Friday, 8 August 2014

Canal Cuttings (40)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 

Kalgoorlie Miner
Tuesday 31 January 1950 

A century ago had you lived in Birmingham, for instance and wished to visit your loved ones in Wolverhampton, you could have gone down to Friday Bridge any morning of the week except Sunday paid 1/9, and embarked in the chief cabin of a swift packet for a cruise touching at Smethwick Spon Lane and Dudley Port, and landing you at your destination of Wolverhampton two hours after sailing. (said F. R. Buckley in a recent B.B.C. broadcast)

Warmed with Hot Water
In winter you would have found the cabin warmed with hot water, and in case of incivility or inattention you would have had recourse to the captain or even, in grave cases, to the proprietors, who lived at the town of Wolverhampton. Your motive power would have been two horses, ridden by postilions changed at frequent stages, and hauling you through the canal including locks at an average speed of nine miles per hour. Such transport for passengers and light parcels was common place in England well into the Railway age.

Those days are gone for ever, of course; but it was the contention of the Inland Waterways Association in its recent exhibition at Leamington that the canals of Britain should not be allowed to go too. And there is quite sufficient evidence that the public concurs in this view, witness the up roar which greeted a recent rumour that barges were to be standardised, and so lose their traditional names and gaudy painting. People did undoubtedly resent any such idea. Witness also the great public interest in the exhibition I have mentioned. In addition to a number of quaint documents it contained models of barges, photographs and paintings of canals and the traffic on them, and of the lovely country through which some of them run, and samples of practically everything pertaining to the life of the boat folk. There were boat hooks and mops, painted in Italianate spirals of red, black, yellow and green; basins, dippers, and water jugs with gipsy like decorations of flowers; also to be seen were trays and sheets, and seat-boards with castles and roses on them, from the brush of no less a large artist than Frank Jones of Leighton Buzzard, not to mention H. Tooley of Banbury Lock. Then; hung all round were the traditional, frilled bonnets of the boat women; the spider web belts of the men; the caulking tools and lock cranks; the cabin crockery, with open work edges allowing it to be hung on the bulkheads; the brown glazed teapots and jugs from Measham, on the Ashby de la Zouch canal, reading 'God Bless Our Home' but omitting to state that 'home' was in size only about 10 ft. by 12 ft. It was all quite fascinating,  as perhaps any life must be which combines complete respectability with a piratical appearance. 

The association, in its six-point programme for rehabilitation of the canals, remarks that heretofore the boat folk have had a poor deal low pay for long hours, cramped living quarters always, and, in these days, new difficulties arising from the fact that wives with no fixed abode cannot very well queue for rations. Because of this, it recommends, among other reforms, a modified seamen's ration for barge crews. 

Pleasure Traffic Encouraged 
Other recommendations are that rates, as between railways and canals, should be revised, that traffic on branch canals should be developed, and that pleasure traffic should be encouraged. Nothing is said, alas, about a revival of passenger and light parcel traffic in barges. I am sorry about that. A cruise with my light parcels behind a couple of spirited chargers, as shown In the exhibition in an advertisement of 1845, is one of the things I have not yet done, but should very much like to do.

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