Friday, 14 November 2014

The Rarest Canal Book?

I am often asked this question and usually give the reply that it is the book that you haven’t got and the one which you have been searching for, for the last 40 years.
The late Charles Hadfield the Canal Historian and himself no mean collector whose library I remember being sold some years ago said in his introduction to Mark Baldwin’s ‘Canal Books’  (the bible for all collectors) that he had never heard of F C South’s ‘ The British & Irish Waterways Gazatteer’  of 1910. It is very rare and so I was pleased to find a copy many years ago and have never seen another for sale to this day.
waterways gazateer 1910

Published four years earlier than H R De Salis’s  ‘Canals & Navigable Rivers of England & Wales’  it covers the same sort of ground with its lists of carrying companies and water routes both inland and sea.waterways gazateer 1910.
A limited print run is of course one of the reasons why a book may be scarce and this is very apparent in the case of privately printed books. In the world of British waterway books I am thinking in particular of a small group of books which described waterway voyages made by their authors & published in the very earliest days of cruising for pleasure in the 1860’s /70’s. As incredibly hard to find now as they are, I was fortunate to obtain one recently and again it is the only copy I have ever seen.
Canoe cruise down the leam,avon,severn & wye 1871
‘Canoe Cruise down the Leam,Avon,Severn & Wye’  by George Heaviside 1871.
‘Waterways for pleasure’ was a new concept in the mid 19thC and although people had enjoyed and used their local rivers since time immemorial it wasn’t until the advent of a new affluent middle class in mid Victorian times that such pastimes as rowing and canoeing really took off. 
Canoe cruise won the leam 1871
As a member of the newly formed Royal Canoe Club – George Heaviside was in right at the beginning of the new craze and was soon expanding his watery wanderings of midland waterways to include journeys by water on the continent and of course privately printing the results of such journeys for friends and the public at large.
So there are known to be several of these published accounts ‘out there’ that I have yet to find and I live in hope that they may yet come my way.
Nevertheless not all rare canal books need to be 150 years old and in fact a book published only a dozen years ago has proved to be a very scarce item and one eagerly sought after by those interested in the history of the working narrow boat community of the 1940s/50s.
John Knill's Navy 1998
John Knill ran his own pair of working boats from Braunston during the 1950’s and in this book he recounts the history of those years. With an introduction by the late Sonia Rolt (the subject of my last blog) it is jam packed with details, photographs and anecdotes and  is a mine of information that is rarely exceeded in other publications of this type.
Again its rarity (It was published in the one paperback edition in 1998) stems I think from the fact that it was privately printed in an obviously very limited edition. So if you have a copy –Treasure it. I can find one copy on the internet for sale at £87 although I have seen one copy that fetched £35 on E Bay in the past. – Obviously a Bargain.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Original Eric de Mare photos 1948 & BTC photos c1954413

Sonia Rolt one of the last surviving members of the group of wartime young women recruits to the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co’s fleet has passed on at the ripe old age of 95.

She will be remembered not only as the wife of Tom Rolt the author of the landmark book ‘Narrow Boat’ but as a pioneering campaigner for working boaters conditions and for the English canal system in her own right.

As the author of ‘A Canal People’ published in 1997 she has left us with what are generally agreed to be some of the best photographs ever taken of the working boat community. From her time on the boats just after  the war she remembered Robert Longden’s quiet  presence on the canal side always with his Leica camera in hand. The boat people became familiar with his appearances on the cut side in the late 1940’s & early 1950’s and the results were some delightfully informal pictures of a normally shy and unassuming community.

Twenty Five years later Sonia Rolt went in search of Longden who had by that time died and discovered that his camera and photographs had been destroyed on his death. Fortunately however a box in a garden shed was discovered containing glass plate negatives. From these Sonia published the book ;A Canal People’' If you have not read it then beg ,borrow or buy a copy – you wont be sorry.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Eric de Mare at auction.

Architectural Review. Canals Issue.Eric De Mare 1949

Front cover of the Special Canals number of  ‘The Architectural Review’  1949.


