Tuesday, 13 December 2016
The early voyagers for pleasure on our waterways seem to have been an invariably shy and retiring bunch of individuals whose descriptions of their travels were more often than not written anonymously. Of the five earliest books describing canal voyages for pleasure in the UK no less than three were written under a non de plume and I have often wondered why. Respectability – was one of the keystones of the Victorian middle classes and so to deviate into anything as obscure as canoeing on canals and generally messing about in boats portrayed a possible character flaw not to be advertised. My theory anyway.
The very earliest of these books - ‘A Trip Through the Caledonian Canal’’ seems to have taken place in 1861 and was published the same year by the anonymous author - ‘Bumps’. A few years later and after the formation of the Royal Canoe Club by the indefatigable John MacGregor whose exploits on canoeing Continental waterways (He seems not to have bothered with UK waterways other than the Thames) excited the middle class public of the time leading to Royalty ,Charles Dickens & Robert Louis Stevenson amongst others taking up the new sport of ‘Paddling’; –another book was published, again anonymously, – ‘The Waterway to London as explored in the ‘Wanderer & Ranger with sail,paddle & oar in a voyage on the Mersey , Perry, Severn & Thames and several canals’ –1869. (This book is the subject of an excellent article by Richard Fairhurst in the current edition of Waterways World ).
Both the two books so far mentioned are illustrated and we are indebted to Canal historians and book collectors whose researches, have in the last few years ascertained the true identities of both authors.
I wish I could say the same for the third of these early anonymously authored books. ‘Canal and River – A canoe cruise from Leicestershire to Greenhithe’ -1873. The author who hides his identity under the nom de plume of ‘Red Rover’ has still, 150 years, later to be identified. Indeed in my presentation copy to a friend the author still refers to himself as ‘Red Rover’
Any Canal book collector who has tried to find one of these books will know how elusive they can be. This is of course due not only to the 150 years + age of the books but also because some of them were published privately in very limited numbers for family and friends and went only through the one (First) edition and were never reprinted.
All is not lost however for most of these books can be seen in many of the Universities libraries and facsimile copies of some of them have been issued by the British Library under its Historical Prints label. Most keen collectors use Copac which is a general site which shows all the British University libraries and The British library and here you can search for any book and find which institution has a copy.
However returning to Red Rover - I think it must be just about the rarest UK canal book you could ever try to find. Again, searching in Copac – none of the Universities seem to have a copy and amazingly even the British Library doesn’t list it . It is, interestingly, printed by a provincial publisher in Bedford and that may partly explain its scarcity. In over 40 years of collecting I have never seen a copy for sale and it was indeed my lucky day when I obtained a copy at auction and this copy had previously been in the collection of Charles Hadfield.
THE BOOK. …………………………………………………
Thursday the 22nd August 1872 saw Red Rover at Bedford station attempting to fit his canoe into the guards van of a train bound for Market Harborough a few mile up the line. As it was too long for the van it was, amazingly, strapped to the roof instead. On arrival at the canal basin the author objects to the 5 shilling toll demanded, whereupon an alternative fee of four pence per ton for a minimum of 6tons is agreed upon and so at the end of chapter 1 we see our author paddling his rather heavy (on paper) canoe towards Foxton 6 miles away.
He seems to have found the arm to Foxton very overgrown and seemingly seldom used and indeed he remarks that he only passed three boats between Foxton & Buckby.
A method of propulsion much favoured by early canoeists was the sail or sometimes two sails and our man, finding the wind right, uses this method for 8miles or so to Crick tunnel where he has to wait for a horse boat to exit.
One of the things that I like about this book are the authors interactions with the boat community and digressions and descriptions of village life en route. After a description of being towed behind 3 boats in Braunston tunnel by the steam tug, at Braunston he searches for somewhere to stay and gives a good description of the village shop & butcher who provides probably the worst pork he has ever tasted. He hears an early Trade Union song in a nearby pub. On the Oxford Summit he is stared at uncomprehendingly by gleaners in the canalside fields and remarks on the comments made by the women and the silence of the men.
At Banbury he transfers to the Cherwell but finds it very overgrown until at Twyford a rain soaked author is dried out & fed by the miller who assists him with a ‘flush’. The struggle through an overgrown Cherwell finally prompts him to return to the navigation at Kings Sutton where he overtakes a horse drawn pair. One of these the ‘Mary Ann’ offers to dry him out & give him shelter and a bed for the night. There then follows one of the best descriptions of the boaters and their life that I have from this time whose authors sometimes view the Canal workers as if from another planet. He remarks on the cleanliness of the boat with its unbleached calico sheets and straw paillasse. The painted decoration and polished brasswork is admired especially since the captain is a single 35 year old male. Red Rover states that the other boat was captained by a 35 year old man,his wife and small child.
