RICHARD the fender man and his narrowboat are a familiar sight on the waterways around Wiltshire.

The boat, called Constance, is an historic Birmingham Canal Navigation Station Boat with a hot-riveted iron hull, built in 1917.

The man is a former truck driver who decided to give up his conventional life and live on a boat on the Kennet and Avon Canal instead.

Richard, who cast off his surname when he took up residence on the canal, is a craftsman who makes traditional fenders for narrow boats.

For the uninitiated, a fender is the soft bit on the front, back and sides of the boat which nestles against the bank to protect it from damage.

You can get plastic fenders but anyone who understands the canal community will know how important it is to preserve traditions and observe heritage when living and working on the water.

With that approach in mind, you need decorative but practical fenders made out of rope and weaved into complex shapes. This is where Richard steps in.

Brandishing his legal business and trading licence, he cruises the cut, or canal, on the move in the traditional way, selling his fenders to boat owners, businesses that sell to boat owners and private customers who commission him specially to create custom fenders. He also sells via his website and takes orders over the phone.

Richard would say he is promoting waterways craft and helping to keep traditional business alive on the canal system in the modern world.

He said: "It's a dying art like dry stone walling or thatching. It's being practised by fewer and fewer people.

"I started my apprenticeship, if you like, nine years ago. I picked it up by experimenting and making my own and then worked hard over a number of years persuading grumpy boat chaps to show me how to do the more complicated work.

"The fender is essentially the bumper of the boat. It is made of rope which I get from a quality supplier, in bulk.

"There are bow fenders and side fenders and stern fenders and decorative bell ropes.

"On an old fashioned, traditional narrow boat there are lots of dingly-dangly bits and ornate signs and painting. You could liken it to the Romany Gypsy tradition."

His collection includes a myriad of products ranging in price from £15 to £85 and more for special commissions.

He said: "I once made a fender for a junk boat in China and also a Norwegian fishing boat."

His business is very much a stop-me-and-buy-one model and he operates within the close community of the canal.

He said: "There is a strong sense of community spirit on the cut. You can think of it as a linear village about 3,000 miles long, full of like-minded people who want to share a more peaceful lifestyle.

"At the same time there's a rich and varied mix of people who make up that community."

Richard splits most of his time between the waterways of Bradford on Avon and Bath and goes off cruising the wider canal network throughout the UK every other year.

Then it's back to selling the fenders, renowned for their durability and generous proportion.

Asked whether the plastic versions wouldn't do just as well, he said: "The traditional fenders have been refined over many decades.

"They are ideally suited to the practical job they are designed for and are the right size and gauge for the boats.

"The old ideas are the best and you cannot improve on a design that has been passed down the generations, specifically because it is perfectly engineered for the intended task."

For more information, call Richard on 07817 364496 or visit