Eel, drawn by her skipper and designer, George Holmes
[June 2011 - This book is now available again after selling out less than a year after publication.]
Now that my copy has arrived, Tony Watts’ book Holmes of the Humber seems bigger than I’d expected. This is seriously good news, for although it isn’t quite coffee-table book sized, it’s nevertheless big enough to do justice to old George Holmes’ lovely illustration work.
There are also several intriguing photos of the man himself – they’re fascinating because he is so much everybody’s idea of what a slightly eccentric Edwardian uncle really should look like, and rather at odds with his own whimsical depictions of himself in drawings.
I should also add that it’s packed with an impressive amount of material, much of it drawn or written or both by the man himself. As I leaf through the pages I’m struck by how many pages are made up of a mixture of drawings and hand-written text, and can’t help wondering whether this may have been where Alfred Wainright – consciously or unconsciously – found his inspiration for his meticulously hand-written and illustrated books about the Lake District.
The chapters start with his early years, and include a map of the rivers and coast of much of Yorkshire and also the rivers of Lincolnshire. This map is essential to understanding much of the content of this part of book. Quite quickly Watts moves on to material from the Eel years, including a charming draftsman-like drawing of the boat itself and her dinghy Snig quickly followed by an equally sweet page of comic-book style drawings depicting Eel’s first cruise and accompanied by captions including 11pm May 26 1897 Hornsea Beach. Waiting followed by Midnight May 28 1897 Hauling through the surf, then A bit lumpy off the Newsand Noon May 29 1897, Passing the Bull Lightship 2pm May 29 and finally Moored at Ferriby Sluice. May 29 1897.
Holmes’ illustrations and texts just go on and on – the Eel years alone runs to 60-something pages. There’s a nice chapter of descriptions of some of the Humber’s local boat types including the crab boat, the Goole billy boy, the Humber duster, the Paull shrimper and of course an illustration of how a smack’s boat is converted into a blobber, complete with small cutter rig and cozy – but unstable-looking – house.
It’s notable that the up-river blobbers had much taller houses, which went neatly with having no rigs – at least in Holmes’ illustration.
After 15 years with the little 21ft Eel, Holmes moved on to the 28tft Snippet in search of greater comfort – as he says ‘there had come a slight increase in my beam, a disinclination to bend and a desire for standing headroom below’. The early Snippet drawings are then immediately followed by more of Holmes’ comic book-style annotated drawings – this time scenes from his first cruise with Snippet on the Norfolk Broads.
There’s another section of Holmes’ descriptions of various sailing areas including the tidal Trent and the Upper Humber, the Rivers Ouse and Hull, and – astonishingly to me – the River Ancholme. I should explain that the Ancholme lies just a few miles from the small North Lincolnshire town where I grew up, and was pleasantly pleased to recognise some scenes from the river that I haven’t seen since I was a boy, including, of course, the bridge at Brigg, from where the delightful but rarely sung traditional song Brigg Fair got its name.
There’s a short section on Holmes the artist, followed by another on his boat designs including canoe yawls Cassy; the first, second and third Ethel; Daisy; Yum-Yum; Kittiwake; Redwing; T’Rotter; Trent; Design No 7 and Ripple. If you’re in search of material about canoe yawls, you certainly won’t feel let down, but this chapter also includes some ‘house boats’, which are really like more conventional yachts, and a curious round-bottomed barge yacht.
And, finally, there’s what looks like a comprehensive list of Homes’ designs and boats compiled by Albert Strange Association technical secretary Richard Powell.
At £25, Holmes of the Humber isn’t cheap, but it’s a heck of a good package that’s well worth the money. If you’re at all interested in Holmes this book should certainly be on your wish list this Christmas! See http://www.lodestarbooks.com for information.