Chocolate Charlie narrowboat prepares for sweet voyage from National Waterways Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 14 September 2011
A photo of the stern of a blue and yellow painted boat with the word mendip on it
Confectionary courier Mendip is heading to the chocolate factory again© National Waterways Museum
A narrowboat famous for hauling vital chocolate supplies between the Midlands headquarters of confectionary giants Cadbury and Bournville will re-enact its old journey in a public send-off to celebrate the end of a major restoration project.

The Mendip, which carried chocolate crumbs between factories at Knighton and Birmingham under the stewardship of understandably popular canal personality Chocolate Charlie more than 50 years ago, has been lovingly resurrected by boatbuilding prodigies at the National Waterways Museum’s Heritage Boatyard.

She will be seen off from the museum by Ellesmere Port mayor Angela Claydon on Saturday (September 17), mirroring a trip which was egged on by local children during the heydays of the region’s chocolate industries.

“This trip is a fantastic way to showcase the restoration work on Mendip and the wider regeneration of the Museum,” said Peter Collins, the Collections Manager at the National Waterways Museum, which has overseen repairs and embellishments made by trainees alongside volunteers from the Boat Museum Society.

“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.”

Mendip was one of six steel motorboats made by Yarwoods of Northwich in 1947, built to a unique design drawn up by Joshua Fellows during the 1880s.

She carried a 25-ton load across 50 locks in a 14-hour journey between the North-West and Birmingham on the Shropshire Canal, manned by her experienced master whose real name was Charlie Atkins.

His fame earned him appearances on various television programmes after the Mendip had ended her days at Preston Brook, and Atkins was considering becoming resident caretaker of the vessel at the Boat Museum before ill health forced him to retire to live with his son. His death in 1981 meant he never returned to the boat.

The museum will open early to allow the public to enjoy the start of the trip, which will see it visit a gala day at Bournville and dock at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley for several days. It will return to Port Ellesmere on September 28.

A spokesman for Kraft Foods, which completed a takeover of Cadbury in 2010, said staff at the factory were excited about the voyage. The company backed the rebuild to the tune of £10,000.

“Bournville was built in the 19th century primarily because of the nearby canal, so the waterways played a pivotal role in the birth and subsequent success of Cadbury,” they said.

“We were delighted to help support the trip and are very much looking forward to greeting her when she arrives.”

Tony Hales, the Chairman of British Waterways, said the carrier had been restored to an “excellent standard”.

“It’s fantastic to see Mendip back in the water and recreating her historic journey to Bournville,” he added.

“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.”
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