Saturday, 5 March 2011

Children’s Canal Books in England. (Part 1) - The Moral Tales.

Drunkenness , Depravity and Violence’ .The Moral Tales (1880-1900).

Forgotten Canal Books No2 Cover Robin DearForgotten Canal Books No2 Illustration from Robin Dear
Frontispiece & Illustrated cover from ‘Robin Dear’ 1903.

The Victorian era was characterized by increasing wealth for some and desperate poverty for many. Along with this disparity came an increase in the concern felt by public opinion for the social and religious wellbeing of those less fortunate than themselves. The moment for the social reformer had arrived, and concerning himself with the floating canal population, that man was George Smith.
Smith’s book ‘Our Canal Population’ was published in 1875 with the intention of publicising the overcrowded living conditions on canal boats and barges.These conditions along with poverty, lack of education and in Smith’s eyes a lack of religious observance led in his view to the moral degradation of the canal boating population. His lonely campaign of lectures, articles, leaflets and books was pursued throughout the 1870’s with an evangelical single-mindedness which eventually practically bankrupted him, left him jobless and with his family life in tatters.
Eventually however and as a result of his agitations, the Canal Boats act of 1877 was passed which registered the boats with local authorities and stipulated amongst other things the number of the boats occupants. The act met some but not all of Smith’s aims and so throughout the 1880’s and 90’s we find him continuing his solitary campaign of reform. Help was at hand however because as a direct result of the publicity surrounding the passing of the act and the publication of his books, a small but dedicated group of authors took up his ideas and presented them to the public in the form of fictional stories for children
Moral Tale Illus (4)
Improving and moralizing tales were the staple fare of most Victorian children’s upbringings and this small group of books with waterway themes should be viewed in this context. Invariably published by evangelical Christian organizations with a messianic reforming agenda these small cheaply produced books found great favour for presentation as prize books in school and Sunday-school.Between the Locks prize plate
In almost every book in my collection, acquired over many years there is a prize presentation plate. Typical of these is a plate in one of the first books to be published which states “A reward given for Attendance, Diligence and Good Behaviour” which gives us a good idea of the qualities expected in the recipients of these prize books. 
It’s difficult to say which was the first of these books to be published as the publishing date for all of these books is rarely given.But probably the first off the mark was ‘Water Gipsies, or The Adventures of Tag, Rag and Bobtail’ by L T.Meade which was actually first serialised in an 1878 magazine.
The editor of this magazine (Sunday Magazine) was said to be seven foot tall and to light his cigars from the gaslights in the street – an obviously flamboyant character in this otherwise pretty dour cast of performers. .
L.T.Meade was actually Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith (1854-1914) who, with her ultra prolific output of ten books a year and over two hundred and eighty books in her lifetime, is generally credited with establishing the ‘Girls School Story’ genre of books. An early feminist she also wrote in several other genres including crime. Water Gipsies was first published in book form in this country in 1883 and tells the story of three boat children and their drunken abusive father, a story which was to become familiar to the readers of these books.

Undated but also from around this time (British Library says 1879) ‘Between the Locks’ is the story of a pleasure boat trip on the Medway, the voyagers evangelizing amongst the Kentish workers as they travel along the river. The author was the Revd E Newenham Hoare and the publisher – ‘The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge’. Other notable publishers of this ilk were ‘The Religious Tract Society’ and the ‘ Sunday School Union’.
The year 1878 also probably saw the appearance of ‘Rob Rat – A story of Barge Life’ by Mark Guy Pearse. With a dedication to George Smith this book is probably the best known of them all, primarily I think, for its numerous illustrationsrob rat cover
These are remarkable for their ‘relative’ accuracy i.e the artist had actually seen the narrow boat, back cabin or tunnel that he illustrates. For modern eyes they also possess a period charm not seen in some of the other books whose illustrations vary from the naive to the frankly ludicrous. Forgotten Canal Books No2 Cabin from Rob Ratrob rat
Above…...Title Cover & Illustrations from Rob Rat.
Pearse’s book was printed and reprinted over the next 10 years and its longevity nearly equals that of its author who was a Cornish Methodist preacher living from 1842 to 1930.
Continued………See – (Childrens Canal Books Part 2)

Children’s Canal Books in England(Part 2) The Moral Tales Cont'd.

