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

Marsworth (Startops End)

What different weather there was yesterday, Saturday. The day started with a little rain and there were strong winds all day. We left Aylesbury basin and made our way back towards Marsworth.

Canal Basin Aylesbury

Canal Basin Aylesbury, Albert outside the Inland Revenue (HMRC)

The Aylesbury Canal Society were having their monthly clean up and were litter picking along the stretch up to Lock 15. One of the pounds near Puttenham was very low and Albert scraped along the bottom and lurched a lot. It appears, from talking to the lock keeper at Marsworth, that a stone has caught under a paddle mechanism and it is leaking badly. They will have to get out the stop planks at some stage and declare a stoppage.

The damsons, which are sweet when eaten raw, were a disappointment when stewed. Despite loads of sugar they were bitter and left a difficult after taste. We wonder how they should be cooked.

We lunched at Wilstone at then followed NB Mithra up the flight to Marsworth. They had been delayed fixing a broken tiller. We saw two kingfishers on the way and loads of very plump blackberries.

Climbing the Marsworth Staircase locks

Turning up the mainline we moored up by the reservoirs at Marsworth in a howling gale. We needed a lot of help to avoid being blown across the cut. We battened down the hatches had an evening watching TV, eating a delicious chilli and rice, and drinking red wine. Amazingly we managed to get digital TV reception on the boat for the first time!

Full moon at Startops End

Today we plan to investigate the Wendover Arm for the first time.


Another great day's autumn boating with our friends Anne & Edward Winter. The weather, at least in the morning, was warm and sunny. We left Marsworth and descended the staircase and then the numerous conventional locks down onto the Vale of Aylesbury. A kingfisher passed us in the lock first pound. Later we saw a red kite and a buzzard.

Staircase lock Marsworth, Aylesbury Arm

On the way we found some more damsons. Anne & Maggie tried the "shake the tree" technique of harvesting the fruit. It appears to work well, especially if you use a boat hook!

Damson damsels! - how to harvest damsons

Below Lock 13 the reeds, that have been there for several years, were very dense and appeared to closed off the channel.

Lots of reeds!

Broughton, and the first of the Aylesbury Locks, have key-protected mechanisms. The new padlocks don't let you remove the key once it is open. This makes for some interesting manoeuvres.

Locked to a padlock at a lock!

Just as we arrived below Lock 16, the last on the arm before Aylesbury, we found NB May Contain Nuts broken down. We towed them back to the basin in Aylesbury where they were to meet the RCR mechanic. If was the first time we had towed with Albert. It was fairly straight forward but because May Contain Nuts was leaving Aylesbury, she was towed stern first. It appears that they have a cooling water problem. RCR arrived later and were still working on the problem at 9.30PM.

Towing NB May Contain Nuts towards Aylesbury

We we welcomed into the basin by the Aylesbury Canal Society and allocated an overnight mooring by their clubhouse. We had a good meal at the National Trust owned Kings Head in the town. Good choice of beer, pleasant ambiance and good food.

Marsworth (Red Lion)

We had a delightful day yesterday crossing "The Fields", as the stretch between Leighton and Marsworth was called by working boaters. Although it was the first day of October, the sun was bright, it was warm, there was little wind and the autumn colours looked at their best. Even the locks were helpful, most were set in our favour.

Our night at The Globe was largely peaceful except for the wildlife. At around 4 o'clock in the morning we woke to the "tu-whit-tu-wu" of an owl followed a few minutes later by a series of very loud unearthly shrieks. We couldn't identify it but searching on the web for sound clips of animal calls it appears to have been a fox.

We stopped at Tescos at Leighton Buzzard for supplies and water. It was quiet with no other visiting boats. The Wyvern Shipping hire fleet was nearly all back at their base and moored three deep across the cut. The ducks at Leighton appear to have multiplied enormously. It was bank to bank ducks outside Tescos, presumably because they get regularly fed by shoppers.

Ducks galore!

A new canalside business

Grove Lock was interesting. We photographed the silly inn sign that shows a traditional boat with twin exhausts(!) and a leaky lock, but then realised that just above the inn a new marina is being built. Unusually, it appears to be a lay-bay and not a basin. Part of it was in water.

Pub sign at Grove Lock, Leighton Buzzard

New Marina at Grove Lock

As we passed Church and Horton Locks we saw NBs Imagine and Soupdragon whom we accompanied on our Tideway Thames journey in 2007. Unfortunately, both boats had no crew on board so we couldn't say hello.

Some great traditional style signwriting

Near Pitstone and Marsworth we found there were lots of sweet damsons in the hedgerows. We managed to moor up at Marsworth by the Red Lion by a tree of damsons and picked some to stew for a pudding.

Damsons from the hedgerow

Our friends from Sheffield, the Winters, managed to join us, but not before they took an intersting tour of Bedfordshire by night. The fish and chips we had at the Red Lion were very welcome and delicious and Steve's London Pride was very tasty. Today we tackle the Aylesbury Arm.