Monday, 24 December 2012

In the footsteps of ‘Bliss’–(A recent find).



One of the unexpected pleasures in collecting and dealing in old canal books is the occasional chance find that turns up to surprise and delight. One such find occurred recently in a collection of old canal books bought at Auction. In a copy of ‘The Heart of England by Waterway’  by William Bliss published in 1934 (See my 2010 blog ‘ A forgotten book from the 1930’s ) I found a boaters log from 1938 stuck in the back of the book. It consisted of 6 pages of note paper which detailed a trip from Braunston down the Oxford Canal & onto the Thames.


The canoe trip took place over the course of a week in June 1938.

The author is very much preoccupied by wind direction being a canoeist so distances and times taken to travel are detailed meticulously. The author left Braunston at 10.30am and arrived at Napton at 3pm where he was supplied with a ‘winch’ by the lock keeper who told him that he and his father before him had worked the lock for a total of 100years.

At Fenny Compton Supper,Bed and Breakfast at the George & Dragon cost 7/- and consisted of eggs & bacon for supper and bacon & eggs for breakfast ! Pub menus in those days were obviously not famed for their diversity of choice.

Having passed over the summit where he had met two pairs of motor boats and 6 horse drawn boats all travelling north he finally made Claydon at 10.45am , Banbury Wharf for 5pm and Twyford bridge for 6pm. That day he passed about 6 horse drawn boats all going north.

At Weir Lock he was asked to produce his pass for the first time and at Somerton Deep lock he had trouble getting his boat out of the empty lock and had to ask for the lockies assistance. Arriving at Dukes lock he found it locked as it was a Sunday but the ‘very officious’ lock keeper let him through. In the Duke’s cut he went the wrong way – going down the mill leat but finally arrived on the Thames proper at Kings lock. Here he disembarked travelled to Cricklade by road and attempted to canoe downstream to Lechlade . The weather being hot and the river shallow he seems to have spent more time out of the canoe dragging it over shallows than he did in it.

Having detoured up the Evenlode he eventually reached Oxford where he sampled the delights of the Cherwell as far as Islip Mill.

The author of this log had followed routes described in Bliss’s book almost exactly. The final tally was Braunston – Oxford 61 miles,Cricklade Oxford – 43 miles & Oxford – Islip & back 15 miles. Charges for the Oxford canal came to £0 – 13 – 9 pence.

Incidentally I notice that a copy of this book fetched £100 on EBay recently.


Thursday, 13 December 2012

BRITAIN JUST BEFORE THE STORM (A Canadian Canoe Threads Old English Waterways ….’ in 1940.


tom the btr192

Amos Burg the author of this article in The National Geographic Magazine seems to have been an intrepid American traveller with several accounts of trips in the Yukon and Oregon to his credit. For this article he  shipped his Canadian canoe Song of the Winds 6000 miles from Oregon to the West India Dock in London. Arriving solo he soon decided that he needed a companion for his proposed month long tour of the English canals and chose Harry whom he found stranded on the outbreak of war at the American Embassy.

tom the btr187

On arrival at Limehouse Basin he seems to have been treated with some ceremony being met by the head engineer who presented him with a lock key tied with a pink ribbon (which I must say sounds just about the most unlikely canal anecdote I’ve heard but I am just repeating what I read in the Nat Geo!!!) At this time in the very early years of the war – Limehouse basin was so crammed with pairs of boats loading raw materials for the Midlands War effort that they gave up the attempt to leave the basin until early the next morning. After paddling all day they camped on the Island at Little Venice where they were hospitably received by the local kids armed with stones and other missiles.tom the btr189

At Rickmansworth he found Walkers boat yard still building wooden Narrow Boats and talking to the lock keeper at Batchworth Lock whose grandfather had started work at the same lock in 1794, he was told that 40 pairs of boats were passing daily carrying metals and war materials to the midlands.tom the btr191

Bargeman's ‘Service Van’ !!

tom the btr190

tom the btr188

Amos Burg and The Song of the Winds travelled across Birmingham and up the Shroppie to Ellesmere Port where somewhat amazingly they locked down into the ship canal ,passed through Eastham Lock and travelled on down the Mersey tideway before journeys end at Liverpool.

