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- D.W. Horsfall[Published 1981]

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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.


A gradually growing passion whilst on Adelina was collecting things to do with canals. Talk to any enthusiast on a subject and you will usually uncover a collector. If the subject is portable property, then assembling suitable items as a result of Squirrel Nutkin tendencies is not at all difficult: match box covers, stamps and lace bobbins adorn many an album or bibelot. Larger objects pose problems; but collectors of vintage cars, steam rollers, and even railway engines exist.

Where canals are the mania, the structures tend to be massive, important, and immovable; trying to take home a few souveniers of a canal trip might put the collector in jail or hospital. He could even end up in the English Channel, as removal of a key bit of aqueduct might inundate the countryside and sweep the malefactor out to sea. Collecting boats is somewhat expensive, and for many they are regarded as means of seeing the objects of affection (canals) rather than ends in themselves.

A lot of canal enthusiasts after they have obtained a boat, or even if they have no interest in possessing one, tend to confine their collecting mania to books on the subject, or such small canal trophies as they can find. The range of waterway orientated knick-knacks is well known: windlasses small and large; teatrays emblazoned with roses; egg cups staggering beneath the burden of weighty castles; and dish cloths bearing waterways maps that spell disaster for crockery in the hands of the absent mindedly reminiscent. Half the problem with the last named is the wild inaccuracy of the cartography: one can drop a teacup trying to check whether some particularly unlikely waterway exists.

Books are also popular, and can be found to cover every aspect of canals, from beginner's guide books to erudite historical descriptions. In between are novels, toddlers' tales, almost everything in fact save porn, which has yet to invade the cut: Naked on her Narrow Boat or Lust in Wigan Locks just don't seem to create a properly sweaty atmosphere.

There are also teapots, and Measham teapots, though scarce and expensive, are at the top of many a collector's list. Miniature replicas are now available but lack the atmosphere, nay, grandeur of the real articles, with their roughly fashioned birds and flowers, homely motto crudely printed on the side, huge size and, crowning glory, lid handle made as a tiny version of the teapot itself. Getting a specimen long eluded me and I looked with awe at such well known Association members as Colonel and Mrs. Ritchie, who were reputed to have at least thirty of the things.

Once, after visiting a coal mine, I came close to getting one. Talking as ever about my passion to anyone interested in listening, one of the men in the pit canteen said that someone he knew — by that time retired — had one, and my informant was sure the teapot would be for sale. He was not sure where the owner (called, say, Old Fred) lived, and could give me only the sketchiest instructions for finding the house.

Undaunted, at the close of day, I set out on foot to find the end of this particular rainbow. Getting to the part of the village where the quarry was reputed to be located, sounds of music filled the air and the grimy streets: no sign of the source but the notes were all strangely tinny and distorted. Enquiries about Old Fred's whereabouts were unfruitful, as no-one knew of him under the name I had been given. My only point of identification, that he had a large teapot on his sideboard, was not really specific enough in that tea-guzzling part of the Midlands.

I saw innumerable teapots: shaped like dogs and cats, like logs, and houses as well, in fact like anything but teapots; and none of them were Measham. There were even invitations to share the contents of a few of them, but still Old Fred remained elusive. News of the strange seeker and even stranger quest went on ahead, and at one or two doors I was met by the householder bearing some strange manifestation of ceramic art; a sad shake of the head and on to the next door. Eventually a person did remember a house containing something vast and unusual in the teapot line, and gave precise instructions for finding the dwelling.

As I drew near, the ever present music became louder and louder, and eventually turned out to be issuing from the house towards which I was heading. Old Fred was at home and appeared to be a totally deaf music lover. His ancient radio emitted a hideous din, being turned up to a louder volume than the makers ever expected to be summoned from their set. That and Fred's deafness made conversation nightmarish.

But there IT was: huge, glowing brown Rockingham glaze, and covered with seemingly freshly applied birds and flowers. The plaque bore Fred's name with a message of thanks and a date of about 1910. My almost erotic caressing of the voluptuous beauty caused great satisfaction on Old Fred's part, making me think my shouted request to buy his property had penetrated the din and deafness, and received his assent.

Just then Mrs. Fred returned, a sprightly body, pert, alert, and with excellent hearing; I told her of my mission and then learned the real situation. It appeared that Fred (not old in the days it happened) once leaped into a local canal and saved the life of someone who had fallen from a boat. The boatpeople, almost by tradition, could rarely swim and owed their hold on life to nimblefootedness. The grateful boatman presented Fred with the teapot, suitably inscribed, and it had become the household's most treasured possession, kept in perfect order and never used.