Eric de Mare was one of a small group of artists, designers & photographers who after the 2nd World war started to record the architecture,  indigenous art, and the way of life on the English canal system.

In 1948 having purchased an ex army pontoon he set out on a 600 mile journey through the waterways of the midlands and the South East. The resulting photographs were published in a special issue of the ‘Architectural Review in 1949 to be followed a year later in book form as ‘The Canals of England’.

Original Eric de Mare photo 1948.397

De Mare’s pontoon on the Welsh Canal.

It is generally agreed that De Mare’s black & white photographs were some of the finest ever taken, showing in particular an appreciation of the form,  pattern & design to be found in the architecture and functional engineering artefacts of a canal. Viewed 60 years later they are a nostalgic and beautiful record of a way of life now sadly long gone but still just existing in 1948. Original Eric de Mare photo 1948.396


So it was with great interest that five of his original photographs taken on his 1948 journey came up for auction earlier this summer. The photos all have the authentic studio stamp on the reverse together with hand written remarks and notes regarding reproduction and sizes for use in his forthcoming book.

Original Eric de Mare photo 1948 394

T & S Element boat at Bratch on The Staff’s & Worcs canal with coal for Stourport Electric station.

Original Eric de Mare photo 1948 .395

Shrewley tunnel.

Of the greatest interest - the collection includes one photograph that does not appear to have been used in the book. A superb study of a pair of Joshers descending Hatton.

Original Eric de Mare photo 1948 &

Incidentally ‘The Canals of England’    has been through many editions over the years and is still in print today I think and well worth a look if you have never seen it.

Canals of England

First Edition 1950.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

R A James & The Ulster Canal… ‘If Only….’

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Well we all like a good photograph of Narrow Boats and preferably a detailed study of loaded working boats taken in ‘the good old days’. The photo above I think fits the bill admirably and shows Fellow's Morton Boats tied up at Brentford. Obviously posed for the camera the study was used to illustrate a ‘Graphic’ magazine article on ‘Our Neglected Waterways’ published at the time of the Royal Commission’s report on our Canal transport system.

So having wetted your appetites and suitably wallowed in nostalgia  I have to disappoint you and say that the only thing that this photograph has in common with the rest of this blog’s contents is its date of publication – 1910. There is always the distinct possibility of course that you are fed up with the endless lines of moored boats,of queuing for locks and the sometimes theme park atmosphere that characterises our waterways today and you may long for a quieter time and a less frenetic age.  If so read on… this blog could be for you.

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‘An Englishman in Ireland’  by  R A Scot James. First Ed. 1910.

Totally forgotten today Scott James was at the turn of the Twentieth century a very well known journalist, author and literary critic. In the 1930’s he took over the editorship of the influential literary magazine ‘The London Mercury’ from J C Squire who is today similarly forgotten but who’s name I mention only for the fact that he was the author of another early British canal cruising classic ‘Water Music’  published in 1939 – a book of reminiscences of a journey up the Oxford Canal & others. His companion on this journey was the indefatigable canal cruiser William Bliss whose own book ;The Heart of England by Waterway’  was published in 1933.

I mention these names from the past as they all had one thing in common  in that they all accomplished their voyages by canoe. Their voyages followed in a long tradition, starting in Victorian times , of middle class , university educated Victorian & Edwardian gentlemen’s explorations of this countries waterway system resulting in published accounts.

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R A Scott James was different from the rest in that he chose to voyage over Irish waterways. Ireland has few accounts of canal voyages – the most notable earlier accounts are I suppose L T C Rolt's ‘ Green & Silver’  P’bd in 1949 and Hugh Malet’s ‘Voyage in a Bowler Hat’ p’bd in 1960. Apart from these one has to go back to the early 1830’s when accounts of voyages on Irish packet boats survive.

So Scott James voyage is as far as I know unique both in its timing and certainly in its choice of waterways.

