Boxing Day by the Thames

While staying with our daughter, son-in-law, and brand new grandchild in Teddington over Christmas, I decided I need some exercise on Boxing Day and went for a walk to Kingston and back via the river. I took the Thames path from Teddington Lock to Kingston bridge.

Sculler on the Thames near the Tamesis Club, Teddington

The sun was shining and several families had the same idea. I managed to take a close look at the Albany boathouse which was the former home of Kingston Rowing Club. In 1963 this was where I rowed at Tiffin School. I spent many hours rowing up and down the reach from Hampton Court to Teddington.

Albany Boathouse, Kingston-upon-Thames

Another NB Albert was moored close by. We passed them twice on our Thames journey in 2008 when the owner was carrying out maintenance. We exchanged cheery waves. The history of the boat is now written on the side! Very smart paintwork.

Another NB Albert

Sailing on the Thames at Kingston
(Yes, including the seagull was deliberate!)

Best wishes for the New Year.

Christmas Greetings from Yardley Gobion

At the moment its still cold in Northamptonshire with ice on top of the snow after last night's rain. The forecast is for slightly warmer conditions today.

Yesterday morning, when it was just very cold, I visited Kingfisher Marina. There was more snow than my last visit and there was a very heavy hoar frost. If it wasn't for the fine mist that had enveloped the cut it would have been very picturesque. However, I managed to take some wintery images with my Nokia N95.

All the boats in Kingfisher Marina are now very solid in the ice.

Albert in the snow

Snow on Rangitoto

Rangitoto is a volcanic island near Aukland, New Zealand. Of course it does not snow there.

Happy Christmas

National Geographic Magazine 1940

I recently bought two copies of old National Geographic magazines through ebay. They describe journeys on the British Canals in the late 1930s and mid 1970s. I found that they were being sold by the IWA and were bundled with several copies of the IWA National Rally Brochures dating from 1964 - 1974. I will report on the brochures and the 1974 magazine later, but I thought I would report on the earlier copy of the National Geographic which was published in August 1940.

The 1940 article describes a journey by canoe along the Grand Union to Birmingham and then onto Chester and Ellesmere Port via the Shropshire Union. It is fascinating on several levels. Firstly, there is the context of wartime Britain with the USA The canals at that time were undergoing a period of great change. The Grand Union Canal was then a recent development (its formation by merger was in 1929) and the line to Birmingham was being modernised with locks widened. As a result the pictures in the magazine are historically significant. Many are by the author. Amos Burg, who travelled with a companion using a Canadian canoe that he imported from his home in Oregon. Using a light canoe made for some interesting transits through tunnels; he and his companion were often towed by working boats. They also had to take measures to avoid getting too close to working boats and barges near locks.

Also, although I am not an expert, I think the colour plates in the article, and in the edition itself are interesting in their own right. Most are made using Kodachrome, which I suppose is not too surprising, but one is labelled as using the Dufay process. However, the colour plates taken by Amos Burg are labelled as being "Finlay(s)" because they used the RGB process invented by Mr Clare Finlay. It appears that the process was introduced around 1931.

An empty pair going north through Batchworth Lock on the Grand Union in the 1930s

Unostentatious being decorated at Rickmansworth

Kingfisher Marina Extension (Further Progress)

We visited Albert today to see how she was bearing up to the cold weather (temperatures have been around -6 deg C overnight recently) and how the marina extension was progressing. The winter sun on the snow and ice made the whole place look very pretty despite all the mud!

View of the frozen cut at Yardley Gobion Wharf

The new extension is now in water and the pontoons are in place. The contractors appear to have made good progress. Because of the cold weather, unlike other recent visits to Albert, we didn't get muddy.

Marina extension in water (and ice!)

Snow on boat roofs

The ice was quite thick. Although there were signs that a boat had passed through Yardley Gobion yesterday, it was clear that nothing had passed today. When got onboard Albert she didn't move - not even cracking the ice. It is unnerving to get aboard a boat that is solid. You get used to the rocking movement.

Thick ice in Kingfisher Marina

Yardley Gobion Wharf certainly looks very festive in the snow.

Wolverton Secret Garden

Last week, with our monthly informal walking group, we had a circular walk around Milton Keynes. We left Stony Stratford, following part of the Ouse Valley Way alongside the River Ouse, which was in spate. We made our way under the Iron Trunk at Cosgrove, and finally found ourselves at the New Inn at New Bradwell for coffee. The New Inn is alongside Bridge 72 on the Grand Union.

River Ouse in spate at Stony Stratford

We returned along the canal, following the off (non-towpath) side and passed the famous Bill Billings/IWA mural at Wolverton. It is a pity that this work of community art has recently been defaced by graffiti. There are plenty of blank areas that a budding Banksie could use. Bill was the artist in residence for Milton Keynes in the 70s & 80s as it grew from a building site into a New City.

For the first time we had a good look at the Wolverton Secret Garden which is on the off-side near Bridge 74. We have seen it on numerous occasion since it was established as we have passed by boat, but as with many boaters we failed to explore it. It is fascinating, and an object lesson in community action. I recommend crossing the canal and exploring it. You could call in on your way to Tescos!

The garden, is built on the site formerly occupied by 4 villas, built by the London & Birmingham Railway Company in the 1840s to house some of the important members of the management of the Railway Works. The houses were occupied until the late 1960s when they were demolished and the area became neglected. It was recently purchased from Network Rail and turned into a wonderful community garden.

The foundations of the villas remain. On their doorsteps some mosaics have been created. Three of the designs are based on objects that might have been found in different rooms of the houses -the other two doorsteps were made in the style of encaustic tiled doorsteps of Wolverton's terraced houses, with a train for the Stationmaster's House and a quill, account book and money for the Accountant's house.

Mosaics at the Secret Garden

There are excellent interpretation boards showing the history of the area and one of the last Bill Billings sculptures - a couple on a couch. It was carried out by art pupils from the Radcliffe school under the direction of Phil Smith and Bill Billings and unveiled in October 2007 shortly before Bill's death on Boxing Day 2007.

Scuplture by Bill Billings, Phil Smith and pupils of the Radcliffe School
The flowers are in memory of Bill Billings.

On the way back to Stony Stratford we stopped off for lunch at The Galleon at bridge 68 which had just reopened after a refurbisment. We can recommend it as a stopping-off place if you are boating between Cosgrove and Wolverton. The food was good, the beer choice good, and the surroundings smart.

The refurbished Galleon at Old Wolverton

I thought that I would close this blog with a tribute to Bill by repeating one of his jokes. It is firmly routed in the 1980s before the use of satellite navigation, the growth of Milton Keynes, and the fall of the Soviet Union.

When the KGB wish to pass out their spies after they complete their training, they send them to London, give them a white van and details of an address in Milton Keynes. If they manage to arrive at the address within 24 hours then they are qualified.

Charles Hadfield - Brief Guide to Canals & Waterways

I recently purchased a copy of this guide. It sold for 2/- in 1964 as part of a series of booklets published by by the Raleigh Press that dealt with tourist subjects. I bought it because it was written by Charles Hadfield.

The guide has some interesting monochrome pictures and some fascinating adverts that are similar to those found in the BW guides I recently reviewed. The booklet has a highly potted history of canals (of course given its author) and more "modern" information including a list of canal societies that were operating at the time.

One section did catch my eye was an excerpt from the first accounts of the British Water Board. Although we think of canal carrying as at a low ebb at that point, the BWB did receive reasonable income from the operation of its fleet and commercial tolls. The level of income from pleasure use was very small (just £81,585) but as today they received a significant proportion of their income from their property holdings; a topical subject at the moment.

I produced the following document illustrating the differences in income over the last 45 years. You will see that income has increased 25-fold.

British Waterways Income -

A copy of the Hadfield booklet is currently available on ebay for £3.50.

Kingfisher Marina Extension (Progress)

We visited Albert this morning to check that she was OK (she was). The marina extension, that I reported on earlier, has progressed well with the new area not just flattened but now excavated. Most of the sheet piling is now in place and the field by the entrance now has a large spoil heap. With all the wet weather, as you can imagine, the site is quite muddy.