My admiration had simply echoed his own; and Old Fred's evident gratification came from a pleasure shared. The pot was definitely not for sale. I retraced my steps after a cup of tea — but not poured from the Pot — with the monstrous sound of the old radio still bellowing in the background. Old Fred must have gone by now, but I hope whoever bought his teapot loves it as much as he did, and occasionally turns up the radio to deafening point to recapture the old days and let Fred's trophy feel really at home.

The pursuit continued; the quarry remained elusive. On another occasion I was returning late one evening from a technical meeting with a party of NCB friends. All but one of the group were anxious to get home; that one delayed everybody by asking to be allowed to follow up a clue in a local pottery. Over tea and biscuits at the meeting, the subject of teapots had somehow cropped up. We were in the Measham area and someone mentioned that one of the local firms still had a few teapots in stock. I managed to catch my cup, but could hardly wait for the meeting to end before cajoling the friends providing the transport into making a slight 10 mile detour via the firm concerned.

Though our arrival was long after hours, one of the night shift hands let me in. He knew all about Measham teapots and led the way to the one remaining item in stock. The teapot really existed; and was the biggest I'd ever seen. Apart from the modern tiny replicas, the distinguishing feature of the Measham teapot is its vast capacity: the smallest is about half a gallon. The colossal version on display could have eaten several standard versions for breakfast and still had capacity left for lunch.

To those who think this description is a ceramic version of the anglers classic "one that got away" epic, it can be stated, with the conviction of an utterance on oath, that the miniature forming the handle of the lid was a genuine small teapot, holding two or three cups of tea. The rest of the beauty was in proportion. Being old stock that had never been completed, there were no birds and flowers, and no glaze: but what a shape! There was no sale, either, as the teapot was regarded as a factory mascot and would not be parted with for any price I could muster.

Failure to complete the monstrous vessel was probably due to the realisation that when filled with tea, a crane would be needed to lift pot and contents, and as few boat cabins had such a facility, buyers would be scarce. The potless return to irate friends was not easy: they were cross enough from being kept waiting for an hour whilst a junior member of the party went on a wild teapot chase; but for him to return without even a tame one, and then babble o' a Behemoth of a tea dispenser was insupportable.

Leeds, my home town and at one period in time, in certain areas, almost one vast junk shop, had not featured in the hunt at all. On a visit back there to visit my mother, I telephoned a shop almost opposite the University I had left not long before, and was told "Oh yes, we have two, had them in stock for some time, would you like to come and have a look?" I would; I did; I bought; and the cuddlesome object thus snatched from a shelf at the back of the shop now sits on the bookcase. Complete with motto ("God Bless Our Home"), and matching milk jug dated 1889, it has been used occasionally, for example to serve tea ceremonially on the occasion of our first daughter's birthday. However, the teapot generally just sits, a constant reminder of patience rewarded.

Plenty of other waterways souvenirs are obtainable, but those now sold are generally copies of the objects actually used by the boatmen. Adelina's journey to London coincided with the decline in trade of British Transport Waterway's fleets. As old warehouses were cleared out, the genuine articles were offered for sale, often at ridiculous prices. En route a paraffin masthead lamp, in perfect order, was obtained for 5/-.

In pre-electric days such lamps were used to light the boatmen through the several long tunnels encountered in their journeys. Mine is still used occasionally to illuminate a barbecue, and the lamp's cheerful glow makes the most unappetising food look good. As a bonus the evocative odour given off when the metal is hot gives the impression that Adelina's lumbering bulk is just round the corner, even though she is 6,000 miles away.

Probably, had there been time to look in the same canalside store, there would have been plenty of the bobbins used to stop towropes chafing the horses' flanks, a few feeding buckets, and perhaps even some horsebrasses. At the time, everyone's over-riding desire was to get to London, and as we were moving at the boatman's unhurried but unceasing pace, stops for wayside rambles were not encouraged.

One of the many temporary moorings en route, before joining the working boats, was at Polesworth, an attractive midlands canalside village, then the site of Lee and Atkins working boatyard. I asked the old boatbuilder if we could moor Adelina there for a few days, to be asked anxiously, as he cast his eye over her "She won't sink, will she?". When the same ancient being was asked how old he thought she might be; he just said, "older than me" and hobbled off, oozing satisfaction at getting the better of that bit of repartee.

