The fascination of boots and canals. Boots have always been one of the most essential pieces of equipment for canals and canal-life.
In this episode we re-join impresario, journalist and social reformer, James Hollingshead on his journey up what would later be known as the Grand Union in the late 1850s. We will discover his fascination with the footwear of those working on the canals and find out that the importance of the boot for canal-life is every bit as true today as it was in Victorian times.
“5th March, Friday.
This week, after an absence of some weeks, the cormorant is regularly back.
Always circling the tree two or three times,
Always alighting on the same branch.
The names we give to it sing like a litany or a darkly gothic ballad.
Brongie, coal goose, cowe’en elder, lairblade, parson, morvran, carn-hoverer, sea crow, scart.
It’s as if we recognise that we can never capture a life like this in a single name;
Its strange elusive beauty,
Its sleekness, its elegance and poise.
Balanced there on that gnarled branch
Caught somewhere between darkness and light.”
In this episode I read some extracts from John Hollingshead’s ‘On the Canal’ published in Odd Journeys in and out of London (1860).
I also read excerpts from John Clare’s (1820) The Shepherd’s Calendar. The text to ‘March’ can be read here - Poem Hunter: The Shepherd’s Calendar - March.
I also read the last verse of John Masefield’s (1903) ‘Cargoes’. The full poem can be read here: John Masefield – Cargoes.
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In the intro and the outro, Saint-Saen's The Swan is performed by Karr and Bernstein (1961) and available on CC at archive.org.
Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded to Freesound.org on 23rd June 2018. Creative Commons Licence.
Piano interludes composed and performed by Helen Ingram.
All other audio recorded on site.
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