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Barges 4

Although West Country Keels were capable of sail this was largely reserved for the Humber and larger sections of river. As seen on the canal at Shepley bridge above the horse was the more common method of power.

Initially the West Country keels were equipped with sails that would be used on the Humber or elsewhere if the opportunity arose, the rest of the time the power being provided by a horse. With the advent of steam, keels began to be built without the provision for sale, these boats often known as "Dumb boats" would be towed in groups by steam tug on the Humber and horse elsewhere. Steam engines were later fitted to some Keels allowing them  in turn to tow a dumb boat. With the arrival of the diesel engine, Mirfields yards found a new job converting many dumb boats to this means of power in the 1930's and 40's.

Gwendoline the sole survivor in dry dock at The Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port.

I am afraid if you were to take a stroll down to the canal today in search of a West Country Keel you would be disappointed. The last commercial barge opperations ceased in 1981.
The canal has now moved on to different things with the industry along the banks now largely gone and the advent of  "cheap" road transport it has now become a lady of leisure used for fishing, walking and cruising. A glimpse of the past can still often be seen in the form of the steel hulled motor barge "Integrity" built in 1935 and now converted into a house boat, she exhibits many characteristics of more traditional keels.

Of the hundreds of west country keels built in Mirfield and the county one sole survivor remains "Gwendoline" built and launched at Ledgard Bridge yard in 1953, retired in the late 1970's and subsequently converted to a house boat was found in a semi-sunken state at Shipley in 1999. She is now undergoing restoration at The Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port.

Ledgard Bridge Boat Company Ltd

Sadly boat building in Mirfield finally came to an end in 2009 with the closure of the last remaining builder at Ledgard Bridge.

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