Yorkshire’s Watermen

Yorkshire's Watermen - Community History Project needs Volunteers

Our members’ experience with the defunct Yorkshire Waterways Museum in Goole is a stark reminder to us all that if we are not careful the results of painstaking research conducted over many, many years can suddenly be lost. That could be due to the passing of just one person or the folding of a society or club. 

Across this county there are many history clubs and societies with collectively hundreds of members. Many of them will hold small pieces of the historical jigsaw which when assembled together produces a fascinating picture for us all to enjoy. Sadly as time marches on some of those jigsaw pieces disappear forever leaving an incomplete puzzle.  Surely we owe it to our children and their children, to keep all the jigsaw pieces safe together, so that they can benefit in the future. 

The Yorkshire Waterways Heritage Society has in mind an innovative “community history project” using genealogy to illuminate the lives of the hard working people and their families who plied their trade on the waterways of 19th and 20th century Yorkshire.  They were the keelmen, sloopmen, boatmen, lightermen and tugmen who navigated Yorkshire’s many canals, navigable rivers and the Humber Estuary, moving bulk cargoes like coal, corn and timber between the industrial hinterland of the county and the ports of Goole and Hull.

Our aim is to identify, record and map all Yorkshire’s watermen wherever and whenever they might be found in the county, creating a permanent record as a memorial to those who did such physically hard, often dangerous work. That will be achieved by researching the genealogical sources such as canal boat registers and the census to find out who they were, what vessels they operated, what routes they followed, what cargoes they carried and where they lived when not afloat. 

This project will keep us all busy for a number of years as it is on a grand scale but a good start has already been made. Trustee David Scrimgeour who has just completed his MSc dissertation “Yorkshire’s Watermen” has donated his research to this Society. That includes 2,988 canal boat registration records and from the 1881 census 3,231 watermen and their families on board 1,026 keels moored in Yorkshire plus another 4,428 found at home.

Help is needed from volunteers to undertake a wide variety of tasks which will all contribute to the end goal. Help is needed with transcription, photography and photograph cataloguing, mapping, checking and researching family histories. Even a couple of hours a week would be a great help.

For further information and to express your interest in helping please call David Scrimgeour, 07702 678128 or email the Society using the form below.

Volunteer sign up


Your help and donations in keeping the Society, its research and this website running are much appreciated!