Birmingham & Black Country

Narrowboat returns to chocolate factory after 50 years

A narrowboat that carried chocolate ingredients between Cadbury factories has made a journey to Bournville in Birmingham after being restored.

Mendip spent much of its working life plying the canals connecting Knighton in Shropshire and Bournville.

The trip commemorates 50 years since the boat's last journey to the chocolate factory.

Mendip was restored at the National Waterways Museum's Heritage Boatyard in Cheshire.

It set off from there and travelled through the Midlands.

'Chocolate Charlie'

The 70ft (21.3m) boat was built is about 1948 and carried chocolate crumb, which is cocoa, sugar and milk in dried form, to Birmingham until 1961.

At Bournville, the crumb was mixed with cocoa butter to make the chocolate.

Image caption The boat returned to Bournville after 50 years

Mendip would carry a 25-ton load on the 14-hour journey which involved negotiating 50 locks.

Skippered by the late Charlie Atkins, the boat became a regular sight on the Midlands' canals and in a normal working week would manage to do two round trips, earning Mr Atkins the nickname "Chocolate Charlie".

When the crumb trade ended, Mr Atkins continued working with Mendip on other jobs until the boat carried its last load in 1974.

The boat and skipper moored up in retirement at Preston Brook in Cheshire.

Mr Atkins, who was born into a boating family, died in 1981.

His niece Phyllis Johnson was on board Mendip for the commemorative journey to Birmingham.

Image caption Mendip would carry a 25-ton load

She said it meant a lot to her to be on Mendip as the narrowboat travelled into Bournville.

"He was a character really my Uncle Charlie. He worked hard and he deserves all this and he idolised all his family," she added.

As for Mendip's restoration, Mrs Johnson thought the team had "done really well with her".

"It's just how she was," she said.

'Industrial heritage'

Also on board were some of the people who had been involved in that restoration.

With the help of a donation from Cadbury, work began in 2009 at the new boatyard in Ellesmere Port and was carried out by staff, volunteers and boatyard trainees.

Peter Collins, collections manager at the National Waterways Museum, said: "We're very proud of the work done in the Heritage Boatyard, the restoration work is top quality and the trainees are getting some priceless training.

"We're pleased to have been able to get Mendip back on the water and make Chocolate Charlie proud."

Tony Hales, chairman of British Waterways said it was "fantastic" to see Mendip back in the water.

"Birmingham's canals were once the industrial heart of our country and were made so by boats such as Mendip. Today these boats add great colour to our waterways and are unique reminders of our industrial heritage," he added.

After its journey to the West Midlands, Mendip will be returned to the National Waterways Museum.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites