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Tim Whitelock

Roses and castles artist and teacher Tim Whitelock describes his 50-year fascination with the artform


Tim Whitelock has been teaching roses and castles style artwork at Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire for over 30 years. But it was aged 12, in the summer of 1969, that he was first introduced to traditional narrowboat decoration. “I joined my uncle’s family for a boating holiday on the River Avon and a whole new world of inland waterways opened up to me. I fell in love with the brightly coloured decoration of roses and castles, which has subsequently given me endless hours of enjoyment as I learned to paint myself.”

On a later cruise, Tim purchased a traditionally painted water can on the Stratford Canal, and became determined to uncover the secrets of the art form. He tracked down a copy of a book called Canal Boats and Boaters by D.J. Smith which gave him a starting point, but in the meantime he made a traditional cabin stool and decorated it with transfers.

Then, in a 1986 issue of Waterways World, Tim saw an advert for a week’s residential course on canal art in Abergavenny and he signed up immediately. “The course was made up of people from a variety of backgrounds – some with a direct link to canals and others, like myself, who just loved the bright colours and patterns.”

Looking back on his first week’s tuition, Tim commends the tutor’s high respect for traditional designs and techniques, despite her having no connection to the waterways. “She saw roses and castles as a ‘folk art’ which could be developed, like fairground art had.” It’s an attitude Tim has carried forward in his teaching today: “Pleasure-boating could be around for a lot longer than commercial carrying and new ideas for decorating craft, such as sprayed-on designs or vinyl transfers, are inevitable. And who’s to say there is anything wrong with these? We are just using the materials of our time, but it’s always good to preserve the best of the past as we move forward.”

Read the full feature in April 2020 Waterways World