Friday, 30 November 2012



I thought regular readers of my blog might be interested in some auction prices realised in a recent auction of original railway and canal share certificates.

It seems to be a very specialised field this and not one to which I personally subscribe but for those interested -----


Original Derby Canal Share certificate. £1000 (below estimate)


Gloucester & Berkeley Share certificate. £250 (below estimate)


Wey & Arun Canal. £180.


Huddersfield Canal.Estimate £200-£300 Not Sold or withdrawn.


Somersetshire Coal Canal. Estimate £150-£180.


Regents Canal. ?

In addition a Thames & Severn and a BCN certificate together with several railway certificates seemed a bargain with an estimate of £100-£150.

On the other hand a book containing 25 unused shares in the Grand Imperial Ship Canal fetched £580 which was twice the estimated price. The fact that the shares were unused and had never been issued is explained by the fact that the canal was never built !!.

Sunday, 25 November 2012




I thought blog readers might be interested in some recent prices paid at auction for canal collectables.

Measham bargeware can be had at all kinds of prices.A typical Barge teapot  usually costs around £100 -£150 depending on condition and there are always plenty of these around. However you need to have very deep pockets when it comes to buying rarer Measham items like the very rare Toby Jug which sold very recently at auction  for twice the pre sale estimate of £500.

Despite the fact that so called ‘Bargeware’ is thought to get its name from the boaters who were supposed to use it, I must admit that I have yet to see one inscribed with the name of a boat. The nearest items I have seen were a group of 3 items which sold in the same sale for £700.LS15975_HR

The larger of the two mugs was inscribed ‘Navigation Inn 1887’ which gets us a bit nearer to the cut ! Interestingly the large two handled loving cup bears the motif ‘ Cap’n Salt Polran’ – a captain at sea or the steerer or No1 of a NB engaged in the salt trade?? I suppose we will never know.

Other rare Measham appearing at the same auction house in the last couple of years includes the twin spout teapot ,chamber pot and vase shown below which fetched nearly 8 times the pre sale estimate of £300 (£2,300)

Apart from the more usual Teapots,jugs,kettles,tobacco jars,sugar bowls etc one of the most unusual jugs in the shape of an owl and estimated at £300 exceeded this by 5 times selling for £1500 in 2011.

On the other hand a spitoon which I’ve never seen before sold for only £50 which must make it the Measham bargain of the year.

Some of you may have noticed the old Buckby Can on EBay recently which sold for something in excess of £130. It certainly was an old can, the wrought handle testified to that but the painting in my eyes left something to be desired in terms of quality and age.

Elsewhere and also on EBay a superb Canal postcard fetched what must be the record price for a single card of £156. It has to be said that it had all the right qualities that the collector is looking for namely –Subject,Location and rarity. It showed a superb reasonably close up view of a wide beam barge or trow on the detached portion of the Stroudwater at the junction of the canal and the R Severn. The boat is waiting to enter the lock for its journey down river whilst a man and a boy operate the lock . In sepia and around 1906 there cant be many of those around. Whilst the Stroudwater is at present being restored, this portion of the canal is now disused and the site of the junction lock into the river is on private land.

On the other hand a lovely sepia card from around 1922 showed a Sunday School outing from Linslade  crammed into one of L B Faulkners boats. This fetched only £12 and was a bargain.

At one time I had a good canal card collection myself but sold them all years ago. With the sort of prices described above you need to be extremely ‘well heeled’ to say the least to collect everything. Personally I stick to books!!!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

More Hassell.

Hassell Tour of G J146
Braunston. Admiral Nelson Lock ?
Hassell Tour of G J148
Reservoir on Braunston Summit Level.    
Hassell Tour of G J149
Weedon Embankment.
Hassell Tour of G J152
Three Locks. Stoke Hammond.
Hassell Tour of G J154
Hassell Tour of G J155
Tring reservoirs.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Tour of the Grand Junction. (1819)


Hassell Tour of G J143


John Hassell  (1767 – 1825)  was a Georgian artist, illustrator, author and publisher earning his living principally by producing what would now be termed a travel guide book. The guides of which he was the author and illustrator were an indispensible introduction to many of the great popular scenic sites in the British Isles which were there to be enjoyed by Regency society.

