feature author of the season - summer 23
John Evans has always been fascinated by industrial archaeology and messed up his GCEs by spending too much time watching the disappearance of steam locomotives at his native Northampton. Right from an early age he was equally fascinated by canals and took his very first colour photo at Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union in 1965.
He spent much of his career working in the motor industry, latterly as General Manager of Corporate Communications for Mercedes-Benz UK. Throughout his career he has always written for magazines about aviation, railways and classic cars.
Since retiring, he has made most of his 2,000 colour slides taken in the 1960s and 1970s available on photo sharing sites, and from seeing these, Amberley Publishing asked him to write a book about steam railways.
He has now written ten books for Amberley on railways, buses - and latterly the Rochdale Canal. This is located only a mile from his home in West Yorkshire and he has walked and sailed it regularly.
A real bonus when writing the Rochdale Canal book was meeting Nigel Lord, who lives just a few hundred yards away, but was able to help with much of the story of the canal in its revival days. Nigel was a key part of the reconstruction team.
John has an MA in English, is a regular canal and river sailor (renting, admittedly) and is married with two equally boating-minded adult children.
The Rochdale Canal - a review
"Twenty years have passed since the Rochdale Canal reopened following a restoration scheme that faced almost impossible hurdles. One of three commercial waterways across the Pennines, the canal links the industrial North West and North East, flowing through mill towns, beneath dramatic bridges and traverses spectacular hilly scenery. Its 91 locks present a strenuous challenge for boaters, while it has become popular with walkers, cyclists, houseboat residents and casual sailors. The revival of the canal has helped to bring new life to the towns and villages along its route. This book takes a journey on boats and on foot along its 32-mile length, telling its story in colour through historians, canal users, lock keepers and all those who today utilise the canal in ways its originators never conceived."
I had heard of the Rochdale Canal, of course, but I didn't know much about it other than it rose out of Manchester. The Manchester section, I believed, was a place to get through as quickly as possible, as it was subject to vandalism and unsociable behaviour. Beyond this, all I knew was that the canal passed over the Pennines, so would have some beautiful sections; that there were an awful lot of locks; and that there was a great shortage of water. Not then a canal which would appear on my list of places to explore.
This little book by John Evans, however, has completely changed my mind. OK, there are still a tremendous number of locks, and the canal does occasionally run low on water, especially near the summit. But I have been caught up in John's enthusiasm and fondness for the canal, and I now firmly believe it is a canal well worth tackling - and before I get much older!
The book is fascinating. When I first picked it up, I was grateful that there were only 34 pages of text, while the next 60 pages or so were photographs. But the text engrossed me straight away, and by the time I had read it, I immediately went on to read the captions for every stunning photograph.
Of necessity, the book goes into a great deal of history relating to the Rochdale Canal: it has opened, had its heyday, been closed and re-opened after an almost inconceivable amount of foresight, determination and effort. The book also includes a complete guide to the canal from end to end, enlivened by comments and stories from boaters, bar tenders, walkers and cyclists. And all the time the author's love for and interest in the canal surroundings - whether industrial or picturesque - has us wanting to see everything for ourselves.
There are several moments through the book when I have been surprised, sometimes shocked, once horrified, and a couple of times when I have had to laugh out loud. What more can you ask from a book on a canal?
John Evans lives a mile away from the Rochdale Canal. He loves Britain's industrial heritage, and enjoys the urban sections of the canal as much as the more picturesque parts. His book is a must read for any boaters who are tempted to face the challenges of the Rochdale Canal - or for boaters who can be tempted. John has published many books, prior to this one. They are mainly about the history of our railways, but would always be worth a read by those boaters who are fond of steam.