Roses and Castles

Roses and Castles is the name given to the artwork which adorns the barges of the canals.  Traditionally it is made up of bright flowers and pictorial scenes, including but not limited to castles.  Similarly, images are not limited to roses and daisies, marigolds, pansies, primroses and many other species can be found.  Diamonds, compass patterns, crescent moons, scrollwork and painted borders are all used along with bold, vibrant colours.  Cottages, churches, rivers, lakes and even lighthouses are all depicted to build up images of romantic landscapes.

Whilst the origin of the roses and castle art work is unknown, it became popular at a time when canals were starting to be less lucrative.  One theory is that, as families had to move in the barges full time, the women were trying to make them feel cleaner and more homely and turned the dirty boats into something they could be proud of.  Polished brasswork and woodwork shone and dazzled and every available surface became painted in flowers and romantic scenes.  It was a decorative form of art and appeared on everything, from the boat itself to the harness of the horse.

It took root when many other traditional crafts were dying out, no longer valued in the age of industrial revolution and perhaps it is this novelty that means it survives today.  There was a pride amongst the boat owners and the artwork, with it’s rich colours and cheerful designs, possibly provided an antidote to the drab age of industry.

There are similarities in the style of art to that of the folk art from Scandinavia and Germany and echoes the elaborate caravans of the gypsy culture.  But regardless of why or where it started, the roses and castles style has become eponymous with canal life and it’s hard to image a barge without the iconic paintwork.

Roses and Castles

Down by the towpath

Rests Halcyon Days

Nose to nose with Blue Moon

Whilst Drifter floats away.

 

Roses and castles

Daisies and chapels

Abound on the waters

Of Leeds Liverpool canal.

 

Layers of green and layers of red,

Interlaced with paint as close

to gold as you get,

clothe narrowboats with daydreams.

 

Scenes of happier times?

Of richer days?

Or art to bring romance

To the industrial ways?

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