The Melksham, Calne and Chippenham Branch
Heritage menu       Previous


James Silk

James 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.

Most 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.

Young 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.

James 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.



Click here for a personal account of James Silk written by Ray Alder

Click here for a personal account of the boat explosion written by Ray Alder
  Back to top