The Moral Tales (1880-1900) ContinuedForgotten Canal Books No.2 Title page Tom the Boater
The 1880’s saw another prolific writer of children’s books jumping on the ‘moral tale bandwagon’. Emma Leslie published her ‘ Tom the Boater – A Tale of English Canal Life’ in 1882. The author states her purpose – ‘to arouse the sympathies of Christian’s especially young people ….. on behalf of our home heathen’ . With acknowledgements to George Smith the author who was actually Emma Dixon sets her story on a boat journeying to Derby, the vigilance of whose boat inspectors, under the new Canal Boat act is noted. The story involves, as is the case with many of these books, the mistreatment of children by a drunken and uncaring father and their eventual salvation by Christian teaching and/or their being taken into care by an understanding and kindly middle class family who usually employ them in service !!DSCN3421
The success of this book led Miss Leslie to further reinforce her message with the publication of  ‘The Water Waifs’. in serial form in the magazine 'The Children's Friend' throughout 1882. It was then issued as a book.  The full page illustrations in the magazine show slightly more detail than the same ones in the book which have been slightly reduced in size. This is important because they are among the very earliest images known of the interior of a working narrow boats cabin. Although these images are predated by a few years by Mark Pearse's -'Rob Rat' (1878/9) they show a remarkable similarity in style and could be by the same illustrator whose name we will probably never know.

Illustration from Rob Rat 1879.

 Illustration from 'Children's Friend 1882.
Illustration from 'Water Waifs' book.1882.

Illustration from 'Children's Friend '1882Forgotten Canal Books No.2 Cover The Water Waifs
  Produced in their thousands and cheaply made, these books have not lasted at all well . Add to this the hands of children and general neglect, the survivors are consequently not easy to find and of all these ‘Water Waifs’  is in my experience one of the rarest books in the group!Forgotten Canal Books No.2 the long tiller arm fromHal the Barge Boy
Forgotten Canal Books No.2 the long tiller arm fromHal the Barge Boy
Left….Frontispiece illustration from ‘Hal the Barge Boy’..                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Right……Enlargement of the tiller arm.                    
Unique in being published in verse is ‘Hal the Barge Boy’  by Frances Wilbraham. This came out in 1883. The only really notable feature of this book is its frontispiece; the boat in the illustration must have the longest tiller arm in the history of canal book illustration. The boat seemingly also appears not to have a ‘well’ or hatches from which to steer!! 
Another Barge Boy appeared in 1885. This time ‘Ned the Barge Boy’  by G H Sargent. This author worked for Cadburys at Bourneville in the 1880’s and may have become interested in canal life whilst employed there, as the company owned and operated a large fleet of boats. He later moved and died in Tasmania. He is as far as I know unique amongst these authors in having his book translated and published in French under the title ‘Le ’Petit Batelier.

Forgotten Canal Books No2 Cover Ned the Barge BoyDSCN4674
‘Threading its way through one of England’s most picturesque counties, now glistening like a band of silver amid broad acres of pastureland, anon ascending, by means of numerous ‘locks’ till it is lost to sight among wooded hill, runs one of those great waterways upon whose placid bosom traverses by day and night so vast a portion of the traffic of our land’.
So runs the opening paragraph of Annie Gray’s ‘ Old Lock Farm’  of  c1888 albeit in typically florid Victorian prose. This is fine stuff but turn the page and we find the author in full flow inveighing against ‘ the incessant flow of bad language which falls from the lips of all too many of the men and women who spend their lives on the water’ and a few lines later she speaks of ‘ the general shops half general store and half beer house………where the barge folk can procure the liquor which brings into their floating homes such misery and sin, such wretchedness and distress’.
It would be tedious to continue with this and I quote it only to give some idea of the contents of most of these books.

