Page published: 29 January 2021
This page started life as a blog post in October 2010. Revisiting the blog post some ten years later, as I began transferring all the posts from the blogging software to the main site, I decided it was worth filling out the page with a little more material that I realise I had available.
The article appeared on pages 64-65 in the Jan-Feb 2007 edition of Anglia Afloat.
In My Postscript to the reprinted biography there's a reference a TV programme that we both appeared on. In due course, if I can retrieve it from a VHS tape, you may even be able to watch that! There's also mention of the day that Steve was to attend a wedding. I felt truly honoured that he asked me to run his boat for the day. You can read the script of The Commentary that he sent me that was to be delivered to his passengers over the boat's PA system.
26 October 2010
I returned home this morning to find an email telling me that Steve King had died earlier this year. It was a shock. I'd dropped out of touch in the last couple of years, but had been thinking of him recently, when I included some pictures taken of and from his Ely trip boat, "Liberty Belle" to the list used for the "Today's Image" feature on the site.
Steve King at the helm of Ely trip boat, Liberty Belle, with passengers enjoying the summer sunshine.
I knew Steve was into railways. He owned a brake van that he kept at the Nene Valley Railway and his final messages to me were about a trip across the USA in October 2007:
Howdy from the Warwick Hotel in Denver, Colorado! We arrived this morning on the California Zephyr service from Chicago and tomorrow we are off for a trip around the mountains.
The last message I had from him, was later on that trip, saying he had travelled on:
...the South West Chief to LA, and then the Sunset Limited which brought us into San Francisco late yesterday (friday) evening. This message comes to you from an Internet Cafe on Polk Street in SF after a day of sight seeing by coach and a boat cruise around the harbour. Tomorrow Alcatraz and the following day the long flight home. Between you and me - I'm looking forward to being home soon.Trains were certainly a passion. However, I knew Steve as a dedicated boat man and a supreme professional. Mind you, his idea of boating could be, at times, a little extreme. His first message after the IWA National Rally at St Ives, Cambridgeshire, included this:
Herewith a couple of links to Hagglunds on YouTube:
and below a couple of photos of mine in action.
One of the images Steve sent of his Hagglund, an amazing close- coupled amphibious tracked vehicle.
I wrote this biography of him that Appeared in Issue 24 of "Anglia Afloat" which accompanied an article about the "Liberty Belle" the trip boat he was then operating in Ely. Included here are a number of the photographs that I submitted for that article but were not used by the magazine.
Steve King's love of boats is almost life-long. His earliest waterway recollections are of family trips to visit relatives in Chesham from their home in St Albans. They always passed over a weedy stretch of the Grand Union Canal at Cassiobridge, Watford. He also remembers train journeys into St Pancras Station and glimpsing a motley collection of boats, pontoons and converted lifeboats in the now well-known basin.
Wixoe, Steve's Labrador became part of the crew as he grew beyond being a puppy.
It was in 1966 that he first got on board a boat. "Azurene" was hired from Martham Ferry Boats, on the Norfolk Broads. Further Broads holidays with the family followed and then an especially memorable canal holiday with a school friend whose parents owned a cruiser based at Braunston. It is a familiar story: youngsters out together for the first time, long sessions in the pub, the problems when they ran out of petrol in Crick Tunnel mouth. Steve especially remembers an encounter on their first night in the pub at Braunston. He now realises that it was with Arthur Bray, of the Blue Line, who operated the last of the working boats to carry coal from the Warwickshire field down to the "Jam 'ole" in London. This was the basin at the Kearley and Tonge jam factory on the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal, the destination of the last long-distance narrowboat traffic.
By 1975, Steve had returned from a trip abroad and had decided that boats would be his life. He was taken on by Uxbridge Marine, on a commission only basis, to sell the boats they took on brokerage. During this time he lived aboard one of the old working boats, "Gort" that was up for sale. By the following year he had a regular income working as a crewman aboard the trip boat "Jenny Wren". In 1977, he bought his first boat, which became his home, a Royalty class narrowboat called "Duke", a year later, bringing it down to London from Coventry. Life was still hard. Living in the back cabin of a working narrowboat is not something most people find tolerable.
In 1978 Steve got his big break when he got a job with British Waterways on their water buses. There was no evening work and he could earn reasonable money during the summer, whilst in the winter he lived a frugal existence restoring Duke. There followed another waterborne home and project. This was the former waterbus "Water Nymph" built by Harland & Wolff at Woolwich in 1935 which he part-restored and returned to its original 1935 name "Southern Cross", finally selling it in 1983.
During this period Steve also worked on "Annie" the last of the barges to take 65 ton loads from Tilbury onto the Wey for delivery to Cox's Mill at Addlestone. All Steve will say of that time was that the work was exciting but the money was dreadful!
1983 saw the BW water buses privatised and Steve got the job as manager of the fleet for the new owners. In the summer most of the time was spent desk-bound whilst winter was spent doing the maintenance work. This continued until 1998 when Steve was looking for fresh opportunities. An advertisement for the boat "Georgina" brought him to Cambridge. Georgina wasn't to be the boat for him, but it did introduce him to an opportunity to get out of London.
Instead, Steve bought the 55 seat "Aquarius", and started a trip boat service in Cambridge. This didn't work out quite as planned. During the summer motor vessels are not allowed along the Cambridge "Backs" and this kept him out of the best tourist area. It meant more private hire work than he really wanted, so in February 1999 "Liberty Belle" was bought as a part-completed shell and he fitted it out ready for the season at Ely.
Liberty Belle's advantages are that it can be operated single handed, has none of the problems of a bar to operate and has only 12 seats and so avoids some of the regulation and red tape that he suffered with Aquarius. It was the ideal size for Ely, which has no rival services, and was closer to his new home.
I shall miss Steve and treasure various memories of time spent with him. I felt it an honour that he should invite me aboard to attempt a trip up Soham Lode whilst being filmed by Anglia TV and was honoured again, when he asked me to attend when a TV crew was filming him and Sid Merry, Ely's last eel catcher.
I'm sure he regretted the time he asked me to run Liberty Belle for a day, when he was invited to a wedding, as a friend of his new lady, Angela. Much of the main text of that Anglia Afloat article was inspired by the script he gave me for the commentary to give to passengers while cruising up and down the river that day. Regretted, because by the time I finished my duties, Liberty Belle's paintwork certainly required some touching up that it wouldn't have needed had Steve stayed at the helm.
May 14, 2011; 8:41am
Re: Steve King - A Boat Man Remembered
What a charming and fitting tribute to a very gentle and kind boat man. I, too, had lost touch in more recent years, but had shared a love of boats from the same point in time as him in the mid 60's, only I was drawn to drive warships and sail the worlds oceans. But we shared interests in waterways, Hagglunds (I learned to drive them in the Falklands) and met whenever in London (I worked there too).
Your pictures capture him very well at work; or is at play? Maybe they were the same thing.
Angie's loss is all of our loss and those to whom he brought the pleasure of our water byeways.
Thank you for taking the trouble to publish your article.