Fellows Morton and Clayton Motorboat No.1308 Lily at Gayton Junction

A Fellows Morton and Clayton boat at Gayton Junction, Northampton, repainted in the original company livery

Fellows Morton & Clayton Ltd was, for much of the early 20th century, the largest and best-known canal transportation company in England.[1] The company was in existence from 1889 to 1947.


Nottingham Canalside

Boats moored outside the Fellows Morton and Clayton basin in Nottingham

The company started in 1837 when James Fellows, an agent for a canal carrier, decided to start his own company.[2] James was 32 and based in West Bromwich. His first boat was called "Providence". In January 1839 he was allowed toll credit on the Warwick and Napton Canal as his boats were working down to London so frequently. He expanded rapidly and moved his operation to Toll End in Tipton in 1841. His business was as a "Railway & Canal Carrier" even though his rail activities were minor. James died in 1854 aged 49, and his widow Eliza carried on the business until their son Joshua was old enough to be an official partner. By 1855 he was transporting 13,000 tons of iron castings between London and Birmingham each year.[3]

In the late 1850s a new boat-building facility was built at Tipton and by the early 1860s the fleet had grown to some 50 boats. Long-distance carrying was the mainstay of the business during these early years.

In 1876 Frederick Morton brought with him investment capital to expand the business, and the company name was changed to Fellows Morton & Co. This new company continued to absorb smaller traders, so expanding the fleet with new boats and also with acquired vessels.

Formation of the companyEdit

In 1888-1889 William Clayton of Saltley, who operated a special fleet of liquid cargo boats as well as traditional loads, became the third partner. William died before the companies merged formally but his son, Thomas, took his place. Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd. was formed on 3 July 1889.

The three managing directors appointed at the first meeting of the new company were Joshua Fellows, Frederick Morton and Thomas Clayton, on salaries of £600 (£50,000 as of 2020),[4] each. The new chairman of Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd was Alderman Reuben Farley the majority of shareholders being family members of the directors of the company.

At the time of formation the general cargo fleet amounted to some 11 steamers and around 112 butty boats. The tank boats were transferred to another new company which was called Thomas Clayton Limited of Oldbury.[5]

Fellows Morton and Clayton building

The headquarters and basin at Fazeley Street, Birmingham

The company's first results for the 18 months ending 30 June 1890 showed a net profit of £7,497 (£610,000 as of 2020),[4]. Trading had not been easy to start with - a dock strike in London had caused a serious financial loss and an epidemic of Russian influenza amongst the horses had caused many deaths. However, as there was new traffic, a new basin and headquarters were completed at Fazeley Street in Birmingham. The headquarters were by the builder, Edwin Shipway.[6] Also the company had acquired the interests of a rival carrier, Fanshaw and Pinson. The capital then stood at £84,620 (£6,900,000 as of 2020),[4]; barges, boats and steamers were valued at £20,852 (£1,700,000 as of 2020),[4]and horses at £4,000 (£330,000 as of 2020),[4].

On-going progressEdit

In 1895, new offices, stables and warehouses were opened in Nottingham on Canal Street. The architect was William Dymock Pratt.[7]

By 1898 the capital had increased to £95,060 (£7,850,000 as of 2020),[4], and the business of the London and Birmingham Canal Carrying Company had been acquired.

By 1906, assets stood at £143,300. (£11,420,000 as of 2020),[4]

In 1935 a new large warehouse was constructed at the Birmingham depot by the architects Watson & Johnson.[8]

Steam-powered boatsEdit

Steam narrowboat President - - 679005

1909-built FMC steam narrowboat President, preserved in working order, based at the Black Country Living Museum[9]

In the new boatyard at Fazeley Street they built five steel-plate steam-powered boats. After an initial period of use they were found unsatisfactory because of the excessive wear on the hull's steel.[10]

In 1896 Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd tried iron in the construction of their boats. The boat had an elm bottom and iron sides.[11] This proved much more effective and 3 of the 5 original steel steamers were rebuilt.

Between 1898 and 1899, 8 more iron composite steamers were produced from the Saltley dock and 9 more between 1905 and 1911.

The steamers were known as fly- or express-boats and kept mainly on main-line long-distance routes. On the timetable, a trip from London (City Road Basin) to Birmingham (Fazeley Street Depot) would take around 54 hours. It was a non-stop service and the crew of four would change shifts along the route. The main drawback was the lack of carrying space on the boat due to the size of the engine and boiler. The boats picked up coke at preset points along their routes.

President survives and is owned and operated by and from the Black Country Living Museum. The 'President was one of the flotilla of 1000 boats on the Thames in London for the Queens Diamond Jubilee .