Illustration from ‘The Old Lock Farm’old lock farm
DSCN4516Old  Lock Farm Cover 2Forgotten Canal Books No.2 Cover the Old Lock Farm
Annie Grey’s (yet another author with a mega output ) book, is a much more substantial effort than most of its competitors partly due to the 14 page appendix by George Smith. It is relished today by collectors for its many editions with different cover designs and its delightfully naive illustrations.
‘The Old Lock Farm’  was followed in 1893 by Alfred Colbeck’s ( A methodist minister) ‘Dick of the Paradise’, which unlike the preceding books is set on a wide beam boat, as is ‘The Boatman's Daughter’  by F.M.Robertson of 1896.Dick of the Paradise boatmans daughter
                                                          Continued………..See Part 3

Children’s Canal Books in England. (Part3). Moral Tales 1880-1900 cont’d.

Rob Rat Illus (5)Rob Rat Illus (3)
Illustrations from Rob Rat

The century of the ‘Moral Tale’ was drawing to a close and the Edwardian era was dawning; and with it came some new ideas. Victorian paternalism and class values lessened their hold on author’s imaginations and sickly sweet religious themes were definitely on the wain. A book of this kind in which religion plays a surprisingly low role is 'Us' by Mrs Molesworth which was first published in 1885.
Illustration by Walter Crane from 'Us' by Mrs Molesworth.         Mrs Molesworth was a prolific author of children's books, (especially for girls) typically emphasising moral instruction, duty and sacrifice.  'Us' is primarily noted and collected for its illustrations by the  pre  eminent Victorian Illustrator Walter Crane but in the history of children's canal books it has a very special place as it was probably the first book to portray canals and canal workers in a sympathetic and unpatronising way. Published as it was in the mid 1880's when the children's 'moral tales' with their stories of moral degradation, drunkenness and child cruelty were at their publishing height, Mrs Molesworths book contains a chapter where runaway children are befriended by friendly & sympathetic boat people whose boats are clean and tidy.It is only a chapter in the book in which the villains are that other  favourite Victorian bogey -Gipsies
But before we leave the C19th and its ‘moral tales’, four books that seem to me to be typical ‘moral tales’ but which I can find no mention of in any canal bibliography that I’ve seen. Acknowledgement should be made here to Mark Baldwin and his excellent ‘ A Bibliography of British Canals  1623 – 1950’  in the book ‘Canals , A New Look’  P’bd 1984. All canal book collectors should have a copy. Its quite indispensible and a mine of information on books you didn’t know existed. Even here though I can find no mention of these four books in my collection.Canals A New Look
Silent Highways – A story of Barge Life’  by F Palmer was published in 1881 and is thus quite an early entry in the genre. It’s a typical example of it’s kind as it  climbs the heights and plumbs the depths with chapter headings such as ‘Does it Hurt to be Dead’, ‘This is Heaven Ain’t It’, Forgotten Canal Books No2 Cover Silent HighwayHungry and Penniless’ and ‘Joy at Last’, the final outcome being that all the participants seem to have caught smallpox and died!! The story such as it is , is set on boats travelling between London and the Black Country.over there 1over there2
First editions of‘Over There -A Story of Canal Life’ (c 1889) have F.C.F as the author on the cover ,whilst later editions have the authors name in full - F.C.Fanshawe.  I can find no reference to this book nor to‘Waif and Gipsy’  (c1893)  The second book was written by  A D Phelps and is partly set on a London bound boat on the Bridgewater canal. 'Silent highways' & 'Over there' are both very rare the British Library even does not have the latter as it was destroyed in the Blitz and they have not been able to replace it.

Forgotten Canal Books No2 Cover Robin DearForgotten Canal Books No2 Illustration from Robin Dear
Finally Adela Mount’s ‘ Robin Dear – A Story of Canal Life’  was published in 1903, rather late for a moral tale. This book has probably the best cover illustration and design of all these books. It portrays a horse pulling a wide beam barge with a lock in the background and is a beautiful example of  book cover illustration done in an early art nouveau style. This is interesting in itself as the story is set on a boat travelling from King’s Langley on the Grand Junction Canal to Leicester. Keen canal buffs will spot the problem here !. Other places mentioned in the text are Heyford furnaces and Weedon.
Published as prizes and often going to juveniles who had little access to other books, these books must have instilled fear and horror in a whole generation of children and could have been responsible for the landsman's derogatory epithets of ‘dirty bargee’ etc. It is no wonder that the working population on the boats kept themselves to themselves and regarded people on the ‘bank’ with distrust. In the face of an almost universal hostility backed by an evangelical fervour, who could blame them.
Today these books can be seen as virtual diatribes. They were however a product of their time and of the religious and moral viewpoints of their authors. That conditions were bad on some of the boats cannot be disputed but then so were the conditions in the slums of the big cities. Many boatpeople led clean,honest and industrious lives, some did not. It had always been the same and indeed remained so right up to the final days of carrying in the last century.
That these books were produced in their thousands, seems almost impossible to believe as they are quite hard to find now! Many of them however are available as ‘print on demand’ books.
A final note – If you have come across any moral tales not noted here –then I would love to hear about them.

This blog continues into a new century……( See Children's Books Part4.)

Children’s Canal Books in England. (Part4) Books from the Edwardian Era.

‘Our Holiday on A  Barge’  - Books from the Edwardian Era.

With the arrival of a new century the old books were quietly forgotten and although prize books were still given, they were of a very different kind. Religious and moral  preaching; if not entirely forgotten were definitely on a backburner and instead  straightforward adventure stories were the norm.2574475585
This new trend manifested itself in children's canal books with the publication in 1903 of Richard Stead’s ‘Grit Will Tell’. This book with its stirringly British ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ title tells the story of a runaway barge boy (a not uncommon theme). However for the first time religion plays no part in the story. Moral values too are low key and instead the plot is presented as a straightforward boys adventure story which is unique in being set on a Leeds & Liverpool Canal shortboat before moving to scenes aboard a ‘market packet boat’ in the Goole area. The story later shifts to a steam dredger on the Meuse.
It’s no coincidence that the book was published by Blackies who were pioneers in the production of  ‘Tales of Daring’ or ‘Spiffing Yarns’ as they were sometimes called. They had already published one of these – ‘Aboard The Atalanta’ by Henry Frith as far back as 1877 and with several chapters set on the Regents canal it can I think be recognized as the first Children's canal book with a non religious theme.
Aboard the Atalanta Atalanta title page

Aboard The Atalanta’  1877 - The first canal adventure story.

Bss photo016
‘Jim’s Children’ 1912 – Illustrated front cover & frontispiece.
The year 1903 is pivotal in children's canal based books as it saw not only the appearance of ‘Grit Will Tell’  as the first book in a new century with a completely new direction in children's canal based books but it was also the year in which the last ‘moral tales’ were published i.e ‘Robin Dear’ and 'Littlebourne Lock'. (which unusually for a moral tale is set on the Thames) and is another Blackies children's book from around 1900.