The author chose to travel across Ireland from east to west via the Lagan navigation, Lough Neagh, the Ulster canal and Lough Allen to the Shannon & Limerick. This interconnected route was at the time of the authors trip the third cross country route after the Grand & Royal canal route’s. Setting out from Belfast the author & companion canoed up the Lagan canal which was at that time commercially very busy and he records interesting conversations with the working boat population. For contemporary readers probably one of the most interesting bits of the book is his account of the voyage through the Ulster canal with its 26 locks which at that time was virtually defunct (he passed only 1 boat in 3 days) and the canal was finally abandoned in 1926.

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On entering the Ulster Canal they immediately found it to be narrow & weedy and eventually after a few days impassable . The next stage was accomplished by loading the boat onto a carriers cart for transport to a railway station. Again for contemporary readers the next stage provides fascinating reading as the boat was loaded onto the last of Eire’s (by this time) narrow gauge railways for onward transport to Lough Neagh, the Shannon & eventually Limerick.

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‘BUT IF ONLY’…..                                                                                                                Long cherished in my collection., Scott James’s book stands out as a very readable account of a voyage that could not be made today.and unlike so many Victorian/Edwardian canal books does not  suffer from flowery verbose digressions from the subject. It voyages over long defunct waterways and joy of joys even includes travel on a long abandoned narrow gauge railway. Most canal enthusiasts seem to include these in their oeuvre so what more could you want? But if only the author had taken more pictures of the canals, structures, boats & people what a book it would have been. It was of course the convention at that time for publishers to insist on more general landscape & literary illustrations rather than the more prosaic (but to latter day eyes infinitely more interesting workaday photos).

Note…. Both the Lagan and Ulster Canal’s are today subject to joint cross border restoration  projects and part of the Cavan & Leitrim light Railway has been reopened.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The First Boat Rally (Market Harborough 1950) & ‘Adventure by Canal’ by George Tansey–1950.

idle wom370

I had known about George Tansey’s book for many years but had never actually seen a copy until recently. Its rarity can I think be explained by its ephemeral nature, it being a thin copy printed on poor quality austerity paper & with easily damaged paper covers.

Privately printed from articles previously printed in the ‘Daily Dispatch’  it describes a journey on the first hire boat to be converted from an ex working Narrow Boat after the war at one of the first hire companys bases at Stone in Staffs. The boat was the’Angela’ and was named after Tom Rolt’s wife who in fact wrote the introduction to the book. Rendel Wyatt the boatyard owner had started his hire fleet in 1948 which  was I think the first ever hire fleet on an English Canal. Wyatt an early member of the newly formed Inland Waterways Association became friendly with Tom Rolt one of the founders and indeed it was to his yard that Tom Rolt took ‘Cressy’ on its last voyage. It was a bad time for Rolt as he had fallen out with the organization that he had helped to form – the IWA, in addition his marriage was breaking up and on top of that his beloved boat on which he had lived for 10 years was rotting away beneath him. So it was a sombre and disillusioned man who steered Cressy to Stone in 1951 where she was to be broken up.

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Photo illustration from ‘Adventure by Canal’

The book has 26 pages and is illustrated with fascinating shots of the voyage around the Trent & Mersey & Shropshire Union Canals with photos of working boats encountered etc.

The fascinating thing about the copy that I bought was that it seems to have been acquired at the First National Rally of Boats organized by the IWA in 1950. The book has an owners signature which was signed at the rally and presumably bought there.

Tom Rolt had been disagreeing over the aims of the organization with Robert Aickman the other co founder of the IWA for some time and things had come to a head in 1950 with the organization of this first national rally. Aickman an aesthete wanted the rally to be ‘A festival of Arts & Boats’ and to this end was organizing the presentation of a couple of plays to be performed. Rolt strongly disagreed with this and relations between the two men disintegrated to the extent that Rolt was requested not to attend with his boat.

On opening the book which I hadn’t known was signed at the Rally I was surprised to find a couple of enclosures!!

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Handbill for plays produced at the 1950 Rally of Boats.

An amazing survival and an advertisement for the plays that had caused all the trouble!! The cartouche heading the playbill is by Barbara Jones of ‘Roses & Castles in the Architectural Review & The Unsophisticated Arts’ fame. I think I would have recognized her work but a pencilled note on the back of the bill confirms this.

