THERE is a rich historical legacy behind boat dweller Ginny Barlow’s work as a signwriter and artist on the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Before the railways established an economically sound network in this country, working men used the narrow boats to ply their trade, returning home each evening to a house on the land.

As the railways strengthened and transport by boat began to lose favour, the working men gave up their land houses and moved their families onto the boats in a bid to make ends meet.

The river people set about brightening up their new homes with colourful paintings and signs which became the tradition of roses and castles to be seen on many of today’s canal boats and a strong artistic tradition was born.

Rather than being forced into the situation the people who live on canal boats today often choose to do so as a means of escaping the cut and thrust of society and leave the land behind of their own free will.

Ginny Barlow made that choice 13 years ago and lives happily on a narrowboat near Bradford on Avon with her partner Richard and her son Sam.

With a two-year City and Guilds signwriting course behind her and a lifelong interest in paintwork, Ms Barlow enjoys a busy working life taking commissions from fellow boaters and land-based customers.

Although skilled in the tradition of painting roses and castles on boats the 31-year-old can do much more besides.

She said: “I had a friend in Cambridge who lived in a traditional Gypsy wagon and got me into the painting tradition.

“I love the work I do and signwriting on boats is a big part of it but it’s good to take on other projects.

“I do a fair trade in pub signs and shop signs and I’ve got an interesting commission coming up to decorate an entire Gypsy wagon.

“I work with traditional styles including chunky shadows and scrolls and usually in a colourful and bright palette.

“My skills include different styles of lettering and drawing including scripts, gold leaf, greening and marbling.

“Most of the work comes via word of mouth and through my website

“Summer is a busy time as much of my work is based outdoors so we’re moving into the quieter time and I’m looking to take on different commissions on the land.

“It is a nice way to make a living and every project is different taking anything from a day to six weeks.

“The cost of each job depends on the size and scale of what the customer wants but I’m always happy to discuss a project.”

She added: “One of the best things is to have variation in my work and the discipline of signwriting can include both the modern and the traditional.”

Ginny Barlow can be contacted by phone on 07939 857498 or by email at

Her website features examples of her work including decorative signwriting, traditional boat decoration and other decorative paintwork.