Canals and Waterways by M.E. Ware

Ware M.E. (2003) Canals and Waterways Shire Publications ISBN 0 85263 878 7

The Shire Book series provides inexpensive and concise introductions to a wide range of heritage, vintage and transport related topics. Slim paperbacks, they often only run to between 60 and 100 pages. They follow a similar formula, with a reliance on reasonably well reproduced photographs, often detailed captions and a summarising narrative.

In Canals and Waterways Michael Ware, collector of historic canal photographs and a former Curator of the National Motor Museum, traces the history of what he describes as the artificial waterways from Roman days through to the decline of commercial traffic in the 1950’s. The book covers the building of canals, the structures that make them work, their maintenance and the boats that travelled on them. The last chapter shows the canals in decline, giving some of the reasons for the closure of many waterways, and describing why pleasure boating has now taken over.

The book(let) is inevitably, in places, frustratingly succinct and has broad brush stroke style that can only touch on fascinating details before haring off to another facet of the canal system. However, Ware’s commentary is at times engaging, and likely to encourage you to turn to the many other waterways titles out there that deal with the subjects he can only touch upon here, in greater depth.

If I put that minor grumble aside, the illustrations help carry what is a lively introduction to the history on the inland waterways.

So, if you’re after a concise and well illustrated ‘snapshot’ read, one that encompasses everything from ‘canal mania’ to the decline of commercial carrying in just 85 picture-packed pages, you’ll not be disappointed.

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