Canals in Colour

Picturing the Past: NarrowBoat, Winter 2020

Christopher M Jones

Roger Butler and Chris M. Jones examine rare colour photos of the waterways first published in a magazine of 1936, alongside a collection of evocative black and white images

The Geographical Magazine was launched in May 1935 with the aim of providing “an understanding of the world that no other periodicals can give”. Some of the first issues took readers to Turkey, Tehran and Tahiti, but an article that appeared in October 1936 stayed firmly on home soil. This explored the country’s canals – “an unfamiliar side of English life today” – and the front cover, with a splash of red across the masthead, featured a black-and-white portrait of boatwoman Nellie Freeth at Hatton Locks.Colourful cut ‘The Canals of England’ article was written by popular journalist and broadcaster Petre Mais, more usually known as S.P.B. Mais. It included four full-page colour photographs, which were a rarity before World War II. The images were taken by Dr Douglas Spencer, the inventor of an early photographic process called Vivex. This was used from 1928 until the start of the war, though the method, with separate waxed celloph…

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