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The Humber Keel

Taken from The Humber, A. Watts, 1980...

Widely thought to be a direct descendant of the Viking longship so common on the Humber during the 9th and 10th Centuries, the Keel is the most distinctive of the local craft and was first noted, as a ‘Keyll’, in the 14th Century. It is unique in this country for preserving the working square rig into the 20th Century over a trading ground that was usually the Humber waterways but, occasionally, coastal in that passages were made to Bridlington or Boston Deeps. One that ventured as far as London achieved fame by being entered as ‘a one-masted Brig’.

Dimensions varied with the use envisaged and the locks that had to be negotiated; the Sheffield size being 60'3" x 15'3", with other craft being up to 68'0" in length. The main features of the hull are, perhaps, the exceedingly bluff bows, the massive leeboards and the well arched hatch covers.

The illustration shows the general lines and rig, including topsail which was used primarily on the canals rather than in the estuary. Deck furniture included a large and efficient windlass for the anchor, mast rollers, at the fore-end of the hatch, for raising and lowering the mast (also useful for warping the vessel), the mainsail rollers at the after end of the hatchways, the track rollers, the sheet rollers and a roller set virtually under the stern rail for winding up the fall of the leeboard purchase.

Non-mechanical effects included two huge ‘stowers’ - long poles similar to a Norfolk quant, two long boat hooks, warps, heaving line, a ton or so of chain cable and a water cask with dipper on chocks to the starboard side of the after deck.

The anchor had a function other than that for which it was primarily intended; when lowered, and with its crown just touching bottom, the Keelsman could steer his vessel as he ‘drove’ with the tide up or down the Trent or Ouse when the wind was foul. In that position it was always ready to let go and stop the Keel altogether if required. The crew normally consisted of two, exceptionally of three. Accommodation, often in a stylish and always in a comfortable cabin, was provided for the Captain (and, often, his family) aft of the bulkhead, and for the crew of one forward of the fore bulkhead. Keels were built widely throughout Yorkshire wherever a river or canal gave access to the navigations.

Clapsons Yard, at Barton upon Humber, and Richard Dunstons, then at Thorne, both still very active, built many Keels and a visual record of the type may be seen in the many paintings of Reuben Chappell, Goole's famous marine artist (1870 - 1940) and, to a lesser extent, in the work of the Hull artist, John Ward.

The Humber Keel

Visitor Comments

Posted by pedro at 03/11/2006 07:31
I remember as a child a rotting hulk half submerged at the north end of victoria pier.It was always refered to as dickeys keel
Posted by richard pratt at 29/01/2011 04:53
I lived in Lincoln as a child, and saw many heavy, strong wooden barges passing along the Fosse canal to Lincoln. carrying wheat, cotton seed (to make Cattle Cake), and other bulk cargos. The barges were Humber Keels, mostly without their masts-some had engines, some were pulled by a horse. The Bargee & family lived aboard.
Posted by david owens at 23/11/2011 10:57
the remnants of the wreck at the end of victoria pier .
which pedro said .Ended up on the
richard cooper st lads bonfire
ex richard cooper st lad
Posted by Dave Bettany at 10/12/2011 16:43
My grandfather Robert Housemam 1880-1955 of East Cottingwith owned a keel barge which he fitted a crossley diesel engine from an old Manchester bus that he also owned and opperated between York and Selby, it later sank at Barmby.
Posted by John Robert Wilson at 21/03/2013 22:13
My grandfather Charles Harold Wilson owned a Humber Keel from 1933 to 1942 named Cedar which he purchased from a Mr. Daniel Wildblood. His son John (my Father) put a petrol engine in for powee in 1926 when Cedar lost its status as the the keel with the tallest rig on the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation.

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