Narrow Boat

  • New edition published by History Press, 2014
  • Eighteen different editions with six different publishers over 70 years
  • First edition by Eyre & Spottiswoode 1944
How to buy

Narrow Boat - new 2014 edition

Marking seventy years since its original publication in 1944, the 2014 edition features a new cover (see picture on right) plus new black-and-white illustrations by Eric Gaskell along with a foreword by Jo Bell, Canal Laureate.

Also featured in this edition are the photographs of Angela Rolt that were originally intended to accompany the text. These are supplemented by other photographs from the time, along with the woodcuts from the original edition by Denys Watkins Pitchford.

Narrow Boat is published by the Canal & River Trust and the History Press, 2014, price £14.99, and can be ordered direct from the publishers (See How to buy).

Earlier editions

This famous book may be said to have started the revival of interest in the English waterways. It led to the formation of the Inland Waterways Association (see the IWA website), and hence to the modern canal movement. Certainly it can claim to have made most people familiar with the term ‘narrow boat’.

As a story, the book is extraordinarily interesting and informative. It is, however, more than that. As Sir Compton Mackenzie wrote "it is an elegy of classic restraint unmarred by any trace of sentiment" for a way of life and a landscape which have receded more and more into the past in the years since the book first appeared in 1944. Rolt's pen, continued Mackenzie, "is as sure as the brush of a Cotman. Narrow Boat will go on the shelf with White and Cobbett and Hudson."

"He brings a profound historic, topographical and general interest not only in the canals themselves but in the vestiges of the rural culture directly or indirectly connected with them beside their banks. He is thus offering the reader something unique in the rich modern literature of our native countryside ... To regard Mr Rolt’s book as nostalgic is, therefore, wholly to misinterpret it. He is pleading for something that is part of the soul of England."
H J Massingham in his foreword to the 1944 edition

"An engineer by profession, a humanist and almost a poet by temperament, Mr LTC Rolt has long loved the English canals...The book mingles description and anecdote with much fascinating lore about canal life and tradition."
The Manchester Guardian

E-edition of Narrow Boat

Narrow Boat is now available as a kindle edition published by Kemsing Publishing 2014. This new e-book features all the evocative wood cuts by Denys Watkins Pitchford that graced the first edition. It also includes a photographic section with many of the photographs taken by Angela Rolt and intended for publication with the original edition. Other historical and previously unseen photos of Cressy and the canal world of the 1930s and 40s are also included. Also reproduced are all of the covers to earlier print editions of the book.

"As Editor of Waterways World magazine I spoke with many early canal enthusiasts. Asked what had attracted them to the waterways they would say, almost without exception, 'reading Narrow Boat'. ...the end of this book, far from closing doors, opened up a whole new world for me, and for many others. I am sure that it will continue to do so for many more decades. That 'sense of peace unassailable and timeless' can still be found on our canals - thanks to Narrow Boat."
Hugh Potter in his foreword to the new e-edition

The Kindle edition can be downloaded from Amazon.

Narrow Boat - 2014 edition book cover

Narrow Boat - first edition book cover

Narrow Boat - second edition book cover

Narrow Boat - ebook cover
© copyright Sonia Rolt