They cast off from an overnight mooring at 2am and the author joins in the steering and lock work etc before re-joining the Cherwell at Enslow on his way to Oxford,the Thames and London .
A small unillustrated book and only 90 pages long but invaluable for its description of an early voyage on a canal and especially for the authors reactions to the Canal Boat people he came across whom he found to be universally helpful and to lead clean industrious but hard lives. He makes a point of these last traits because in some ‘educated’ quarters at that time - canal boat life was portrayed as squalid, drunken and immoral.
N.B - Checking the Canal Boat Inspectors records from Lower Heyford on the Oxford Canal
- the first record for a boat named the 'Mary Ann' occurs in 1893 which is sometime after the events narrated in the book. This boat was inspected on 27th May 1893. The Reg No was 17a and the boat was first registered at Banbury on the 24th Feb 1879 in accordance with the new Canal Boat Act of 1877 .The owner & captain is given as William Humphris Jun of Thrupp.
On the same day the 'Caroline' was inspected.This boat Reg No 18a was registered at Banbury on the same day as the 'Mary Ann' in 1879 and also belonged to William Humphris.
What is interesting is that in succeeding years these two boats were often inspected when passing through Lower Heyford together. It is this fact that makes me wonder if these two boats towed by the one horse are the boats mentioned in the book.
Its only a conjecture of course. Mary Ann is a common name and Humphris is a family name that occurs many times in the records and has innumerable connections with Thrupp, Eynsham & Oxford. Its good to record that the family probably prospered as they seem to have purchased another boat the 'Nettle' which was first registered at Oxford in 1886.
It seems too that the single male captain had during the years since meeting Red Rover in 1872, married and produced the usual large family, since the records show that since that time Harriet 3, Rose 1, John 5 had arrived. The married couple on the other boat had Annie 15 and Clara 14.
Thursday, 8 December 2016
No I hadn’t heard of it either. The worlds first internal combustion engine and the first internal combustion engine used to power a boat.
Nicephore and Claude Niepce came from a wealthy landowning family with estates near Chalon sur Saone. They had pursued various inventions before in 1807 successfully testing their combustion engine.
Installed in a boat the engine successfully powered the craft upstream and against the current on the River Saone at Chalon.
Amazingly the fuel used was lycopodium dust (from a species of club moss) . Despite the success, this fuel unsurprisingly was totally impractical and so further experiments were made with various oils and coal dust.
Hoping to promote the invention Claude arrived in London in 1813 and over several years managed to deplete the family fortunes before dying insane in 1828.
Younger brother Nicephore was also successful in producing the worlds first permanent photographic image in 1827. He died in 1833 and as a result of the squandering of the family fortunes by his brother was buried in a grave financed by the local municipality.
If your travelling or boating in the area – there is a Niepce museum at Saint Loup de Varennes in Chalon.
Monday, 21 November 2016
The origins of English narrow boat decoration may never be fully ascertained but Tony Lewery's researches reach back through time to the earliest known descriptions both verbal and pictorial of this uniquely English folk art.
His book is quite the best of its kind being both scholarly and very readable and is heartily recommended.
It now seems reasonably certain that the decoration appeared quite early on and certainly before 1858 when we have the first verbal description in Charles Dicken's magazine 'Household Words'. If only the article had been accompanied by illustrations !!.
Tony Lewery offers this illustration found in a book published in 1875- 'Life on the Upper Thames' as being the first known illustration of narrow boat decoration.
This book had been previously published in serial form throughout 1873 in 'The Art Journal' with a rather different illustration which gives slightly more information.
With chapters on waterside structures such as flash locks,ballasting, eel grigs,, osier cutting and peeling and dozens more :- the book is a mine of information on long vanished riverside life.
A NEW FIND.
The etching as published in the Art Journal 1873.
Appearing at auction recently the colour sketch above appears to be the original watercolour and gouache painting for the illustration in the book.Signed by the artist it will be a valuable piece of original source material which advances our knowledge a little since this now appears to be possibly the earliest known colour illustration of the canal folk art we know today.
Comparing the coloured original with the black & white copy it would seem that by the time the etching came to be published a boat chimney and Buckby can had been added to the original watercolour work. I have no idea why this should be so but it is interesting to find that the Buckby can was at this early date, in existence, in exactly the same form as we know it today.
Postscript :- Again in Lewerys 'Flowers Afloat' an even earlier (1832) illustration on the side of a boat on the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire canal boat appears to show some signs of early decoration of flowers and rudimentary diamond patterning which could be an early stage in the development of the ' rose & castle' decoration.
Other illustrations may yet come to light & somewhere there may be an amateurs watercolour (signed & dated preferably)of a canal scene complete with boat & decorated cabin side painted at an earlier date.