The extension is being carried out by GJP Marinas who have been quite busy locally and further afield.

Marina extension

Narrow Dog - new boat

Not long after I heard that the Darlington's were looking for a boat to replace Phyllis May, Granny Buttons reported yesterday that they have found one!

Narrow Dog boat to be replaced

Earlier in the week we heard that sad news the famous boat from the Narrow Dog books, Phyllis May had caught fire and sank on its moorings at Stone. Terry & Monica Darlington (and dog Jim) were not onboard when the blaze started on another boat. We passed Phyllis May twice in the spring on our cruise to the North-West.

Phyllis May at Stone at the end of March 2009

It now appears that she will not be renovated and the Darlington's are looking for another boat. What a pity such a famous boat should have such a sad ending. As Granny Buttons pointed out, it was at the same location that Tom Rolt's Cressy was broken up and burnt.

British Waterways Cruising Booklets 1950s and 60s

Some time ago, we visited a National Trust property, just south of Birmingham. As with many such NT properties it had a second-hand book shop. Amidst a large collection of non-descript paperbacks there was a small collection of travel books. I was expecting to see some canal-related books but I was disappointed. However, hiding in the corner of the shelf was a set of slim canal booklets. It was a set of cruising guides published in the late 1950s and early 1960s by British Waterways.

Number 1 in the series from the late 1950s

At the time I had not come across these booklets before. Each guide, which was in good condition cost me around 90p, but I rapidly realised that I hadn’t got a complete set of fourteen. When I returned home I set about obtaining a full set and found that ebay had several for sale. As a result, over the following weeks I got myself a “mixed vintage” set of fourteen. The earlier booklets mostly retailed when new for 3s 6d but the later ones, dated 1967, cost as much as 5s.

Number 6 from 1965 with a photo on the cover

The booklets were originally published to support BW’s effort to increase hire boating on the system. The first booklets give lots of details of BW's own hire-craft fleet. My earliest example has details of the Water Class Hire Cruisers. You will be pleased to hear that Water Arabis, a shortened former station working boat and available from Chester, was 46ft long and had six berths with Dunlopillo mattresses and electric lighting. The booklet also invited boat owners to bring their boats onto the canals. A boat over 50ft boat could be moored in the late 1950s at a BW lay-by or basin at the cost of £6 13s 4d per six month period! And a yearly licence for the whole of the BW system for the same boat cost £15. I don’t actually know the exact date of the publication of this volume but the charges are quoted as being valid for September 1957.

The booklets are printed onto good quality paper and have some excellent monochrome pictures illustrating the area around and on the waterways described. The Llangollen booklet, for example, has a total of 12 pictures. All booklets also included a map of the full waterways system, as it existed at that time, printed on rice paper.

Some examples of the photographs in the booklets

The fourteen volumes are:
1 Llangollen Canal
2 Trent Waterway
3 Lee & Stort Navigations
4 Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal
5 Shropshire Union Canal
6 Oxford Canal
7 Fossdyke and Witham Navigations
8 Grand Union Canal Part 1 (Brentford to Braunston)
9 Grand Union Canal Part 2 (Braunston to Birmingham)
10 Grand Union Canal Part 3 (Norton to Trent Lock)
11 Macclesfield Canal
12 Trent & Mersey Canal Part 1 (Trent Lock to Great Haywood)
13 Trent & Mersey Canal Part 2 (Great Haywood to Preston Brook)
14 Severn Waterway

The booklets are a wonderful record of early pleasure cruising. The pictures feature wooden cruisers of limited length with a few working boats in operation. The adverts are also very evocative. There are hire cruisers available from Maid Line and Swan Line. The Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne gets a full page advert in the Grand Union volumes, with admission costing 1s. There are also some excellent adverts for Stuart Turner marine engines with interesting illustrations. My 1965 edition covering the Southern Grand Union also has an advert for the Aylesbury Boat Company operating from the basin in the town with a brokerage. In the same volume there are adverts for the Bletchley Boat Co., Willow Wren Hire Cruisers Ltd, and Blue Line at Braunston. The Millhouse Inn at Braunston, which is very well known to us, is advertised as the Rose & Castle Inn.

Adverts from 1960

But the best feature is the maps! When we took up serious boating in 1996 we bought Nicholson guides. We enjoyed the layout of the maps where canals were straightened to make them go up and down the page; I think they are easier to use than the more geographic modern coloured versions. The older Nicholson maps were also laid out in ways that enable users to make their own notes in the “empty areas” alongside mooring places and locks. Some of our early Nicholsons are full of our useful notes.

But these BW booklets have even better maps. Presumably taking their lead from the highly figurative London Underground map, the guides make all canals perfectly straight and adjust other features, including the distance scale, to suit. The useful information running in the column alongside the map is highly informative, both in terms of history and facilities. If the information was up-to-date I think I would use them today because there are particularly simple to use.

Some volumes in my set have been well-used although their condition is still good. One of my set was reduced to 60p because somebody had added cruising notes. I really like that volume because it records where the boater moored-up, turned, had coffee and lunch, took on water and even got very wet in the rain; nothing changes. Best of all, they even recorded that a man with warts on his neck helped them through a lock!

A well annotated map! (including timings)

Look out for these booklets, they are regularly for sale on ebay for very little money, but don’t expect to get a full set with one publication date.

An early version of the Warwickshire Ring? - circa 1959

As a postscript, the canals are shown in brown in early editions but become blue in later editions! Did the marketing department realise that it helps if water is shown in blue.

Brown canal map from an early edition

Blue canal map from a later edition

Kingfisher Marina Extension

Over the past couple of weeks there has been quite a bit of action in our marina with the contractors moving. The plan is to provide 16 more berths by extending the moorings to the northern boundary. So far they have removed the large bund, that was formed when the marina was built, and removed the sheet piling.

The same company that recently constructed Thrupp Marina is carrying out the work. Lots of earth moving still to come. The clerk of works reckons they may finshed around the end of the year.

The Strange Case of the Up-turned Tiller

Butties at rest usually have their curved wooden tillers reversed to allow easy access to the cabin. That has led to a number of artists misconstruing this as their normal working position. Recently I noticed an example on the cover of a book offered for sale on ebay and as a result I couldn’t resist bidding for it.

It was an early example of a Puffin Picture Book titled Waterways of the World. A bid of 90p secured it!

The up-turned tiller problem

The book turned out to be a little treasure. It is number 32 in the series. A search on the web indicated that it was published during the war in 1944. It is a slim book, only 32 pages, and was written by the doyen of model engineering WJ Bassett-Lowke. The Bassett-Lowke company was based locally, in Northampton, and were pioneer producers of model railways. Their family home in Northampton, 78 Derngate, was designed by the famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh and as result is now a significant local tourist attraction.

At least this is correct

So what of the contents of the book? You should not expect this young person’s book to provide any great insight into the history of the waterways because it covers the world. It also doesn't cover much about English Canals. Its strength is that it is a very interesting period-piece. However, one fact did grab my attention; that English boating families during this period received £7 per week.

Perhaps the most surprising section is that on Europe’s Waterways. It covers in some detail the canals of Germany and describes, perhaps with a touch of envy, how the seaports of Bremen and Hamburg are in direct touch with the industrial Ruhr and Berlin. And this is while the Allies were bombing Germany day and night.

This book is generally available. It appears that Puffin Books are collected and that similar volumes are available for around the same price as the average boatman’s wage in 1944.

English Rivers, by John Rodgers, 1947

I recently purchased a good first edition of this 1947 book through ebay for less than £7. It covers all significant English rivers but the emphasis is definitely on the South, with the River Thames getting pride of place. It is in the Batsford British Heritage Series. You may recall my blog on Tom Rolt's The Thames from Mouth to Source that was published just a little later in 1951, well that's in the same series.

This book is well printed and has over 150 high quality between-the-wars monochrome photographs, mostly landscapes, that contain as usual very few people and, of course hardly any vehicles or boats.