But this was not all.

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A set of unused stamps issued for the rally.

A set of 4 stamps complete with perforations and gummed back but unused and with a decorative border were obviously issued at the Rally. But what for??  I have no idea. I have never seen or heard of this item before so if anyone knows anything at all about it PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT.

They are by the way obviously not postage stamps intended for Royal Mail use

So there we have it –A Rare little book with some interesting & historical enclosures which in themselves must be quite rare and which have done well to have survived this long in such perfect condition.

If you look for and find a copy of George Tansy’s rare publication snap it up as you may not see it again and I hope you may have the same luck with ‘Ephemeral enclosures’.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Emma Smith’s Autobiography.

Maidens Trip 1st Ed

Maidens Trip Ist PB cover

Top – First hardback edition 1948. Bottom- First paperback edition 1950.

Emma Smith’s account of life as a wartime trainee on the narrow boats of the  Grand Union Canal Co’s fleet wiil be known to most canal lovers. Happily she is still with us and has recently published the second volume of her autobiography.

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As Green as Grass covers the period from the late 1930’s through to her war years on the boats and afterwards.

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Vol 1 ‘The Great Western Beach’  was published in 2008 and covers her childhood in Cornwall.

Both books are as might be expected from an accomplished author – fascinating reads. Highly recommended .

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Two New ‘Uns’.

dave the barge boy301

‘Dave the Barge Boy’   1909 Paperback.

One of the downsides to collecting old books is their often poor and tatty condition. So trying to obtain replacements which will have – a dust wrapper that isn’t torn or defaced, pages or illustrations that are not grubby or missing or better still (for diehard collectors)a copy that has been signed by the author can be a thankless task. Often, with the oldest & rarest books, this can take some time and sometimes is next to impossible. This is especially so with children's books ( Some of you may already be starting to yawn here). However as I have said before I make no apologies for collecting kids canal books as often ideas and even prejudices are formed when young minds and reading matter meet.

Discovering a book that you have never seen or heard of before and that isn’t mentioned in any canal bibliography is quite exciting. But to discover TWO such is for me at least, quite unparalleled.!dave the barge boy304

The Boy Barge Owners and Dave the Barge Boy were written by Sidney Floyd Gowing under the pseudonym David Goodwin and published in The Boys Friend Library series of pocket size books published by Amalgamated Press. The series ran from 1906 to 1940 when it ceased publication due to the German invasion of Norway and a consequent shortage of woodpulp & paper. This library series had many famous author contributors (W E Johns of Biggles fame for example) and was mostly reprints of stories that had been issued in earlier boys comics in the Amalgamated Presses stable from 1895 on e g  - Magnet,Boys Friend,Robin Hood &Hotspur.

This was true for both these 1909 & 1910 books which had previously been published in The Boys Friend comic in 1903. This makes them some of the earliest children’s canal adventure stories to be published in the UK and with their coloured period illustrated paper wrappers,seem to be, quite unique. I can think of only one earlier book and this was Aboard the Atlanta a full length hardback novel published in 1877.


The stories ….. As might be expected the stories are typically of the Edwardian schoolboy ‘Spiffing Yarn’ variety. ‘Dave the Barge Boy’  is set at Ware in Hertfordshire before progressing down the Lee Navigation and Bow Creek. The locations are authentically described as are descriptions of the boat and navigational details. Exciting adventures involving a lost inheritance and unscrupulous aristocrats are enjoyed before the Thames barge voyages up some of the east coast rivers.

Similar themes are found in ‘The Boy Barge Owners’  but the author seems to have lost the plot a bit in terms of locations and topographical details. The barge is described as being a flat bottomed craft which again travels the Thames and East coast rivers & creeks as well as making occasional forays to the inland waterways of Holland & Belgium. A trip up ‘the canal’ to Bristol is also thrown in for good measure. Some place names are real enough whilst others are invented and the latter day reader is left wondering quite what kind of craft could have made the journeys described.

A final note – There may be more of these early children’s stories out there  so if you know of any I would love to hear of them.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Some recent Canal ephemera at auction.

