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Phyllis at Work

This is the story behind the 1907 Humber sloop that was to help fight two wars and join the search for the Loch Ness monster.

Phyllis 1907. Loa 68ft, Beam16ft.4, Draft 7ft.4, Official Number 124785. Yard Number 60. Sail Number 26148.

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Updated: April 2016

Sailing at South Ferriby

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Phyllis at Work.

In 1905 the New Junction or as it was locally know the New Cut was opened to join the River Don with the Aire and Calder Navigation. This would mean amongst other things that larger craft could reach the coal staithe (probably Denaby) used by Bentley Colliery (below) without the restriction of the Sheffield (61ft 6" by 15ft 8") size lock at Thorne. The colliery opened in 1908 and mined a yearly total of 1,000,000 ton of coal in 1924 and again in 1992 before its closure in 1993.

Phyllis (4)

Right. Phyllis loaded with coal alongside the staithe used by Bentley colliery. The year is unknown. Phyllis's roll was primarily the transport of coal from the Yorkshire pits to anywhere that required it and later in general cargo. Including other dates she is logged by the River Ancholme lock keeper Mr Straw, as carrying 98 ton of coal to Brigg on 21st January 1958. That is the last time Phyllis appears in the log carrying coal. Two more entries of coal were made in 1958, "Victory" July 3rd and "Elma B" October 10th. No other entries of coal are in the log so we can assume that she carried one of the last shipments of coal through South Ferriby lock. Road transport would have taken over the delivery. However Phyllis continued to trade to Brigg with maize and cattle cake.

(Picture HKSPS)

River Log

Site created May 2009

By Kath Jones & Alan Gardiner.

If anyone has any memories of working for James Barraclough or have a story about working on Phyllis or any of the Barraclough barges we would like to hear from you.
If you have any comments or questions on the content of the site or would like to add something to it regarding any of the sloops we would also like to hear from you.


An extract from the River Ancholme lock keepers log 1958.

Phyllis (2)
Left. Phyllis in 1937 entering the Humber Dock that is now known as Hull Marina. Before reaching the entrance her fore sail has been quickly stowed and the tack of her main has been let go and triced to reduce the pull of the sail and aid the view of the captain. Her anchor is over her head just below the ship ready to let go if necessary. The speed of the ship was controlled by the main sheet from the aft deck, the mate would be ready with a rope that had a hook on the end to get it into one of the iron framed recess's in the lock wall (One is visible just forward of her bow) but here she looks to be making good way into the lock. Depending on the wind direction the main sheet would either be let go or hauled in and the sail "scandalised" (the peak would be lowered to spill the wind from the sail) to stop the ship and then secured in the lock. If the wind conditions where suitable she would sail out of the lock onto her berth or if not, be warped (winched) onto it in stages using a line to her fore roller. She still visits the dock regularly but her engine makes things very easy.            (Picture HKSPS)

Interesting Links

Humber Keel & Sloop Preservation Society.

National Historic Ships Reg.

Thames Barges

Goole Waterways Museum.
Dutch Barge Association.
In The Boat Shed.
Humber Packet Boats.
Leicester Trader.
Humber Yawl Club.
Brilliant Star

Rodney Clapson

Richlow Books

Sailing Barge Research

West Country Keels

Waterways of the Humber
By Christine Richardson.

Barges and Docks

Sheffield Ships.

 Sloop "Amy Howson"

 Sloop "Spider T.

 Keel "Comrade".

 Keel "Daybreak".

 Keel "Southcliffe".

 Keel "Hope".

 Keel "Eden".


The Barton Regatta

Leeboards Explained

Telling The Differance


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Right. Phyllis with her name on in the 1960's, without her rig but with engine and new wheel house installed transshipping timber from a coaster in Andrews Dock. Although now relegated to a motor barge Phyllis was, according to mate and her captains son Harold Harness, well known for her towing ability.
 Although primarily built for the coal trade and shown here loading timber, Phyllis as other sloops would have been used for the transport of just about every kind of commodity that came into the ports of Hull, Grimsby, Immingham and Goole. She would have used the Havens on the Humber at Hessle, Barrow, Barton, Winteringham and Killingholme and loaded bricks and tiles from the many yards along the Humber bank at small staithes built adjacent to the brick or tile yards.


