River Ouse Bargeman

The York Arts Barge vessel was originally a working barge named the ‘Selby Tony’. The ‘Tony’ was one of a fleet of 17 freight barges owned by BOCM of Selby and Hull that spent their working lives carrying seed and nuts from the port of Hull to be crushed for oil at the BOCM works in Barlby near Selby.

The men who crewed these vessels had a tough life, working all hours of day and night depending on the state of the tide rather than the hands of a factory clock. They had to be canny enough to navigate a shifting and tidal river, physically strong enough to manhandle up to 250 tons of cargo on every journey and brave enough to sail in the worst of weathers with no navigational aids.

The ‘Tony’s’ skipper was a chap called Johnny Roddam. He’s no longer with us, but his best mate from World War 2 and the working years beyond, Laurie Dews, very much is. A sprightly 94-year old, Laurie has a lifetime of yarns about all aspects of the now-vanished Ouse Bargeman’s life.

Local Selby historian David Lewis and Barnsley publishers Pen & Sword of Barnsley have worked with Laurie to produce a book outlining the history of trading along the Ouse to Selby, the tricks and tests of a bargeman’s daily tasks and Laurie’s family history as lightermen going back to the 1860s, working in many of Laurie’s amusing anecdotes along the way.

Laurie is now the last remaining survivor of a way of life that ended when the barges were mothballed in the early 1980s. His anecdotes describe that way of life and give you the chance to enjoy first-hand accounts of the mysteries of “singling out”, the cries of “shordnin” and “deepnin” as your craft navigated dangerous river sandbanks and the joys of family life in a barge cabin. These joys included being lulled to sleep by the steady swing of the oil lamp whilst you lay in the bed ‘ole, the somewhat basic, bucket-based ablution arrangements and sculling around Hull Docks in the cob boat fishing for tiddlers.

The 192-page, full-colour hardback, “River Ouse Bargeman” (ISBN 978 1473 880696) was published in April 2017 and has a recommended retail price of £25 via major booksellers. However, if you contact publishers Pen & Sword via their website www.pen-and-sword.co.uk copies are available for £22.75 by quoting the code ‘Barge 1’. More locally, copies will be available at reduced prices at Selby Library and Spelman’s bookshop in Micklegate, York.