BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

29 October 2014
North YorkshireNorth Yorkshire

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
North Yorkshire
Things to do
People & Places
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near york


Related BBC Sites


Contact Us


Bucket painted 'canal style'
Bucket painted 'canal style'

The barge and the beans

A barge named Syntan, which last brought cocoa beans to Rowntrees over forty years ago, has returned to the city! The web team's Katy Wright clambered aboard and got all matey with one of the old crew members...

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.

Beverley Barge Perservation Society chairman
Nev Holgate

"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!"
Nev Holgate

"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.

audio Listen to Katy's interview with Nev Holgate >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

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."

last updated: 08/01/07
Have Your Say
Do you have any memories of Syntan? Why not share them...
Your name: 
Your comment: 
The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

tracy gillyom;;thomas
my family were watermen and most of my decendents lived on barges especially benjamin gillyon . thomas do you have any info on the gillyon ;;gillyan family from beckside beverley many regards tracy

Harold Rogers
yes i did work on the barges from leaving school.I was mate on the barge \GOODWILL/with CYRIL LISTER in 1961.So i can rember you when going up and the HUMBER to all theinland waterways to ROTHERHAM, SHEFFIELD.Should like to meet up and have a chat about old times. Harold

Doreen Cator
I maybe waved to Syntan, and touched my for'ead in the typical greeting of barges passing one another. As a young girl in the 1950s, I often went on trips with my barge skipper Dad, Ben,(then on the 'Ryton'). From my then 8,9,10 yr old perspective, working on the barges was a wonderful life, and the memories of those times have brightened many a day-dreaming moment since. Bitterly cold mornings waiting for the tide, leisurely sunny afternoons moving along the canals, dark nights unloading - all magic. Tragic that such times were overtaken by the monstrous, all-intrusive and harrowing experience that is juggernaut delivery of today. The community of bargees (many families lived on the barges) was like no other - a community which would amply repay any biographical, anthropological studies. I loved every moment, and would love to share any tales with similarly interested others.Congratulations to the Beverley Barch Preservation Society on their fine work - a worthy (and I'm sure, wonderfully enjoyable)achievement.

Jean Stones
whilst I have no memories of the Syntan barge, I am tracing my family tree, which has lead me to Beverley and the Beckside area where I believe my descendants - Mark Holgate lived until he was 82 years old. I am interested to find any facts or information about the Holgates and the barge community. I am also wondering if Jasmine is in someway related - having the surname Holgate. My email address is

Jasmine Holgate
I went to a training weekend in Goole and got a certificate for boat handling it was great!!!

Go to the top of the page

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy