Saturday, 5 March 2011

Children’s Canal Books in England. (Part 5) Adventure Stories from the 1930's.

Adventure Stories of the 1930’s.

Fossil the scout Dustwrapper
1933 First Edition. Dust Wrapper.

After the appearance of ‘Our Holidays on a Barge’  in 1911, the appeal of an English canal as a setting for juvenile fiction seems does not seem to have engaged the minds of most of  the children's writers of the 1920’s and 30’s. Indeed Canal literature focusing on the canals of the U K was in something of a nadir during these years with interest being focused on the waterways of Europe. It’s true that these inter war years saw the appearance of books set on rivers, and most notably on the Thames with for instance ‘The Mystery on the River’  by Brian O’Farrell  arriving in 1933.  
The popularity of the Norfolk Broads as a holiday area for middle class families was well established and since Victorian times families had holidayed on converted wherries etc. These activities had spawned an attendant literature for adults and occasionally for children, this most famously shown in Arthur Ransome’s series of books set initially on the lakes of Northwest England ‘ Swallows and Amazons ‘ – 1929 and then on the Broads in 1934 with Coot Club.

Coot Club. 1934. First Edition.

Mark Harborough’s ‘Fossil the Scout’  appeared in 1933 and can be said to be the first ‘modern’ children's canal book to appear in the UK. I certainly haven't discovered any juvenile book with an English canal theme appearing before this. They could be out there and I would love to be proved wrong but this simple story involving a scout troop and their adventures does seem to be the first of its kind.
Fossil the scout 1047Fossil the scout 1049Fossil the scout 2048
Illustrations and Title Page from ‘Fossil the Scout’ 1933.

All the elements that were to be the recognizable hallmarks of children's canal adventures in the flood of books to come later in the 1940’s are here in this pioneering book – mystery, adventure, an element of danger,good realistic illustrations and of course the essential ‘props’ of boats and a canal tunnel!
‘Fossil’  is not quite the earliest item from the 1930’s in my collection.That honour goes to an inauspicious little comic from 1932 – Fairyland Tales with its story All Aboard a Barge.
Fairyland Tales 1932
This comic first appeared from its Scottish publisher in the late 1920’s. With its early art deco coloured cover and its period illustrations it was obviously intended to appeal to the very youngest readers. Some canal book lovers can find no interest in children's books at all and even less for ‘comics’ but we should remember the example of the Victorian Moral Tales which influenced children's opinions from an early age. I make no apologies for collecting the most seemingly ephemeral or insignificant items –they all have their place.
Fairyland Tales IllusFairyland Tales Title Page
Illustrations from ‘All Aboard a Barge’  1932.
So we find few children's books from the 1920’ & 30’s, a situation paralleled in adult books set in England. An actual voyage of discovery took place in 1939 however whose purpose was research for a children's book that was to be published in 1940.
Continued in Children’s Books .Part 6

1 comment:

  1. I did get fossil the scout as a badminton 1st prize in 1942