canal society logo (3K) Booklet Archive


- D.W. Horsfall[Published 1981]

book front cover (22K)


Foreword by Hugh McKnight
Introduction — On writing the biography of a boat.
Chapter 1 —Adelina, from Thy Dark Exile
The finding, raising, and naming of Adelina; her history, from being opened as a Boys' Club by the Duke of Gloucester; moving her to Shardlow.
Chapter 2 — In Friendship's Name
Making the boat more or less inhabitable; fed-upness of colleagues with canal obsessivenesss and method of getting own back; moving Adelina to Burton upon Trent.
Chapter 3 —Hitting the Trail
Journey of Adelina to London, mainly towed by Willow Wren working boats; problems of finding residential moorings in London.
Chapter 4 — All Mod Cons
The next phase of making Adelina into a home; odd plumbing system and sanitation.
Chapter 5 —Duckett's Cut
Life on a canal in the East End of London; peculiar method of access; amiable encounters with the police, and the dog that couldn't climb ladders; decision to move home.
Chapter 6 — The Basingstoke
Brief account of the tribulations of the Basingstoke Canal, and what life on it was like; Floating Homes in a floating suburb.
Chapter 7 — Water Music
Further civilising of Adelina, with description of curious systems of pumping and electric lights.
Chapter 8 —The Canal Press
Account of setting up a miniature printing and book binding activity on board, which culminated in the production of two small books.
Chapter 9 — Memorabilia
The collecting mania and canal enthusiasm combined; filling Adelina with teapots and books; painting her in a traditional fashion.
Chapter 10 — Deep Waters
Narrative of a journey on the remarkable underground canal system (now closed) used in the coal mines established by the Duke of Bridgewater at Worsley.
Chapter 11 — Rallying Round
Recalls some personally memorable highlights of Rallies at Aylesbury, Woking, London; Dinners at House of Commons, attended whilst resident on Adelina.
Chapter 12 — Goodbye
Final account of Adelina as she was just before her owners departed for new country; toddlers on board and their life.
Description of a visit by the family in 1977, the first time Adelina had been visited by the Horsfalls in 12 years, seen through the eyes of 15 year old Amelia.


Ernest Pull started the whole episode. Ernest was a committee member of the Branch; unassuming, efficient, eternally helpful, he was and is a typical example of the true canal afficionado. He had also been an amateur printer and one of my own long felt but rarely expressed desires was to become one myself. What impulse makes someone wish to spend hours poring over tiny, apparently inanimate, but amazingly self-willed letters; spend midnight oil and ruin eyesight trying to get a clear impression; use enough paraffin in cleaning up afterwards to avert a mini energy crisis; and all for the production of a few printed pages?

If the pages consist of pictures of a current Head of State in assorted colours and denominations, the motivation is usually clear enough, even to the most uncultured officer of the law. Many an embryo Caxton with that sort of interest has had to suffer a long separation from his press for his misguided enthusiasm. However, if the printed page is but an exhortation to love the canals, visit Bloggs Restaurant, or announces a change of address, why burn with desire to produce it? I don't know; but I did.

Various attempts to buy a press in my student days had been frustrated by impermanence of accommodation and lack of removal facilities. One unforgettable transit between dwellings had been carried out by firstly putting the bed into the street, next loading onto the mattress clothes, books, food, pots and pans and other paraphernalia and then just trundling the bed through the streets to the new abode. The casters quickly gave out and the legs had just started to go when the destination hove into sight.

Had a printing press and associated impedimenta been on the mattress, the legs would have worn away and the road might even have eaten half way up the head­board before the equipage reached the first corner. No: printing is not a hobby for the itinerant unless he possesses a small truck among his personal effects. Ernest and his brothers had themselves been donated, years previously, an early version of the Adana Flatbed, a small press produced for the amateur printer, which looked more like a flat iron than a printing press.

Along with the strange little object, sitting snugly but unused in the Pull loft, were several cardboard boxes of old type; and most of the equipment required to start printing in a modest fashion. Ernest was prepared to donate the lot without any strings attached, but with a strong leaning to see canal matters printed with the gift. Producing the hundred page, closely written, quarterly Bulletin of the IWA would have been a bit beyond such simple resources, unless the printer ceased to work elsewhere, to eat, sleep, or indeed do anything other than set type, apply ink, and print.

