Reprint editions of Rolt’s autobiographic trilogy
THE LAST year or so has been a fruitful period for lovers of the waterway writings of L T C Rolt. Firstly the publication of a new edition of his original classic Narrow Boat followed shortly by one of Green & Silver. Now we are presented with reprint editions of his autobiographical trilogy Landscape With Machines, Landscape With Canals, Landscape with People.
This is the fourth time that that the three single volumes have been re-issued but there was also a bumper two-inch thick combined volume which was just a little heavy to handle. Of the three, that which focusses on canals seems obviously of most interest to waterway readers, but as this is Rolt’s actual life story you should read them all as they set the context of his other works within his lifetime experiences.
The new volumes are reproduced unaltered except for new forewords. In previous reviews of Rolt’s works I have already confessed to being a ‘groupie’ and lucky enough to know the family.
Here (in case you think it reflects further bias) I must further confess that I was honoured to be asked to write the new foreword to Landscape With Canals. The new forewords to the other two volumes are written by Rolt’s sons Tim and Richard.
A whole life story is difficult to summarise in a brief review but ‘Machines’ covers the early part of Rolt’s family life, the countryside of his youth, his first involvement in steam-driven family machinery leading on to his engineering apprenticeship at Stoke-on-Trent’s Kerr Stuart locomotive builders. It then details his partnership a garage business but, most important for canal buffs, his first cruises aboard Cressy during the ownership of his uncle.
The second book on the theme of canals throws a new personal light and background to the basic story of the cruise of the Cressy and his and his then wife Angela’s life aboard: The main theme of the famous Narrow Boat. It covers Rolt’s first efforts to get into print and gives a more detailed insight into the early days of what he terms the ‘canal crusade’. The founding of IWA and the schisms that led to his resignation, linked to the break-up of his marriage with Angela.
Following the insights into his canal life the final volume – written mostly when he was seriously ill and not published until two decades after his death in May 1974 – starts with more background to his equally famous Railway Adventure; the book which first sold me on his writing. It covers his meeting and marriage to Sonia and the move back to the family home at Stanley Pontlarge and much more about his involvement in motoring, and his then somewhat financially mixed success as an author.
Perhaps the most fascinating are the insights into his philosophy of life and future aims and involvement in the movements for the preservation of Britain’s industrial and built heritage. Some of which he lived to see but many others which a wide range of his admirers have worked to see his dreams come true. Long may we continue to follow his example.
All three books are illustrated with mostly good reproductions of the original photographs. Whilst one shouldn’t tamper with classic illustrative material, perhaps the inclusion of two recently discovered pictures, showing Cressy newly converted and its melancholy end at Stone would have been of great relevance? Some might also mourn the lack of use of Felix Kelly’s atmospheric original cover paintings.
Landscape With Machines, Landscape With Canals and Landscape with People by
L T C Rolt are published by The History Press in softback, priced £14.99 each.