Moored at King's Staith in York, Syntan bobs gently on the water, the sunlight reflecting on her colourful paintwork, the bright bunting strung across her flapping in the wind... Inside, she's equally impressive; the place is adorned with polished brass, varnished woodwork, and buckets and watering cans painted in the 'canal' style.
But when members of the Beverley Barge Preservation Society found her in 1999, she was far from glorious. Having been laid up for almost 20 years in a lay-by near Doncaster Power Station, she'd been cannibalised for parts, vandalised, and allowed to decay.
By 2005, however, Syntan had been restored to her former glory - the state in which she can be seen today. One of the men who helped with the refit was Nev Holgate, chairman of the Beverley Barge Preservation Society. For him, restoring syntan was particularly pertinent. In the 60's, Nev had worked on the barge delivering, amongst other things, cocoa beans to Rowntrees in York.
"During the growing season, the cocoa beans came in the big ships into the Hull docks, and we'd then transport those beans... We'd sail up the Humber, up the Ouse, and then up the Foss lock. And we carried thousands of tonnes of cocoa beans, which were discharged into the big Rowntree warehouses."
Have a break...
Nev and his co-workers often worked late into the night unloading the beans, but their efforts were rewarded - something which made assignments to York eagerly anticipated:
|"When our bosses used to say 'you're going to load cocoa beans for Rowntrees in York', we used to rub our hands with glee!"|
"The managers used to bring tea down from the factory along with mis-shapes - chocolates that weren't good enough to go into the products that they sold... That was a perk of the job. So when our bosses used to say 'you're going to load cocoa beans for Rowntrees in York', we used to rub our hands with glee!"
Tea and chocolates weren't the only advantage of bringing cocoa beans to York, says Nev: "It was a pleasure to travel to York on these barges because the nightlife was basically as it is now - it was a tremendous place to visit, there was a pub on every corner... It was really nice."
The fall and rise of Syntan
But by the late 1960s, the emergence of North Sea Gas saw the decline of the barging industry - businesses no longer needed coal delivering, and as such, the barges were largely surplus to requirements. So they were sold off and Nev, having a family to support, moved into long distance lorry driving.
But forty years on, much to Nev's delight, he's back in York on board Syntan - the very same vessel he used to bring cocoa beans to York in!
"Here we are paying a week's long visit to York and it's just pure nostalgia. When I talk to people - people are coming over the bridge and they're seeing the barge and they're coming aboard - tears are actually flowing from some people's eyes, because they remember when we used to come here. And it's like finding a family after forty-odd years. It's just brilliant."