And a Right Good Crew

by Emily Kimbrough with drawings by Vasiliu

When a friend was clearing her family home after the demise of her parents, she came across this book. Rather than pack it up for the charity shop, she thought of us and handed it on. Steve usually reads factual books, and is constantly researching his various interests. I prefer novels and biographies and have thoroughly enjoyed all Terry Darlington’s accounts of their sometimes hair-raising adventures on the canals at home and abroad. This book, written in the 1950s, appealed to me, so I read it and offered to write a review.

The book is amusing and well written. Emily Kimbrugh was a New York based writer of several travel books. With a small group of friends, all well-heeled authors and actors, she planned two trips on the English canals. The first trip was to be from Stone to Llangollen, then she was to be joined by more friends to travel south from Stone, onto the Thames. Her journey was well researched and she shows an enthusiastic appreciation of the English canal system. However this did not extend to practical knowledge of the working of locks or boat handling. On her initial familiarisation trip, accompanied by her friend Sophy, they hired a 50 year old ‘boy’, Mr Walley, to steer a converted narrowboat and work the locks. He returned to his home every night on his motorbike. Her description of the boat and delight at the interior is a joy to read. Later in the book she is fascinated to learn at first-hand about the boaters’ way of life.

Stone High Street

An interesting aspect of the book is the comparison the author makes between the modern way of life in 1950s America and behind the times England. They search Stone High Street for an ice bucket and ice, essentials for evening drinks. However they do not complain and see the trip as a great adventure. As we do now, they remark on the pace of travel, and they enjoy the tranquillity of the English countryside. When the rest of the group, including two men, join the party for the second trip from Stone to the Thames, the division of labour is interesting. They do things in style, staying overnight at local hotels and inns where the men could peruse the morning papers over ‘the men’s breakfast’. After lunch each day, when they share the tiny table on board, the ladies clear up while the men play a hand of rummy and enjoy a post-prandial drink.

On the Llangollen Canal - lift bridges!

As minor celebrities, with close connection to what nowadays is called the media, the crew are joined at Napton by a reporter and photographer from Life Magazine.
A canal-side picnic with the Life Magazine photographer looking on

Another feature of this book is the reference to places we have also visited by boat, such as Coventry happily rebuilt now after the devastation of the war, as well as other places much unchanged such as Shugborough and Aynho Park. 
Meeting the neighbours!

I enjoyed reading this book. It paints a picture of a time gone by, the England of our childhood. There is probably less about the boating than about exploration of our country via the inland waterways. The book is written with wit and humour but avoids being patronising. It is bursting with amusing anecdotes as well as a real appreciation of our heritage. It is also well illustrated with cartoon drawings which are "very much of their time" as you will see. Finally a useful Glossary of boating terms, a breakdown of basic expenses, and letters from people they met en route are included.