The Pirate Castle – Towpath Talk, January 2015

Derek Stansfield, Director of training for the NCBA, was recently running a Refresher Course for NCBA Trainers on the Regents Canal, which took them past a place called Pirates Castle.  Intrigued to know more, and fortunately having amongst those attending was Andrew Carpenter from Pirate Castle Derek asked him to contribute an article on the project for Towpath.  The following is Andrew’s article.

You may have been boating along the Regents Canal in London one fine day, heading towards the top lock at Camden when suddenly a castle hove’s into view. Like all other castles it has turrets, towers and castellation’s crowned with a fluttering flag, often surmounted by a silent seagull. Unlike most other castles however this one is not a ruin, and is also full of live pirates! Yes, that right, that was a skull and crossbones you saw!

Although we are always after loot we never demand it by menaces, but we may occasionally look at you in a funny way and have even been known to say ARRRRRR! very loudly from time to time. Even our plans for a portcullis to drop down across the canal were called in on grounds of Health and Safety!


I doubt if our founder, the Viscount St David’s would have encountered the same concerns in 1966 when, tired of the rowing boat he kept at the bottom of his nearby garden being regularly ‘borrowed’,  he decided to start a canoeing and rowing club for the local youth. He gathered together a motley collection of old kayaks and rowing boat’s, set out his rules and began to offer boating sessions on the water. These proved to be very popular and numbers attending quickly increased leading to the necessity to get more boats to meet the demand.

Being an ex-navy man, the good Viscount was keen on order and discipline and his set of rules were there to follow. Any transgressors were swiftly met with a range of punishments ranging from not being allowed on the water to having to clean the toilets of the then recently acquired ex- Regents Canal barge ‘Rosedale’ which was by now acting as the club house moored between two wooden piles outside the old Gilbeys Gin factory wharf. Through his tireless efforts at fundraising and by calling on the help of his friends, colleagues and acquaintances to form a Pirate Club committee, eventually enough money was raised to build the Pirate Castle itself, which opened in 1977.

This allowed the Pirate Club to offer indoor activities during the winter months, a hall for hire and functions and an office. Following on from this the Pirate Castle gained its first purpose built residential narrowboat, Pirate Princess. Named and launched by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales in 1982 and skippered by future Castle manager of 25 years, Giles Higgitt, she enabled club members to get hands on boating experience exploring the canal and river systems surrounding the capital and beyond, a service she performed admirably until her replacement in 2011. Narrowboat Pirate Viscount joined us in 1995 acting as a day boat to further enhance our community boating operations, a role that she is still carries out.

Today the Pirate Castle has a further extension to enable full wheelchair access to the building and runs two community boats, Pirate Prince – a wide beam boat with full disabled access and narrowboat Pirate Viscount. We also still run our ever popular canoe and kayaking sessions, and run a wide range of other land and water based activities and training throughout the year. If you’re passing why not give us a wave? We promise we won’t commandeer your boat. Honest!

Meet the Trustees

Paul Unwin joined the NCBA Trustee’s Board in March of this year and he was invited to introduce himself through these pages. Here is Paul’s unedited response:

As a young dashing handsome man “I hope that I’m selling this to you” twenty three year old with no sense and very little money “nothing’s changed” I first got interested in the delights of drinking contaminated water.  I managed to do this on a regular basis because I took up the sport of water skiing on the River Trent at East Marnham and numerous other venues around the country including Windermere and Saundersfoot in Wales.

I purchased my first Sims Super V boat in 1979 and continued with a variety of different craft for about five years, changing boats on a couple of occasions and ending up with a Broom Scorpio with a very powerful Volvo Penta inboard engine.

With the advent of marriage and children obviously things in life had to alter, so the boat had to go, as the wife wouldn’t.  In 1995 because of an article on a television program the other half booked our first canal boat holiday on the four counties ring. This type of holiday although expensive was extremely enjoyable, more importantly the time spent with the kids without the aid of the X Box and television actually made it a family time.

As my interest in the canals developed I became involved with The Chesterfield Canal Trust working as a volunteer on their trip boats originally on the Norwood Packet in Worksop and now with the John Varley at its base in Chesterfield, I’m also a volunteer skipper and trainer at the Baldwin Trust in Leicestershire

I work for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue as an instructor / examiner on a wide variety of specialist equipment and vehicles and because of this I became interested in fire safety on boats and water rescue, due to this I thought some formal training in boat handling would be beneficial.

In 2007 I booked on a CCBM course with Swinton Lock Activity Centre and spent the weekend travelling up and down the South Yorkshire Navigation.  I then became a trainer for the Chesterfield Canal Trust in 2009 after attending a course at the Hillingdon Narrowboat Association.

Things have certainly moved on since then as I am now a senior trainer for the NCBA and also a trustee.

It makes you wonder sometimes how I find the time, but the people that you meet from other organisations along the way make it worthwhile.

After a lot of hard work by the trustees over the last few years, they have now updated and developed and tested all the training courses run for the NCBA which I believe puts us ahead of the game with regards to training for inland waterways.

So what is the most valuable information have I gained from all of this development, well if you do fall in, even though the rivers and canals are cleaner than they used to be avoid drinking it at all costs, beer tastes better.

About the Author:

Derek Stansfield
Chair of National Training Committee, Advisor & Senior Trainer (North East)