Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Liz McIvor Sue Wilkes is an au­thor who spe­cialises in fam­ily, so­cial and in­dus­trial his­tory

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

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