HERE’S an evocative scene: three barges moored at Queen’s Staith beside the Earles Cement Depot. There’s no definitive date for the photograph, but it is likely that it was taken in the early 1930s, according to Explore York’s Imagine York archive, where we found it.

The River Ouse has been a trading and transport route for centuries. Excavations on the banks uncovered the remains of Roman jetties, wharves and warehouses, according to the History of York website. Viking York was at the centre of an international trading network, and the city continued to be an important trading port well into the medieval period.

By the late 16th century, however, larger sea-going ships could no longer navigate York’s rivers, partly due to their size and partly due to the increasing build-up of sediment in the Ouse.

Naburn Lock was built in 1757, and well into comparatively recent times barges continued to ply the waters of the Ouse, carrying everything from cement and gravel to illipe nuts for processing into oil and animal feed - and coca beans for the Rowntree and Terry factories.

Nevertheless, the arrival of the railways reduced the importance of York’s rivers as a trading route. One of the last products to be regularly delivered by barge was paper for printing The Press. These deliveries ended in the 1990s.

Stephen Lewis