Thursday, 27 January 2011

Joe & Rose in the ' Tunnel'.



Boaters who were young in the 1960’s may remember Joe and Rose Skinner,their boat ‘Friendship’  and their motive power – Dolly the mule. Joe was a gentleman of the old school and a connection to times long past. When in retirement at Suttons Stop he was a regular attender at boat rallies and the like and it was at one of these that I first came across him.

The cover photo of the magazine above hasn’t reproduced very well so apologies for that but it is an unusual shot that not many of you will have seen. Joe can just be seen behind Dolly on the towpath.

The shot was taken from a bridge over the ‘tunnel’ at Fenny Compton on the Oxford Canal and shows the boat on what must have been one of their last trips.

If you want to know more about Joe & Rose then ‘The Last Number Ones’ edited by Hugh Potter is the book for you. Or for a personal anecdote on Joe I can do no better than recommend an article by Tony Lewery who like me fell in love with the cut, its characters, its boats and its art in the 60’s

The Skinners and their life are also mentioned in the Guardian obituary of Jack Skinner,a nephew of Joes and himself a living legend. Jack died in 2008 at the age of 88 and details of his life and of how he saved the Oxford canal (twice) can be found at

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Canal Woodcuts of John O’Connor.

Bss photo Streamline 2041
‘Canal’ by John O’Connor. Woodcut. No21 from an edition of 70. (Authors collection)

The year 1950 saw four important waterway books published, all now well established as classics .They were ‘The Inland Waterways of England’ by Tom Rolt, ‘The Canals of England’  by Eric De Mare, ‘British Canals’ by Charles Hadfield and probably the least known of the four ‘Canals Barges and People’  by John O’Connor. As Mark Baldwin says in his ‘Canal Books’  (1984) ‘we can look upon 1950 as the dawn of a new canal age in publishing’.
Its very interesting that of the four authors mentioned above; one was a historian (Hadfield) ,one an  engineer (Rolt) and two artists – De Mare (Photographer) and O’Connor (Artist & Wood Engraver).
They were too, all firsts in their way – Charles Hadfield was the first canal historian of the modern post war period, Tom Rolt as is well known, initiated a public awareness in our countries canal heritage , Eric De Mare produced some of the finest photographs of canal subjects which in many peoples eyes have never been bettered and the same could be said for John O'Connor's woodcuts.
Bss photo Streamline 2042
‘Canal Boat’  by John O’Connor. Woodcut. No 70 from an edition of 70. (Authors Collection)

Canals and the canal boat people were a favourite subject for O’Connor and in the late 1940’s he depicted many such subjects on the southern Grand Union including a visit to the boat dock at Uxbridge. In his book he records his conversations with the boat people but it is his wood engravings that are the primary joy of the book.
He was innovative too in his use of colour overprinting with lino cuts which were applied over the top of the black & white wood engraving. This can be seen on the cover of his book ‘Canals Barges and People’ This is full of his woodcuts and was published in an edition of only 1,000 and due to technical problems was never reprinted. This together with the fact that the book has been broken by print dealers and is also collected by those interested in wood engraving has over the years resulted in a scarcity and steadily rising prices.
John O’Connor was a fine artist and master wood engraver and was taught by Eric Ravelious. If you want to know more about his life, influences and work try Wikipaedia or the Guardian or Independent obituary archives. John O’Connor died in 2004.
You may have come across a copy of one of the earliest pleasure cruising guides produced by British Waterways in the mid 1950’s.                                                  brit wat grand union 1
The front cover of the earliest editions has a small woodcut vignette which  I think was designed by O’Connor and I reproduce one of these below. The later editions of these cruising guides had the woodcut replaced by a photograph.
                                                                       brit wat grand union 1
John O’Connor can be included in that loose collection of British artists,designers,architects and photographers who from the mid 1940’s were the first to show an interest in Narrow Boat Decoration as part of a larger British Folk Art Scene. Following Noel Carrington, Enid Marx, Margaret Lambert, Barbera Jones and Eric De Mare; John O’Connor was one of the last  but by no means the least to have his contribution published in 1950.
It is unique and has never been bettered!!
In more recent times Tony Lewery has continued this interest in his books – Narrow Boat Painting & Flowers Afloat.
I hope to blog at some stage on these artist designers and their interest in British Folk Art and on the way in which they focussed attention on British canal boat decoration after the war.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Who was Amy? A signature from 60 years ago.


idle women inscription033

For those of you without specs or a magnifier, the dedication reads…’To Amy Alder . In memory of many very ‘un-idle moments. Susan Woolfitt’

The dedication is in my first edition copy of ‘Idle Women’  published in 1947 by wartime’ Idle Woman’ Susan Woolfitt.

idle women cover032


So who was Amy?

As the dedication says …’to many un-idle moments’ , the most obvious answer is that she was one of Susan Woolfitts wartime boating companions. Yet no  Amy Alder is recorded as having been on the training scheme as far as we know. It has been suggested that she  might have been the landlady of the Blue Lias pub at Long Itchington. A favourite wartime ‘tie up’ for the boats on their way to Birmingham evidently.

The more visually agile amongst you and those who have perused an earlier blog of mine (See ‘Wartime Ephemera’ in my Nov Blogs) will have noted that the photo on the cover of War Illustrated and that on the dust cover of Idle Women are the same ! - this is because it was an official war time government photograph.

Any ideas anyone? Please let me have your comments.

While we are at it. I thought you might like to see the signature of one of the  other ‘Idle Woman’ who published an account of her experiences i e Emma Smith who kindly signed my first edition copy of her book ‘Maidens Trip’  recently.

Emma Sith Signature


For those interested Idle Women and Maidens Trip are still in print and well worth reading. Another account is by Margaret Cornish whose ‘Troubled Waters’  was published in 1987.

Emma Smith M Trip

First Edition copy of Maidens Trip (P’bd 1948) & its nostalgic ‘period ‘ dust wrapper.

I cant resist also showing the rare 1st edition Paperback edition of 1950 again with a nostalgic but very different (period)front cover illustration.  Mikes Book Covers                                           

Remember…… more wonderfully nostalgic blogs to come.!!!! Let me know if you have any ideas about  ‘Amy’ or my blogs or anything to do with old waterway books.