Phyllis Launch3
Phyllis Wreck1

Two major events in the working history of our Phyllis both reported by the Hull Daily Mail. The launch at WH Warrens yard by Miss Phyllis Barraclough on Thursday 15th August 1907. And the unfortunate event of her sinking on Saturday 16th of August 1933. 

 As with most small merchant vessels, the working life of a Sloop was, by definition, neither exciting nor glamorous: they matter-of-factly hauled cargo from place to place, generally unremarked. For a Sloop of Phyllis's age formal paperwork is scant, and what exists is casual and mundane. Writing in 'The River and John Frank,' Nicholas Day records Fred Harness, mate on the Humber Sloop Nero in the nineteen twenties and thirties.

"Shipping records were very basic, a simple diary. There were no statutory obligations. If I was told to load a boat of bricks at Ferriby for Hull, I would go into the office and they would give me a shipping note to hand over at Hull. It just told you what you had in. When I got to the desk I just gave it to the people who bought the bricks. It was a simple chitty. Mr Alf Frank did all the business. It was all cash paymenskills of sailing and handling were learnt on the job, usually from boyhood, although wives also assisted for short periods. A crew of two, Captain and Mate, often father and son, handled the ships with 'purchasemen' bought in as needed. Financially, the ships were run on the 'thirds system. Gross earnings from a trip were deducted roughly 5% to cover dock and canal dues and any towing charges. The net sum was then apportioned one third to the owner, one third to the skipper and one third 'to the ship' - back to the owner to cover mate's and casual labour wages, horse hire insurance's and ship's running and repairs.

 By far the largest group of Sloop men and Sloop owners lived in the Waterside area of Barton Upon Humber, effectively a village within the small town, sitting tightly around Barton Haven. At most an area of a square mile, the lanes running westward from Waterside Road still carry the names of local ship owners and builders – Barracloughs, Clapsons and Hewsons.
 Barton Haven is a late Anglo-Saxon artificial harbour, dug out in c 1000Ad to create a reliable deep-water port for the north of Lindsey. As Hull's fortunes rose as an international port after 1300, so Barton's declined, but it was still an important sub-regional point of connectivity. In the early nineteenth century, a daily mail coach ran from Waterside to Lincoln via Brigg, and from mid-century a three or four times daily paddle steamer ferry to Hull.
 In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Waterside was home to thriving industry. To the east lay two whiting mills, three mills and numerous brick and tile yards on the Humber bank between South Ferriby and Goxhill, most with their own jetty. Local records for 1907 show Waterside Road businesses include coal and coke merchants, brick and tile manufacturers, sailmakers, chemical manure manufacturers, flour and corn millers and animal cake manufacturers, maltings, Clapson's shipyard and dry dock (where the last wooden sloop "Peggy B" was built in 1935), the Norwegian Oil Company and Hall's Barton Ropery, who provided rigging to the Admiralty and, much later, the ropes for Hilary's Everest expedition. During her working life "Phyllis" would have carried products relating to the majority of the Barton industries. 

