Saturday, 31 March 2012

Children on Englands Canals (1947)

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.