Monday, 11 June 2012
The Waterway to London. (1869)
With recent jollifications on the Thames in mind I was prompted to look again at a small and unassuming book which happens to be one of the first books to describe a journey to be made purely for pleasure on English waterways. Indeed the skiff that made this particular trip could be said to be one of the originators of that class of boat that comprised a good portion of the Royal jubilee fleet , that is – the pleasure boat.
Waterways from time immemorial had been used for trade and travel but the idea of using a boat purely for pleasure on Britain’s waterways doesn’t really appear to have been very common before the early years of the 19th century.Certainly people with the opportunity,time and money had probably always used boats locally for fishing etc, but with industrialization and the rise of the middle classes whose wealth and increasing amounts of leisure time allowed them to pursue new pastimes; boating became the new vogue.
Initially on Britain's rivers and particularly on the Thames people rowed,sailed and canoed. Excursions were made locally and gradually progressed to holiday trips in camping skiffs but books describing longer holiday trips do not appear before 1850 and these were trips made on Continental waterways by wealthy Englishmen with sporting inclinations derived from boating whilst studying at University.
‘The Waterway to London as explored in the ‘Wanderer’ and ‘Ranger’ with Sail, Paddle, and Oar in a voyage on the Mersey,Perry,Severn and Thames and several Canals.’ was published anonymously by Simpkin Marshall in 1869. It describes a three man trip by skiff and canoe on the rivers mentioned in the title and on the canals – Bridgewater, Chester,Birmingham & Liverpool Junction (Shropshire Union),Ellesmere (Llangollen) & Montgomery. Its interesting that these ‘several’ canals are not mentioned by name in the title – an indication of the lower status for pleasure boating purposes afforded to these waterways at that time.
The trip was accomplished in three weeks and included travel through the Stroudwater and Thames and Severn canals the proprietors of which demanded extortionate fees for travel over their waterways, as opposed to the Ellesmere Canal where they travelled freely. Highlights of the trip included paddling through the Sapperton tunnel and not so memorable a horrible traverse of mud banks on the Mersey and getting stuck on a weir.
There are 11 illustrations and 2 maps described as ‘by our special artist’ but by their amateur nature I would rather think they are by one of the crew.
The book is now very rare and costly if you can find it. Interestingly the first copy I saw for sale about 20 years ago (which sold immediately for £350) had the following book dealers comment in their description of the book –‘An extremely scarce book inscribed on the title page ‘ A Madam Pittu de Mr A Schofield,Tweedale Street, Rochdale, May 1869’. On the next leaf where the dedication is printed and signed ‘The Author’, there follows another inscription (in the same ink as before) Alfred Taylor Schofield, then in print again (Cook and Skipper). So now we know the identification of the author!
Actually the honour of being the first book to describe a voyage made purely for pleasure on an English Canal should go to a voyage which took place in July 1867. ‘The Thames to the Solent by Canal and Sea or the Log of the Una boat ‘Caprice’ describes a journey made principally through the Wey and Arun canal which was closed to navigation 4 years after the voyage was made. So we have to be thankful to the author J B Dashwood for giving us the only known description of a voyage through this long closed waterway.
If you wish to read more about these two pioneering books describing English Canal journeys I would recommend Pleasure Boating in the Victorian Era. by P A L Vine published by Phillimore in 1983 which describes many early journeys both here and on the Continent. An excellent book which you should be able to find on ABE or EBay or Amazon.
As far as I know The Waterway to London has never been reprinted but The Thames to the Solent was reprinted by Shepperton Swan in 1980 and again should be available on the second hand market.