However, Branch notepaper, receipts and other ephemera were quite within the grasp of the tyro's inky fingers. The first effort, set up and printed after hours of arduous toil, was a card simply stating "The Inland Waterways Association thanks Mr. Pull for his Gift". The offering was slightly crooked, on yellow card in black 18 point Times Roman, so heavily impressed that the whole message could be felt with ease on the reverse side. The printing was also wet for weeks, as the over-inked letters took almost as long to dry as the yellow paint. Black fingers soon became a well known sign that the Canal Press was involved. The phenomenon ushered in the oft-repeated exhortation, invariably heard when Canal Press products were being delivered "Don't touch the letters; they're still wet".

The proud announcement that the mighty press was about to roar or, more accurately, squeak, coupled with a request to be given some task worthy of Adelina's facilities, produced the first major job. The item was for charity and only one copy was required. With that sort of encouragement, would Koenig have been inspired to build a steam press for the Times?

A friend of mine, then the Secretary for the National Federation for the Blind, had been instrumental in getting Christopher Chataway to open a newly built workshop for the blind. At that stage he was a fresh young MP, more famous for speedy legs than golden oratory. The Secretary wished to hand him, at the opening ceremony, an appropriately printed scroll, together with a toy made in the workshop as a present for his child. I undertook to produce the memorial missive.

Had there been any inkling of the hours of work that would be re­quired to produce one good copy of the printed sheet, the offer probably would not have been made, for due to inexperience and lack of expertise, close on two days' solid work were needed to make one good copy! I kept the second best example. In fact to complete the job on time entailed staying up the whole night prior to the opening ceremony. After the printed work had been completed, the sheet (a piece of special Braille paper) was folded and the message repeated in Braille. It seemed a little unfair that the writer of the latter didn't have a second chance: his efforts had to be right first time.

A later invitation to talk to a section of the Federation on canals led to interesting experimentation. Problem: to make a canal map that would be meaningful to the blind, but at the same time, to work within the confines of pocket depth and available printing equipment.

The problem was solved by making a map of the system in thick copper wire, bent appropriately (the more intricate junctions were omitted and the Birmingham Canal Navigations appeared as a large blob), then soldering the wire onto a plate. The wires were heavily inked and impressions taken, which, whilst still wet were dusted with Reliefite powder. The powder had the property of swelling when heated, to give a firm, non-sticky (thank God) raised line. The result was a complete success, and for once a printed page resulted that could be handled without black streaks on the fingers disclosing, even to a Dr. Watson, where the work originated.

a page of Canal Press printing (22K)
28. Page of Canal Press printing.

From such small beginnings grew even smaller developments; but certainly as a result the London and Home Counties Branch of the Inland Waterways Association wallowed in a plethora of unwanted and at times even irrelevant printed matter. "Compliments" slips accompanied every offering possible, even trenchant replies to anti-waterways correspondents; each canal trip had a specially printed ticket, usually in Lombardic letters and ornamented with a pretty waterways vignette; and multicoloured receipts hopefully cheered even the most reluctant debtors. The smallest event became an excuse for the printer to add to his stock of type, inks, and other items of equipment, and gradually Adelina became hostess to quite a large collection of type founts, trays, furniture and other delights essential to the trade.

Finding a home for the Press was not difficult: the tiny front room on Adelina had been turned into a combined workshop-bathroom, containing such obvious bedmates as lathe, electrical controls, workbench, and bath. The last named was fed by an offshoot from the heating system, and newcomers to the plumbing had to be warned that having a bath on board was roughly equivalent to a ride on a fairground Ghost Train. He could expect an accompaniment of clunking relays, whirling pumps, cascading water and dimming lights the whole time that water was being run into the bath. However the unavoidable proximity of the bath, mounted on a high unstable wooden platform, to the workbench did allow the industrious type of bather to print tickets whilst performing ablutions. The claim may be advanced with some pride that the most gadget-ridden bathrooms rarely have that sort of facility.

The advantages of this system were often pointed out to visitors, who generally ex­pressed disbelief that such a diverse combination of tasks was possible: oddly enough, few ever thought the union actually undesirable. Finally, challenged to demonstrate the printing and plumbing duo, the Master Printer took up the gauntlet. The bath was drawn, the press made ready, also (discreetly) the printer; and finally visitors were admitted.

They had to come in one at a time, for the cabin was so full of equipment there was little room for anything that moved. Their host was discovered sitting in the waist-high unstable bath, enveloped in misty vapours, and leaning perilously over the side in order to work the press. One hand removed the printed card, whilst the other put in the blanks. Periodically, both hands were violently applied to the handle to make the impression, the sudden movement making the unsecured bath move backwards as the platen moved forwards.

