Saturday, October 28, 2006

Reflections on the canal

‘I’ve no idea how the working boatwomen managed to crochet with hands chapped and roughened by the cold and wet.’

Elizabeth Bryant, lace-maker extraordinaire describes herself as a Jack-of-all-trades, Master-of-non, despite her ‘Master’ accreditation in Cabin Lace.
Over the years Liz has turned her hand to many crafts, glass etching, stained glass and painting, to mention a few. ‘At one time I sold Victorian Peg People in Liberty in London,’ Liz said. ‘Children with kites or hoops; ladies with parasols. I also made models of several well-known smugglers, as well as thatched cottages, oast houses and churches. I enjoyed researching the smuggling history of the south east of England.’

But when Liz and husband, Paul bought a share in a narrowboat, she read up about the lives and skills of the working boatwomen. ‘I felt it was really important not to let them die out unappreciated. The Waterway Craft Guild does a lot to keep the old canal skills alive,’ she said. And it was through the Guild that she applied to become a ‘journeyman’ in the craft of Crochet and Cabin Lace.
Liz says she was most surprised when she was accredited a ‘Master’ and now, despite her vision impairment, tries to be worthy of the title by spreading the tradition as much as possible.

Today Liz and Paul have their own ‘project’ boat, Reflections. She says that when her husband has time from making double basses, ‘cellos and violas, they enjoy the beauty of the Inland Waterways.
The photo of Reflections was the one Liz used last year as a Christmas card.
It’s an ideal seasonal picture with the narrowboat crusted in a layer of frost. But Liz says, ‘Breaking sheets of thin ice on the canals is very musical, but frozen ropes hurt my hands. I’ve no idea how the working boatwomen managed to crochet with hands chapped and roughened by the cold and wet.'

Another article about Liz’s work was posted earlier. You can find out more about Liz and her lacework at
Also read about Paul Bryant, who 30 years ago taught himself to make violins. Today Paul specializes in basses and his instruments are found in many British orchestras.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

White ensign flies in Nelson's memory

The Church of All Saints in Burnham Thorpe flies an 18th century White Ensign in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson who was christened there by his father, Edmund - the rector.
Nelson had written that he would expect to be buried there along with his family, but his final resting place after the Battle of Trafalgar was St Paul's Cathedral.
When raised to the peerage in 1798 Nelson took the title Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe.
Only one other church is Britain is permitted to fly the White Ensign and that is St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The excellent photo comes from author, Hester Devenport. Hester's biographies of both Mary Robinson (Perdita) and Fanny Burney are available at

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Trafalgar Day - 21 Oct 1805

What better day to read the final pages of Pockock's book, Trafalgar, than today - the 201st anniversay of that awful battle.
As the majority of his story is made up of letters written on board the British, French and Spanish ships immediatley prior to, or after the battle, the words are poignant - the descriptions of carnage of both men and vessel - unbelieveable.
Likewise, Nelson's last few hours spent below deck are reported in such a way one feels as though one is present at his passing.
And following the French defeat, Pockock writes of the gales which lashed the fleets for several few days, sinking many of the prizes and robbing the seaman of their hard earned rewards.
Ironically hundreds of those seamen and marines, who survived that most horrendous sea battle, died at the hands of the hurricane-force storm, uncerimoniuosly joining their mates in the deep.
I now wish I had read the book before visiting Victory this year.
I must go back one day.
Photo (M Muir): The Royal barge of Charles 11 (built 1670) carried Nelson's coffin along the River Thames. (Royal Navel dockyard museum, Portmouth)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Canal crafts - the skill of the boatwoman

What is this beautiful hand made item?
At a quick glance it could be an iced birthday cake.
No, you say!
Or a lace garter – elegant enough for a bride to wear!
Believe it or not, this is a pair or horses’ earcaps made in fine lace and decorated with brightly coloured tassels, the type crocheted by the boatwomen on the canals to keep the flies from the boat-horses’ ears a century ago.
On her website, Liz Bryant displays the crafts of the boatwomen who decorated their barges by trimming the shelves, portholes, chimneys and even their horses with lacework in various designs.
I find it sad that this sort of tradition, like the barges themselves, is dying and unlikely to return. Today, women’s hands are now occupied on production lines or keyboards, while few fingers learn to master a spinning wheel, a crochet hook or even a pair of knitting needles.
Having read about the skills of the boatwomen while researching my latest novel, I made sure the traditonal lacework was mentioned.
In my own defence, I can say that in my latter years, I learned how to spin sheep wool, alpaca fibre, cashmere and mohair and have made jumpers from my own wool.
I can tan a calf and goat hide and have made many a teddy bare and soft toy. I’ve even tanned a fish and snake skin.
And when my boys were growing up, I taught them both how to knit.
I wonder if today’s society has really progressed.
I don’t think most people could survive today without technology.

Elizabeth Bryant, an accredited Master of Crochet and Cabin Lace in the Waterways Craft Guild, continues this tradition, making crochet nets in a wide variety of traditional and original designs.
I thank Elizabeth for the image of the horse’s earcaps.
You can visit her site at:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Canal story - The Black Thread

Delighted to say that yesterday my latest manuscript was accepted by Robert Hale in London.

The Black Thread is a dramatic tale set on the Leeds and Liverpool canal and around the model-mill town of Saltaire in 1898.

I hope to see the book published by the middle of 2007.

For an insight into the background to the story, the British Waterways and the town of Saltaire, please visit my new site at:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Anne Whitfield - published author joins Hale stable

Hi everyone and thanks to Marg for having me as a guest on her blog. We share the same publisher in Robert Hale UK, but my first release with that publisher isn't out until Feb 2007.

I live in the beautiful Southern Highlands area of New South Wales, Australia. I'm married with three children and have strong ties with Yorkshire, England.
I write historical fiction, contemporary novels and short stories all of which are set in both Yorkshire and Australia.

My first historical novel - a USA release, is Kitty McKenzie set in York, Yorkshire 1864. Left bankrupt and in charge of her siblings' welfare, Kitty faces an uncertain future that tests her strength of character.
For more information about me and my books please stroll over to my website or blog.
My Website: Blogspot -

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Reliving 'Trafalgar'

Me thinks its about time I went to sea again.

Would love to write another sea story.

Currently reading Tom Pocock's Trafalgar.

Having walked on the decks of Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, makes the action, which took place at sea 200 years ago, come alive (see HMS Victory post last month)

Have also just ordered from Amazon, the first five books in the Hornblower series. I am looking forward to reading those - if I can't sail away, I can at least dream a little.

Photo: Setting sail on board HM Bark Endeavour replica in the Indian Ocean off Perth, Western Australia (M Muir)

Summer around the corner

October already!
Goats are happy and all the kids have grown well.
The grass and weeds in the garden have gown too well and need major attention!
Last week I sent off my latest manuscript and must now wait to see if it is accepted.
I'm waiting to receive copies of The Twisting Vine published 31 August - they've not yet reached Western Australia!
Also waiting on Ulverscroft large print copies of Sea Dust - also not yet arrived. I'm anxious to know what the new edition looks like.
Must start thinking about next novel and start work on it in a couple of weeks.
Must start planning a tall ship talk which I'm due to give to a Perth yacht club in a month's time.
Grandson coming to stay, so I guess all the above can wait for a few more days.