Bunhill: Barging in

ANY DAY now, Nick Saunders will be venturing across the Channel at the wheel of one of his two traditional narrow boats, the yuckily named Unspoilt by Progress I and II. This is only part-way through his boat trip from the Black Country to the Black Sea via the Grand Union Canal and sundry European rivers.

His only consolation is that his engines are unlikely to break down. They're Gardners, the most revered name among lovers of classic trucks and buses.

The firm was founded way back in 1868 and has been making engines in the insalubrious Manchester suburb of Patricroft since 1898.

But its years of glory came in the half century after 1930, when 'Mr Hugh' Gardner produced his first diesel engine, used not only in motor vehicles but also in motorboats.

This soon acquired a well- deserved reputation for longevity and reliability -it was used, Mr Hugh once boasted, for towing boats powered by less reliable Scandinavian engines.

Successive versions of the engine appeared at long intervals until the mid-1980s, when the firm fell on hard times and went through several owners.

However, it is now making something of a comeback under a tough Manchester entrepreneur, Mike McDonald, a lover of 'the old slogger', still an object of worship throughout the former British Empire.

(Photograph omitted)