The periodic motion of the bath caused a mini-tidal wave to slop over each end alternately, which in turn made the neurotic bilge pump agitatedly keep coming into operation, causing the lights to flicker. A few cards, trying to get away from the scene, ended up, soggy and squalid, in the bath. The whole messy tableau was a powerful incentive to revive handwriting as a craft. Eventually the water vapour from bathing caused a bit too much rust to form on tools and printing equipment, so Hygeia yielded to Minerva and the bath was removed

The speed and capabilities of the flat-bed began to limit the range of work, and a conversation with the ever-helpful Captain Munk revealed that he had a printing press surplus to his requirements.

I had first heard from and of Lionel some years previously, whilst still a student. Robert Aickman wrote and told me that the noted American writer, Cornelia Otis Skinner, was about to descend on the English canal system and write a book about her experiences. The lady had informed him she would require an extra crew member for the boat being hired from Maidline: would I like to be It? The eager affirmation and subsequent planning through cor­respondence with Lionel were never realised: Miss Skinner's friend Emily Kimbrough came, was largely diverted to the opposition in the form of British Waterways, and her book A Right Good Crew [Heinemann 1969] revolved round her experiences with them.

The cruise itself would have been fun, but having discerned from the book the party's attitude to their hired hand, the experience could have been a mixed blessing. Also, the complexity of the negotiations confused the authoress, who implied that British Transport Waterways and the IWA were virtually the same organisation. The mistake really asked for the vitriol, rather than ink, used in at least one criticism subsequently published.

Fortunately Maidboats survived the lady's defection, and such was the growth in their operations that they purchased a small modern hand press to make booking sheets for prospective clients. Even better (for both of us I suppose) the volume of work grew to the point where the amount of printing swamped the in-house facilities, and professional help was obtained. Hence the Maid press became redundant. A quick and wholly reasonable sale of press and ancillaries was made to the Canal Press, resulting in Adelina, when transfer had been completed, sinking still lower in the water.

The range of work executed now extended remarkably, being far less limited by speed and size of press. The IWA stand at the Earl's Court Boat Show, for exam­ple, invariably had postcards printed on the Canal Press, which were quite colourful and pleasant souvenirs for visitors to the exhibition. They were ornamented with line blocks of lace edge plates, windlasses, helms, and other objects associated with waterways.

Similarly the various Rallies organised both by the Branch and the Association could provide a range of souvenir postcards, printed on what was probably the only floating printing press on the inland waterways. They were useful fundraisers too, as the only expense was buying blank postcards. Large bundles of printed items cried out to be neatly and appropriately wrapped.

To secure the parcels of completed jobs, a whole reel of sticky brown paper tape was printed with the legend 'CANAL PRESS', separated by fleurons. The sealing of parcels had to be carried out with care, as on the first parcel embellished by the tape, the "C" was completely obscured by the fold. The remaining letters must have given rise to a good deal of speculation among casual observers and post office workers as to the curious medical contrivance contained within the package.

An interesting task was producing a programme cover for the display the Branch arranged of an instrument popularly known as the Noakescope — the title was invented and bestowed by Robert. The instrument was an early attempt to change the role of the lantern slide from static to dynamic entertainment. By means of the complex optical equipment, four pictures could be projected simultaneously onto a screen and, by careful manipulation, simple movement effects obtained.

Like so many fine and ingenious pieces of equipment, the projector had, once superseded, been neglected, and was eventually found in a garage in Southend by Robert Aickman and John Betjeman. The designer and original owner of the projector, Mr. Noakes, was himself a noted photographer and lecturer who gave public lantern shows; and the re-discoverers of his masterpiece were delighted to find in the garage a whole series of slides depicting rivers and canals in the late nineteenth century.

Mr. Noakes gave with their aid a lecture entitled England Bisected by Steam Launch, and the Home Counties Branch arranged a re-presentation of the show, with original script, at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. The Licensee, Baxter Somerville, was a Branch Member, and he readily (and freely) allowed his gem of a theatre to be used for the show one Sunday afternoon. Robert gave the commentary and I undertook to provide a suitable souvenir programme.

