The Oxford Canal was one of the most important and profitable canals of the Industrial Revolution, being the main artery between London and the Midlands. To keep up with the building and maintenance of the wooden horse-drawn boats that constantly plied the canal, Tooley’s boatyard was constructed in Banbury in 1790. Remarkably it still operates today, making it the oldest dry dock on the inland waterways.
You may have read about Tooley’s boatyard in Tom Rolt’s Narrowboat (1944), a book that highlighted the demise of the canals and sparked a nationwide effort to restore and maintain our unique waterways.
The yard was saved from development in 1995 and is now a scheduled Ancient Monument, continuing to ply its trade by serving the boating community, carrying out repairs, chandlery and boat painting. As you can imagine, getting to see the inner workings of a traditional boatyard makes for a fascinating day out. Visitors can see the restored workshops and belt-driven machines, or perhaps even have a go at making a poker on one of their blacksmithing courses in the 200-year-old forge.
The yard also run trips on its resident boat the Dancing Duck, built at Tooley’s in 2007. Cream teas are served for group bookings and there’s a gift shop filled with canal souvenirs.
Tooley’s Boatyard is open until 6 October; Tuesday to Saturday; 9am-1pm. To find out more about their services, courses and tours, phone 01295 272917 or visit tooleysboatyard.co.uk.