The House Style in castles of the Polesworth Yard was interesting and perhaps unique to that yard. They were painted in the so called Chinese style, and there is a good example shown in Hugh McKnight's book Canal and River Craft in Pictures. [David and Charles, 1969]. Aickman suggests that to the boatman, all foreigners were alike, and hence lumped together under the generic term Chinamen. The Lee and Atkins painter was a refugee from Nazi Germany, a foreigner and so, by definition, a Chinaman. Hence, perfectly logically, his castles were known as Chinese castles.

When Christopher and I returned to the boatyard to retrieve Adelina for onward despatch, I asked the boatbuilder if they had any spare bits of canalany. He fished down behind a bench in the shed and brought out a handsome panel of a castle, painted in the House Style. It was an old practice piece by their painter, kept as a model for future work. No boats being repaired meant no need of a model, so half a crown changed hands and the panel joined the rest of Adelina's growing collection. The castle was genuine Chateau Polesworth, with Near-Eastern minarets and fleur-de-lys windows. We went past the site in the early 1970's, on a hire-cruiser holiday. All traces of boatbuilding had completely vanished: a lawn flourished where the slipway sat, and all the old buildings had been demolished. However, one at least of their painted edifices survives.

Another illustration in Hugh's same book demands a confession. He shows the wooden chimney of a Leeds and Liverpool short boat painted with clusters of roses "inappropriately borrowed from the narrow boats", as the caption admonishingly informs. I fear the solecism was my doing, and an even more discursive digression is necessary to account for it.

Whilst still a student at Leeds, I formed a waterways society. In addition to turning an old Leeds Co-Operative Society dumb barge into a club house, Elvira [1], and arranging improper and riotous expeditions on other vessels, we looked around for ways in which to make useful nuisances of ourselves. Naturally, members constantly lurked around the Leeds and Liverpool Canal's terminal basin, near the City Station. The area was well known to me from early youth as my father at one time operated a garage in the dark vaults beneath the station. Those imposing brick-arched edifices were built when the area was drained, in order to create foundations for the railway complex.

On one side of the river, where the garage was located, the arches were accessible from a main road; on the far side, inaccessible save by a ricketty wooden footbridge, were the Dark Arches. These were a very labyrinth of windowless chambers extending beneath the station platforms. I only once went into them, to find the floor covered in lava-like resin, the relic of a great fire among railway goods in the nineteenth century. The solidified mass is probably today just as it was then.

A client of my father's often wanted to rent one of these gloomy chambers from him, but the request was refused. The client, Mr. John George Haigh, later attained great fame at the old Bailey as the Acid Bath Murderer, so perhaps from my point of view it's as well Father turned down the fellow's request.

Innocent students were taught the facts of life by one of the personality-packed characters living near the canal. He next employed his vocabulary, rich in words; used to describe the human passions, to retail the subsequent practical lessons on board Elvira, clearly visible from his dwelling. The pedagogue's own love-life, apparently, was less successful, the live-in lady love frequently rejecting his equally frequent advances. Whereas his vocabulary was rich in words relating to human passions, it was thesaurus-like when he complained of the lack of them. One day I went on a social call, to be told, with immense satisfacton:

"A'm alreight lad, A've got missen a woman"
"Congratulations: how does it work out?"
"A leave t'ouse at six o'clock, A'm at 'er place by ten past, an' she's waitin' for me. Then A just catch t' half past six tram.
"Oh! very nice for you — but as this is a sort of regular thing, does she make a charge for her services?"
"Ay, A gi' 'er 'arf a crown: she on'y 'as t'owd-age pension"

How many of us can look forward to such a rewarding and useful autumn period as was enjoyed by his friend?

When the Society was formed, trade was still fairly brisk at the Leeds end of the canal, with a number of boats trading as far as Bingley. A coal boat even occasionally went through the rarely used Arches lock, that forgotten lock actually in the Dark Arches, omitted from most canal maps, and even overlooked by the meticulous de Salis in Bradshaw.

The lock gave access to the upper Aire and was primarily built for a small power station, Aire Street; but by the late nineteen fifties trade had dwindled to an occasional load being delivered to Watson and Cairns soap factory ("there's one for Soapy Joe's" as the River Lock keeper exclaimed irreverently when he saw one of the boats getting ready to lock through).

