Britain at Work

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Spring 2019

Chris M. Jones explores the details of waterway photographs published in an early 20th-century book

In 1902, publishing house Cassell & Company produced a book called Britain At Work, A Pictorial Description Of Our National Industries. Several photographs showing inland waterways craft appear in its pages, with a typically Victorian description of boaters and their work in a chapter entitled ‘Barge Life’. Looking beyond the condescending prose, there are some nuggets of information about trade and traffics, accounts of life on the water from the boaters themselves, and a description of a cabin obviously based on first-hand observation. In the first part, the writer describes a barge involved in the Middlesex brick trade, which could either be a wideor narrow-beam craft. Reference was made to the familiar cabin layout and its bottle stove, “shaped something like an egg”, which was a common feature of 19th-century boats. Of particular interest is a description of the cabin decoration. “Your first impression would probably be of bright blue and red co…

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