Early Decades of the Nineteenth Century

High StreetWith the completion of the Grand Junction Canal the early decades of the 19th Century saw a period of steady prosperity and financial stability. This prosperity spread out from the canal into the village of Braunston. Coal once the fuel of the rich became commonplace for families and the fuel for the growth of industry like the brickmaking venture.

All forms of labour was required for the canals which led to a growth in households in Braunston to 287 by 1831, 20 of which were occupied by boatmen and their families. The number of inns increased from three to eight and Braunston’s population grew by 56% in this period.

By the mid 19th century a “boat community” existed in Braunston. The boat community included all men and women, described as “boatmen” together with “boat leggers”.

Boat LeggersBoat Leggers were the labourers who propelled horse-drawn boats through a tunnel where no tow path existed for the horse. A few Boatmen had houses or lodgings near the Wharf but most dwelt in Braunston village itself. In 1841 27 of the 49 boat families lived in Cross Lane, 6 in the High Street  and 16 at the locks or on the Wharf. Cross  Lane seems to have consisted of houses of a poorer standard than those in the rest of the village. Besides boatmen, it was inhabited by agricultural labourers, paupers and boat leggers. Houses in Nibbits Lane which were not built until after 1841, later became the home of some boatmen. The good wages earned by the early boatmen enabled their families to have a reasonable standard of living and also bought trade to Braunston’s craftsmen and retailers.

Boat builders and repairers  prospered. Beside the boatbuilders there were blacksmiths and wheelwrights to service both boats and land carriers and their horses, there were harness makers, rope and twine makers and tailors to cater for the special needs of the boatmen.

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