The sale rooms have been quiet of late but readers of this blog may find the following few items of interest.
Engraved glass inscribed ‘Success to the canal’  c1800.
Standing at 12cm high this piece of commemorative glass ware showed signs of age with a few chips round the base but was in generally good order. A rare survivor it was amazing that this item was given away for just £12. What a buy!!!
tea pot
Measham tea pots come and go and are never hard to find. The example above fetched just over £100 which seems to be about average.
Not so with the double spouted teapot shown above and dated 1893 which fetched £1,019 recently showing that rarity is one of the key influences on prices. Strangely enough another one of these ‘double spouters’ was auctioned at almost the same time last year (see my Nov 2011 post) together with two other rare items - a chamber pot and a vase.
Greetings postcard from Severn & Canal Co Xmas 1932.
Apologies for the poor reproduction of the  card above. It shows a fleet of the canal companies boats being towed by tug on the River Severn and is a very rare example of a Canal postcard issued by a carrying company. Auctioned for £30.
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 ‘Over There. A story of Canal Life’  An extremely rare Victorian Moral Tale from 1889 .        
There have been quite a few rare books on E Bay recently  and the above is probably one of the hardest of all the Victorian Moral Tales to acquire.I have no idea why this should be so but a small print run could be the answer. Of course non of these little books are easy to find now and a complete collection could take a few years to form. This particular example is for auction on E Bay at the time of writing and is exceptionally rare in my experience.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

(2) ‘The Architectural Review’–Barbara Jones, Eric De Mare and Neo Romanticism (1930–50).

Part Two – The Wider Social Scene & Tom Rolt.
narrow boat
‘Narrow Boat’  L T C Rolt. First Edition 1944.
Pride of place in any canal book collection should probably go to ‘Narrow Boat’  and even though my own battered first edition copy with a far from intact dust jacket is signed by him, I have to admit that it is not my favourite book. Even so, like most people, I do recognize its importance.
So how did this book that raised a new realisation that our canals still existed and which prompted the formation of an organization to protect and preserve canals and thus usher in a new canal age, come to be written? This new awareness produced too an ever increasing number of books and articles such as the two described in Part 1 of this blog – ‘The Rose & Castle’  by Barbara Jones and ‘The Canals of England’  by Eric De Mare.
Tom Rolt’s book appeared in 1944 and was an immediate popular success story. To a public weary of the war it offered an escape to an older more peaceful time and as such it seems to be part of a movement that had existed in Britain since the end of the First World war.

Chalk Paths’  by Eric Ravelious. Watercolour on paper. 1935.
Neo  Romanticism –1930 –55.
The Depression years of the 1930’s saw a conscious movement in the arts away from the ugliness of the industrial revolution towards a simplified vision of a bygone era. The British Landscape as seen in the paintings of Eric Ravelious and John Piper for example shows a typically nostalgic and pastoral vision in simplified decorative terms.
‘Tithe Barn, Great Coxwell, Berkshire’  by John Piper.Watercolour.1940.
This new movement was not confined to painting but embraced most of the arts including literature, poetry, music, film and photography. At the same time and partially due to the depression years of the early 30’s there was an increased awareness of the Landscape and the countryside with its heritage and structures to be explored and enjoyed. Thus rambling became quite a vogue for a time to be especially enjoyed by those with no work & little money.
The uncertainties that the Great War and the depression unleashed, manifested themselves in an anxiety about increased urbanization and industrial development in some quarters and this was reflected in a nostalgic regret for the more simpler creations of the hand made and the artisan. 
Promotion & Film still from ‘ A Canterbury Tale’ 1944.Directors-Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger.
What are we fighting for’ ?
With the arrival of war in 1939 and the threat to Britain’s very existence in question, the government sought to boost national morale with a series of propaganda films such as ‘A Canterbury Tale’ . These tended to celebrate positive virtues in the English character – stoicism,liberalism etc. and especially an identification with the English pastoral landscape. Thus the English village, its lore and its characters were portrayed in a very romantic manner and in a setting that had remained relatively unchanged for centuries.
‘Recording Britain’   (1940 – 45.)
In tandem with the war time propaganda films the Government also sought to boost morale by employing artists to record and celebrate the country’s natural beauty and architectural heritage. This resulted in over 1500 paintings and drawings which sought to preserve the English landscape under threat from invasion or from ‘progress’ –development and road building etc. Rural industries under decline and their disappearing craftsmen found especial favour. So it is no coincidence that Barbara Jones was employed on this scheme and that her interest in everything quirky & esoteric in English working class art ,no matter how humble, should eventually find her drawn to the decoration of the Narrow Boats and thus the production of her article in the 1946 ‘Architectural Review’.            
   2 girls on a barge illus3300

Function & form. Eric de Mare’s photograph from ‘The Canals of England’ 1950.
Eric de Mares photographs are justly celebrated as being some of the finest ever taken of Britain’s canals. They were the first to celebrate the function and form of the canals in an artistic and professional way. They are above all, romantic and extremely nostalgic and fit the neo romantic profile perfectly.
Tom Rolt
I have tried to show how a backward look to a peaceful pastoral past, craftsmen, the handmade, ruralism and a love of country were all qualities craved for in an era dominated by the depression and the threat of war. These qualities were possessed in full by Tom Rolt and articulated in his book ‘Narrow Boat’  published in 1944. A complex character - Rolt was a strange mixture of Engineer,Philosopher and Romantic. In his writings,amongst other things, he decries industrialization and its soul destroying effects on the worker and looks back and praises the artisan and the hand made and in doing this he was yet another voice in a a chorus of others who had been saying much the same thing in the years before the war.
When I first ‘discovered’ the canal world in the mid 60’s I like many others was smitten and wanting to know more, discovered that there were few books available for enlightenment. ‘Narrow Boat’ having been in more or less continual publication since it was first issued was one of the few available and again like many others was struck by the authenticity of the authors voice and the strength and passion of his thoughts.So consequently I had tended to think that Rolt’s book  was the lone voice of a man who had discovered and fallen in love with the canal world and who wanted above all to preserve the indigenous way of life that he found there. This was the impression that I had and is the impression that is commonly given to this day. So it wasn’t until I had collected a few of the older books on the subject and become aware of the social background and artistic movements of Britain in the years before the war that I began to realise how much the germination of Tom Rolt’s ideas depended on the ‘times’ & it seemed to me that they were just part of a social,philosophical and artistic movement found in pre war England.
All the early canal voyagers – Aubertin, Bonthron, Thurston,Neale etc. were praising the virtues of the canals for leisure and pleasure use from the first world war period on, and by 1933 , William Bliss in his ‘The Heart of England by Waterway’  was adding the warning that they were fast disappearing.However the time wasn’t  ripe for the message to be listened to and it wasn’t until Narrow boat with Rolt’s message of a way of life that was under threat was published during the war that the message had a positive popular public response.  As I have shown, It was at this time too that Barbara Jones was becoming interested in the folk art of the canals.
So the message might not have been quite as original or as new as we are led to believe but that it was immediately and popularly successful there can be no doubt ( the first edition in October 1944 sold out by Christmas and was immediately reprinted in January 1945). Tom Rolt had written ‘Narrow Boat’  several years before but had failed to find a publisher but after several years of war it was a different story.
Tom Rolt, it seems, was the right man with the right message at the right time.

Monday, 11 November 2013

(1)‘The Architectural Review’, Barbara Jones, Eric De Mare & Neo Romanticism in Britain 1930–50.

Part One.....'Gaily Painted Barge buckets'.