Along with other barges in the general cargo trade, as well as coal "Phyllis" helped to keep the region running during the war years. The first consignment of American lend lease dried eggs arrived in the UK in April 1941: Phyllis was involved in transhipment of lend lease dried eggs and milk from Immingham to Leeds, where it was transferred to shortboats. More critical cargos and duties were to follow. Phyllis was to be caught in the middle of the Hull blitz of 1941.Diary01

Although "Phyllis" had been throughout W.W.I we do not have any references for the work she undertook. However, we do know that James Barraclough was granted a Freeman of London for the commitment to the continued transportation of coal and commodities during the war. Phyllis would have played a significant part in his achievement of that.   Doubtless she was kept busy running coal from the Yorkshire pits to keep the gas works and trawlers going as well as the home fires burning.
 However for the second war we have accounts from local historians and one of her crew. We also have a copy of captain Harold Harness's diary from 1945 to show exactly what she did during that year along with his wage details and and her towing charges to other companies. For example Harold writes in the front of the diary his wage for 1944, 369.14s 3d of which he paid 43 15s 0d to the P.A.Y.E ("Pay As You Earn" taxation). January 31st to February 4th, loaded bombs. With Fire watch over night and discharging the bombs over the next three days Harold earned 23 15s 10d with overtime and received 150 gallon of fuel. On March 16th 1945 Harold loaded Phyllis with a rare commodity for that time, 60 tons of oranges. Probably the first to reach Hull for a long time. Phyllis then towed "Kate" another of Barraclough's sloops to Grimsby, returning to Alex Dock with Kate still in tow on Wednesday 21st. The maximum cargo carried in 1945 was 146 tons of barly to Selby.
 After converting to motor barge, "Phyllis" proved to be a popular towing vessel due to her slender lines. Apart from "Kate" already mentioned other barges towed by "Phyllis" during 1945 were; Lillian & May, Lucy, Cressy T, Ivie, Nero, John William, Gertrude, Eva & Lucy, Paul H T and Saira, sometimes two barges at a time were towed. Charges for towing were between 5/- and 13/- (shillings) in new money that's 25p and 65p.                                                                           
 During the second war, sloops were commandeered to help with the war effort, some like "Vi" and "Gravel" were deployed as barrage balloon vessels by 17th Balloon Centre RAF Sutton on Hull. I don't have any info on "Gravel" but "Vi" was built by Warrens in 1925, yard number 205. She was sank in West Walkier Dykes in 1935, raised and put back into service.
The North East Diaries 1939-45 (NED) compiled by Roy Ripley and Brian Pears give contemporaneous accounts of the scale of events drawn from local fire and civil defence logs amongst other reports across the City. During the day of the 7th May 1941, the barge "Ril IIda" ( Spillers lighter) had been sunk in Hull, and, just off the Humber, the auxiliary patrol trawler "Suserian" bombed. That night, the attacks began in earnest.

Harry Turner's account tells us:

