Flipbook: River Bargeman

The Story of a River Bargeman

50 Years on the River Ouse

This booklet arose from the “Hidden Heritage of Selby” project run by Groundwork North Yorkshire around 2010/2011. Funding had been obtained primarily from the Heritage Lottery Fund with additional grants from Selby District Council and North Yorkshire County Council. We would like to thank Groundwork Yorkshire for their kind permission to relaunch this important record once again into the public domain where we all hope it will find a new audience.

The project’s Education Officer was David Lewis. While undertaking research into Selby’s past, David had come across retired bargeman Laurie Dews who enthusiastically allowed David to record Laurie’s memories of his working life and also contributed written material and photographs.  

 In his introduction in 2011 David wrote:

Selby has a fantastic heritage but much of it is little-known. One of the aims of the Hidden Heritage project is to highlight and celebrate this heritage and to be able to describe and explain some of the trades that used to support economic life in Selby.

Laurie Dew’s story is a fascinating first-hand account of a way of life that was central to Selby’s economy for several centuries, but is no more. His story is that of a man who spent his entire working life on the River Ouse, bringing goods to the town from Hull. Nowadays, the Ouse passes through Selby unheeded by most people and is only of interest at times of drought or flood. Whatever is needed arrives in town by lorry or van. Until merely a generation ago, the Ouse was the artery along which Laurie and his colleagues brought the materials to the town that provided employment in the mills, works, wharves and transport systems that clustered along the riverbank.

Of course progress is inevitable and the amount of time, manpower and resources needed to convey materials in Laurie’s way by barge along the river belong to another age. However that should not stop us from marvelling at the skills, strength and fortitude that this everyday job demanded of those who took it up. This book describes those skills along with the joys and dangers of working life on the Ouse.

It has been  pleasure and a privilege to be able to talk with Laurie about his working life and to learn so much about these skills that belong to an earlier era. The majority of the text is Laurie’s testimony. I have merely attempted to put it in thematic order and add a few points of explanation.

Laurie Dews “slipped off the hook” – his term for dying – in 2023 at the grand old age of 100 years. His family tell us that he would have been delighted to see his story retold on our website.

David Lewis revisited Laurie’s story when he published River Ouse Bargeman. A Life on the Yorkshire Ouse (Pen and Sword, Barnsley) in 2017.

 Publication permission for copyright images

We acknowledge that copyright images are being shown for which no explicit permission to publish has been given to this Society. Many of the digital images shown had originally been produced with the knowledge and permission of the now defunct Yorkshire Waterways Museum from original photographs deposited there for public display.  Following the closure of that organisation in 2019 and the break up of their collection those original photographs have disappeared and have effectively been lost to the public.

Through an incredible stroke of good fortune digital copies of those images were donated to this Society in 2022 allowing our volunteers to finally achieve the wishes of those photographers and collectors who had made the original donations.

If you are the copyright holder and would like to contact the Society please use the form below.


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