Canal Folk Art Links and Collections

The best way to get the most pleasure and understanding from the folk art of the canal is to experience the real thing, but because real carrying boats are now quite rare the quickest way to the best examples is through the various museums that specialise in the subject. See our Canal Museums section.

There are three major waterway museums in England, at GloucesterEllesmere Port and Stoke Bruerne near Towcester, and they have the biggest collections of canal art on permanent display, but an increasing number of smaller exhibitions and interpretation centres are opening throughout the canal network. Most of them have a few folk art items, and some general local museums have specific canal displays. Blakes Lock museum in Reading has an especially good collection of painted ware, but much of the best work is still to be discovered by exploration, on display in canalside shops and pubs, or floating by on the boats.

Perhaps the ultimate way to the deepest appreciation is to do it yourself, and all three museums and a number of individuals offer training courses on various aspects of canal arts and crafts at different times during the year. See their websites linked from the Museums pages for up to the minute news of their courses and the availability of places.

Guild of Waterways Artists

The Guild was founded during the 1980’s by a group of artists who were also keen waterway enthusiasts.

Notable among these were Garth Allan, Brian Collings, Alan Firth and Harley Crossley The aim was to truthfully depict rivers and canals, their work, architecture, boats and people and to promote the best in waterways art. Guild Website

Canal Art Books

Many canal history books have passing references to canal boat decoration, but there are very few dedicated specifically to the subject. The most recent and most comprehensive to date is written by the author of these Canal Junction folk art pages, so I will put it at the top of the list and get the self publicity out of the way!

Lewery, Tony, Flowers Afloat, David and Charles 1996. This book is a lavishly illustrated history and description of the art of the narrow boat, and explores the traditional way of life of the men and women who developed it to its present form. ISBN 0 7153 0145 4

Hill, John M., From Stem to Stern, The Belmont Press, Harrow 1989A thorough, practical, ring-bound working handbook to all aspects of narrow boat signwriting and decoration illustrated throughout with clear diagrammatic line illustrations by the author. ISBN 0 905366 27 1


Snowhill - linocut by Eric Gaskell

Rolt, Sonia., A Canal People – the photographs of Robert Longden -Sutton Publishing Ltd. 1997. For the best atmospheric photographs of the narrowboat world when it was working, perfectly illustrating how the arts of the narrow boats intermeshed with the life of the boat people. Simply perfect. ISBN 0 7509 1048 8.

Wilson, Robert J., Roses and Castles, Stoke Bruerne Museum, 1976. A slim 50 page thoroughly illustrated booklet, about the arts of the narrow boats including diamond designs, ropework, Birmingham boats as well as painted flowers. Several crisp diagrams by Robert Wilson, and 8 pages of colour pictures.

For an introduction to canal boat crochet work, try Channin, Sara and Ann Gardiner. Canal Boat Cabin Crochet, pub. by the Boat Museum Society, Ellesmere Port, 1994.

For a good description of the whole field of folk art and how the canal work fits into it, see: Ayres, James. British Folk Art, Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. 1977. ISBN 0 214 20269 0

For a description of clothing traditions of the boat people see: Lansdell, Avril., The Clothes of the Cut, British Waterways Board, 1976.

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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