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Crime on the Canals (Paperback)

True Crime Transport Social History Canals

By Anthony Poulton-Smith
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 120
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526754783
Published: 23rd April 2019

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Throughout our islands' history we find tales of thieves, smugglers, thugs and murderers. Books have been written retelling tales of bandits, footpads, highwaymen, et al, attacking the lone traveller, the horseman, the coachman, shipping line, locomotive engineer, lorry or van driver and even pilot. Yet for almost two centuries the majority of goods travelled on Britain's famed canal network. This also attracted felons of all kinds and yet many of these tales had been ignored, until now.

Within these pages all manner of crimes are covered. From murders to muggings, parental problems to pilfering, arson, assault, smugglers, counterfeiters and even road rage (albeit canal-style). But it is not all morbidity and misery, humour also plays a significant part in these tales. Why would a hungry man steal the inedible? Follow the policeman on foot chasing down a thief on board the narrowboat. Discover what really lies beneath the waters of the canal. Learn about canal etiquette, the hardships, the kindness and the cruelty.

From an author whose fascination with etymology has produced many books on origins of place names, leading to an interest in the historical modes of travel across our islands, this book is the latest to follow old routes and those found along them.

You would think, after a while, reading through material of this nature would have a depressive effect on not only the writer but ultimately the reader. However, surprisingly there are plenty of humorous stories. For instance, in 1867, a man was charged with stealing a large quantity of mangold wurzel – an inedible root vegetable. Why?

Find out the facts behind this and other crimes in this fascinating examination of the seedier side of the canal.

Towpath Talk, October 2019 – reviewed by Noah Price

Truly a unique addition to the canal bookshelf.

Canal Boat, August 2019

I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this book, especially as some of the crimes occurred on parts of the canal system that I know. It really brought history to live for me.

The book is well written and organised chronologically. It has accounts from witnesses and trials and where applicable, the sentences given.

If you have even the slightest interest in reading accounts of true crimes you will love this little book and I’m sure there will be a crime in here that happened near you.

Read the full review here

Vintage Airfix

This interesting book is presented as an exposure of criminality on the canal system, and it does achieve that objective rather well.

In this case, as Anthony indicates, John Turner’s family remained unconvinced by the verdict but this had occurred in a world where our modern opportunities for evidential examination just did not exist. This is a valuable snapshot into that former world.

The Historian
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