The old fashioned founts of type in Ernest's collection really came into their own, and though the result was unmistakably amateurish, the cover was gratifyingly effective. Needless to say, the printing was late, and the session started with Robert, Baxter, and myself hastily folding still-wet programmes in the theatre bar half an hour before the performance was due to begin. It is doubtful that Baxter ever before, or since, helped fold programmes for a performance in his own theatre, then hand them out with the injunction not to touch the red (the text was rubricated) as it was still wet.

The instrument dominated the dress circle gangway, being over eight feet high, and four large projection lenses emerging from the structure made it look like something from War of the Worlds. The construction, a typical Victorian medley of shiny mahogany and polished brass, all most beautifully preserved, further increased its resemblance to a piece of equipment dreamed up by a late nineteenth century science fiction writer.

From the point of view of animation, the highlights of our show included views of a pipe smoker, in which the pipe was removed and then replaced in the smoker's mouth. This item dated back to 1851 and was shown to Queen Victoria; it was reputedly the earliest example of an animated projected picture. Most beautiful was a set called The Grange, which showed a country house at daylight and at dusk, with the lighting of lamps and drawing of curtains picturesquely displayed. During the night a snow storm occurred, leading to a fairyland-like transformation the following morning.

The main items of interest however were the canal slides. The views had all been photographed in about 1890, and depicted the voyages of Mr. Noakes' steam launch Lizzie. The Grand Union views showed a narrow canal, making a strange sight for those accustomed to the wide locks of today. Lizzie also traversed the Kennet and Avon, and even then the going must have been tough as considerable bow-hauling through weedy waters was shown on the screen. One feels that Mr. Noakes would have been gratified by the interest shown in his remarkable contraption. I believe the projector and slides repose in the National Film Archive; another viewing seems rather overdue.

Having access to a press did help our Committee on another occasion to get the better of a bit of one-upmanship with the Lord Great Chamberlain's office in the Houses of Parliament. The Branch, on several occasions, held its Annual Dinner in the Members' Dining Room at the House of Commons. This sumptuous eating place probably becomes old-hat to the average Member five minutes after initially taking his seat, but to non-Olympians like us the place was atmospheric, grand, and oozing with social cachet.

Permission to use the facilities was granted if an MP sponsored the request, and as there were several Members in the Branch, including Chuter Ede, a former Home Secretary, there was no difficulty in getting the necessary support. Some weeks before the event, several standard menus pitched at different price levels were sent along, and pored over by the Committee. Attempting to balance gastronomic aspirations with estimated average Branch Member income, a menu was selected. One specimen really did have Cabinet Pudding on the bill of fare.

The menu was then printed on rather attractive cards, embossed with the House of Commons crest, and obtainable from the House. Normally the cards were printed at the House, and the explanatory notes accompanying the menus stated that we could have the bill of fare set out in any language we chose, provided it was French. This restricted choice seemed wholly wrong in an establishment that had spawned such masters of the English tongue as Winston Churchill; but authority was implacable.

The false concept that French was the language of educated non-Frenchmen, one thought, was in vogue prior to the decline of the Romanoffs. All protest was in vain, and the only concession from the Lord Great Chamberlain's office was that the Committee could collect the crested blanks and print the menus themselves. In the limited time left before the tiaras were due to be taken out of the bank for the Great Event, such an offer would normally have been of little use.

However the Canal Press could and did come to the rescue, and on the night, menus were available in which the dishes were listed in the Queen's English, rather than a vernacular suggesting that the other side won the Napoleonic Wars. As a further aid to post-dinner discussion, the background to the bill of fare consisted of a faintly but legibly printed canal map. This last named was generally agreed later to have been a decided help in settling the inevitable over-coffee squabbles about the location of various rivers, junctions, and canals, where fleeting reunions had taken place between diners, on diverse occasions during their annual peregrinations.

The canal map was a wholly home grown product of the Canal Press, and still appears on IWA publications from time to time. The map was made by printing all the names required — the job took hours as the setting was all by hand — in a good legible type face, then sticking the printed examples on a canal map drawn by a draughtsman friend. The map was turned into line blocks of various sizes and used both on postcards and in magazine articles. Printers like to have a distinguishing mark, and on most of the Canal Press publications a small fish is to be seen somewhere or other.

Allied with the printing antics was a growing interest in book-binding, a hobby originally inspired by the need to do something at reasonable cost to my mounting collection of dog-eared treasures. Gradually the craft became an end in itself, rather than a necessity; and once more there was the excuse for the acquisition of equipment. Looking back, it seems unbelievable that a complete miniature printing shop and bindery could be assembled in a six foot square cabin, alongside tools, electrical controls, pumps, cistern, and bath: but everything was there, the enterprise flourished, and had an output.