  • "Sure enough the next night, which was clear and moonlit, our station at Spurn Point called us with 'Pip up — hostile target on bearing 95 degrees'. We found a lone target, possibly a reconnaissance plane to draw our guns whilst the rest of the pack sneaked in. The guns deliberately did not fire, but an hour later all stations were reporting targets and the guns engaged but it was really difficult as the heights were very varied. The sight of Hull being bombed was enough to make you weep; it was worse than the night before. The air was filled with the noise of aircraft and our shells whistling up whilst the bombs whistled down. The Luftwaffe had the advantage that even if their bombs missed the docks and factories they would hit civilians in their houses nearby, and hundreds of Hull people were killed before the enemy departed at around 5am leaving the city centre devastated. If the Germans had come a third night I think there would have been nothing left of Hull. The air raid wardens, firemen, army and everyone were worn out but the docks were still functioning and Hull was down but not out".
  •   David Carruthers remembers standing on the Humber foreshore at New Holland, about two miles away. He says, "We just watched Hull burn. You could feel the heat from here."
  • Phyllis's captain before WW2 was Captain Tom Kerridge then Captain Harry Horsefall and later Captain Harold Harness who had served as mate with Captain Horsefall, (Harold's son and mate aboard "Phyllis" in later years had the same name) who had been with her since May 3rd 1943 and remained with her until the late 'forties. David Carruthers joined him aboard "Phyllis" as a fifteen year old mate in early 1944.
  •   Almost the whole of the riverside was razed by fire, Riverside Quay and Alexandra docks were damaged. Ruins along the banks of the river Hull (a small tributary of the Humber) included flour mills and stores bearing such names as Ranks - Spillers - Gilboys - Rishworth - Ingleby and Lofthouse. King George Dock itself simply had to be protected at all costs. Working constantly under what rapidly became a firestorm, Phyllis's role was to identify and tow any fired vessels out of the dock many carrying highly flammable or combustible cargo, leaving them to chance burning, sinking or going out against an adjacent jetty just known as "Number 80". Oldridges's 1894 ship Lily was one of those destroyed.
  •  As events unfolded, in the course of his duties with "Phyllis" to help tow burning and damaged barges from the dock captain Horsefall and crew were periodically required to swiftly remove a variety of incendiary devices falling on Phyllis's own wooden hatch covers, largely by the simple expedient of kicking them off. The British Transport Police Roll of Honour records PCs John Woods and George Barker of the LNER Police as being found dead at the entrance to King George Dock at the end of the 8 May raid. John Woods was fifty two, George Barker was sixty five and due to retire.
  • Wartime barge crew were formally classed as merchant seamen, their roughly average weekly commercial wage of twenty one shillings supplemented by an entitlement to double rations. Barges standing fire watch received a Ministry of War Transport allowance of eight pounds a week, which probably generously reflected the demurrage payment system, but also acknowledged the significance of the vessels' civil defence role.
  • The end to Phyllis's Second World War career finds her more quietly in 1944, with a new electric deck winch fitted, powered by a 3.5 horsepower petrol paraffin Lister engine, and an excited David Carruthers in his first week at work taking chalk from South Ferriby cliffs to Spurn Point, and seaward with gravel to Withernsea where Barraclough's had a contract with Westminster Dredging. On that trip, under the doubtless close scrutiny of captain Harold Harness, German and Italian prisoners of war offloaded her cargo.
  •  Later still, in the extreme winter of 1947, David Carruthers recalls "Phyllis" spent eight weeks stuck on the icebound Aire and Calder canal on a run with chalk from South Ferriby quarry to Thwaite's mill at Leeds. The ship itself was only saved from being frozen in by hot engine cooling water discharged from the passing Tom Puddings on their daily run from Leeds to Wakefield. Cement to Wakefield was a cargo he particularly disliked: bags were hauled out of the hold two at a time by horses, and it was only possible to get cement dust out of his hair by lathering it in margarine. Later promoted to Captain of the larger Barraclough's motor barges, for example "A Triumph", "Marranne" and "Juneville", David Carruthers stayed with the company until he came off the waterways in 1965.
  •  In a curious footnote, Phyllis's working life became rather more varied in the early part of her retirement from service. Sold on in 1974 by Barraclough's with her working companion John William when the firm closed, Phyllis made a voyage up to Scotland and at one time had been intended for use as a supply lighter to the oil rigs. Her hulls' complete unsuitability for that type of work must have quickly become apparent. But she did join the hunt for "Nessie". after being reunited once more by pure chance with her old working partner John William. But that's a part of someone else's story.
Below is a list of sloops of all sizes working on the Humber and and its tributaries between 1920 and 1950. This list has been compiled by sloop captains Cyril Harrison and the late Charlie Atkinson from memory in conjunction with a list by Captain John Frank in an article for the Mariner Mirror in the 1950's and contains vessels rigged as sloops that may previously have been keels, some sloops also had the same name as a working keel. Very confusing.
Ada Mary
Alva S
Amy Howson
Anglo American
Annie Barraclough
Annie Elizibeth
Annie H
Annie Maud
Brilliant Star
Clarence T
Earl T
Elma AB
Eva & Lucy
Ever Ready
German Ann
Humber T
John & Annie
John William
Lillian May
Lucy B
Madge Jarvill
Miss Madeline
Miss Patricia
Morning Star
New Clee
Peggy B
Rhoda B
Rising Hope II
Rising Hope III
Rosalia Stamp
Spider T
Toft Newton
William & Arthur
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