Posted by: billpurdue | May 30, 2011

Canals: the 250th anniversary

Canals have been getting a certain amount of coverage on the BBC recently as part of the “Landscape” series of programmes, so I thought I might take a look at a few of the many canal books that are available.

One of the interviewees on the “Golden Age of Canals” (still available on the BBC iPlayer as of May 29th ) was Tom Chaplin, author of Narrow Boats which has appeared in 2 or 3 editions over the years, but has long been out of print. It’s an overview of life on the canals, not a history of canal building or development. I’m reading this book at the moment and finding it interesting, but it’s a book you can put down between chapters. Second hand copies are still available on ebay or via the Amazon website.

If you want a book with a potted history of each canal in Britain, then Canals of Britain : a comprehensive Guide [Adlard Coles Nautical £25 978-1408105177], by Stuart Fisher, might fit the bill. Published in 2009, it’s well illustrated with colour and monochrome photographs plus some maps. From the look of the index, it really is a comprehensive guide, as the title states. This is one of many titles on waterways available from the Inland Waterways Association online shop.

If you want a real coffee table book about canals, then perhaps The Times Waterways of Britain  [ Times Books £30, 978-0007366330] by Jonathan Mosse is a suitable contender. The IWA online shop is offering this title at half price at the moment (as of May 29th). This book looks at all aspects of canals – history, canals today and possible trends for the future. I’m not sure how I’ve been able to resist buying this one for myself.

For those who need rather more about the history and development of the canal network, there is a series of books by Anthony Burton and Derek Pratt which together provide a well illustrated overview. The Anatomy of Canals comes in three volumes, (but each one is sold separately) all published by the History Press : The Early Years [£15.99 978-0752421377] , The Mania Years [£16.99 978-0752423852] and Decline and Renewal [£16.99 978-0752428109]. In my humble opinion, these are a “must have” for anyone interested in canal history.

The Anatomy of Canals series was published from 2001 to 2003, so perhaps it’s now time to bring canal history up to date.  The date 1760 is usually regarded as the year when Britain’s first “proper” canal was built, so 2010 was the 250th anniversary of the beginning of “The Canal Age”. At the beginning of May, Anthony Burton brought out his Canal 250: the story of Britain’s Canals [History Press £17.99 9780752459523] which covers the entire history of the canal network. How different it is from the series of three volumes published 10 years ago by the same author (plus Derek Pratt), I can’t tell you, but I’m keen to see a copy for myself.

Well that’s hardly even scratched the surface of the wide range of canal books, but at least it’s a taste.

I’m reading: Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd, about the life of a 17th Century artist and amateur naturalist.

I’m interested in having a look at: Howards End is on the Landing: A year of reading from home by Susan Hill, about the pleasures of reading

Finally an apology: I seem to be having difficulty in adding weblinks this week whether I use IE or Firefox. Hopefully this will be corrected soon.


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