Silk and his wife lived at the Wharf in Calne. James was the steerer of a
boat called Express, which meant that he was employed to be a
boatmaster, rather than owning his own boat. He worked for Joseph Matthews
of Wood Lane who owned a coal yard near Chippenham Tunnel.
of James’s family worked on boats, his father, his sons and his brother, but
many of them seemed to experience difficulties.
James’s employer, Joseph Matthews’ business gradually declined along with
the decline in the fabric of the canal and the rise of the railway. This
would have made James worried for the future, and his son young Jim, also a
steerer, transerred to the Wilts & Berks Canal Company. Young Jim followed
the traditional practice of canal people by marrying into the community. He
married Mary Ferris whose father ran the lock cottage at Marston.
Jim also had problems: his boat Speculator, which was carrying
petroleum, benzoline and matches, sunk in the Kennet & Avon Canal between
Bath and Bradford on Avon, after an explosion on board.
Senior’s brother Jacob, was a ‘Number One’, meaning that he owned and ran
his own boat Mary. He had an accident at Pewsham Locks, crushing his
leg, which resulted in his being unable to work his boat, and having to work
at Calne Wharf instead.