Chester Canal Heritage Trust


Decorative Painting

Canal Art, the traditional means of decorating canal boats. Roses and Castles is the popular name for the traditional paintwork of the narrow boats, bunches of roses and medieval castles being common features. This traditional style of art covered everything, from a water can, to the washbasin and even the horses feed tin. On the most elaborate side roses decorated all over the outside of the boat and its equipment, entwined with lettering on the cabin side, on the rudder and even appeared on horse harnesses.

This delightful style of British folk art is surviving well and is still giving pleasure; old examples are now treasured and displayed in museums.

Below is an example of canal art:

Below is an example of how to paint a traditional canal rose:

Roses are probably the most popular and most commonly associated with canal art, they are built up in stages or layers. Layers of colour and shape overlap until you are left with the final piece as shown above.

Cabin Lace

When boatmen married they began taking their wives to live on board the canal boat in the tiny cabin. As a way of enhancing the appearance of the cabin the wives began creating lace or crochet, this was a way of improving the appearance of the cabin but without taking up much if any precious space. The wives were able to create the lace with their own hands and it could be seen all around the cabin. It would be pinned up where walls joined or trimmed along shelves.

As many of the canal boats carried dirty cargo such as coal, it was only natural that the lace would become very dirty very quickly. The crochet lace was made out of cotton and this allowed the wives to boil it back to its original colour of white and stretch it back into shape. Depending on the skills of the boatwomen many would also add finishing edges of blues, pinks and reds to enhance their work. Other wives used their crochet skills to create belts and braces for their husbands.

The boatwomen developed a great skill creating the crochet work for their cabins, turning the cabins into an art form of their own.