Aire Street lock, in addition to its anonymity, had the most oddly shaped balance beams on the system, the tight confines of the bridge over the lock (the canal actually passes beneath the station at that point) necessitating the balance beams to be built in V shape. By contrast to these short haul boats, there was an occasional white boat, as the Tate and Lyle sugar craft trading right through from Liverpool were known.

A number of boats, usually in pairs but sometimes with one motor pulling two dumb boats, operated to Kirkstall Power Station on the outskirts of Leeds. They brought coal along the Aire and Calder Navigation from the West Riding pits, a number of which had excellent waterside loading facilities. The electricity boats were smartly, if severely, painted, in a livery of black and white.

Lack of funds prevented the other major operator, who had five boats, from keeping them in any other than a usable condition. Not even that sometimes: one of the boats, the Two Brothers, was always known to that same lock-keeper as the Two Buggers, from its habit of trying to settle down on the canal bottom after a particularly trying day at the mines. Only one of that fleet was virtually trouble free, Arthur, a steel boat. Arthur forsook his home waters and became quite a foreign traveller [2] in later life, which shows that virtue can be rewarded even in short boat circles.

The Waterways Society decided to adopt a boat, paint her, and generally caparison her in the full glory of a properly decorated craft. The members were inspired by a vision of the Leeds end of the canal being full of brightly painted boats, fluttering from lock to lock. Being full of enthusiasm and empty of knowledge, the Committee deputed a female member to find a book on canal art. She came up with The Unsophisticated Arts by Barbara Jones (later to be a visitor to Adelina), which described in meticulous detail the painting traditions of the narrow boat.

Society members were totally unaware of the wholly separate and attractive short boat tradition; nothing had been published on the subject at that time. The Committee was stunned by the gorgeous panel of roses in Miss Jones' book, and requested a couple of girls from the Leeds College of Art to reproduce the design on the wooden chimney of Florence. Prior to that time she had plied her regular trade from mine to factory anonymously, but after being adopted by the Society flew her false but cheerful colours to the end of her carrying days.

We tried to persuade the last by-trader (Number One on the narrow canals) on that part of the canal, that his boat Elizabeth would look a lot nicer if he would only let us have a go at her. Harold Slingsby studied the glistening Florence for a few minutes, wiped the tears from his moistening eyes and observed that he didn't think trading was going to last long after his demise, his boat would do quite nicely painted yellow until then, and if his successor, assuming there was one, wanted to make a mess of the boat, the decision would be up to him. As far as Florence was concerned, the interpretation may have been wrong, but the motivation was right. I am unrepentant.

Although Adelina's interior never resembled the traditional narrow boat cabin, with its plethora of roses and castles in every spot a paint brush could reach, she did eventually get a few paintings on door panels and the like. They were initially executed by Audrey Homan, an NCB friend of mine who, in her adventurous youth had been Wardrobe Mistress for the Ram Gopal Ballet Company and was still the very active Secretary of the Ramon Novarro Film Club.

Apparently gifted in every branch of the plastic arts, her own flat abounded in murals and sculptures. The tiny kitchen nominally possessed only an unprepossessing view of a back yard; Audrey transformed the whole thing into a treetop eyrie in an Amazonian Jungle with the aid of her skilfully applied brush. She wanted to do the same to Adelina, but reluctantly agreed that the Amazon and the Basingstoke Canal were slightly different and required dissimilar techniques to capture their individual atmospheres.

The result was Polesworth Chinese castles all over the doors, and roses of a kind indigenous to Adelina blossoming round the sink and even beautifying the effluent tank beneath. Audrey had been given various bits of the Gopal fittings after the tours, some of which were passed on to us. Visitors, surprised by the richness of carving on one of the seats, could almost be pursuaded they were sitting on one of the lesser known aspects of English canal folk art; until they saw the dragons.

Eventually, in the proper, traditional manner, I began to paint my own fripperies. Traditional canal painting is said to be one of the last surviving English folk arts, i.e. an art form practised by the persons who actually live among and enjoy the art, to the extent that creating examples forms a part of their normal living pattern. Judging by the enthusiasm with which renovated and converted narrow boats are now painted, one gets the impression that rose and castle art is one of the liveliest of the minor crafts. Probably folk music is more popular, but thatching, straw dolly manufacture, and coracle building must be way behind in these particular stakes.