My battered but much treasured copy of his ‘Tour of the Grand Junction Canal’  is a large paper copy with the original paper name plate which unfortunately lacks 7 of the original illustrations.Nevertheless the missing plates seem to be of the London area and are I think mostly of views other than the canal. As all the ‘up country ‘ views of the canal are present I am not too bothered about it.

The book was published in 1819 soon after the canal was opened  throughout. Priced at £1 with uncoloured plates and £1.10shillings coloured. Today it sells for £500 - £1500.

So compare familiar well known canal scenes from your watery wanderings with the same views in a somewhat rawer state in 1819.!Hassell Tour of G J145 

Grove Lock ?

Hassell Tour of G J144

Batchworth Lock at Rickmansworth.

Hassell Tour of G J151

Linford Bridge.

Hassell Tour of G J150

Blisworth tunnel.

Regarding Blisworth tunnel ‘Hassell states that Mr Barnes of Banbury who was engaged as surveyor and who superintended and completed the tunnel was ‘strong minded but very illiterate’. He made all his calculations by ‘the strength of his memory’ and was at a loss to explain any of this to anyone else. Also ‘from being lowly educated he had no means of conveying to paper his designs, yet would cast up the most intricate accounts in his head without difficulty;.

Today 200 years later the tunnel is busier than ever. Not bad for a ‘lowly educated man’.  More Pictures next time.

Friday, 16 November 2012

A Tender Parting at the Grand Junction Canal.


‘A Tender Parting at The Grand Junction Canal’. c1801-1810.


I really love this early hand coloured print primarily I think for its early use of the comic strip concept of the ‘circled blurb’ of the utterances of the characters depicted in the boat and the rest above each of the figures. Bought at auction recently it shows a London merchant being entreated by his wife and daughter to avoid the dangers of travel to Uxbridge on the new fangled canal. As the building of the canal had got as far as Uxbridge by 1801 and parties of London society were enjoying the novelty of trips by barge from the capital out into the countryside, I think that the print must date from the first few years of the new century.

He Says-P1000359


She says-P1000359


The daughter blubs-P1000359

The boatman says-P1000359


This print prompted me to sort out some early views of the new canal which I will show in my next blog

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

‘Give Him a treat’ Barge Women of the Midland Canals.1944.

Bss photo Streamline 2029
Give him a treat and maybe some of this...

Bss photo Streamline 2029
Nothing like a nice SPAM fritter to take your mind off…………
So on to more serious things but remember !!!
Bss photo Streamline 2030
With reference to yesterdays blog about the items on EBay I was prompted to look at my collection of wartime items and discovered that I had never blogged about this wartime Picture Post article (the one that is for auction on EBay at the moment).

All the above ad’s appeared in a 1944 edition of Picture Post which appeared a couple of weeks after the allied invasion of Europe started.
The magazines main preoccupation of course was with the invasion, with articles such as The First Man to Land in France and What it feels like to Invade but amongst the other news there is an interesting article on the training scheme for boatwomen or ‘Idle Women’ as they became known.
The article covers two pages with a small amount of text describing a typical working day together with seven photographs.
Bss photo Streamline 2032Daphne French is the trainer and Mary Andrew and Susan Blood the trainees.Bss photo Streamline 2031
I’m not sure where the photos were taken but obviously on the G U – (London area ?)somewhere. The caption to the article states ‘Barges on the Midland Canal’ which confuses things a little. Could be on the G U towards Brum I suppose. I thought at first that the photo above might have been taken near the Globe Inn at Linslade but then realised that there is what looks like a winding hole or basin on the off side so that put paid to that theory. If anybody knows please leave a comment.
Bss photo Streamline 2032 
To those not familiar with the famous ‘Barge Ladies’ story ; my ‘Wartime Ephemera’ blog of November 2110 will tell you a little more or better still read the first hand accounts of the ladies wartime lives afloat in ‘Maidens Trip’ by Emma Smith and ‘Idle Women’  by Susan Woolfitt both of which are still in print I think.