Main article: President (narrowboat)

List of steamers built by Fellows Morton and ClaytonEdit

Name Construction type Construction location Construction date Registration Engine Boiler Fate
HECLAWoodenToll End, Tipton1886Birmingham 803 27 Mar 1892W.H. and A.H Haines Ltd. BirminghamCochranes, Birkenhead Dismantled November 1921
QUEENWoodenToll End, Tipton1887Wolverhampton 591W.H. and A.H Haines Ltd. BirminghamCochranes, BirkenheadDismantled around 1910
DUCHESSWooden Toll End, Tipton1887Birmingham 841 16 Feb 1893UnknownUnknownSold May 1893
VICTORIAWoodenToll End, Tipton1887Birmingham 884 27 Oct 1893Nettlefolds, BirminghamJ. Watt and Co, BirminghamDismantled July 1919
PHOENIXWoodenSaltley by FMCDec 1893Birmingham 886 1 Dec 1893FMCDanks, OldburyDismantled Sep 1925
SPEEDWELLWoodenSaltley by FMCMar 1894Birmingham 892 20 Apr 1894Nettlefolds, BirminghamCockranes, BirkenheadDismantled Sep 1925
PIRATEWoodenSaltley by FMCJun 1894Birmingham 900 16 Jun 1894Nettlefolds, BirminghamFletchers, DerbySold Dec 1902
DUKEWoodenSaltley by FMCMar 1895Birmingham 930 29 Mar 1895FMCCockranes, BirkenheadDismantled Jun 1923
EARLWoodenSaltley by FMCJun 1895Birmingham 939 28 Jun 1895FMCCockranes, BirkenheadSold Nov 1925
PRINCESSIron CompositeSaltley by FMCJun 1896Birmingham 959 12 Oct 1896FMCCockranes, BirkenheadConverted to motor boat PILOT Dec 1924
COUNTESSIron CompositeSaltley by FMCJun 1897Birmingham 987 1 Oct 1897FMCBurrells, ThetfordConverted to motor boat CAPTAIN July 1924
MARQUISIron CompositeSaltley by FMCMar 1898Birmingham 1002 18 Mar 1898FMCFletchers, DerbyConverted to motor boat Jan 1925
EMPERORIron CompositeSaltley by FMCMay 1898Birmingham 1006 3 Jun 1898FMCCochranes, BirkenheadConverted to motor boat Apr 1917
EMPRESSIron CompositeSaltley by FMCMay 1898Birmingham 1009 16 Jul 1898FMCCochranes, BirkenheadConverted to motor boat ENVOY Oct 1919
PRINCEIron CompositeSaltley by FMCOct 1898Birmingham 1011 5 Oct 1898FMCFletchers, DerbyConverted to motor boat Mar 1926
BARONIron CompositeSaltley by FMCNov 1898Birmingham 1015 23 Dec 1898Nettlefolds, DerbyFletchers, DerbyConverted to motor boat Feb 1915
BARONESSIron CompositeSaltley by FMCNov 1898Birmingham 1020 24 Feb 1899Nettlefolds, DerbyFletchers, DerbyConverted to motor boat BRITON May 1915
SULTANIron CompositeSaltley by FMCJun 1899Birmingham 1034 7 Jul 1899FMCDanks, OldburyConverted to motor boat May 1924
COUNTIron CompositeSaltley by FMCJun 1899Birmingham 1036 4 Aug 1899FMCDanks, OldburyConverted to motor boat Jul 1925
COLONELIron CompositeSaltley by FMCJun 1899Birmingham 1040 27 Oct 1899FMCDanks, OldburyConverted to motor boat Sep 1924
THE KINGIron CompositeSaltley by FMCFeb 1905Birmingham 1152 5 May 1905FMCJohn Thompson & Co. Ltd. WolverhamptonConverted to motor boat Jun 1925
ADMIRALIron CompositeSaltley by FMCSep 1905Birmingham 1157 29 Sep 1905FMCJohn Thompson & Co. Ltd. WolverhamptonConverted to motor boat Jun 1924
GENERALIron CompositeSaltley by FMCNov 1907Birmingham 1192 29 Nov 1907FMCJohn Thompson & Co. Ltd. WolverhamptonConverted to motor boat May 1925
MONARCHIron CompositeSaltley by FMCApr 1908Birmingham 1201 22 May 1908FMCJohn Thompson & Co. Ltd. WolverhamptonConverted to motor boat Jan 1925
PRESIDENTIron CompositeSaltley by FMCJun 1909Birmingham 1212 23 Jun 1909FMCRuston Proctor & Co. Ltd. LincolnConverted to motor boat May 1925
VICEROYIron CompositeSaltley by FMCDec 1909Birmingham 1214 3 Dec 1909A.H. Beasley and Sons, UxbridgeRuston Proctor & Co. Ltd. LincolnConverted to motor boat Dec 1925
VULCANIron CompositeSaltley by FMCNov 1910Birmingham 1226 25 Nov 1910A.H. Beasley and Sons, UxbridgeRuston Proctor & Co. Ltd. LincolnEx Gas Boat. Converted to motor boat Sep 1927
VANGUARDIron CompositeSaltley by FMCJul 1911Birmingham 1243 29 Sep 1911A.H. Beasley and Sons, UxbridgeRuston Proctor & Co. Ltd. LincolnConverted to motor boat Nov 1926
SWANWoodenUxbridge by FMCJul 1911Uxbridge 457T.A. Savery & Co. Ltd, BirminghamT.A. Savery & Co. Ltd, BirminghamDismantled
VICTORYIron CompositeSaltley by FMCOct 1911Birmingham 1247 15 Dec 1911A.H. Beasley and Sons, UxbridgeRuston Proctor & Co. Ltd. LincolnConverted to motor boat Aug 1927
HECLA (II)WoodenUxbridge by FMCMay 1922Birmingham 1436 19 May 1922 Converted to motor boat Jul 1924
DUTEOUSWoodenUxbridge by FMCMar 1923Birmingham 1448 2 Mar 1923 Converted to motor boat Aug 1924