Many of the early explorers of our waterway system described their adventures as if from some newly discovered foreign and exotic land and this was particularly so when they encountered the working population of the canals who are usually given an all too brief mention. Likewise early descriptions of the indigenous folk art of the canals - the 'Roses and Castles' of the narrow boats are rare and usually dismissed with a few words such as 'the gay decoration of the barges' or referring to Buckby cans as 'Gaily painted Barge buckets
Many of the early explorers of our waterway system described their adventures as if from some foreign and exotic land and this was particularly so when they came across the canal working population who are rarely mentioned. Likewise early descriptions of the indigenous folk art of the canals –‘The Roses and Castles’ of the narrow boats are rare and usually dismissed with a few words such as ‘the gay decoration of the barges’ or  referring to Buckby cans as ‘gaily painted barge buckets’.
This was all to change however with the publication in 1946 of ‘English Popular & Traditional Art’  by the historian Margaret Lambert & Enid Marx who was an artist/designer. They had been collecting examples of early English folk or popular art as it was sometimes called since the early 1930’s. In particular they had collected many examples of English Narrow Boat decoration and these items and much else were bequeathed to the museum at Compton Verney, Warwickshire where they can be seen to this day.
English popular and Traditional ArtPublished 1946.
It is to another artist however that we owe the honour of being the first to describe the ‘rose & castle’ decoration of the narrow boats in detail. An article published in the ‘Architectural Review’ in the same year as Marx & Lamberts book contained 8 pages of a first hand detailed verbal description of boat decoration together with drawn illustrations by the artist Barbara Jones.
Title page of Barbara Jones article in ‘The Architectural Review’ Dec 1946.

2 girls on a barge illus3297
‘Interior of cabin’. Illustration from Barbara Jones article.
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Cabin top, ‘ellum’ & rams head decoration by Barbara Jones.
This 1946 article was reprinted & given a chapter of its own in a more general survey of British Folk Arts by Barbara Jones entitled ‘The Unsophisticated Arts’  published in 1951. This covered such things as fairground art, tattoos,seaside art and all things humble & hand made by the working population. Barbara Jones remarks in her book that all these things were fast disappearing and that  she didn’t think that more than a handful would survive the next few years. It’s a fascinating book quirky and full of the most obscure information and it has recently been republished with a contribution from Peter Blake the artist.
Architectural Review. Canals Issue.Eric De Mare 1949
‘Special Canals Number. The Architectural Review’  July 1949.
Well there he is – old Joe Hollinshead, retired boatman, staring out at us from the front cover of one of Britain's most prestigious professional magazines in July 1949. The whole magazine was ,most unusually for the time, devoted solely to Britain's canals – their history, development, present state and future. The article had been written by a freelance architect and photographer – Eric De Mare with the assistance of the newly formed Inland Waterways Association and in particular its members Tom Rolt of ‘Narrow Boat’  fame and Charles Hadfield (Canal Historian).
Architectural Review.Title Page.Canal Issue 1949
Title page of ‘Special Canals Number’ 1949.
De Mare also a member of the IWA had in the previous year (1948) completed a 600 mile journey along the canals in a converted ex army pontoon and as an accomplished photographer  had taken what have subsequently been acknowledged as some of the finest photographs ever taken of Britain's canal heritage & its architectural structures and  working population.
De Mare Illus (2)
2 girls on a barge illus3299
Eric de Mare’s photographs from ;The Canals of England’  First Edt’n 1950.
Like Barbara Jones article, Eric De Mare’s photographic essay was subsequently published in book form in 1950 under the title of ‘The Canals of England’. Justly acclaimed as one of the four pivotal books of the new canal age it has been through many editions and is I think still in print to this day.
After reading these two articles I wondered why was it that these two articles each producing notable and landmark books appeared suddenly after a period so long devoid of any interest in Inland Waterways.? The immediate answer would obviously seem to be, that in Eric De Mares case, his interest was kindled by his involvement in the early years of the IWA. This organization was in itself a product of two individuals interests. They were of course Tom Rolt & Robert Aickman..
In Tom Rolt’s case the publication of his classic and immediately  popular book ‘Narrow Boat’  had fuelled an interest in waterways & ultimately the emergence of a new leisure age for the  canals.
So how did ‘Narrow Boat’  come to be written ?. Was it just the product of one mans interest & obsession or were there other factors which influenced the production of this book ?  Was it just this one book that initiated a new canal age?
In my next blog I hope to deal with the wider social scene and the neo romantic movement which I think influenced the emergence of the books and articles discussed in this  blog.