Sailing along on a wave of nostalgia for the olden days

From: Raymond Shaw, Hullen Edge Road, Elland, West Yorkshire.

The article by Sheena Hastings on River Ouse barge traffic (Yorkshire Post, May 27) gave me an immense feeling of pleasure with nostalgia.

Being a few years senior to Mr Laurie Dews, a name I well remember, my first introduction to river traffic was through annual school holiday visits to Lincoln, whose inland harbour, Brayford, on the river Witham, created an everlasting interest,

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In the early 1930s, while still at school, I never missed an opportunity to ride in a wagon collecting animal feed from the Olympia Oil and Cake Mills, Barlby Road, in Selby. The highlight was a visit to the works canteen on the river side of Barlby Road where the bargees enjoyed a meal.

At that time, when OCO was run by a Dutchman named Phillippe Flohil, a regular supply of feed, some maize but mainly oilseeds, was unloaded – often three barges in a single day.

Next door to OCO was Kirby’s Flour Mill, bought by the Joseph Rank empire. Years later, mill director Mr Sydney Robinson related his experience of how times changed.

It was habit for workers to feed wheat, usually Argentinean, into a hopper by hand scuttles, an exercise objected to; later, there was almost a strike when scuttling was abolished because a mechanical sucker was introduced.

Leaving school, I became involved in agriculture. Part of my initial work was a Monday visit to Thornes Wharf in Wakefield where the usual weekly consignments of maize, arrived at Reynolds, Stott and Haslegrave – Thornes Wharf. Maize continued arriving weekly until well into the ’60s.

Thornes Wharf then junctioned to the old Barnsley canal or through the remainder of the Calder Valley to Todmorden. The main barge operators were a family named Hales whose senior member was Billy, more than ably supported by his wife whose team of horses was stabled on Thornes Lane.

Their main business was coal, wool or wheat, which they delivered to Sugdens Flour Mill, in Brighouse, or the CWS Flour Mill, in Walton Street, Sowerby Bridge. All Hales’ barges were horse-drawn, often two or three when laden, just one when empty.

Mr Dews mentioned a dog falling into the “cut” as it was called.

My late wife lived on a farm at Thornes, near the canal, and she remembered that on her way to school she once met people pushing a wheelbarrow containing a body pulled from the cut.

Sadly, motor transport has now superseded barge traffic, though until well after we joined the European Union, I was involved in delivering barley to Gunness Wharf ,near Scunthorpe, then collecting maize transhipped by coaster from Rotterdam,

The barley was destined via the Trent-Humber-North Sea for Krefeld on the Rhine, shipped by a German company Alfred C Toepfer of Hamburg.

Anyone visiting Europe today will see how Europe still uses the Rhine, Elbe, Danube from the north to the Black Sea, for huge amounts of industrial traffic.