with ferric oxide!
As for the woodwork, it was a miracle that it stood our weight!
We were in the back cabin of the narrowboat Pisces, one of Hillingdon Narrowboats Association’s mini fleet that, over the years, had taken many community groups onto the water, quite often for their first experience of the inland waterways. These groups could be children, older people, scouts, people with disabilities physical or mental – in fact any group that wanted to experience boating without too many waves.
Pisces, a Star-Class Middle Northwich craft built in Northwich, Cheshire in 1935, began her working life as a general carrier, with loads such as wood, coal, steel – indeed any bulk loads that needed transporting from one place to another.
During World War 2 Pisces gave valiant service in London’s docks, acting as a fireboat to dowse the cargo ships set alight by German bombers, thus helping to keep Britain’s vital supply lines open. In the post-war years she was adopted by British Waterways Board who ran her until the 60s, by which time she had acquired a cabin & the loads had changed from inanimate cargo to ones of a human nature – a camping boat.
Enter Hillingdon Council, they purchased Pisces to enable trips to be made on the canals by community groups, as stated above.
To try and calculate the number of persons that have been on Pisces trips since those early years is almost an impossibility, but it’s safe-to-say that she engendered a faithful following as, over the years, many customers have commented to us that they have fond memories of their trips aboard her. So successful was she that, to keep up with demand from the youth service, another two boats were built, Gemini #1 and Gemini #2.
The boats were moored in Cowley, some 150 yards above Cowley Lock for many years until the purpose-built HQ at Summerhouse Lane in Harefield materialised. Gemini #1 and #2 were sold to finance the building and purchase of Hillingdon Star, so Pisces and Star made the journey from Cowley to Harefield to start a new life further north, almost at the very edge of the western conurbation of London.
Fifty years of continuous service thus brought the traditional back-cabin to the parlous state that Dave and I saw that day back in summer 2009 when we realised that there was an urgency for Pisces to undergo a major portion of TLC – ASAP!
A working party was arranged by the volunteers, both young & old, to assemble post-haste one Saturday morning armed with angle-grinders, hammers, bolsters & plenty of elbow grease, to attack the deteriorating conditions found under the bed & floorboards before they became impossible to deal with.
All through that day, a cacophony of noise emanated from the boat, various people in various degrees of filthy appearance, crowded into Pisces rear &, at the day’s end, the cabin interior was totally gutted & prepared – it was obvious that a great deal of welding was necessary and Tim Wood stepped into the breach. The welding being completed, the gutted back cabin received several coats of red oxide prior to it being spray-foamed. A ply floor was then put in place with the walls being lined with tongue and groove planking. A temporary bed was installed to enable an impatient group to take the boat out that evening! Pisces remained in this condition for some time due to a lack of funds. Project Manager Dave Wright had applied to the Masonic Province Of Middlesex Charitable Trust for a new coal range and £2,000 was granted for the purchase and fitting. However, before this installation, the back cabin had to be completed, and funds being not forthcoming, once again Dave returned to the Masons for help.
A further £2,000 was quickly made available which enabled Dave and others to rebuild the back cabin along traditional lines. Samantha Noon, a well-known canal boat painter and artist volunteered to decorate her in the accepted historic style – scumbled planking and traditional ‘roses and castles’ decorations. New bedding and cushions were made and at last, our coal-range could be fitted!
By Barry Holland written for The Middlesex Mercury the Freemasons magazine