Tuesday, 9 December 2014



Explorers Afloat first Ed 1940430

I wonder if any of my readers can help in identifying the location of these early photographs. They come from a collection of views taken I think in the 1880 – 90 period in the Oxfordshire area. They are almost certainly of the Oxford Canal and show three boats in the above picture waiting to enter a lock which I think  is probably Cropredy bottom lock.

Explorers Afloat first Ed 1940431


I think we can be fairly sure that both photographs were taken on the same day as the same lady onlooker appears in the scenes. I rather think that the Cropredy? view was perhaps taken first and as the boats are working uphill that the second view was taken somewhere on the Claydon flight. However the puzzle is – the lockhouse  cottage - as I cannot think of a single story lock cottage anywhere on this canal. The only other building on this flight is the maintenance yard at the top of Claydon whose buildings bear no resemblance to the one shown here.

Of course my placing of the scene in the Cropredy/Claydon area is pure conjecture and  it could be anywhere on the canal. As far as I can remember all the surviving lock cottages on the canal are double story and so the building in the photo could have been demolished. There was for example a cottage at Shipton Weir lock which was demolished within living memory.

The photographer & lady friend may have walked up the towpath from Cropredy following the boats to the next lock Broadmoor – was there a now long vanished single story cottage here???  Please leave a comment or conjecture if you have any ideas as I am totally puzzled.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Small Boat 1948-1987.

Original Eric de Mare photos 1948 & BTC photos c1954424
Roger Pilkington is probably best known as the author of the ‘Small Boat ‘ series of books although as a Congregationalist Christian by conviction and as a geneticist by training he was a prolific author on these subjects too.
In the late 1940’s having purchased his first boat Commodore he spent a couple of years cruising the Thames before in 1950 he managed to battle his way up the moribund Kennet & Avon canal to Newbury after which he visited the Grand Union Canal. These early voyages were published in ‘Thames Waters –1956 ‘ which is the only book in the series without the words ‘Small Boat’ in the title.With a wide beam and seaworthy boat and rapidly running out of new cruising ground he turned to the waterways of the Continent which at that time were treated by visiting yachtsmen as as through routes to the Mediterranean or the Baltic rather than for their own intrinsic interest.
Original Eric de Mare photos 1948 & BTC photos c1954422
The Belgian Small Boat book was published in 1957 and  began a series of books rarely matched in the canal publishing world for their uniformity  and scope and twenty titles were to be published over the next 30 years.
As a member of the Pilkington glass family I don’t suppose that Dr Pilkington was ever exactly strapped for cash but at least in the early days he was working and with a young family was only able to cruise the waterways during the school holidays
Original Eric de Mare photos 1948 & BTC photos c1954426

 If I were travelling any of the waterways he describes today I would certainly like to take or to have read his comments on the waterway concerned. Navigational details, descriptions of scenery and of people met are excellent and informative.  As a folklorist the author was interested in the myths ,legends and history of the places he passed through and there is always rather a lot of this.For me and a personal grouse here – its too much and I could do without it. His style too I find annoying at times being for me a little elitist and tending I find to treat all foreigners with a kind of  amused forbearance  but on the whole when he sticks to journey details and descriptions he is very readable.
Original Eric de Mare photos 1948 & BTC photos c1954421

The series appeared to end in 1971 with the appearance of ‘Small Boat on the Upper Rhine’.  but then in 1987 the author brought out ‘Small Boat Down the Years’  which, as his usual illustrator (David Knight) had by this time died, was illustrated with photographs.
Original Eric de Mare photos 1948 & BTC photos c1954420Original Eric de Mare photos 1948 & BTC photos c1954425
In the late 1980’s Roger Pilkington made one last journey to South West France and described the journey in ‘Small Boat in the Midi’  and here on the Canal Du Midi and now in his early seventies he finally decided to end his cruising days. The boat was tied up and eventually sold and he and his wife bought a house and vineyard in the area – this last period of his life is recorded in ‘One Foot in France’  -1992. Roger Pilkington died in 2003
The complete series of 20 Small Boat books is – Thames Waters –1956, Small Boat (In,on or through)—Belgium 1957, Holland- 1958, Skagerrak-1960, Alsace –1961, Sweden-1961, Bavaria-1962, Germany-1963,  France-1965, Southern France-1965, Thames-1966, Meuse-1966, Luxembourg-1967, Moselle-1968, Northern Germany-1969, Elsinore-1969, Lower Rhine-1970, Upper Rhine-1971, Down the Years-1987, Midi 1989.
All these are easily found quite reasonably and in first editions with dust jackets if that’s your thing!!