Sunday 5 February 2017

The Canoeist & The Royal Canoe Club.

the canoeist 1874 001
I wrote about one of the early accounts of canal cruising for pleasure in a previous post (Canal and River) and have subsequently unearthed this copy of  the Royal Canoe Club’s journal for 1874 which gives a list of cruises accomplished by members.
The Club was formed in 1866 and quickly became popular amongst young middle class males with a sporting proclivity.
The journal priced at 1 shilling (non members) and 6d for members is a reasonably substantial illustrated paper back which in this copy even has a fold out plan of canoe construction.
the canoeist. illus. 001 (2)
The greatest interest for those researching early pleasure boating history will however be found in the lists of cruises performed by members at this early date. At this time it would seem that members chose to cruise if possible the most picturesque rivers and lakes using only a canal as a through route from one river to the next. In this context the Ellesmere canal is mentioned several times. There is one mention of a voyage from the Thames – River Wey – Wey & Arun Canal to Littlehampton  in 1873 which seems to have been published in the Field magazine  and which may have been undertaken as a result of reading Dashwood’s book of 1868 ‘The Thames to the Solent by Canal & Sea’.canoeist 001
canoeist2 002

Monday 23 January 2017

Amos Reade revealed.

In a recent post I mentioned the fact that many of the early canal pleasure voyagers published their accounts anonymously.the waterway to london (1869)107
Anonymously authored books or the use of nom de plume’s were of course not a new thing. Indeed Charles Dickens,Mark Twain,The Bronte sisters, George Orwell and in the present day – J K Rowling have all hidden their true identity by using pen names .
'Bumps' title page 001
The first British canal voyage to be authored anonymously in 1861.
The reasons for using a nom de plume were and are many and varied but in the middle of the 19th century where female authors were concerned, its use concealed the fact that they were women, allowing them to adopt and express attitudes and deal with subjects which at that time were considered unfeminine.Two Girls on A Barge 001two girls on a barge105
V Cecil Cotes the author of this 1891 book was subsequently shown to be a woman.
Recent research by Canal book lovers and historians has revealed  the true authors of some of these books. Thus the real author of ‘A Trip through the Caledonian Canal .1861 by ‘Bumps’ was a Mr Stockman who was a personal assistant to George Robert Stevenson of the famous engineering family and on whose boat the journey was accomplished.
In a masterly piece of detective work Canal author Hugh McKnight revealed the fact that V Cecil Cotes ‘Two Girls on A Barge’ was in fact the female Canadian author Sara Jeannette Duncan. Hugh’s article can be found in the 8th July 2010 issue of ‘Canal Boat’ magazine.
Elsewhere the anonymous author of ‘The Waterway to London’ 1869 has been revealed as Alfred Taylor Schofield and the illustrator of the book as his brother.
Emma Leslie the author of ‘Tom The Boater –A tale of English canal life’ 1882 an early moral tale was actually Emma Boultwood a fact that I was unaware of until correspondence with a Canadian descendant of her family also revealed interesting facts about the authors private life which alas but not unsurprisingly didn’t quite match the high moral tone of her books. 
Finally ,and to get back to the title of this blog, In the course of some research of my own I have discovered the true identity of Amos Reade the author of ‘Life in the Cut’ 1888 –the first full length canal novel.LIFE IN THE cutYellowback edition in the cut 001First Edition 1888
Famous in the canal book collectors world as the first canal based novel and as almost uniquely being issued as a ‘Yellowback’ cheap edition destined for the Railway book stalls – Life in the Cut’ I have revealed elsewhere did in fact have a first edition issued a year prior to the yellowback. Further research has revealed the fact that Amos Reade was actually Ann Margaret Rowan.
Her father was an archdeacon and they hailed from Tralee in Eire where she was born in 1833. She was, it seems, typical of many of the middle class women of the time in being interested in ‘good works’ and in her particular case in relieving the destitution of the poor of Tralee. She was also thoroughly modern in her espousal of Women's suffrage. She was very well known as a contributor to magazines and newspapers -  usually on historical subjects and she also wrote a couple of other novels. A staunch Conservative she was a member of the Primrose League Suffrage Association and it was on a Unionist demonstration in Dublin in 1913 that she died.
So another lady author who by publishing her books as a man was able to join the growing band of female Victorian authors who were able to position themselves as reformers in public without risking their feminine respectability.
As far as I can ascertain she lived all her life in Ireland and so it would be interesting to know why ‘Life in the Cut’ appears to be set on an English canal.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Another Wartime Lady.

Christian Vlasto, a Canal-boat Woman
Artist Bernard Hailstone was commissioned by the War Office Advisory Committee to paint many Wartime military & civilian scenes. He is especially well known for his portraits of individuals selected to represent their particular branch of the armed forces or of civilian workers engaged in the war effort.
Later in the war he worked for the Department of War Transport and it was in 1944 that Christian Vlasto was selected to represent the ‘Idle Women’ engaged in working the boats for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co and whose portrait  (now in the Imperial War Museum) he painted’. Christian Vlasto was herself a painter who had interrupted her art school training to join the war effort.
I must admit that I had not heard of this particular lady and rather suspect that she may have been one of the later recruits. It seems that she was certainly working the boats Hyperion and Capella for Samuel Barlow on a coal run on the southern Oxford just before the declaration of peace in 1945. Brief details and some photographs of her boat life may be found at
When many of the wartime women such as the Land Girls, women forestry workers and workers on the canals were finally recognized and given due credit in 2008 a ceremony took place at Stoke Bruerne to dedicate a plaque commemorating the boatwomen's contribution. Attending this ceremony were four of the surviving women including Sonia Rolt, Emma Smith and Olga Kevelos.
Sonia and Olga have since sadly passed away and it was on the death of Olga that her relatives found in the family house many souvenirs from her years as a champion motorcyclist in the 1950’s together with a few items from her wartime canal years.CV  selfie
It seems that Olga & Christian had been school friends and were surprised when they met again on the boats and with a shared Greek ancestry had a lot in common.
CV newspaper article
Christian Vlasto Picture
Painting by Christian Vlasto.

CV letter
A letter from Christian to Olga at the end of the war showed that she hoped to recommence her art training. It is known that she later married an author and went to live in Pakistan.
Both Olga’s wartime cloth Grand Union Canal Co’s badge and Christian's painting of the boats were later sold at auction. 
Mike Constable wrote an interesting article on the women artists amongst the 'Idle Women' in the Autumn 2012 copy of Narrow Boat.

Tuesday 13 December 2016

A Rare early Voyage.

canoe photo 001
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.     canoe photo2 001
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’
red rover's signature 001Any 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.
 canoe photo6However 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.  …………………………………………………                                                                                   
CANAL&RIVER 1873                    
 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.        canoe photo4 001
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

The Pyreolophore.

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.
Le Pyréolophore
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.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Monday 21 November 2016

Earliest Boat Decoration. A New Find ?

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.

The author H R Robertson was primarily an artist who had spent a year on the upper Thames recording the trades and occupations of riverside workers.

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.


Original watercolour & gouache signed by the artist appeared at auction Nov 2016. 

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 Cut in Colour (1936).


'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.


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 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

Sunday 23 October 2016

Eily Gayford’s Badge & other things.(At auction 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.
iw badge in sale82_2cloth badges
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.
85 The Bargee
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.
canals & waterways magIf 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.
aire & C prospectus. 001Commercial 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-
‘ 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.
 john knills navy 001 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

‘….a thoroughly well found outfit…’ 1938.

Correspondence found in an old book.


And the reply.

K&A 001