Sunday, 11 March 2012

‘Canals are Coming Back’

Forgotten pictures from 70 years ago.          DSCN2187

                                                                                                                            This well known and popular photo illustrated weekly magazine ran from the mid 1930’s until the mid 1950’s.
Two weeks after the war began in September 1939 the magazine – Picture Post ran a 7 page article on the state of Britain's canals. The article briefly surveyed the past and present state of canal trade here and contrasted this with the conditions found on the continent. The emphasis was placed on  the ‘family nature’ of canal carrying and a Picture Post photographer was  sent to record the conditions in which the ‘bargees’ lived and worked.
The resulting article with its intimate shots of family life on the boats of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co makes for interesting viewing today. The views of the boat children helping with boat & lock work are especially  valuable, since they are an aspect of boat life often overlooked & are precursors of the wonderful photography of Robert Longdon a little later (His work can be seen in Sonia Rolt’s book A Canal People).DSCN2191
The timing of the publication of this article was quite important and was probably prompted by the publication of the Committee of Imperial Defence’s report on the usefulness of British canals in wartime. DSCN2193
For those in 1939 however, this was not just a cosy article on the boatpeople's  life but was a reminder of the strategic role that canals and transport generally were to play in the coming struggle.
There is also one of the earliest mentions of what was to become the Ministry of Labours training scheme for new ‘bargees’ as the magazine kept calling them. DSCN2188
There are over 20 evocative photographs taken mostly on the boats of the GUCC’s fleet in and around London.

1 comment:

Captain Ahab said...

Am excellent post - thanks