Historic Humber barge found abandoned in Doncaster power station painstakingly restored by volunteers

To see Syntan today, it is hard to believe it was little more than a rusting hull when it was found laid up by the old Doncaster power station.

Syntan has been lovingly restored by volunteers
Syntan has been lovingly restored by volunteers

These days the painstakingly restored barge, built in 1949, takes centre stage on Beverley Beck in East Yorkshire and is one of three refurbished vessels on the waterway taking part in this year’s national Heritage Open Days.

There is an understandable sense of pride on the part of Beverley Barge Preservation Society whose members have put countless hours into bringing inland maritime history back to life.

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The society was formed in 2001 when Syntan was found. Society member and Heritage Open Day co-ordinator Tony Coates said: “It had been stripped of anything useful and the Society was formed to bring it back to its Beverley home and be turned into a floating museum. It took five years of committed work to bring it back to the standard that it is today.”

Ian Campbell, Chair of The Beverley Barge Preservation Society, with Tony Coats, Heritage Open Day Co-ordinator & Society Member.

Mr Coates said Syntan is a classic example of what could be called a ‘Humber Barge’ which in years gone by would have been a common sight on the Yorkshire and Humber waterways.

They evolved from wooden sailing cargo vessels of the 19th century with a hull design originating from Viking longboats. Many went out of service in the 1970s and only a handful now remain.

Syntan was built by the Hepworth shipyard at Paull, near Hull, for Richard Hodgson’s tannery in Beverley.

It was part of a fleet of 16 transporting hides and tanning materials from Hull docks to the wharf on Beverley Beck as well as general cargoes of grain, paper and nuts to South and West Yorkshire.

The cargo hold is now a heritage centre and museum with exhibits relating to Syntan’s working past along with the history of Beverley Beck.

The society has also restored Sun, a former British Waterways ‘mud-hopper’ maintenance vessel used for dredging rivers and canals.

It was built in 1960 by Camplings shipyard in Goole.

Its third boat, the Mermaid, was originally a lifeboat tender, built in Korea in 1986, and was used to take crew members to lighthouses, buoys and other navigational equipment.

The Beverley Barge Preservation Society first took part in Heritage Open Days in 2019 with the barges attracting visitors from far and wide.

When last year’s event was cancelled due to Covid, the society organised a popular virtual tour instead.

Mr Coates said it’s “like hidden history”, drawing the public into places they might not have known actually existed.

He added: “There are many volunteers in organisations like our group doing a lot of hard work. The Open Days are a way of increasing awareness of the work being done to maintain

our heritage for future generations.”

The annual Heritage Open Days (HOD) event involves thousands of volunteers across England organising free events at a wide array of heritage attractions.

It takes place next month with the Beverley Barge Preservation Society’s involvement running between September 10 and 12.

The society’s HOD co-ordinator Tony Coates said the event offers an opportunity to showcase destinations and the efforts of volunteers.