Inevitably the desire to print a book, however simple, seeded and grew, and the first offering, Type Faces from the Canal Press, appeared in 1961. Limited to an edition of 25 copies, the slender volume consisted of an example of each type face then in use at the press. Most type catalogues show the range of faces available by printing the same sentence repeatedly, each time using a different type face or size. In fact as the size gets bigger fewer of the words can be printed, so what is a mini-treatise at the smallest size, of say 6 point, reduces to a couple of letters at inch high or 72 point type size.

30. The Canal Press.

31. The Canal Map.

The Canal Press catalogue was different, each type face being illustrated by a separate quotation of one sort or another about navigation. On every page a different face was displayed, illustrated by a simple phrase varying from a statement of fact, such as "Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater" in the only 72 point face, to a short limerick set in 10 point Times Roman. Printing was usually carried out in two different colours and the page sparingly decorated with printer's ornaments.

Half the joy of amateur printing comes from the hobbyist being able to execute small-scale works in a manner that would be wholly uneconomical for the professional printer. The verse, incidentally, was one which I had first heard on my days on the Aire and Calder Navigation in Leeds; the Rivers Aire and Calder unite in the little town of Castleford giving rise to the saying.

"That's why the Castleford girls are so fair,
They bathe in the Calder,
And dry in the Aire".

Anyone who has navigated through the town of Castleford will appreciate that girls actually taking the beauty treatment advocated could probably land the title role in the Bride of Frankenstein without either difficulty or makeup, such is the degree of pollution. The little books, after they had been sewn and cased (cloth covering, mark you) were given to canal bibliophiles such as Aickman and McKnight; one copy was auctioned at a House of Commons dinner after it had been autographed by A. P. Herbert, John Betjeman and Robert Aickman, authors whose quotations were used in the catalogue. David Hutchings acted as auctioneer; the book was purchased by George Black, the theatrical impresario; and it raised £15 for Association funds.

The second book, though smaller, was much more ambitious, being an eight page effort with lots of handset body type, about canal art. Called Canalany, the book was made possible by the gift to the Press of an exquisite series of line blocks depicting decorated tillers, lace edge plates, roses, rope work, and similar traditional frivolities.

Canalany was intended to be published as an edition of 25 copies, sewn and bound in the proper manner. In fact only five were completed and the rest still await the kiss of the book-binder's needle. The final flowering of the press took place shortly before we left Woodham Lock for pastures new. The growing demand for IWA leaflets and similar printed matter made an investment in a small treadle platen press worthwhile. The Golding treadle that eventually joined the crew was built in 1895 and still worked as smoothly as the day the treadle was first trodden.

Predictably, the compact machine fitted into the workshop as though destined for such a position. There was even enough space remaining to accommodate the hand press. Capable of working, when hand foot and eye could co-ordinate, at the rate of about 1,200 copies per hour, the apparent ease of turning out large numbers made me undertake, almost as a final effort, the most taxing job of all. Leaflets, 8,000 of them, were wanted for the Boat Show: not really a large number, but as each leaflet had to be put through the press five times, because of small type area and big ambitions, the actual presswork was exhausting.

Smooth though the press operation was, the rate at which the press had to operate made the whole boat shake far into the night; but the sight of steadily growing bundles of completed work was gratifying. Whatever material reward the counterfeiter derives from his craft, I can really understand a forger pleading that he only worked for the artistic satisfaction of seeing the neatly printed and stacked bundles awaiting despatch.

Much of the equipment is still around, including the Adana and the bookbinding tools. I brought the Golding out to Africa, but finally sold it: although Adelina had cheerfully taken the not inconsiderable assembly of cast iron cogs, wheels, and shafts to her bosom, we found eventually that we had no room for the two presses in our quite large house.

The Golding, after leaving the Canal Press, resided for a time on a mine in Swaziland, with the new owner choosing (appropriately) an elephant as a colophon. That little machine really has had an adventurous life: from the USA to the United Kingdom some time early in the century; then an adventurous year on a narrow boat in full harness; a sea journey of 6,000 miles to another continent; then off to a tiny kingdom ruled over by the world's longest reigning monarch; next back to England; why, it should be writing a book as well. Title? Life Begins at Eighty Five.

Ch 9: Memorabilia


Last updated April 2006