The arrival of the Arts Barge in York last week, ready to host a summer riverside festival of the arts, was a reminder of just what an important part barges have played in the economic life of this city for so long.

Since Roman times, goods have been shipped into York by river. The remains of Roman jetties, wharves and warehouses have been found, and there is evidence of a Roman river crossing just downstream from King's Staith.

The Vikings were famously river traders as well as river raiders, and in medieval times York was the third largest inland port in the country behind London and then Bristol. Wool was exported from the city to Northern Europe and goods like coal, butter and olive oil were all delivered into the city by barge.

More recently, Rowntree’s and Terry’s had their cocoa beans delivered up river into the city to their riverside warehouses; grain and gravel merchants had warehouses at Queen's Staith; and until comparatively recently even The Press had its newsprint delivered by barge (though sadly no longer).

The Arts Barge, now moored at Tower Gardens, is itself an authentic piece of Yorkshire's barging history. It was once a working river barge called the Selby Tony, which was part of a fleet of barges carrying grain and animal feeds between the BOCM factory in Selby and Hull.

Nothing brings back the days of working barges quite like a good photo, however. We've trawled through our digital archive here at The Press (and also through Explore York's online archive) to dig out a representative sample. But if any readers have their own photos of barges on the Ouse (or Foss) we'd love to see them...

Our photos today are:

1. A barge on the River Ouse being unloaded on to a horse-drawn cart at Skeldergate in 1890. This photo was so badly faded that we have had to digitally enhance it

2. Barges moored at the wharf near Skeldergate Bridge, probably in the 1890s

3. Broken ice drifting past a barge moored at Kings Staith, York, in 1963

4. Barges on the River Ouse in York in July 1970

5. October 20, 1973: barges cluster alongside Queen's Staith, York, to unload their sacks of Illipe nuts shipped from Borneo and Sarawak, in a scene that resembles a busy seaport

6. Barges head slowly up the River Foss after passing under Foss Bridge, York, in December 1978

7. A mystery barge is wedged across the River Ross in York blocking the waterway beside the Castle Museum in June 1983 - proof positive that life on York's river barges wan't always plain sailing...

Stephen Lewis