Will King

Explore the photographic collection from Will King. Click the images to view a larger version popup.

Will King lived and worked in the Black Country for over 30 years during which time he took many significant photographs around the Black Country canal network. His collection is now held by his daughter Ruth Collins who lives in Oldbury.

For the Living Memory project we have copied many of the photographic prints as they appear in the his albums together with the typed annotations added by both Will and Ruth. We are also professionally scanning these photographs from the original negatives to be deposited in the Sandwell Archives.

His daughter Ruth has helped us put together a short biography of Will King. You can read a more extended version of Will’s life on the stories section of our website.

Will was born in 1906 into a boating family. Both his father and his grandfather both owned and worked their own boats. His grandfather bought a house so that his children would go to school. Will did go to school is Apsley until he was about 13 and then he had to leave school to work with his father on the boats.

He eventually got a job with the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigation) at Bodymoor Heath – there was a house with the job – and he was a lengths-man, which meant keeping the locks and tow-paths clear of rubbish and weeds. He was promoted to be a toll-clark and from there moved to the Black Country. He moved into the Lock-Keepers house Brades Hall Locks on the Gower Branch in Tividale, Oldbury. 

During WW11 he was assigned to be a ‘relief’ Toll Clark where he went to the all Toll Offices under the BCN, and eventually he became the Toll Clark at Netherton Tunnel. While he was there he turned the toll office into a canal-life themed museum and people used to come from the surrounding area to have a look at it.

His main photographic collection is of canals and canal life. He particularly wanted to photograph the Grand Union canal because that’s the one he knew. He worked on it both as a child and as a man. His ambition was to take a photograph of every lock between London and Birmingham and then he decided to take every bridge. Unfortunately he became ill before he completed the bridges.

In total he took over 2,000 photographs of canals. Most of these photographs were taken in the 1940s and 1950s on a Kodak 116.  Will became very ill in the early sixties and died shortly after this at the Lock Keepers house at Brades Locks.  Will was only in his fifties when he died.

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