Argee Bargee

canal boatsFloating art is not street art. Canal boats or narrow boats are often adorned with colourful art pieces within and amongst their possessions.  By the latter part of the 19th century it was common practice to paint roses and castles on both narrow boats themselves and their fixtures and fittings. Common sites include the doors to the cabin, the water can or barrel and the side of the boat along with ornate lettering giving the boat’s name and owner. However, the origins for this art is unclear. The first written reference appeared  Household Words (1858) in one of a series of articles titled “On the Canal“.

There is also an article in the Midland Daily Telegraph of 22 July 1914 that credits the practice of painting water cans,  to a Mr. Arthur Atkins. Confirmation of this claim remains uncertain. While the practice declined as commercial use of the canals dwindled, it has seen something of a revival in recent times with the emergence of leisure boating. Narrow boat decoration with roses and castle themes are a reasonably common sight on today’s canals, although these may utilise cheaper computer-printed vinyl transfers in place of the traditional craft of hand-painted designs. Many are features in the Ellesmere Port Museum in Cheshire or see some in action near Whaley Bridge.

Now, if you like Steptoe & Son and/or British Comedy Classics, try to get your hands on a copy of The Bargee (a Galton & Simpson classic) starring Harry H. Corbett who plays the Romeo of the canals in a ripping comedy with cameos from many famous British comedians.

I have put floating art into my Questionable art category of “The Good“.

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