Sunday, 29 March 2015

British Canal Boats

The Narrowboats on British canals are particularly distinctive not only for their shape but also for their colourful hand-painted Folk Art
Originally Narrowboats were built as working vessels to carry goods up and down the canals during the 18th, 19th and early C20th. Their distinctive shape was to enable them to move through the narrow waterways and pass safely via locks and bridges which often have a minimum width of 7 feet. 
As with railways, canals had to cross deep valleys and aqueducts were built to facilitate this
via
They were originally powered by horses who walked along the towpath attached by ropes and harness to the boat 
The horses were replaced during the early C20th as the boats were converted to steam and diesel. This modernisation enabled the boats to carry more weight and use less manpower
mile-stone along the canal towpath

By the mid C20th cargo carrying narrow boats had largely diminished, but today there are bands of enthusiasts dedicated to restoring both the boats and canals. Some boats are lived in as permanent homes, others are owned for recreation and leisure, and some can be rented for holidays or day trips along the waterways.
Around the mid C19th it became common practise to paint the boats all over in bright colours, mainly illustrated with bunches of roses and medieval castles. Objects used on board - jugs, bowls, lamps, flowerpots for example also received the same treatment. 
No one knows exactly where 'The Castle and Rose Movement' originated. Historians have identified similarities to folk art seen in Germany, Holland, Turkey, Asia, and also to the elaborately painted caravans in the gypsy culture, but no links are known to exist
Steering rudder

 Why not paint yourself a bunch of canal roses!!!
This post came about as a result of a query posed by 'Mary of Oregon' here

57 comments:

  1. Very nice post about the special narrow boats. I didn't know they were painted so beautiful and it reminds me indeed a little of the dutch folk art in the region of Spakenburg. They use that green colour with other bright colours as well to paint their furniture.

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    1. I have just had a look at Pinterest showing Spakenburg, and can see strong similarities particularly with regard to the painted wood clogs showing roses too.

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  2. Rosemary, Awesome photos and I have never seen a bridge as a canal...folk art looks good.
    Hope you are well.

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    1. Dear Margaret - These canals running across aqueducts are awesome, I agree. The early Victorians were very innovative engineers.

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  3. Anything so bright and cheery is a welcome sight!

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    1. Perhaps that is why they began to paint the boats to make them welcoming and cheery.

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  4. Some of our favorite walks in England have been along canal paths and we would watch the narrow boats go by. We'd speculate about renting one, but in the end decided they'd be too much work. Love to look at them though.

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    1. May be you could give them a go at some stage in the future. They are not hard work if you take it easy and just pootle slowly along the canals. The main difficulty is coping with the Locks but you are given a special key for them and shown how to do it before departing. Other narrowboat owners would always help and come to your aid.

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    2. When I was in college (way back in the early 70's), some older (senior) friends of mine - Winifred was British and her husband, Raymond had met her during WWII had met up with 6 other similarly-aged friends to take a long-desired narrow-boat vacation! When I first was told their plans I was amazed and worried at the same time. Here were two active seniors planning such a (I thought) strenuous trip in very close living quarters for a 10-day or possibly 2-week trip. When they returned I heard all about it! No troubles at all. They said even when the men couldn't get one of the locks open, nearby homeowners came to their rescue. There were bicycles along the way or on the boat (memory-slip!) that they sometimes used to visit nearby towns/villages. I've always wanted to follow in their footsteps - and now I'm the senior (67) and I just need to find some others to go along with me!

      Mary in Oregon

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    3. I hope that you can get a crew together Mary. Bikes can be hired along with the boats so that places nearby can be visited. Narrowboating is a very leisurely pursuit, and in fact many couples buy themselves one when they retire, age is no barrier. The boats are wonderful inside and not at all pokey. Normally they have lovely rich mahogany panelling on the walls and brass fittings.

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  5. Hello Rosemary, It is interesting to see these painted boats as part of a living tradition. In America, canal boats and especially the lake and river steamers were elaborately decorated, but that era ended, and when you see the current boats, they are more fantasy recreations of a nostalgic past.
    --Jim

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    1. Most of the canals have craftspeople living on narrowboats who earn their living by painting narrowboat artefacts in the traditional designs, also restoring and painting the old boats.

