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Narrow Boat Paperback – 15 Jun 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press (15 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 075245109X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752451091
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 399,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


There is no better description of a landscape and life that is now a distant memory. --Journal of the Railway and Canal Historical Society, March 2010

About the Author

L. T. C. ROLT trained as an engineer, but his fame rests on his classic biographies of Brunel, Telford, Trevithick, and the Stephensons, his superb volumes of autobiography ("Landscape with Machines," "Landscape with Canals," and "Landscape with Figures"), his volumes of transport history, and "Red for Danger," an account of railway disasters of Britain. He founded the Inland Waterways Association and was instrumental in encouraging interest in Britain s industrial heritage at Tal-y-llyn and elsewhere. "

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It really is a classic. If you are looking for a history of British canals, this is not the book for you. But as an elegy for a world we have lost (the book was written in the summer and autumn of 1939) it cannot be beaten. It should be read in the same spirit as 'Lark Rise to Candleford'. On publication, after the war, it was greeted with huge enthusiasm, as people remembered what tey had been fighting for. As a consequence of it's publication, the Inland Waterways Association was formed, which has managed to transform British canals. If you enjoy the canals, as boater, walker or historian, this is the book that more than any other stopped them from being filled in the sixties. And it is at least arguable that Rolt's writings were highly influential on the early days of the self sufficiency movement, and so, ultimately, Green politics. And it is beautifully written.
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Format: Paperback
Rolt is an excellent writer, with a good eye for what he sees and good descriptive text, but with massive cultural blinkers.

His description of his travels on board his converted narrow boat Cressy back in the 1940s was to be one of the sparks leading to the foundation of the Inland Waterways Association and the restoration of the British canal network.

In the regard of writing about his journey, and his description of the life of the few remaining owners of horse-drawn boats when he encountered them, he gives many useful details (I'd never known that concertinas were popular instruments among boatsmen).

However, his blinkers come from his conviction that everything of the past is good and everything of the machine age is bad. He says quite seriously that he believes the canals to be the safest form of transport ever devised, but does not spot the contradiction when he encounters a boatman whose daughter had recently drowned in a lock (in fact, drownings and other accidents were pretty common).

He comments on the life span of over a hundred of some old countrymen in the parish records he views and attributes it to their simple life, but fails to spot the high infant mortality in those same records.

He loves his books, but believes that the illiterate boatman loses nothing by his lack of knowledge.

It's a good book if you want to read about the pre-restoration Inland Waterways, complete with the last surviving canal pubs (in the era of real ale served in a jug), but you may find it a touch annoying if you feel that you wouldn't actually want to have lived in Olde England even if it looks very charming in retrospect.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is regarded as the definitive work that led to the saving of the canal network in Britain by inspiring Robert Aikmann, among others - and not least Tom Rolt himself - to set up the Inland Waterways Association. Having heard all of this reported by various other sources, I decided that I needed to read the actual words of the great man for myself. Unfortunately, as often happens with many a keenly anticipated treat, I found the book a disappointment. I understood (and agreed with) Rolt's robust defence of the canals and his concern that they were about to disappear in the name of development, but after a while I tired of his incessant idealising of the old ways of canal and country life and his constant carping criticism and rejection of everything that was done to bring about progress and modernisation. It turned out to be a love song for an idyllic rural past brutally done down by modern developments. I did relate to the sentiments of a tranquil and beautiful world under threat, but I couldn't buy into his vitriolic antagonism towards anything even vaguely connected to the modern world. (A bit hypocritical that he was using a fossil fuel-wasting modern engine to power the boat, rather than a horse!) The narrative has the occasional reference to the idea of harmonising old and new, but his intolerance towards development clearly shows through. Most irritatingly, he writes in a rather dated style that is both supercilious and pompous; even his endorsements of the honest working canal folk are delivered from a lofty patrician perch, as if examining a sub-species. All of that said, I do think it is an important book. Written at the time of the second world war, it is an escape from harsh reality and captures a world that is changing irrevocably.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This wonderful book, beautifully written, has been an inspiration to many with an interest in canals. The author, Tom Rolt, captured the imagination of the public when it was first published in 1944 and without this book and its influence, it may be that much more of our canal system, which was facing dereliction at that time, would have been lost forever. Tom takes us on a four hundred mile canal trip and brings to us a whole way of life of the commercial boaters that was about to die. It is beautifully written and now, over 60 years after first publication, has attained the status of an historic classic. Tom was a brave pioneer in choosing to start his married life on the canals with his young bride, Angela, at the outbreak of World War 2. Read the book and tell me if it does not inspire your interest in our canal legacy. First editions now fetch around £100, so treat yourself to a bargain! Tom, who died in 1974, aged 64, had strong views about how modern life was damaging our heritage, and some of his opinions are raised in this book. Nevertheless, it was that concern which was in a large part his inspiration to make his journey and a life on the canals. Without that we would not have been rewarded with this masterpiece, which amazingly was his first published work.
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