The masthead lamp was the first object to suffer from these unfortunately awakened artistic aspirations. The plain metal surfaces were adorned with small coloured cabbages, claimed by the artist to be roses of a form unique to Worcester boats. Next, the water can was painted. The can was an austere, inconveniently shaped object, quite unlike the plump handy container found on narrow canals; not that much water carrying was carried out. The can was purchased on the Aire and Calder navigation, and may have been designed to discourage tea drinking on that once-busy waterway.

The can's fate was to be painted with straggling daisies, afflicted with an inbuilt wilt. Judging from the censure earned by poor Florence's chimney, the designs on the can would have been adequate grounds for expelling the perpetrator from the Inland Waterways Association. However, techniques gradually improved and externally Adelina slowly assumed, at least on prow and stern, the glowing colours associated with properly ordered boats.

The painting was not completely in the authentic vein, the lettering as much inspired by the Stephenson Blake type face catalogue as by the Samuel Barlow Coal Carrying Company or any other pride of the canal age still roaming about the system. Fry's Ornamented, blending neatly with a few flowers, made a striking face for writing Adelina, but her exterior castles all had a solid Norman look to them rather than Transylvanian or oriental fantasy as their inspiration.

The day a party of schoolchildren assembled on the opposite bank and started to paint her was a satisfying one; especially as the teacher discoursed importantly and audibly on the subject, telling her pupils that they were looking at one of the surviving relics of true English folk art. Had the traditional boatman's garb of moleskin jacket and trousers, neckchief and wide brimmed hat been available, Adelina's owner would have been tempted to don the lot. He could have put on an appearance as the last surviving relic of the English folk art painter roaming wild in the remote woods of the stockbroker belt. However there was a danger of such a gesture leading to capture, literally getting stuffed, and being put on display in the local museum.

Adelina seemed to rise slightly in the water as she heard the teacher's praise: she knew her virtues but enjoyed hearing them being appreciated by others. I don't know if the teacher went on to talk about navigation on the canal; with Woodham Lock being in its then condition, Adelina could only have moved forward had she been mounted on caterpillar tracks. But the praise was genuinely gratifying, and justified the hours of hanging over the side of the boat to get the letters straight. Her words soothed the still-felt irritation on recalling how the cat tried to jump on the boat, nearly missed, and scrabbled frantically with smearing paws on the lettering: just as I'd got the shading right. I was even able to laugh about the feeling of helplessness, one scorching hot day, as the tar beneath the letters could be seen gradually taking over the scene: resulting in yet another start, on a fresh layer of undercoat.

Reputedly the Rolls Royce motor car body receives many coats of paint, which contribute to the rich, deep finish of the car: Adelina must have had just as many coats of paint, but somehow that same finish was never achieved. When we left her, the front castle and the signboard, being simply panels, were taken off and joined the rest of our transferred belongings. They now adorn the bookshelves, and though the imagination must work overtime to attach them mentally to a 72 foot tarry hull, they still have a faint, nostalgic odour of creosote — for me a more evocative scent than the most subtle example of the perfumier's art.

Perhaps the most satisfying form of canalany collecting, ultimately, is book collecting. Books are reasonably portable, fit in a small space, require little maintenance, and can even be read. I suspect that a good many canal book collectors rarely read their treasures, rather as some antique record enthusiasts are more intrigued by the colourful labels than by the content of the grooves.

Few go to the lengths of one collector I knew, who decided the grooves were irrelevant and space consuming, so he cut out the centre of the record, which was displayed, and threw away the rest. The magical but mute names of Caruso — in assorted colours — Albani and Santley adorned the walls: their vocal efforts were in the dustbin. Homicide would undoubtedly have occurred had a genuine music lover been over-long exposed to that collection. One suspects a benign judge would have let the murderer off with a caution, under such extenuating circumstances.

My own book collection started with a few books cadged from my father, including some of the quite rare canal brochures issued by the carrying companies and waterways companies themselves. The next Great Step Forward was taken when Adelina's library obtained its first Bradshaw. Bradshaw's Guide to the canals, by de Salis, is probably the book most craved by the collector, and it was a proud day when the familiar dark green cover appeared on the well-aired shelves; experience with another Bradshaw had shown the folly of keeping one's treasures under the bed.

