Saturday, 5 March 2011

Children’s Canal Books in England. (Part 6) Adventure Stories from the 1940's.

Adventure Stories of the 1940’s.
Explorers Afloat 
Explorers Afloat’  First Edition 1940.

Garry Hogg’s first book really belongs to the 1930s since,although it was published in July 1940, it was conceived after an actual voyage on the Grand Union Canal during April 1939. As it is such an important book I have already discussed it in an earlier post of mine – see – Oodles of Ice Cream & Fizzy Pop – posted Oct 2010 - go to I didn’t include the art deco type illustrations in that post so here they are now.
Explorers Afloat illus1 (2)Explorers Afloat Illus1

Of all the books from the 30’s/40’s period, this book is probably the hardest & most expensive to acquire, apart,that is, from Susan Woolfitt's children's book – ‘Escape to Adventure’ published a few years later which is also very elusive !
Garry Hogg also wrote another book with a waterway setting, this time set on the Thames – ‘Houseboat Holiday’ – published in 1944.
Houseboat Holiday title page
Nostalgic and evocative, period, art deco illustration from Houseboat Holiday. 1944

The War Years, Tom Rolt and ‘Getting away from it all’.
Anyone familiar with accounts of war time life will have noted the war weariness of all – civilians and military alike. This manifested itself in many ways. People needed to remove themselves if only for a little while from the never ending struggle to survive –from rationing – from long work hours and from the general affects and atmosphere of wartime Britain.
Nella Last in the book which derived from her wartime diaries kept  for the Mass Observation Project ‘ Nella Last’s War ‘ P’bd  1981   was a typical example as she loved to get away from war battered Barrow in Furness for a break to the shores of Coniston Lake in the hills of her beloved Lakeland. Walking and hiking became ever more popular and in the field of literature, books with a nostalgia for peaceful pre war days were very popular as were books which featured the countryside and countryside pursuits.
This was one reason why Tom Rolt’s  ‘Narrow Boat’  published in 1944 was so popular. With its nostalgia for an ancient and peaceful way of life it was an immediate hit and has never been out of print since. Its importance was profound and its influence has been felt in the canal world right down to the present day. With Rolt leading the way other authors were not slow to follow,  although it’s strange that in the decade after the war there were more books published for children than for adults.

First Edition. Pb'd 1941.

Isla Mitchell published her book - The Beginning was a Dutchman set on the Grand Union Canal in the same year that Narrow Boat hit the book stalls. 
Malcolm Saville and Enid Blyton - two top names in the world of children's books were quick off the mark in acknowledging this new found interest in the canal world and quickly realised that it would make an ideal setting for their books.
Painted Box. 1st Ed 1947 
First Edition Dust Wrapper.1947.
Malcolm Saville,a man of strong religious and moral convictions, published his first children's book in 1943. As the second book in the ‘Michael & Mary’ series – ‘The Riddle of the Painted Box’  appeared in 1947 and with its setting of canal and countryside fully complied with what was to become Saville’s trademark i.e children's books with a strong emphasis of place with an adventure usually set in the English countryside. His many books have  appeared as films, as a T V series and on radio. In all, he set three of his books on an English canal.

 Reprint of 1950 with a different dust wrapper.Riddle of the Painted Box 2nd. 

You Didn’t Know Enid Blyton Had Written a Canal Book ?
Enid Blyton was a very controversial figure and I like most other children in the 1940’s & 50’s just couldn’t get enough of her books. Looking back on those years now I can remember being quite mesmerized by the children in these books. How was it that these children had such exciting adventures all the time, lived in large houses with a cook, travelled to exotic places such as Cornwall and had relations who worked as scientists or in professional occupations.? In my world just after the war I could only dream of such things and was far too young to know or be concerned with questions of class, race or gender.
To be fair to Enid Blyton it is true that for the first half of the 20thC most children's book authors were impeccably middle class and wrote from a middle class perspective. However I often wonder if these authors ever considered what effect this aspect of their writing could have on a child who enjoyed none of their privileges. Much food for thought here I think!!Saucy Jane Family 1947.
The Saucy Jane Family’  1947 by Enid Blyton. First Edition.Title page.

Intended for a younger age group than Malcolm Saville's readers – The Saucy Jane Family was reprinted over many years. However there were as far as I know no film,radio or TV appearance for this book. Enid Blyton's work was,despite,its popularity with kids almost universally condemned by critics who said that apart from being  badly written, her attitude to class,race and gender was reprehensible to say the least, particularly in view of the age of the intended readership of her books and so its not surprising that the BBC refused to allow her work to be broadcast for at least 20 years.
A Unique Book.
Last and not least of the three books that appeared in 1947 is Bert Thomas’s ‘A Trip on A Barge – A Small Boys Adventures with the Water Gypsies’  Small and unassuming as it is, it is nevertheless one of my favourites and as I have never seen another copy it must also be one of the rarest of children's books. A small thin volume designed for the younger reader it nevertheless has a quite unique style and has a well researched and authentic ‘feel’.
A Trip on a Barge. Cover. 1947A Trip on A Barge. Title Page 1947
Cover and Title Page from ‘A Trip on A Barge – A Small Boys Adventures with the Water Gypsies’  by Bert Thomas. 1947.

Bert Thomas is interesting ,not least for the fact that he was a professional cartoonist and the son of a sculptor. In the early 1900’s he moved to London and worked for magazines & newspapers such as ‘Punch’ and ‘The Evening News’. He designed the ‘Arf A Mo, Kaiser ‘ poster in the First World War and designs for National Service and the railways in the Second W W. His design for ‘Is Your Journey Necessary’ is justly famous. He also produced several instructive books  for children of which A Trip on a Barge is one.Imacon Color Scanner   !CF6DiU!BWk~$(KGrHqN,!i8E1N!05Y9DBNWqsOws6g~~_12
Information posters designed by Bert Thomas.
‘A Trip on a Barge’  is produced in the artists typical cartoon style with a cartoon illustration accompanied by text on each of the 15 pages of the book. Its interesting that within the limits of a cartoon style Thomas manages to convey an accuracy in detail and authenticity which shows that unlike many earlier illustrators, he was an eyewitness to the scenes he drew.A Trip on A Barge Illus 3A Trip on A Barge Illus 1

Published at the height of post war austerity on cheap paper but with colour(albeit only three) illustrations, this book is a charming and unassuming treasure of 1940’s book design. The books rarity is probably due to its ephemeral nature  and style and as it does not appear in any canal children's book list that I’ve seen one can only assume that it's not deemed important enough!!
For me its beauty lies in its authenticity, and its importance, in the fact that it is the FIRST English children's book to be illustrated in a cartoon style.
It is quite Unique !!
One last observation – The breasted up pair of boats nearing the bridge in the illustration above with a general stores on the left of the bridge. Could this be the famous boaters store at Marsworth ?. Looks like it to me!
On to a  Good Thing ?
Finally the 1940’s output of juvenile titles ended in 1948 with the publication of four more titles.
Malcolm Saville followed up his 1947 book success with a new title – ‘Two Fair Plaits’. Set on the Regents Canal and the London Docks. It is the second book in his Jillies series.
Two Fair Plaits 1st Ed115 

A young David Severn produced ‘The Cruise of the Maiden Castle’  during this year (1948). His real name was David Unwin son of the Unwin half of the publishers Allen & Unwin. The fact that his father told him that his publishing house had lost a million and a half children's books in the London Blitz and that consequently there was a severe shortage of books for children, may have influenced the author to start writing for kids in 1943.

Also published in 1948 and only four years after Garry Hogg's book with the same title - The Dust Jacket to Marjory Cleves book is printed in typical War austerity colours. A girls school tale.
Cruise of the Maiden Castle 1st

Finally, and the last book of the decade , ‘Escape to Adventure’  is probably one of the best books of this period. From a critical point of view authenticity is again the key note , so its unsurprising to find that its author was one of the wartime trainees on the Grand Union Canal Scheme (the so called Idle Women). Susan Woolfitt who had already published an autobiographical account of her life on the boats with ‘Idle Women ‘ in 1947 (See my Jan 2011 post – ‘Who Was Amy’ - go to  ) wrote this exciting and very realistic account of two children and their canal adventures. It is again a very scarce book and I show the only copy I have seen with a dust wrapper (battered & torn I'm afraid).!
To continue – Go to my posts archive for  Children’s Books Part7.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, this is great, brings back great memories of reading when I was young!