Motor boatsEdit

In 1906 an experiment was carried out on the steamer "Vulcan": a gas suction engine was fitted, which reduced the size of crew needed to run the boat and also reduced the fuel consumption, but the size of the installation was still an issue. In 1911 a rival carrier had tried a semi-diesel engine which had proved to be successful. Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd built a boat for testing this engine (a Swedish Bolinder single-cylinder direct-reversing engine from J. & C.G. Bolinder of Stockholm) which was built with a similar hull to the steamers but with a shortened engine room. "Linda" became the first motor boat of the fleet. The new engine was a success and they immediately started building another nine. Due to the success of the new engine they converted all steamers to motor boats by 1927.

Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd had built mainly their own boats, the Uxbridge dock building wooden boats and Saltley building new and maintaining existing boats. In 1922 they approached W.J. Yarwood & Sons of Northwich to make 12 motor boats. The first arrived in May 1923. They ordered 12 more from Yarwoods which were delivered hull-only starting in 1926.


The headquarters of the company was at Fazeley Street in Birmingham. In addition to this, the company maintained depots at the following locations.

  • London, Regent's Canal Dock
  • Brentford
  • Bulls Bridge
  • Reading
  • Slough
  • Hertford
  • Uxbridge
  • Berkhamsted
  • Aylesbury
  • Oxford

  • Blisworth
  • Northampton
  • Peterborough
  • Long Buckby
  • Braunston
  • Stratford on Avon
  • Warwick
  • Coventry
  • Worcester
  • Stourport

  • Dudley Port
  • Wolverhampton
  • Great Haywood
  • Burton on Trent
  • Derby
  • Langley Mill
  • Nottingham
  • Newark on Trent
  • Leicester
  • Foxton
  • Market Harborough


The first Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd livery was a combination of black & white with a red dividing line.

Shortly after the company re-incorporated in 1921 the livery changed to red, green and yellow.


In the first 6 months of 1948 Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd incurred its first trading loss of £5,000 (£135,266 as of 2020), [4] and in November 1948 the company went into voluntary liquidation.[12] The assets were taken over by the British Transport Commission on 1 January 1949.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. British canals: an illustrated history. Charles Hadfield
  2. Tales from the old inland waterways. Euan Corrie
  3. A short history of Fellows Morton and Clayton, Alan H. Faulkner, 1975. Robert Wilson Publication.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Lawrence H. Officer (2010) "What Were the UK Earnings and Prices Then?" MeasuringWorth.
  5. Birmingham and the Black Country's canal industries. Ray Shill
  6. Birmingham. Pevsner Architectural Guides. Andy Foster.
  7. Nottingham. Pevsner Architectural Guides. Elain Harwood. Yale University Press. 2008. ISBN 978-0-300-12666-2
  8. Birmingham. Pevsner Architectural Guides. Andy Foster.
  9. Steam narrowboat President, which has been restored to steam power, is owned by the Black Country Living Museum, and is maintained and operated by the Friends of President group.
  10. The inland waterways of England. L. T. C. Rolt. 1979
  11. Navigable waterways. L. T. C. Rolt. 1969
  12. A short history of Fellows Morton and Clayton, Alan H. Faulkner, 1975. Robert Wilson Publication.
  13. The Dock and harbour authority, Volume 30. 1949
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