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
'THE CANALS OF ENGLAND' by S P B Mais is a 20 page article I came across recently in the October 1936 issue of 'The Geographical Magazine' which was the British answer (founded in 1936) to the 'National Geographic' produced in the U S A.
S P B Mais as author & broadcaster was a household name in the 1930/40s and wrote over 200 books which usually campaigned for the British countryside & its traditions.. A couple of years prior to 1936 and having been refused permission to travel on the Grand Union C, Mais instead spent 3 days travelling from Whitchurch to Langollen. Having previously visited the boat school at Brentford, Mais seems to have had some interest in the boaters lives and traditions and the article basically is a brief history of the cut.
However the greatest interest for contemporary eyes are the accompanying photographs. There are 15 or so black & white images mostly of the boaters on the southern G U but also of the Oxford, Trent & Mersey & Northern waterways. Although unattributed I have a feeling that some if not all of these were taken by Cyril Arapoff whose work is well known and in such collections as the Waterways Archive.
The 4 full page colour photographs appear at the end of the article and are attributed to D Spencer.
Mr Spencer from what I can ascertain , was a professional photographer who had just (1936) produced a book entitled 'Photography Today' . Interestingly the frontispiece for this book was a coloured photograph taken using the Vivex process which was the method used for the colour photographs in Mais article.
Vivex was an early colour process used by the first professional colour printing service in business from 1928 until the outbreak of war in 1939 and accounted for 90% of UK colour print photography. It was fairly complicated using 3 negatives, one for each primary colour, with the results being printed on top of one another by hand to obtain the final print.
SO ARE THESE 4 PHOTOGRAPHS THE FIRST COLOUR SHOTS OF BRITISH
Personally I can't think of anything earlier and indeed it wasn't until the 1950's that colour photographs began to illustrate canal books & periodicals.
Someone out there may know a lot more than I do on this subject , so if you do know of anything earlier please leave a comment.
An early advocate of canals for pleasure.
The author ends his piece with the following - 'Even if you are not commercially interested in the revival of canal transport, sociologically you certainly will be if you have read Mr A P Herbert's vivid & entertaining novel of barge life; The Water Gipsies, and aesthetically you cannot fail to be if you are a reader of the canoeing books of Mr William Bliss. While if you are in search of a novel holiday buy a copy of Stanfords map of England & Wales showing canals & rivers navigable for canoes & light craft .. to set your heart dancing with eager anticipation, and if I may give a word of advice, plump for the two tit -bits, Wooton Rivers to Devizes on The Kennet & Avon and Newtown to Welshpool on the Shropshire Union.
I include this quote not only as an early example of a plea for the pleasure use of canals but I love his rare acknowledgement of William Bliss (a personal hero of mine). If you have not read his book 'The Heart of England by Waterway' 1933 -you should and not only for his foresight where canals were concerned but for his wonderful prose, romantic lyricsm and knowledge of canal voyaging over the previous 50 years; for what true canal lover is not a romantic at heart.
Dont just take my word for it - Ray Parkin at -nbalbert.blogspot.co.uk is also a lover of William Bliss's book and has researched & blogged on this book & many others, so take a look at his old waterway book reviews too.
For full details on the man and his book type Bliss in my blog search. If you are looking for a copy try -BookFinder.com
Sunday, 23 October 2016
September saw the second part of Mark Baldwin’s library auctioned in London. The first part consisting of books was auctioned last year but this years sale consisted mainly of paper ephemeral items, canal acts, prints, posters,tokens, magazines & postcards etc.
Some items which caught my attention were – A group of badges belonging to Eily Gayford who was an early recruit & subsequent trainer of the famous ‘Idle Women’ recruits to the boats of the Grand Union carrying fleet of WW2. The lot consisted of the famous & very rare ‘Idle Women’ grey plastic badge, two cloth GUCC badges and a brass GUCC collar badge as issued to GUCC police together with several wartime periodicals.
The plastic IW badge alone had to my knowledge achieved a record price of £311 at auction in 2015 with many bidders so the £380 (£456 inc buyers premium) achieved for this group of badges was probably a good buy.
A large film poster for this 1964 film (Lots of period working boat action on the G Union, if you ever get a chance to see it) made £120 + buyers premium.
If you thought that Waterways World was the first magazine devoted to Inland Waterways you would be wrong as predating this by over 50 years a collection of 30 issues of the monthly ‘Canal’s & Waterways’ from 1919 –1924 fetched £160 + 20% buyers premium.
Commercial prospectuses for individual waterways rarely appear in the great library collections and are quite hard to find. Two different examples from the Aire & Calder Co and dating from the 1920’s fetched £80 +premium.
