Site Home
 



Topic Home


Boatmen

We think of the waterfront as a place of work and industry and it is easy to forget that people lived on the waterways as well as worked there. Some boatmen had houses ashore, and their families lived there while they were away working on the canal. But many families lived on the barges, travelling from place to place and often helping with the work.

The 1881 census returns list many families whose boats were moored at Leeds on census night.
The Webster family lived on a barge called the Minnie, registered at Hull. Abraham Webster and his wife had four children: Wallace, aged 10, John, 6, Henry 4 and Mary Ann, just 3 months old.
On the keelboat Arthur, lived Thomas and Emma Greaves with their six children. Mary aged 13, Bella 9, Jane 7, Edith 5, Thomas 3, and James 1.

Living on a Barge
It must have been very difficult looking after such a large family in such cramped living conditions. On horse-drawn barges there were usually two cabins, one at the stern and one at the bow. The cabin at the stern of the boat provided living accommodation. It was about 4 feet high, with a cast iron stove in the middle of the bulkhead (the partition between the cabin and the hold of the boat). The stoves were about 12 inches square by 3 ft high, and were open fronted; a hob could be fastened to the fire bars, so that a kettle or cooking pot could be used.

On the right of the cabin was the double bed, separated by a partition or curtain, with possibly room for a single bed as well. At the rear of the cabin were cupboards the central one folding down to form a table. There were drawers under the cupboards, and a small shelf above, and to one side a locker to store feed for the horse that towed the barge. A bench ran round the walls of the cabin with storage space underneath. There was also a cabin at the bow of the boat, with two single beds, and a small stove. Water was carried in a barrel on the deck; there was often a dog kennel on deck also.  On steam powered barges, the engine was installed in the stern cabin and the bow cabin became the main living area for the captain and his mate. Families did not usually live on the steam-powered barges as they did on the old horse barges.

The cramped living conditions often led to accidents, and there were many cases of small children being scalded by boiling water from pans and kettles knocked off the stove. Young children were often tethered on the stern deck, so they would not fall into the canal.

The Riverside Mission
A small stone building on the wharf at Warehouse Hill known as the Riverside Mission Hall was originally used for religious services by St. James' Church and later by the Parish Church. When the services were discontinued, the running of the mission was taken over by the Seamen and Boatmen's Friend Society 'to promote the social, moral, and religious welfare of the river and canal population of Leeds and District.'

The workers from the mission visited the boatmen and their families, and held Sunday services at the Mission Hall. But the missionaries were not just concerned with the spiritual welfare of the boatmen; they also ran the Riverside Institute where there was a reading room, a billiard room, and a kitchen and wash-house for the use of the boatmen’s wives. There was a Sunday School at the Institute on Sunday afternoons, and classes and meetings for the women during the week. There were Sunday school treats and outings: the Sunday School river trip in the photograph was going to Swillington. Because they were always on the move children living on the canal boats could not attend school regularly, and Sunday School was possibly the only formal education they had.



Click images to enlarge
Family Group at Warehouse Hill
Family Group at Warehouse Hill
Leeds Boatmen and their children
Leeds Boatmen and their children
Captain and his wife on their coal barge
Captain and his wife on their coal barge
Sunday School Trip
Sunday School Trip
Sunday School Treat at Warehouse Hill Wharf
Sunday School Treat at Warehouse Hill Wharf
The Riverside Mission building, 2003
The Riverside Mission building, 2003
Warehouse Hill
Warehouse Hill
Keelman and family
Keelman and family




Site Map

© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003