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.