Jack James
The name Jack James is synonymous with Stoke Bruerne, he has probably had more influence on the village as a tourist attraction than any other individual. Nearly forty years ago he started to exhibit his collection of canal memorabilia in a lock keepers hut and from that tiny acorn grew the famous museum in the restored corn mill.

Jack James was born on the River Isis at Swinford Bridge in 1896 and had been a boat man all his life, long before he came to live at Stoke Bruerne, for he made his living along the rivers and canals. He was the second eldest son of George James who ran boats from Oxford to Coventry carrying coal and timber. When he was 17 his father made him the captain of a pair of boats with his two sisters as mates, he had a pony and a donkey and used to transport granite and coal.

He had no formal education (as boat people were never in one place long enough) but he learnt to read and write when he was in the army during the first world war.

He met his wife Emma (who was also a boatwoman and born at Yiewsley Warwickshire), whilst on the boats and they were married at Bedworth Warwickshire. They had six children: John, George, Tom, Doris, Noel and Christine. Jack had a houseboat moored in Reading and they all lived there until just before the outbreak of the second world war when he got a job with the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company. Doris, Tom and Noel all helped work the pair of boats called the Balham and the Badsey and they transported Guinness from Park Royal in London To Birmingham.

Jack, Emma and Christine on board The Balham
Jack and family on board The Badsey
It was during the many trips up the Grand Union canal to Birmingham that they passed through Stoke Bruerne and got to know Sister Mary Ward, the Woodwards and the Dykes. It was on one of these many trips that Jack approached Sister Ward and mentioned that he would like to come ashore permanantly so that his youngest child, Christine, could finish her education. So in 1947 he purchased number 3 Canalside cottage and took the post of Lock Keeper.
The James family in the cabin of their boat
Click above to hear Jack's daughter, Doris Osborne, talking about their arrival in Stoke Bruerne.
Jack collected canal memorabilia over his years spent on the canals and as his collection grew he kept it in the lock keepers hut next to the Boat Inn. As the public's fascination in water grew and more people started to visit Stoke Bruerne, he found himself showing his collection to the increasing amount of visitors. One lunchtime, whilst sitting with his pint outside the Boat Inn, he had the idea of converting the disused mill opposite into a museum so that he could prevent the canal tradiotions he was so proud of, from dying out.

"I'd been thinking about it for some time" reflected the lock keeper. "Stoke Bruerne is the ideal spot for a museum. It's one of the most beautiful locks along the canal - halfway between London and Birmingham. And then there's the mill - an old building like that is just ideal to be a museum. Of course it was all just an idea till a few weeks ago. Then I broached the matter with a party of British Transport Commission officials visiting the lock. They seized on it and I'm already working on the mill."

And so the idea of the Waterways Museum was born. The mill which had been closed for many years and fallen into decay was given a new lease of life thanks to Jack's vision and British Waterways investment. Mr C N Hadlow was appointed curator of the museum and as an ex-Grand Union man himself he had a fine collection of canal memorabilia, and indeed the collections of these two men virtually constituted a museum in themselves. Jack became the caretaker and could always be found sitting on his chair just outside the museum door.

Jack's collection of canal memorabilia in the legger' hut.
A view of the old mill circa the 1950's before it became the museum.