Monday, 5 November 2012

Rare World War 2. Grand Union Women Recruits .

I've just been trolling Ebay canal and waterway books and noticed a couple of rare items from World War2 for auction.
I mention this because some of my most popular posts are those that refer to the 'Idle Women' so if your interested there is a photo of Audrey and Evelyn and their boat on the cover of a wartime magazine and a Picture Post article on the boatwomen and Kit Gayford on one of their trips in 1944. I have both of these and can recomend them.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

An American on English Canals.

When I first started collecting books the process could be long, tedious and arduous. Browsing in second-hand & antiquarian bookshops occasionally yielded results or having found a bookshop that specialized in Transport books and asked for their current catalogue ,one occasionally found a few old canal items there. You could of course advertise for a particular title in ‘Bookdealer’  a trade weekly with ‘Books wanted’ and ‘Books for Sale’ categories.
With the arrival of the internet nothing less than a revolution took place and later still internet auctions made everything so much easier.
With the internet; bookdealers could advertise any individual book for sale through such sites as – Abe books, biblio, Alibris ,amazon and eBay.
All auctioneers could show details & complete catalogues of their sales on line and one could bid online too.
‘Bookfinder’ is however by far the best site for searching for old,used and antiquarian books since it collates all the books for sale in such sites as Abe or amazon etc. under one roof. Thus millions of books for sale by thousands of bookdealers around the world can be found instantly.
The search facility allows one to search by author or title with advance searches for first editions, any language etc. The results of a search will yield a list of bookdealers around the world with that book for sale complete with postage costs to your country. It is quite simply the

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Pickfords & Braunston (Canal Bill of Exchange).

canal bill of exchange104

With current news headlines in mind I thought readers of this blog might like to see an early example of a form of tax avoidance which only goes to prove that there is really nothing new under the sun.

Printed on incredibly thin hand made paper and now rather fragile this document was issued at Braunston 10 years after the Grand Junction Canal had opened as a through route to London.

Pickfords (Today still carrying by road) were at this time  major users of the canal and had offices ,warehouses and wharves at Braunston.

Canal Bills of Exchange were bank drafts issued by a shipper for general services or goods. At this time shortly after the Napoleonic Wars,gold was scarce and it was not uncommon to make payments by bankers draft. However in order to avoid government revenue payable on their own drafts ,payees often endorsed the bills of exchange they had received on the reverse and used them to make further payments.  

So turning the bill over…….

canal bill of exchange105

The signatures of Richard Vann, William Alcock, T S Marriott, William Whittles, Jones & Mann, Thomas Whalley & Sons , James Mitchell And Richard Williams have been endorsed on the rear of the draft.

The draft issued in 1815 by Pickfords at Braunston was for the not inconsiderable sum of £72  11s 1d and was made out to Richard Vann.

Vann is an unusual surname and I wonder if any of his descendants (or any other of the endorsers of the document) are living in the Braunston area today.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Children on Englands Canals (1947)

childre on englands canals 1947094
With the recent announcement of the demise of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in printed form (It will be available on line);  I was reminded of a seemingly inauspicious  item in my collection which at first glance might be passed over as ‘just another childrens book’
As a 1947 American publication by the Encyclopaedia Brittanica it is not often seen here in the UK and was I think not issued here, being primarily intended for children in the U S.
childre on englands canals 1947095
With over 40 photographs of boat life on boats of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Companies fleet, this book  is a ‘must see’  for anyone interested in social history on Britain’s canals.childre on englands canals 1947096
The photographs – mainly of kids on the boats, also show boats at work including some unusual shots of wide beam boats on the southern Grand Union.
childre on englands canals 1947097
Very interestingly, the title page describes the illustrations as being taken from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica film ‘The Canals of England’. Has anyone ever seen this film? I cant remember coming across it before.
childre on englands canals 1947098

childre on englands canals 1947100
As you can see many of the shots are quite unusual in their scope and seem to have been taken on the G Union between Bulls Bridge layby and Stoke Bruerne.
childre on englands canals 1947101
If you know anything about the film please let me know.

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.