A picture that evokes an age of deference!

The boys in blue take to the water!

Most of the plates I have not seen published elsewhere and there is a delightful colour plate of a John Nash painting that is of the Kennet & Avon Navigation at Bath. There is also a marvellous monochrome photograph of a victory fireworks celebration over the Palace of Westminster.

After the blitz this picture speaks for itself

Kennet & Avon Navigation

The date of the publication, 1947, is particularly important. The book flyleaf in fact dates its publication as winter 1947-48. The previous winter was one of the coldest on record with deep snow lying on the ground for many months. As a result the thaw in the spring produced serious flooding so of course the author could not omit reference to this or the need for flood control. Coming at the time of rebuilding Britain after World War II, there is much in the book referring to government plans for new schemes. There is also a complete chapter on the administration of the Thames. This includes a very interesting passage that states that a certain Mr J.H.O. Bunge had recently published a scheme for a Thames barrage that could “remove the tides from the London reaches”. Shades of the Thames Barrier?

The floods of 1947

Since we recently spent some time near Falmouth, I was interested to see how West Country rivers were treated in the book. Rodgers describes them well and includes several literary quotes, but the River Fal, which has such an important estuary that contains the wonderful harbour of Carrick Roads gets just one short sentence that only describes it as being slow-moving and oak fringed. Since it played a significant part in the preparation for D-Day Rodgers certainly missed an opportunity.

King Harry Ferry - presumably in the 1930s

So does Rodgers mention inland navigation and canals? The good news is that he does; the bad news is that it he does it inaccurately. There is good description of flash locks and an historical account of the development of the pound lock. The Thames and Severn canal gets an accurate mention in the section on the Thames. However, the main section dealing with the development canals is in the chapter towards the end of the book on Rivers of the North. It comes close to a description of transport along the River Mersey and introduces the historical background through the Duke of Bridgewater and James Brindley's ideas for the Grand Trunk. This is fairly conventional but after this things go decidedly pear shaped! He appears to ignore all the canals of the Midlands and the Grand Union.

A fine view from a Bridgewater tug (?)

Rodgers refers to the Trent and Mersey Canal as being usually called the Grand Trunk, and there is a very charming photograph of the canal at Burslem. But this is titled “The Grand Junction Canal at Burslem, Staffordshire.” I suppose it could be a problem caused by the editors and not Rodgers himself but such a simple error doesn’t fill you with much confidence. I wonder what Tom Rolt thought? He must have read it.

The caption that is wrong

I looked up the bibliography, which is extensive, and found that it includes a reference to Priestley’s Navigable Rivers and Canals. Having read Priestley, which is full of detail, I wonder how much Rodger’s used it. I can’t see much evidence.

So should boating history enthusiasts seek this book out in their local second book shop or the internet? Of course I got mine cheaply. Despite the minor editorial inaccuracies the book’s plates are very interesting and well produced and they alone make the book well worth seeking. Also if you are a history buff and interested in the organisation of rivers as Britain entered its period of nationalised transport just after the war then you could also find it quite informative in places. And yes, it is in Jim Sheed’s book list.

Thank You Granny!

Today I was very pleased to find our blog site mentioned very favourably on Granny Buttons, the UK's top canal boating blog. Andrew Denny was reviewing the development of canal blogs over the years. He mentioned three blogs he reads regularly whose style he enjoys and one of them was Albert!

I suddenly found myself in the company of bloggers who are far more active and who are certainly more highly rated - Albert rarely gets above 40 in the UK Waterways sites rankings. It made my day! As Sarah from NB Warrior said about her blog being mentioned, this is "the endorsement to end all endorsements".

Andrew's comments were:

Another great blogger is Steve Parkin, who writes some excellent pocket-reviews of second-hand canal books on his blog Albert. His post Rude Place Names and Victorian Class Warfare on the Thames, a review of Time on the Thames by Eric de Mare, induced me to seek out and buy a copy of the book myself online.

Many thanks for these very kind comments, they will inspire me to do more book reviews. I have been reading a few interesting books recently so I will post my reviews of them over the quieter (boating-wise) coming winter months.

