Historic narrow boat Sculptor has been part of the boat collection at the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire, since 1986.  

She was recently called out of retirement after a suspected sinkhole was reported above an underground passageway on the Grand Union Canal.  Engineers urgently needed a narrowboat to inspect the damage from inside the tunnel and Sculptor - moored close by - was an ideal option for a quick response.  However, as she is part of the museum's collection and is also on the National Register of Historic Vessels, special permission was needed to call her back into service. 

Engineers found some displacement of the concrete lining, but nothing to cause immediate concern or require the closure of the tunnel, so further investigations will be carried out once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.  

Neil Owen, regional engineer for the Canal & River Trust, which operates the Grand Union Canal, commented: “Although boat traffic is very limited at the moment due to coronavirus it was important for us to get into the tunnel to make sure that everything is safe.  It was really helpful for us to be able to use Sculptor as it enabled us to get in there quickly, have a good look, check there was no significant damage and alleviate any concerns. It was also a bit of a treat for us to spend time on this amazing historic boat and it was wonderful to see her back in service again. We’re really grateful to the Friends of the Canal Museum for their support in making it happen.”

Kathryn Dodington, Sculptor volunteer, said: “It was a huge privilege to be able to operate Sculptor on behalf of the Canal & River Trust to enable their specialist tunnel engineers to inspect the Blisworth Tunnel and to declare it safe.  Sculptor is ready to serve again when required should the call come. She is a delight to operate and, like any old lady, does exactly what she is asked with graciousness."

Sculptor was built in Northwich, Cheshire in 1935, but spent most of her working life on the Grand Union Canal, transporting coal and cotton between London and the Midlands.  During World War II she was commissioned by the Ministry of War Transport as a fire fighting vessel.

Source: Canal & River Trust newsletter

Photo courtesy Kathryn Dodington

Sculptor in Blisworth tunnel April 2020