Colours of the Cut

Edward Paget-Tomlinson, colours of the cut,

Many readers of this column may remember the series of paintings called ‘Colours of the Cut’ that appeared in the inside back cover of the monthly magazine Waterways World from 1987 to 1994.

They were full colour diagrams of the colour schemes and company liveries of boats and barges from all over the waterway system, the work of Edward Paget-Tomlinson, the much respected author, artist and canal historian who died last November. He was a good friend of mine and a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. (For more about Edward please see my piece in this 'Off the Main Line’ series for December last.) One of his major unfinished projects was a proposal to turn the series into a book, an idea that has been discussed and considered several times over the intervening ten years. However it has now emerged that new plans for the book with a new publisher were well advanced when he left his desk for the last time, and I have been given the sad but enormously satisfying task of carrying this project forward. Things are going well and publication is now planned for September this year (and I suspect I will be tempted to talk about it even more then.)

The new book will contain many historic black and white photographs as well as the coloured illustrations and one of the preparatory tasks has been to sort through Edward’s collection of archive photographs to find some suitable for the job. One of several pleasant surprises was to discover just what a good photographer he was himself, and how committed he was to waterways back in the 1950s when he was simultaneously working on big ship history at the National Maritime Museum, followed by his work as Keeper of Shipping at Liverpool Museum. He was not just looking though - he was taking notes and taking extremely good, clear, well-composed pictures too, and I will be able to add many of the supporting photographs from Edward’s own personal portfolio. As examples, and as a special treat, a couple are included here from a whole sequence taken on the Grand Union Canal in 1956.

I always knew that Edward worked hard but having this opportunity to ferret about in his studio and office is even more of a revelation of the breadth of his knowledge and the scale of his achievements. Yes, there are boxes full of canal photos, and files full of notes, and plan chest drawers full of drawings and paintings - ample evidence one would think of a respectable lifetime’s work, but there are almost equal amounts of research material about railways, and about shipping, and trams, and horses… His library of transport books is terrific, enough reading matter for several normal lives but one shelf is full of books in German, just to add a little extra challenging flavour. There are collections and notebooks and transparencies and project notes for proposed books and a big stuffed guillemot in a glass case keeping a beady eye on everything. What a man! And in amongst the paintings was a single sheet with the three coloured diagrams shown here all entwined together, which we have separated apart for clarity (top left and below). With many thanks to Pam Paget-Tomlinson for letting me use this painting, I offer to you, dear reader, this world exclusive view of yet more of Edward’s unpublished work. Look out for the big book in September - put it on your Christmas list now!

© Tony Lewery, The Brow, Ellesmere, June 2004

The book is now available from Landmark publishers - more details and order form.

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