BOOKS & DATA DISCS
This month’s family history inspiration n
This book, which accompanies the recent BBC television series, offers “a journey into the heart of industrial Britain”.
Many standard canal histories have been published, but here McIvor commendably offers readers an alternative viewpoint of the waterways and the boats that travelled along them: “a kind of living museum to an era of ‘ busyness’”. The book comprises six themed chapters, each covering an ambitious timescale. For example, the ‘Engineers: Yorkshire’ chapter begins with Domesday, then moves on to the birth of the woollen industry; James Brindley; the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; Saltaire; then the Huddersfield Canal and Thomas Telford.
McIvor explains in her introduction that the book “is not written with the academic in mind”, and readers accustomed to a chronological narrative may find the hopping forward and back between different time periods confusing. Some inaccuracies have crept in. Irish migrants to Britain in the 18th century worked in agriculture and domestic textile industries, not just road- or canal-building as suggested. There’s scarce evidence that most canal navvies were Irish, either. Also, familycrewed boats first appeared on Midland canals early in the 19th century, long before any competition from the railways.
The author explores many aspects of industrial history such as child labour in the Potteries, and canal families’ lives. She compares the boat families’ custom of giving away their children to other families with the pauper apprenticeship system. However, parish apprenticeships did not end in the 1870s, as noted in the book – they cont inued well into thehe 20th centurycentury.
The book has a plate section, plus black-and-white illustrations within the text, and an index. A ‘Further Reading’ appendix steers readers towards exploring some of the topics covered in greater depth.
McIvor is clearly enthusiastic about her subject. Fans of social history should find much to relish, and will enjoy the ride along with the TV series.
Liz McIvor’s book accompanies a major BBC series on the history
of the UK’s canals