The author of ‘Jim’s Children-A tale of Town,Country and Canal’ published in 1912 was Theodora Wilson Wilson (1865 – 1941) who was a teacher and social worker at Kendal in the Lake District. With her Quaker beliefs it is not surprising that she was also a pacifist, humanitarian and an early contributor to feminist and suffragette literature.
It is, as far as I know the only children's story to be set on the Lancaster canal and concerns the mild adventures of a family of children in and around ‘Brentholme’ (Kendal) who amongst other things travel on a Sunday School Outing down the canal. The boat is a trading boat well scrubbed out for the occasion and the children become involved with the boatwoman and her lost babies.
Again this book was published by Blackie’s and was in fact republished in 1933 as was ‘Grit Will Tell’  It is also one of the first children's books I have with a dust wrapper. The following two images are of 2 titles from 'The Boys Friend Library' series of paperback adventure story books for boys published weekly between 1906 & 1940 when paper shortages forced closure of the series. They are written by the same author and are - 'Dave the Barge Boy - A Tale of England's Waterways'  from 1910 and 'The Boy Barge Owners - A Story of Canal Life' from 1909 and are the earliest books of their type that I have found. Sydney Floyd Gowing wrote under the pen name of David Goodwin and was a fairly prolific boys short story writer.He wrote one more canal story for 'The Boys friend Library' - 'King of the Canals' in 1920.
         I have recently discovered that both of the tiles shown below were originally published in the weekly comic 'Boys Friend'  (Same publisher as library series) in 1903 but have never seen them.

our holiday1
'Our Holiday on a Barge’  by Alice Talwin Morris.1911.
The subtitle of this book is 'Nature Stories and Pictures for Little Folks’ ; its a familiar phrase and one which accompanied instructional books from Victorian times on, although it somewhat belies the age of some of the children in the illustrations.
Bss photo031
This book is important because for the first time children's fiction seems to move into the real world. The story is a simple one. Father hires a barge for a holiday and the family set out to travel up the Thames.  They witness the sights and sounds of the river and discover the plants, animals and birds on its banks.
Bss-photo0306Bss photo028

Alice Talwin Morris the author was the wife of Talwin Morris the Art Director at Blackie’s, the children's book publishers of Glasgow. He is best remembered today as a designer of book covers in the Art Nouveau style and  was a member of the renowned ‘Glasgow school’, whose leading light, Charles Rennie Macintosh is still revered today.
The circle in which the young couple moved had a libertarian, bohemian and artistic outlook and this approach is reflected throughout the book. The illustrations in colour and black and white are numerous (over40) and those of boats and barges are for a change reasonably accurate although one sometimes wonders whether it’s an English or a Dutch river that's being portrayed. However compared with what went before its quite revolutionary. It’s also the first time in a children's book where a barge is hired and converted for a holiday although the precedent had been set a couple of times before in adult fiction e.g ‘Two Girls On A Barge’  by V Cecil Coates in 1891 and ‘Strange Adventures of a House-Boat’ by William Black 1888.
Bss photo029
So for the first time in a juvenile canal book, a simple non moralizing story is told in which the parents and children are shown as a family enjoying and exploring the world around them. Its like a breath of fresh air and coming as it did at the start of a new century and in the middle of the Edwardian period it was a portent of things to come.
Collectors looking for a copy of this book should realise that it was also issued in a deluxe edition with ,interestingly, a different cover design and also in exactly the same form and with the same illustrations but combined with a separate travelling caravan story in ‘Happy Days By Road and River’ issued in the same year 1911.
Happy Days by Road & River001
After the publication of these two books ,nearly two decades were to elapse before another children’s book with a waterways theme appeared in the UK.
Finally to end this chapter I show the decorative front cover of  Alphonse Daudet's novel 'La Belle Nivernaise' translated from the French and published in 'The Children's Library' series by Fisher Unwin around 1906, the example shown above is a third edition from 1908.. A famous and well loved novel in France where it was first published in the 1870's, it tells the story of a Peniche and its family crew on their travels over the French waterways. It was translated by Robert Routledge of the family publishing firm of the same name and first published in English translation in 1885.
Interestingly it seems to be probably the only early French waterway book to be translated into English. Likewise Richard Sargent's moral tale 'Ned The Barge Boy' is probably the only English waterways story to be translated into French.
To be continued. See Children’s Canal Books Part5.