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