Tales from the Old Inland Waterways
by Euan Corrie (1998)
This was another of Helen's finds from Barter Books "up north". Unusually, I remember her calling me at work with a list of possible purchases and her description of this one stood out.
Do you remember the Royal Tournament shows on TV in the 1970's? Each year the event included a parade of Chelsea Pensioners who fought in the 1st World War, decked out in splendid red dress coats. And each year their numbers dwindled till suddenly we lost our last living survivor of the conflict - a position which will soon be mirrored with people who have stood on the moon.
The same issue faces the Inland Waterways. In recent years we have mourned the loss of the last of the boatmen and the number of people able to offer a first hand account of life on the cut in its working era are going fast.
Euan Corrie recognised this some years ago and set out to paint a picture of the Inland Waterways at work through the accounts of a selection of interviews. His book contains 12 accounts of various aspects of waterways life: Toll Clerk, Dredger, Lengthsman, Tug Operator, Carpenter and Boatman to name but a few.
All these accounts have been framed and edited by the author to make them readable, whilst retaining at least a flavour of the interviewees own voices. All in all its quite skilfully done and allows 12 very different accounts to be melded into a single cohesive volume.
Not surprisingly, I found the accounts which were Midlands based the most compelling, Harry and Sarah Bentley in the Potteries, Joe Safe from the BCN and finally (and undoubtedly my favourite) Bill Dean who recounts his time as Canal Inspector on the Shropshire union based at Norbury.
Time may have stilled most of these tongues, but their voices can still be heard through their accounts of life around the cut in its final few decades of trading. Specifically, I will never be able to pass through Lapley Cutting above Wheaton Aston without recalling the "Lapley Slip" which closed the canal in the 1940's and again in the 1960's - and search out the location where water saturated soil slid down the slope trees and all.
If you only buy a handful of old waterways books each year, get this one.