Charlie Atkinsby Mal EdwardsHe was down Knighton factory loading 18 tons of crumbThe boats name was Mendip, Charlie Atkins was the oneOn a trip to Bourneville each week and all the kids would sayHere comes old Charlie with the crumb, let's be good todayHe gave them crumb at Wheaton Aston and Wolverhampton 21He gave it them at Tipton three they loved them every oneThat night he'd stop at Gas Street and the kids would gather roundHe'd tell them his stories as he passed the crumb aroundNow old Charlie was a gentleman with a weather beaten faceRound and tanned like leather, he was from a dying raceA character of the old canal who taught me many thingsHow to make fenders, splice rope and lace the side cloth ringsHe was born down Newport lock on the Shrewsbury canalIn a midland coast boat name the BoscobellSaw his first light of day in the early mornWhen the boat was tied up at the wharf loaded down with cornWell his nickname was Roggie, as many people knowWith his corduroy bell bottomed trousers and hair as white as snowHe wore a white cravat around his neck and he liked a pint of mildAnd if you valued your skin you'd never get him riledSad he's no longer with us, no stories can he tellAbout the bygone days of the old canalFor his memories linger on, they remain with me yetAnd the skills that he taught me I never will forgetSo goodbye Charlie Atkins, Charlie of the old canalGoodby Roggie Atkins, the man I knew quite wellI bet you're up in heaven you're loaded finished and doneAnd the angels all around you with your eighteen tons of crumbThe angels all around you with your eighteen tons of crumb The writer of this song,Mal Edwards, was the last lengthsman to work the Newport and Shrewsbury canals into the 1960s. He was a working boatman and was for some time the lock-keeper at Grindley Brook Staircase Locks. His boat was for some time moored opposite The Anchor Inn at High Offley from where he sold his hand-made fenders. He was often to be heard singing in the bar and, though I never heard him, I did manage to purchase his CD as I passed on my boat. He was the subject of a BBC Wales programme called ‘Money for Old Rope’ in 2006 where he said :"I started working on the canal when I was only 14. I was a lengthsman on the Shrewsbury, the canal. It was my job to cut hedges and to keep the toe path clear.Since then, I've carried aluminium, coal, feldspar, salt and tinned salmon. The canal was full of characters then, like George Page and Chocolate Charlie Atkins. In 1965 we both used to carry aluminium to Wolverhampton and when it was quiet he showed me how to make rope fenders. It wasn't long before I was making my own which were sold to the pleasure boaters in the summer months.Wages weren't good on the waterways and the money came in handy, buttons, puddings, all boats have them even to this day. It wasn't long before I became a full-time fender maker. I even learned to make rope.”Recorded on :
The 70ft narrowboat Mendip was built in about 1948 and carried chocolate crumb, which is cocoa, sugar and milk in dried form, to Birmingham until 1961.At Bournville, the crumb was mixed with cocoa butter to make the chocolate. Mendip would carry a 25-ton load on the 14-hour journey which involved negotiating 50 locks.Skippered by the late Charlie Atkins, the boat became a regular sight on the Midlands' canals and in a normal working week would manage to do two round trips, earning Mr Atkins the nickname "Chocolate Charlie".When the crumb trade ended, Mr Atkins continued working with Mendip on other jobs until the boat carried its last load in 1974.The boat and skipper moored up in retirement at Preston Brook in Cheshire. Mr Atkins, who was born into a boating family, died in 1981. Mendip was restored at the National Waterways Museum's Heritage Boatyard in Cheshire.