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  6. Dear Rosemary, thank you for this lovely post and the excellent photos, which remind me of my last narrowboat trip to Bath with a bunch of young musicians. And makes me look foreward to autumn, because we will go again (presumably), and I feel the earth move slightly under my feet (now - then it will be water - but after that you feel it a while further even when on solid ground. Did you know that the routes on the canals have different "auras"? We were on the one meeting more esoteric people - next time it might be different.

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    1. I didn't know that the canals have different auras Britta, but I do know that travelling on the waterways is a very friendly and co-operative venture for all who do - it involves lots of jollity too I believe.

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  7. I have always found the artwork on canal boats very interesting and pretty too! xx

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    1. The technique is so simple and with the use of bright primary colours makes it very striking.

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  8. What a great way to see a part of the countryside. The beautifully painted boats must be quite a sight as they glide by.

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    1. Dear H - It is a very relaxing pleasant way to spend a week or even a few days. Calling in at canal-side pubs for lunch, plus everyone sailing on the water tends to be very friendly, waving and giving a cheery greeting as they pass by.

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  9. Beautiful photos! I have never thought of England as a land of canals. And I am very surprised that they built aquaeducts in order to cross gorges by boat, this is very extraordinary. Thanks a lot for this interesting post!,

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    1. Thank you for your visit Charlotte - I am pleased that you found the post interesting and enjoyed the photos. There are lots of canals in England from the south of the country to the north. The canals were a very important source of transportation during the industrial revolution.

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  10. Thank you so much, Rosemary, for your in-depth response to my interest in the painted designs on the narrowboats! Attempting rosemaling has always been on my "bucket list" and seeing that poster with the instructions on painting roses has inspired me, again... I will have to get out my paints and give it a try! Interesting knotting has attracted me, as well and the complicated rope designs behind the narrowboat from Saul Valley looks very artistic. Is that solely to protect the backend - sort of as a bumper, perhaps? Those aquaducts could be a little scary...what do you think? Have you walked over one of those?

    Mary in Oregon

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    1. I haven't walked over one of that aqueduct, but it is something that I hope to do one day. I think perhaps they look more scary than they are. The one I have shown was built by Thomas Telford and is a World UNESCO Heritage Site. It has been in use for over 200 years.
      The narrowboat rope skills are also part of their tradition. As you suggest it was initially a practical need to have something resilient between the boat and the lock wall but also protected the proud skipper's paintwork from damage.

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  11. Great set of photos. The aqueduct almost looks impossible. It's great to see that painting near the end, the 'how to' photo. It kind of takes some mystery out of it but makes you appreciate it even more.

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    1. Perhaps your children might be interested in attempting to paint some roses Katharine - the aqueduct was a great feat of engineering by Thomas Telford.

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  12. What a pretty sight these colorful and pittoresque little boats on the canals....made me think of Holland more than England ! Sending you hugs .

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    1. Our canals do have similarities with those in Holland but their vessels are much wider barge style boats rather like the ones seen in France.

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  13. My husband has only two ambitions - to cross the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct and to own a narrowboat. I say, "Maybe, one day, if we dare" to the first, but "No!" to the second because he's just not practical enough to keep a boat leak-proof and shipshape!

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    1. Same sentiments here Nilly - I don't have any problems about crossing the aqueduct as I imagine that it must be quite a thrill, and we have talked about getting a narrowboat. However, I am aware of the fact that every few years you have to have them lifted out of the water using huge cranes and have their bottoms checked!! As you say, made leakproof!! then repainted, and I imagine that is a very expensive procedure.

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  14. So colorful, charming and cozy! I'd love to take a canal tour one day. I imagine it would be a lovely way to see the countryside.

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    1. It is a lovely way to travel gliding through the countryside on the waterways, and very relaxing too.

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  15. Thank you for this, Rosemary. I have always wanted to travel up and down a canal on a boat like those in this post. Wouldn't it be wonderful to spend, say, a month (or two or three) or so, traveling like this, reading, viewing the charms of the English countryside, stopping to eat at nearby pubs. Just enjoying and being.

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    1. Dear Yvette - It is a very good way to unwind, and get away from the hustle and bustle of life.
      As Kenneth Grahame wrote in The Wind in the Willows "Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing!"