Worth a mention – The complete auction catalogue for this sale and also for part1 of Sept 2015 and prices realised can be found on Chiswick auctions website- www.chiswickauctions.co.uk/sale-results/
‘ People off the bank turning to commercial boating and recording their exploits’----- This topic started with at least 3 or 4 of the Idle women recording their wartime work in book or magazine form in the years following the conflict. Further books have followed over the years from authors such as David Blagrove and Tom Foxon but two of the earliest ‘landlubbers to turn to boating in the early 1950’s were Tim Wilkinson who authored ‘Hold On A Minute’ and John Knill whose life as a ‘No1’ was recorded in his ‘John Knill’s Navy -Five years on the cut’ published many years after his carrying days.
I have remarked in a previous post on the rarity of this book caused I think by the fact that it was privately published by Sir John in 1998. Probably produced with a limited print run and without the distribution facilities of commercial publishers, these facts have ensured its rare appearance in booksellers catalogues or at auction.
A previous auction price of £32 was I thought pretty good going for a relatively recently printed paperback as was the price of £80 being asked by a bookdealer elsewhere (It sold very quickly). However I was absolutely amazed by the final auction price of £142 on Ebay which only goes to prove the old auction maxim – that you only need two people to really want an item for it to sell well but £142!!!?
So if you are lucky enough to have a copy – treasure it well. For those still looking – good luck. It is a really good read with lots of period photos and anecdotes and deserves to be reprinted.
Sunday, 6 March 2016
Tuesday, 16 February 2016
Mark Baldwin’s bibliography has been an indispensible guide to many collectors of English waterway literature ever since its publication in 1984. It is I think the most comprehensive survey of English waterway books published from the earliest times up until the start of ‘the new canal age’ in 1950.
It was contained within the book ‘ Canals A New Look’ and as far as I know has never been published elswhere. Also and as a bonus it contains a separate Bibliography of European Cruising 1833-1939 as well as a ‘Bibliography of Charles Hadfield’s published work’. So there you have it - all the reference sources you need as well as other interesting articles in one volume. No excuses for not owning one either,as it is easily available on the secondhand market for as little as £3 or £4.
Fictional works inspired by George Smith (The so called ‘Moral Tales).
Friday, 29 January 2016
Mr 'Self Sufficiency'
We are fortunate that John Seymour's natural love of people & places combined with an
inquisitive nature has left for today's reader a treasure trove of anecdotes and interviews with the working population of a now vanished waterways world. Both books are a recommended good read. You can wallow in nostalgia with 'Sailing through England' for less than £15 and for less than £10 Voyage into England ' is available on the second hand market. Both books were recently republished by Faber & Faber.
John Seymour's self sufficiency work is still carried on by his family at their Pembrokeshire smallholding where John lies buried in an orchard of his own planting.
Wednesday, 20 January 2016
Olga Kevelos was one of the handful of women workers on the Grand Union Canal during the 2nd World War. One of the so called ‘Idle Women’ from the inland waterways badge that they wore, they often showed tough, independent and adventurous traits. Olga’s particular claim to fame was that she twice won gold in the motorcycling 6 day trials in the later 1940’s - 1950’s.
An extraordinary lady, she is alas no longer with us but during a recent renovation of her family home in Birmingham her family found a relic from her wartime boating days - the badge shown above, Recently auctioned, it attracted many bids , selling for £80.
Tuesday, 12 January 2016
A couple of months later I bought this battered and waterstained copy of the book on Ebay.
I had thought that the yellowback version of 1889 was the only printing since the canal bibliography gives this as the only publication date. However it turns out that my purchase is in fact a First edition copy published the previous year in 1888.
The illustration on the cover is by the artist H Johnston whose engravings were used to illustrate Guy Mark Pearse’s ‘Rob Rat’ and which seem to have been used as stock images to illustrate many of the canal articles of the time eg the Graphic canal title page of 1875.
Illustrations by H Johnson in Rob Rat.
Interestingly the Frontispiece illustration of the Waterwitch in the First edition appears to be a swim ended Thames lighter.Compare this with the Narrow Boat ‘Waterwitch’ on the yellowback cover.
Dedication to the well known canal reformer in the First Edition.
CONCLUSION. – Well I guess if theres any conclusion its – Dont give up looking!! Even on ebay bargains are still to be found even if its just once in 40 years!!!
Saturday, 9 January 2016
I thought that I had seen most types of British Canal ephemera at auction but the truncheon was a new one for me. It was the only one of its kind in a large collection of truncheons and tipstaffs auctioned recently. Apart from the above inscription in gilt on a blue ground it had a royal cipher and was inscribed on the reverse ‘ S & W canal Co’. (Presumably –Staffs & Worcs.) One wonders whether it was ever actually in day to day use or purely for official occasions. 17inches in length it fetched £220.
Old postcards continue to fetch high prices particularly when as above they are ‘Real photos’. This one of a wooden Grand Union boat with workers piling fetched £56 recently.