Friday, 29 January 2016

Mr 'Self Sufficiency'

Those of you who were young in the 1970's and perhaps consciously feeling your way towards an alternative lifestyle may remember John Seymour the self sufficiency guru who was as an author most prolific at this time. 
Wikipedia lists his roles as - Writer, environmentalist, agrarian, smallholder and activist and a rebel against - Consumerism,industrialisation, genetically modified organisms, cities, cars; an advocate for self reliance, personal responsibility, self sufficiency, conviviality ( singing, dancing, food & drink), gardening, caring for the earth & the soil.

After an active and adventurous youth and war service he worked on a Thames Barge for a time before marrying and buying a Dutch Hoogaerse barge on which he lived and travelled before publishing his first waterway book  'Sailing through England' in 1956.
Seymour & his wife Sally sailed their 34 ton barge round the coast and into the Great Ouse and the Nene before travelling to the Humber from where they voyaged over all the wide beam waterways of the Northeast including a traverse of the Leeds & Liverpool canal.

For the next few years Seymour was involved in buying and establishing a smallholding in Pembrokeshire before in 1966 publishing 'Voyage into England'  - a record of a 4 month voyage
around the Narrow canals of a still just working system.

We are fortunate that John Seymour's natural love of people & places combined with an 
 inquisitive nature has left for today's reader a treasure trove of anecdotes and interviews with the working population of a now vanished waterways world. Both books are a recommended good read. You can wallow in nostalgia with 'Sailing through England'  for less than £15 and for less than £10 Voyage into England ' is available on the second hand market. Both books were recently republished by Faber & Faber.
John Seymour 1914 - 2004.

John Seymour's self sufficiency work is still carried on by his family at their Pembrokeshire smallholding where John lies buried in an orchard of his own planting.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


olga kavelos

Olga Kevelos was one of the handful of women workers on the Grand Union Canal  during the 2nd World War. One of the so called ‘Idle Women’ from the inland waterways badge that they wore, they often showed tough, independent and adventurous traits. Olga’s particular claim to fame was that she twice won  gold in the motorcycling 6 day trials in the later 1940’s -  1950’s.

An extraordinary lady, she is alas no longer with us but during a recent renovation of her family home in Birmingham her family found a relic from her wartime boating days - the badge shown  above, Recently auctioned, it attracted many bids , selling for £80.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

‘Life in the Cut’ An update.

Canal Books
Every time that I used Mark Baldwins book ‘Canal Books’ to  refer to some item or other I was always tempted by the sight of the book in the middle of the top shelf. Since Baldwin’s book came out in 1982, it must be from at least that time that I had been looking for a copy of that book – ‘ Life in the Cut’. 'The description that Baldwin gives of it as being the first full length canal novelLIFE IN THE cut ( and an imaginative one at that )which was published in 1889 in a cheap ‘yellowback’ edition primarily for sale on railway bookstores,was very tempting and particularly so with its eye catching pictorial cover.The very fact that it was cheaply produced and printed meant of course that it had a short life and that survivors are few and far between ,which is my blog understatement of the year - I had never seen one at auction or for sale by bookdealers in 40 years of looking.
So it was with some excitement that I attended Mark’s library sale in November last where this book was to be amongst the books auctioned.Needless to say it went for far more than an old pensioners means allowed, selling for over £500 to a guy who had travelled some distance just to buy  this one book.                                                                 
Well I guess the story would have ended there with visions of more endless years searching (well not exactly endless as age is beginning to feature here!!!) and I was beginning to think that I would have to settle for the British Library’s copy in its Historically important reprint series. When -------
life in the cut 001
A couple of months later I bought this battered and waterstained copy of the book on Ebay.
I had thought that the yellowback version of 1889 was the only printing since the canal bibliography gives this as the only publication date. However it turns out that my purchase is in fact a First edition copy published the previous year in 1888.
The illustration on the cover is by the artist H Johnston whose engravings were used to illustrate Guy Mark Pearse’s ‘Rob Rat’ and which seem to have been used as stock images to illustrate many of the canal articles of the time eg the Graphic canal title page of 1875.
Rob Rat. Illustration1Rob Rat Illus (3) 
Illustrations by H Johnson in Rob Rat.

life in the cut .title page 1st Ed 001
Interestingly the Frontispiece illustration of the Waterwitch in the First edition appears to be a swim ended Thames lighter.Compare  this with the Narrow Boat ‘Waterwitch’ on the yellowback cover.Life in the cut.dedication.1st Ed 001 
Dedication to the well known canal reformer in the First Edition.
CONCLUSION. – Well I guess if theres any conclusion its – Dont give up looking!! Even on ebay bargains are still to be found even if its just once in 40 years!!!

Saturday, 9 January 2016



I thought that I had seen most types of British Canal ephemera at auction but the truncheon was a new one for me. It was the only one of its kind in a large collection of truncheons and tipstaffs auctioned recently. Apart from the above inscription in gilt on a blue ground it had a royal cipher  and was inscribed on the reverse ‘ S & W canal Co’. (Presumably –Staffs & Worcs.) One wonders whether it was ever actually in day to day use or purely for official occasions. 17inches in length it fetched £220.
old postcard2
Old postcards continue to fetch high prices particularly when as above they are ‘Real photos’. This one of a wooden Grand Union boat with workers piling fetched £56 recently.