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  16. Dear Rosematy,wonderful images of the canals and the British boats!
    Gorgeous pictures!I have seen canals and had a canal tour in Delft ,Netherlands!
    I really enjoyed it!!Thank you for sharing!Have a lovely week!!
    Dimi...

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    1. Thanks Dimi - I have never been on the Dutch canals, it must have been lovely.

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    1. Thank you for your visit and kind comment

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  18. Beautiful images Rosemary, I've been enjoying the TV programme Great Canal Journeys.

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    1. I saw the first series Suzy - but have missed the latest ones.

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  19. As you wrote, Rosemary, these canal boats are uniquely and distinctively British. I also like them for their antiquity and paintings and I’d like to get onboard to see British countryside from the boat. The idea of moving a boat by horse’s pulling a rope is interesting, but I wonder why the boat didn’t get near to the shore pulled from the path, probably there must have been some devices.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - that is an interesting comment - the steering device is the rudder handle shown on the 10th photo which is usually painted with stripes. Subsequently I have now labelled it - thank you. The boatman stands at the back so that he can see the whole length of the boat whilst travelling down the canal and make any adjustments necessary.

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    2. I think I could’ve guessed that, but now I understand. Thank you.

      Yoko

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  20. Dear Rosemary, I love these wonderful and colorful images. Have always wanted to take a trip down a canal, especially the Midi in France.

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    1. Dear Gina - I have always quite fancied going down the Canal due Midi myself too. Glad that you enjoyed seeing these colourful narrowboats.

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  21. Dear Rosemary,

    What an interesting posting! Like your other readers, I wasn't aware that there was such a network of canals in England. And like your other readers, I'm also amazed by the canal aquaduct (I'd be a little nervous crossing it). The boat decorations remind me of the colorful gypsy wagons of long ago (I guess you call them caravans), and I'll bet there's a strong connection between the two. My mother traveled through Holland on a large canal boat with nice accomodations, and she raved about the experience.

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    1. Dear Mark - I should imagine that travelling along the canals in Holland is quite similar to using our canals, except for the boats of course. The French and the Dutch canal boats tend to be more like motor boats, but they do use old working barges in Holland too.

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  22. The decoration on the canal boats always looks so bright and cheerful. We have often thought that a holiday on a canal boat would be fun. I remember reading as a child about the hardship of life on the canal boats in Noel Streatfield's Thursday child. Sarah x

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    1. Dear Sarah - spending some time on a canal boat is a big attraction to lots of people. I can imagine that it is a pleasant relaxing way to spend a week. My husband booked a narrowboat for an afternoon trip not long ago when it was my birthday, all the family along with the grandchildren enjoyed the experience.

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  23. Once in a lifetime I really must try this...look´s really lovely and beautiful boats too!
    Have a great week and a Happy Easter Rosemary...
    Warm hug,
    Titti

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    1. Happy Easter to you too Titti - some people imagine that it is quite difficult to drive a narrowboat along the waterways, but in fact I understand it is very easy. Before you set off on the boat the owners show you how to drive it, and also how to operate the water locks.

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  24. A first for me to see a boat go across the top of a bridge! They are really narrow! ....and so colorful!

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    1. I have intended walking along this canal acqueduct for a long time, and must really do something about it. I am sure that the views down into the valley must be lovely.

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  25. I'd never heard of these before and find their colours to be so bright and cheerful.

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    1. The Folk Art on the narrowboats is very attractive

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  26. I love walking by the many canals we are fortunate to have in the UK.
    There is always a great mix of colourful boats and great people to talk to and share stories.

    All the best Jan

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  27. I love canals and canal boats, so very much enjoyed this fascinating post, Rosemary. It has been very interesting to watch our local canal in Mid-Wales gradually being restored and brought back into use over the years we've lived here. It takes a long time and a lot of time, effort and money to restore a neglected canal to full working order.

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  28. Wonderful photos. I love the boats and canal. It would be lovely to walk there.
    Hugs

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  29. Oh what a marvellous post Rosemary!
    I've always been attracted to the long boats and their history as cargo carriers.
    It would be a dream to hire one and spend a part of summer meandering through the beautiful english countryside!
    We have done the Canal de Nivernais in France, part of it is quite close to where our daughter lives.
    My husband is restoring an old classic launch, we are preserving the old character but adding modern conveniences, which is a must at our age!
    How wonderful to have all this on your door step Rosemary!
    Shane x

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