Wonderful days on the barges

HEYDAY: The River Ouse packed with transport barges during its industrial heyday

Barges tied up at Queen’s Staith, near Ouse Bridge,York, in the early 20th century

The Dumbuck unladen at Queen’s Staith in July, 1976

A barge negotiates Naburn Lock in 1966

1994: Selby toll bridge is damaged by a barge

A barge alongside Leetham’s Mill, now known as Rowntree Wharf

Millennium Press 29/3/99: Barges tied up at Queen's Staith, near Ouse Bridge,York, in the early part of the century (8606995)

First published in History articles
Last updated
by

A PHOTOGRAPH we carried a few weeks ago showing illipe nuts being unloaded from barges at Queen's Staith prompted Beryl Pallister to get in touch with memories of her father Charles Rayner's days as a bargeman on the Ouse.

Throughout her schooldays at Beckfield Lane School in the late 1940s and early 1950s Beryl, now 76, remembers her father steering his barge up and down the Ouse between York, Selby, Hull and occasionally Grantham, carrying cargoes of cargoes of sugar and cocoa beans, giant tins of pineapple or sometimes huge reels of paper bound for the Yorkshire Evening Press in its Coney Street days.

Sometimes, in the school holidays, she'd get to go with him for the three or four-day round trip to Hull.

She has no photographs from those days, sadly - all our pictures today come from The Press's own archives - but she does have some wonderful memories.

As a little boy, her father had worked pulling barge horses beside the Ouse. As a man, he was the sole crewman and pilot of a long barge belonging to Woods & Co, who had a warehouse at Queen's Staith.

Beryl, now a mother of two and grandmother who lives in the Stockton Lane area of York, can't remember the name of her father's barge - only that it was very long, and deep. It had no engines of its own, and was pulled by a small tug named The Ouse.

Her father used to steer the barge with a long pole, she recalls - and in a small cabin at the back of the barge, there were simple living quarters. "There was a fire with a small chimney coming out of it in the living area: he used to cook there," she says. "There was a bed for him, and a little bunk for me."

She loved those childhood trips with her father. "It was just going down the river, and being with my father," she says. "I used to take a book, or sit and draw." There were walkways along each side of the barge, so her father could get from one end to another, or cover the hatches with tarpaulins, if it looked like rain.

And at Selby or Hull there would always be friends to visit - the families of men he knew from loading and unloading his cargo at the warehouses.

In York, his barge would generally be unloaded at the Woods & Co warehouse at Queen's Staith, where her father would use a long hook to drag the sacks of cocoa beans to a pallet where they could be lifted by crane. But sometimes she distinctly remembers him guiding his barge along the River Foss, to unload directly at Rowntree. And on occasion, he'd carry cargoes of paper for the Evening Press, which would be unloaded on the bank of the Ouse at roughly where City Screen is now.

Beryl didn't get to accompany her father on his barge trips very often - just a few times in the school holidays. But they are lovely memories to have, she says.

Idyllic as the trips she shared with her dad may have been, however, it was a hard life for her father, she admits. He was often away from the family home in Middleton Road, Acomb, for days at a time: though he usually managed to be at home at weekends.

On Saturdays he and his wife Annie - a cook at The Elms orphanage in Hull Road - would go with the families of other bargemen to the Elephant & Castle in Skeldergate.

Charles couldn't read - he was born in 1906, and people 'didn't go to school in them days', Beryl says. So his children - son Ken, and daughters Doreen and Beryl, who was the youngest - would fill in his barge time-sheets for him, recording details of the tide times and other information. "The tide times made an awful lot of difference," she says.

Her father died comparatively young, at 49, in the middle 1950s, when Beryl herself was still a teenager.

He had a bad accident on his barge at Selby, she recalls - evidence of just how hard the bargeman's life was.

One of his jobs was checking all the hatches. He'd just finished that when he fell through into the barge's hold.

He was badly injured and was taken to hospital, but refused to stay there, and insisted on coming home. "In them days you couldn't afford to be ill," Beryl says. She believes the accident probably contributed to his early death.

But she still has those memories of idyllic summer days chugging down the Ouse with just her dad and a good book for company.

York Press:
Barges moored at the wharf near Skeldergate Bridge, probably in the 1890s

York Press:
A view from Foss Bridge of barges on the River Foss in 1978

York Press: June 1983 A mystery barge is wedged across the River Ross in York blocking the waterway beside the Castle MuseumYEP PIC (8606967)
A mystery barge is wedged across the River Foss blocking the waterway beside the Castle Museum in July 1983

Comments (1)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

7:10pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Seadog says...

Wonderful, wonderful pictures! But can we please get the maritime nomenclature right? Yes, they are indeed barges, but specifically "Humber Keels" if square-rigged and "Trent Sloops" if gaff-rigged. The Keels, particularly, were just about the last square-riggers in regular commercial service on our waterways; even along the coast sometimes! Both Keels and Sloops were still trading under canvas alone until well within living memory. Many more survived (as motorized vessels) into modern times. (I remember motor-keels being a regular feature of Selby life as recently as the mid eighties!)

Thanks to the Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society (and other like-minded bodies) a few may still be seen on the Humber/Ouse/Trent navigation systems today, whether under sail or motive power.

Along with their better known cousins, such as Thames Spritties, Severn Trows, Mersey Flats and Norfolk Wherries, these venerable craft represent a "lost world" in which wind-power was used to convey precious cargoes just about as far inland as it's possible to get in these islands!

Currently, the "Sobriety Project" and Waterways Museum at Goole is doing its best to keep the tradition alive.
Wonderful, wonderful pictures! But can we please get the maritime nomenclature right? Yes, they are indeed barges, but specifically "Humber Keels" if square-rigged and "Trent Sloops" if gaff-rigged. The Keels, particularly, were just about the last square-riggers in regular commercial service on our waterways; even along the coast sometimes! Both Keels and Sloops were still trading under canvas alone until well within living memory. Many more survived (as motorized vessels) into modern times. (I remember motor-keels being a regular feature of Selby life as recently as the mid eighties!) Thanks to the Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society (and other like-minded bodies) a few may still be seen on the Humber/Ouse/Trent navigation systems today, whether under sail or motive power. Along with their better known cousins, such as Thames Spritties, Severn Trows, Mersey Flats and Norfolk Wherries, these venerable craft represent a "lost world" in which wind-power was used to convey precious cargoes just about as far inland as it's possible to get in these islands! Currently, the "Sobriety Project" and Waterways Museum at Goole is doing its best to keep the tradition alive. Seadog
  • Score: 5

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree