Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Flower of Gloster

When I first became interested in canals there were really only two books that everyone had to read: Tom Rolt's "Narrow Boat" and "The Flower of Gloster" by E Temple Thurston.
I managed Narrow Boat several years ago but have only recently got round to The Flower of Gloster after finding a copy in the local Oxfam shop.
The book is an account of a circular trip undertaken by the author from Oxford via Warwick, Stratford - on - Avon, Tewkesbury, Stroud and the Thames and Severn Canal and was first published in 1911. My copy is a "reprint" of a "new impression" published by David and Charles in 1972 and including a foreword by Rolt.
Temple Thurston's trip didn't include the Shropshire Union Canal, so I turned first of all to the chapter on Lowsonford (or "Lowson Ford" as its described) as it was here, on the Southern Stratford Canal that Starcross was moored when we bought her. It's a sad chapter: the author meets an elderly man who's wife of fifty-one years has just died. He comes across him staring over the bridge in the centre of the village, too afraid of the loneliness awaiting him to go home, but Temple Thurston has to leave him there, staring after the boat disappearing into the distance.
Thankfully this is not a typical chapter and indeed the book is both entertaining and amusing as well as being an insight into the waterways before the first world war. As on any trip, more attention is paid to some parts than others: there's quite a bit about the Oxford Canal, particularly Shipton-on-Cherwell, which gets three full chapters and Cropredy, which gets four! Other parts are left out completely, with no indication of how he got from Tewkesbury to Stroud for example. There's also nothing about the domestic arrangements on board what was presumably an unconverted horse-drawn narrowboat. Temple Thurston is accompanied by a boatman, "Eynsham Harry" who no doubt does all the work, including looking after the horse, but as to where they eat or sleep he is silent. Somehow I can't imagine Temple Thurston sharing a back cabin with his boatman, who you get the impression was probably sent off to share the stable with the horse!
The author certainly doesn't share my taste in boating. After ascending Knowle locks (six of course in his day) and proceeding a little way towards Birmingham he finds it all too horrible to contemplate and gets Eynsham Harry to turn round and head for Stratford instead. Here, the Upper Avon being still unnavigable he decides to walk to Evesham but instructs Harry to take the boat - single handed - back up the Stratford and down the Worcester & Birmingham to the Severn, then back up the Lower Avon (a journey of 98 miles and 117 locks according to Nick's Canal Planner) to meet him "the next day". Unsurprisingly, not even Eynsham Harry can manage this timetable and it is "several days" before they meet again - in Tewkesbury.
All in all, its a really entertaining read and well worth tracking down - but I'm hanging on to my copy!

Incidentally, the unusual and archaic spelling of "Gloucester" in the name of the boat and the book is still in use locally as a useful short-hand form of the city's name.


WhatKathyDid said...

Interesting post. Have started reading "Narrow Boat" about a week ago. I didn't realise until after I'd started it that it was a seminal text and that the Rolt's journey was being recreated this year for the centenary of his birth.
Will have to get hold of a copy of "The Flower of Gloster" now...

Anonymous said...

Really entertaining book and superbly written.

It now seems to be out of copyright and is apparently available in electronic form for anyone who want to read it on an eBook/iPad, etc.

anthony smith said...

my great grandfater Charlie Atkins (Chocolate Charlie) was in this series id be grateful for any information or footage on this subject