BESSIE was built in November 1895, the builder is unknown, but is most likely either the Harts Hill Iron Works' own dock or that of Noah Hingleyat Withymore. She was supplied to Hingley & Smith, the owners of the Harts Hill Iron Works, as their No 17; an open unnamed boat. She was gauged by the BCN at Smethwick on 28 November 1895, as number 14695. She is made of wrought iron and was 71ft 6ins long by 6ft 11ins wide, with 5 cross beams. She would normally carry up to 30 tons of cargo, which included coal, coke, iron ore, pig iron, slag, and limestone. By 1897, the company was trading as the Harts Hill Iron Co Ltd and some time after this date the boat was renumbered. She acquired the new number 18 and the name "BESSIE". This name is most unusually stamped in to the gunwhale alongside the steering position on the left side of the boat. The boat's identity is carried on a cast plate on the right hand side of the boat, about midway on the inside. It reads HARTS HILL IRON CO LIMITED No18 OWNERS. The boat was repaired or altered in 1916 and 1926. The Iron Co. ran a fleet of boats which totalled at least 40 in the company's life. The Harts Hill Iron Works was located east of Canal Street Bridge on the PENSNETT Canal, which ran from the Wallows Basins to Parkhead Junction on the BCN just outside the southern portal of Dudley Tunnel. The canal was privately owned by the Earl of Dudley and was not part of the BCN. It had been built in 1840. It is still in water outside the site of the ironworks, but filled in elsewhere. At an unknown date before the mid 1930's, BESSIE passed to Stewarts and Lloyds at Halesowen, and moved to the Coombeswood Tube Works, where she became S & L No 112. Here she had 2 beams removed so that she could load long tubes into her hold for transporting to the GWR transhipment basin at Hawne. BESSIE worked right through to the closure of the Coombeswood Tube Works in the 1970s, by now owned by British Steel, and was donated to the museum in 1976. The museum repaired BESSIE by welding some patches on the thin bottom in the 1980s. In 2005 heavier repairs were carried out which included riveting in 2 new bottom plates, plus various other smaller welded repairs. These repairs enable the boat to make visits to local events outside the museum. The Harts Hill Iron Works was founded in 1847 by William Jefferies. On the 2nd June 1848 there was a boiler explosion, which killed 40 men and boys and did great material damage. By 1873 the works were being worked by Hingley and Smith. In 1882 there were 34 puddling faces and 4 mills. They ceased making wrought iron in August 1950 due to a lack of puddlers. The plant then consisted of 6 puddling faces; in 3 pairs, each pair with a Rastrick boiler, 2 steam hammers and forge train. An electric guide mill had been erected in 1915. Final closure was in 1970.
Brouwer, Norman J, International Register of Historic Ships, Anthony Nelson pp137, Edition 2, 1993
Sullivan, Dick, Old Ships, Boats and Maritime Museums, Coracle Books, 1978
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