The Geographical Magazine 1936

No it’s not the more familiar US-based National Geographic which predates it by several decades but its British-based competitor published by the Royal Geographical Society.  I posted earlier about the UK canal articles published in the National Geographic in the pre- and post-war periods, so when I discovered that a copy of the Geographical Magazine with an article on the Canals of England was available through eBay, I decided to bid. The copy I won was in poor condition, and the price reflected this, but this edition must be difficult to find. This edition is Number 6 of Volume III so since the magazine only began in 1935 it is truly an early edition.
Cover of The Geographical Magazine
(with damage)

The magazine format is very similar to that of the National Geographic with a heavy emphasis on illustrations. Aside from the canal article there is a wonderful article by the famous traveller Freya Stark of a journey to the Hadhramaut and articles about Tehran, New Zealand and an interesting picture essay of the role of women in Japan.

The canal article is by the journalist S.P.B. (or Petre) Mais who had a good reputation for his prodigious output. It is largely historical in its treatment but it is also light-hearted and includes reference to Wigan Pier. Reference is also made to the many derelict canals in England and the Wey & Arun, Kennet & Avon, and Thames & Severn are mentioned in this context. However, Mais does say “make no mistake about it, canals are coming back”. He wasn’t foretelling the post-war canal revival, he was thinking about the modernisation of the then newly formed Grand Union Canal. He describes how much canal traffic could be seen from the railway while travelling from Euston to Rugby, but he describes it as being either horse-drawn or steam-driven. He provides sources of information about the canals and cites Cadbury & Dobbs, who I reviewed some time ago, and he recommends A.P. Herbert’s Water Gypsies and the canoeing reference works of William Bliss.

However, as with all such similar publications, it is the pictures that provide the biggest impact. The many black and white illustrations are excellent and are contemporary to the publication. They are all by the famous social photographer Cyril Arapoff. Some of the images have been reproduced elsewhere and they appear in a number of compilations, but they are wonderful and evocative. The locations range across the canal system but many are from the Grand Union, no doubt reflecting the articles emphasis on the then recent modernisation.

There are also four full page colour prints. Large scale colour printing was in its infancy at this time so these plates were undoubtedly the high spot of this issue. The colour plates were reproduced by the Vivex process and the photo credit is to D.A. Spencer who invented the process.  Vivex was introduced in 1928 by Colour Photography Ltd. who closed down at the start of World War II. The plates in my copy have suffered a little but they are still a delight. I particularly like the family scene at Brentford and the laden horse-drawn barge at Hunton Bridge Lock on the Grand Union.

All-in-all, despite its poor condition this was a good find and, now that I have scanned it, the article should provide me with continuing enjoyment. The Geographical (they have dropped “magazine”) is still published today and continues to provide articles of good quality – both written and visual. I hope you enjoy this snippet.