A friendly but ardent rivalry developed with Hugh McKnight, whose books must by now form one of the best private collections in the country. Each rarity was reported immediately by the happy purchaser, with stern refusals to divulge the name of the source. It would ultimately be displayed, admired and even (epitome of trust) loaned. However, it says much for the true state of rivalry that we gave each other "swops" and when Hugh's quite precious copy of Water Gipsies (not the A.P. Herbert book of similar title but a nineteenth century novel by L.T. Meade dealing with the misfortunes of boat children) needed repair, the dissection and re-assembly were carried out at the Canal Press. The rarity nearly didn't leave the book hospital, but can claim to have had the operation performed in wholly appropriate surroundings.

All collectors long for the Great Find, whether it be a gold panner dreaming of nuggets the size of boulders, or a fisherman sighing for Moby Dick. My book collecting equivalent occurred when the news leaked out that Thorpes, the browser's paradise and magnificent antiquarian-cum-second-hand bookshop in Guildford, had located and bought a vast collection of canal books. My visits to that establishment in search of canal books were so frequent that just looking round the door was enough to get, on lean days, a shake of the assistant's head and a response of "Sorry, nothing today".

Whilst, therefore, the news of the find had been leaked to Ann, the unequivocal message was also given that Thorpes would at least be grateful for the chance to catalogue the collection before the vulture descended. I noted the find but, conscienceless, ignored the injunction, and the following morning was on the doorstep half an hour before trading commenced, armed with the entire contents of our savings account. Who could say what carrier pigeon service might be operated by rival collectors, in particular by the omniscient occupant of the Clock House in Upper Halliford? Without doubt, had others been able to contend for what was revealed when the shutters were taken down, the sedate streets of Guildford would have run with blood.

Mr. Thorpe, that cheerful and hard working man, kindly agreed to put the whole collection on sale there and then. Even now, eighteen years later, the thrill of that buying orgy can be recaptured. There for the taking (and they were taken) were Priestley (large and small paper editions), Phillips, more Bradshaws, Hassel's Tour of the Grand Junction Canal with twenty four glowing plates; Smith's Our Canal Population, and other golden names. Impoverished but enriched; burdened but treading on air; exhausted but exhilarated, I staggered out of the shop. What a shopping spree!

I went into the bookshop again in 1977. Age had wrought changes, so hardly surprisingly Mr. Thorpe failed to recognise me, but did help to find some canal books (all modern ones). As we chatted, he reminisced about the most remarkable collection he had even seen, one that had gone through his hands some fifteen years before, disappearing, as he observed, with extraordinary rapidity. I concurred, made myself known, and we both went over the transaction as though the adventure had occurred the day before.

Once we had left the United Kingdom, collecting books diminished in scale, though something of the same thrill was recaptured a few months ago. A friend of mine, conditioned into looking for canal books, came back from a trip to Cape Town and casually mentioned that he had found an old encyclopedia containing a long section on waterways. He was astonished to be treated as though he had announced he was presenting the Kohinoor as a birthday gift: the "old encyclopedia" was the C volume of the great Rees' Cyclopaedia of 1819. Half the large volume is devoted to inland navigation and provides one of the best contemporary accounts of canals in their heyday. A rummage sale at a fete provided a first edition of Three Men in a Boat, which cost 20 cents (the equivalent of about 10p): there are still things old, as well as new, out of Africa.

The printing activities on Adelina have been described. It was quite a proud day when the tiny books printed on board could join the others in the catalogue. Certainly small, undoubtedly insignificant, adding nothing to knowledge of canals or printing, they had certain features distinguishing them from the rarest of the other books. They were conceived, gestated, and finally born on the element that inspired them. However that element was not wholly trustworthy as far as the boat was concerned: she had been taken in by it, literally, too often.

Every time we went away there was a ritual with The Books. Carefully arranged in order of value (both sentimental and intrinsic merit played roles in the evaluation), they were piled on top of the bookcase: most valuable at the top and descending in order of merit, until the readily replaceable Cruising Books were at the bottom. The rarest of all were placed in a buoyant container and carefully laid on the bed. By this stage, Adelina seemed completely to have renounced her bad habits, but precautions were prudent; just in case the siren call of the Basingstoke mermaids proved irresistable.

Ch 10: Deep Waters


1. Seen in Pennine Waterway by Gordon Biddle, DalesmanBooks, 1977.

2. France, the quiet way, John Liley, Stanford Marine Ltd, London, 1973.


Last updated April 2006