First published 1993; new edition 2023.
Towards the late 1950s, horse-drawn narrow boats became a rarer and rarer sight on Britain's canals. Carrying a wide variety of cargoes to such destinations as the Potteries, the textile mills of Lancashire, the papermills of London, the colleges of Oxford, they struggled on against increasing competition from rail and road traffic to maintain their place in the country's economy. Yet little has been written about the families who lived and worked on these boats – in particular the women.
Drawing on recorded interviews with the few boatwomen left who were born and bred on horse-drawn boats, Sheila Stewart recounted their experiences as seen through the eyes of an illiterate boatwoman, travelling mainly on the Oxford Canal through the Great War, the Depression, the Second World War, and the decline of the canals. It is a poignant account of astonishing courage and resilience, capturing a unique way of life during the first sixty years of the twentieth century.