AlgaeAboard: Canal Boat Culture

AlgaeAboard is set in the context of canal boat dwelling, where algae become sustainable resource for bioplastic production, ending up as biodegradable plastic products used on the boat. Revoking the preconceived notion of plastic being cheap and industrial material, algae bioplastic has the potential as a new luxury material as it emulates the aesthetics of precious stones like marble and jade. With a combination of handcraft and technological processes, algae bioplastic products can be manufactured on board or off site.
Canal Boat Algae
Canal Boat Arts, Culture & History
When the midland canals failed to attract investment for expansion in the mid-nineteenth century, when first faced with serious competition from the railways, they effectively sentenced all future boatmen to working the old fashioned size of narrow boat for evermore, boats narrow enough to pass through the seven foot wide locks of the old canals. This in turn meant the tiny cabin at the stern could never be bigger than it ever had been either, a sort of historic gauge for two centuries of working life. Coping with living in that tiny space was the biggest single influence on the boating family’s taste in decorative art.
Folk art was flourishing during the Industrial Revolution when many other old trades and traditional ways of life were diminishing. The artistic taste of the boat people, as with so much else on the canal, was largely formulated in Victorian England, a land of frills and furbelows and the fashion for conspicuous respectability expressed in decorative quantity rather than quality – ornate profusion more than graceful simplicity. This intricacy was the key to making life in a tiny box cabin bearable, and possibly the secret of that life’s survival into the mid twentieth century. If they could not impress with quantity on their tiny floating homes they would dazzled with quality, and every surface was painted, every moulding picked out with strong colour, and every tin utensil smothered in painted roses and romantic landscapes.
It started back in the boatyard, because when the built-in cabin furniture was constructed each cupboard door was made with recessed centre panels and every area of wood work was framed with decorative wooden mouldings. Then everything was painted and grained to look like figured oak or feathered mahogany, and the mouldings picked out in colour like bright picture frames. Painted roses and castles were added to the walls and doors, and the floor and coal box were painted with diamonds, hearts and circles. Already the new living space had a dark, slightly mysterious richness even before the boatman and his wife moved in. They brought flowered curtains with lace edges, deep pelmets of white crocheted lace hanging from every shelf, brass doorknobs, oil lamp, towel rails and ornaments galore, all kept brightly polished, and a traditional rag rug laid on the floor.
The coal stove was cleaned and polished with black lead, and the boat woman’s pride and joy, her collection of pierced edge china plates with their printed flowers and ‘present from Blackpool’ messages were hung all over the walls, tied together for safety with coloured ribbons and neat bows. All is delicacy and fragility, a miniaturised stage set for a domestic life that cannot occupy more space than the cabin allows, a cabin that cannot be wider than the boat or take up any space that will stop the boat earning its living carrying cargo. It was an extraordinary display of determination overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.
– extracted from
Canal Revival: New Class of Trades
Railways were all the rage and any new investment money was diverted away from water to rail. Today the great majority are holiday cruisers custom-built for the purpose. Working boats were the norm, associated with the tiring stress of work rather than the pleasure of leisure. However, economic inflation has caused the young creative class to look at working and living on boats as an alternative. In synonymous with the distinctive creative canal culture of the past, their whole life is a quintessential way of doing things that established them as ‘creative community on water’, namely, floating cinema, pop-up cafe, boat bookstore and handcrafts store.
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