Reorganising the Blog

I have just spent a while splitting our web links into boating blogs and other links. I had to do it manually (i.e. no cut and paste). It should make navigation a little easier.

Yardley Gobion

We have arrived back home. On our short journey from Great Linford we passed Miss Matty (from Cranford) and waved to the owner who was running her engine. We last saw them in August 2008 on the River Thames and the Paddington Arm.

When we left Cosgrove Lock we found that BW had been busy planting a series of posts on the landing point above the lock. We are not certain what the posts are for. It appears to be some sort of safety measure that is designed to make operating the lock more difficult for boaters and provide more trip hazards! Perhaps, because cars can use this section to visit the lock cottages, they have been placed there to mark the edge of the canal. Surely they can't be for mooring? Who knows?

Posts on the lock landing, Cosgrove Lock

The new Thrupp Marina, that we reported was to open on October 1st, is now over 2/3 full of boats. The new sign outside the entrance, and their web site, record that the development received funding from Defra and the EU through EMDA (East Midlands Development Agency). The advertisment they placed in the November edition of Waterways World indicates that this is part of the Rural Development Programme for England.

Great Linford

We are moored up tonight at one of our favourite places near Great Linford, close to Stantonbury Abbey. We moored here on the way out.

Today we woke to heavy rain showers which continued throughout the morning as we journeyed northwards. We picked up water at Leighton Buzzard and joined the Viking hire boat Hild and Leighton Lock. We got to the Three Locks at Soulbury and met a Wyvern Shipping hire boat whose crew of two were so concerned about the locks there were waiting for help. Hild, with a larger crew, offered to join them and asked us to go first. We went down the flight alone, but with assistance.

At Stoke Hammond we met a very bold heron hiding behind the open lock gate stalking its prey. It continued stalking just outside the lock gates as we operated the lock.

Heron stalking its prey at Stoke Hammond Lock

Dutch barge De Witte Seep and garden

The trip through Milton Keynes was uneventful and we moored up just after 5 o'clock, joining a group of other boats who appear to enjoy this rural location. NB Hild passed just after we had moored up. They were on their way back to Rugby so presumably they have some miles to cover.

Church Lock, Near Leighton Buzzard

After yesterday's sunshine today's weather was damp and dull. We left the Wendover Arm and descended the Marsworth Flight. We dropped off our friends, Anne & Edward, at Marsworth Wharf and then had lunch near Seabrook.

We had a quiet journey, meeting very few other boats and not sharing any locks. We did manage to spot another kingfisher on the way.

We moored up around 4:30PM just below Church Lock.

Wendover Arm

After Saturday night's gales we woke on Sunday morning to a calm warm autumn day. We climbed the Marsworth flight with NB Pond Life and then turned down the Wendover Arm. We had been warned that it was narrow and shallow, so we took it easy.

Autumn colours on the Wendover Arm

The bend by Heygates Mill was tight but just after the feeder, where Pearson marks a 60ft winding hole, it got very shallow. As a result we ran aground in the channel. We gave way to a following Springer (V-section hull) who encouraged us to persist.

Passing Heygates Flour Mill

After carefully making our way along the shallow section at tick-over we made it to the old stop lock and the Tringford pumping station. The water level was about a foot down. Just as we passed the pumping station it began pumping! The newly restored section was much easier. We got to the the final corner, turned in the winding hole and moored up for the day. It is a delightful spot!

Wendover Arm Terminus

In the afternoon we investigated the rest of the arm that is being restored by the Wendover Arm Trust. They were hard at work on a Sunday. We watched them struggle to reinstate a very dry bank. The whole restoration is very impressive. It was also interesting seeing them use a clay-filled fabric liner.

Wendover Arm Trust volunteers laying the canal liner

The level of sponsorship is impressive. There is a plaque commemorating Tim Wilkinson's bequest at the present terminus and numerous small plates on the footbridges.

Badges and plaques

We walked as far as Aston Clinton and Green Park where there once was a Rothschild house.

Dappled shade along the disused Wendover Arm near Aston Clinton