Starvationers were vessels who worked in the mines on canals that never saw sunlight. The Bridgewater starvationers were described by James Brindley himself in 1766:
“..the boats employed there are forty seven feet long and four feet and a half wide including the gunnels; they draw, when loaded, two feet six or seven inches, and carry from seven to eight tons; there is a rail on each side (of the tunnel), by which the boats are towed or pulled by hand; and being linked together, are brought out of the tunnel from six to twenty at a time. A boy of seventeen has worked 21, which at seven tons each the lowest burthen makes 147 tons; they are from thence drawn by mules or horses to Manchester and other places, generally four or six in a gang..”
Some of these boats carried a dozen metal tubs, each holding 8cwt (406kg) of coal, which allowed a quicker discharge at Castlefield by means of the coal being winched out of the boat and up onto road level, rather than having to be shovelled out into a wagon that would need a team of horses to pull it up the steep roadway. The winches used for this were water driven, powered by a sough dug into Castlefield hill.