Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Canoeist & The Royal Canoe Club.

the canoeist 1874 001
I wrote about one of the early accounts of canal cruising for pleasure in a previous post (Canal and River) and have subsequently unearthed this copy of  the Royal Canoe Club’s journal for 1874 which gives a list of cruises accomplished by members.
The Club was formed in 1866 and quickly became popular amongst young middle class males with a sporting proclivity.
The journal priced at 1 shilling (non members) and 6d for members is a reasonably substantial illustrated paper back which in this copy even has a fold out plan of canoe construction.
the canoeist. illus. 001 (2)
The greatest interest for those researching early pleasure boating history will however be found in the lists of cruises performed by members at this early date. At this time it would seem that members chose to cruise if possible the most picturesque rivers and lakes using only a canal as a through route from one river to the next. In this context the Ellesmere canal is mentioned several times. There is one mention of a voyage from the Thames – River Wey – Wey & Arun Canal to Littlehampton  in 1873 which seems to have been published in the Field magazine  and which may have been undertaken as a result of reading Dashwood’s book of 1868 ‘The Thames to the Solent by Canal & Sea’.canoeist 001
canoeist2 002

Monday, 23 January 2017

Amos Reade revealed.

In a recent post I mentioned the fact that many of the early canal pleasure voyagers published their accounts anonymously.the waterway to london (1869)107
Anonymously authored books or the use of nom de plume’s were of course not a new thing. Indeed Charles Dickens,Mark Twain,The Bronte sisters, George Orwell and in the present day – J K Rowling have all hidden their true identity by using pen names .
'Bumps' title page 001
The first British canal voyage to be authored anonymously in 1861.
The reasons for using a nom de plume were and are many and varied but in the middle of the 19th century where female authors were concerned, its use concealed the fact that they were women, allowing them to adopt and express attitudes and deal with subjects which at that time were considered unfeminine.Two Girls on A Barge 001two girls on a barge105
V Cecil Cotes the author of this 1891 book was subsequently shown to be a woman.
Recent research by Canal book lovers and historians has revealed  the true authors of some of these books. Thus the real author of ‘A Trip through the Caledonian Canal .1861 by ‘Bumps’ was a Mr Stockman who was a personal assistant to George Robert Stevenson of the famous engineering family and on whose boat the journey was accomplished.
In a masterly piece of detective work Canal author Hugh McKnight revealed the fact that V Cecil Cotes ‘Two Girls on A Barge’ was in fact the female Canadian author Sara Jeannette Duncan. Hugh’s article can be found in the 8th July 2010 issue of ‘Canal Boat’ magazine.
Elsewhere the anonymous author of ‘The Waterway to London’ 1869 has been revealed as Alfred Taylor Schofield and the illustrator of the book as his brother.
Emma Leslie the author of ‘Tom The Boater –A tale of English canal life’ 1882 an early moral tale was actually Emma Boultwood a fact that I was unaware of until correspondence with a Canadian descendant of her family also revealed interesting facts about the authors private life which alas but not unsurprisingly didn’t quite match the high moral tone of her books. 
Finally ,and to get back to the title of this blog, In the course of some research of my own I have discovered the true identity of Amos Reade the author of ‘Life in the Cut’ 1888 –the first full length canal novel.LIFE IN THE cutYellowback edition in the cut 001First Edition 1888
Famous in the canal book collectors world as the first canal based novel and as almost uniquely being issued as a ‘Yellowback’ cheap edition destined for the Railway book stalls – Life in the Cut’ I have revealed elsewhere did in fact have a first edition issued a year prior to the yellowback. Further research has revealed the fact that Amos Reade was actually Ann Margaret Rowan.
Her father was an archdeacon and they hailed from Tralee in Eire where she was born in 1833. She was, it seems, typical of many of the middle class women of the time in being interested in ‘good works’ and in her particular case in relieving the destitution of the poor of Tralee. She was also thoroughly modern in her espousal of Women's suffrage. She was very well known as a contributor to magazines and newspapers -  usually on historical subjects and she also wrote a couple of other novels. A staunch Conservative she was a member of the Primrose League Suffrage Association and it was on a Unionist demonstration in Dublin in 1913 that she died.
So another lady author who by publishing her books as a man was able to join the growing band of female Victorian authors who were able to position themselves as reformers in public without risking their feminine respectability.
As far as I can ascertain she lived all her life in Ireland and so it would be interesting to know why ‘Life in the Cut’ appears to be set on an English canal.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Another Wartime Lady.

Christian Vlasto, a Canal-boat Woman
Artist Bernard Hailstone was commissioned by the War Office Advisory Committee to paint many Wartime military & civilian scenes. He is especially well known for his portraits of individuals selected to represent their particular branch of the armed forces or of civilian workers engaged in the war effort.
Later in the war he worked for the Department of War Transport and it was in 1944 that Christian Vlasto was selected to represent the ‘Idle Women’ engaged in working the boats for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co and whose portrait  (now in the Imperial War Museum) he painted’. Christian Vlasto was herself a painter who had interrupted her art school training to join the war effort.
I must admit that I had not heard of this particular lady and rather suspect that she may have been one of the later recruits. It seems that she was certainly working the boats Hyperion and Capella for Samuel Barlow on a coal run on the southern Oxford just before the declaration of peace in 1945. Brief details and some photographs of her boat life may be found at
When many of the wartime women such as the Land Girls, women forestry workers and workers on the canals were finally recognized and given due credit in 2008 a ceremony took place at Stoke Bruerne to dedicate a plaque commemorating the boatwomen's contribution. Attending this ceremony were four of the surviving women including Sonia Rolt, Emma Smith and Olga Kevelos.
Sonia and Olga have since sadly passed away and it was on the death of Olga that her relatives found in the family house many souvenirs from her years as a champion motorcyclist in the 1950’s together with a few items from her wartime canal years.CV  selfie
It seems that Olga & Christian had been school friends and were surprised when they met again on the boats and with a shared Greek ancestry had a lot in common.
CV newspaper article
Christian Vlasto Picture
Painting by Christian Vlasto.

CV letter
A letter from Christian to Olga at the end of the war showed that she hoped to recommence her art training. It is known that she later married an author and went to live in Pakistan.
Both Olga’s wartime cloth Grand Union Canal Co’s badge and Christian's painting of the boats were later sold at auction. 
Mike Constable wrote an interesting article on the women artists amongst the 'Idle Women' in the Autumn 2012 copy of Narrow Boat.