Sunday, 21 August 2011

Ahoy there! Message in a virtual bottle!

Horace Barrass, nicknamed 'Pegleg' because of his homemade leg crafted from driftwood (not illustrated!). Photo via the Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society. They used a slide of this image in their 40th Anniversary exhibition in 2011. Photo enhanced by Mr D Mitchell, husband of my 6th cousin. Do you know the origins of this picture? The keels on the left appear to be the 'Lady Ina' and the 'Eccles John'. Do you know the names of the people in the photo? I would be SO grateful to learn more! (Photo taken in 1957 at Ferriby Sluice, Lincolnshire, according to writing on the back)

You might remember back in May last year, I told the story of my ancestor Horace Barrass, or "Pegleg" as he was affectionately known around Doncaster, Yorkshire and on the canals where he was a master mariner and keel captain sailing the local waterways between Sheffield and Hull.

Horace (1889-1976) lost his leg in an incident with wire as a young man, and later made his own substitute leg out of driftwood. This leg and its owner became a familiar sight in the area and something of a local legend!

A distant relative of mine was brought up in the village where Horace lived, canalside Stainforth near Doncaster. She recalled how, as a young girl, she had visited the outside lavatory near her grandma's house in the village, only to find the door seemed to have been jammed shut from the inside, as a prank, by a wheelbarrow handle. So she thought.

Ferriby Sluice, North Lincolnshire

 She ran to tell her grandmother and when they returned to investigate, the "blockage" was found to be Horace, sitting on the loo with his driftwood limb braced against the door to repel unwelcome boarders! Most people whistle to announce their presence in the outside facilities. Our Horace had his own unique way of keeping intruders at bay!

Full tale here: Captain Pegleg in the loo and all the merry Barrass crew

Ferriby Sluice, South Ferriby, Lincolnshire. Scene of many a launch of our keels onto the Humber

The Hope and Anchor pub at Ferriby Sluice, North Lincolnshire. A welcome sight to the homecoming mariner!
I've had the privilege two or three times in recent years of sailing with other descendants of the keel families among my ancestors, on the last fully operational keel boat under sail, "Comrade." We set sail each time from the very spot pictured in the photo of Horace and his chums.

The good ship 'Comrade', the only Humber keel still working under sail

'Comrade' was restored and crewed by members of the "Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society" from instructions and guidance given by retired keelman Fred Schofield, who also came from my ancestral home village of Stainforth. His book 'Humber Keels and Keelmen' is like the ultimate bible of all things keel!

Keelman Fred Schofield's wonderful book

 I've actually been at the tiller of 'Comrade' to help (or hinder?) her crew in the steering of this beautiful ship right under the Humber Bridge! The captain did say that my Barrass ancestors would be turning in their graves. I felt very close to them indeed. Several ancestors drowned while sailing their keels, so it's quite a miracle my efforts didn't ground her! One of my ancestors even managed to shoot himself fatally in the arm while attempting to shoot a crow from the deck!

The Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society. Website here: Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society website

This year, the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the 'Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society', was celebrated by an exhibition at South Ferriby, from where the keel 'Comrade' and her sister ship the sloop 'Amy Howson' now sail regularly to give interested members of the public a taste of how their ancestors lived and sailed on these amazing vessels.

The keel 'Comrade' and the sloop 'Amy Howson' approach the Humber Bridge

It was at this exhibition that my lovely sixth cousin Ann (possibly seventh cousin, that still being a moot point in our genealogy!) saw the fantastic photo of the group of mariners and their families at the top of this blogpost, on display as a slide.

Nothing was known about it, except that the original photo had written on the back that it was taken at  "Ferriby Sluice, 1957". Ann knew about my Horace from my research into my family tree and hers. She had little doubt this must be him. Or some huge coincidence: two men in their sixties with a missing leg, in this small waterways community. She sourced the photo and was generously sent a copy, which her husband Don, a keen amateur photographer, enhanced just a little, to make it even more crisp.

So it came at last into my possession.

If you too have been bitten by the family history bug, you can imagine what a joy it was to gaze at last on the features of my third cousin three times removed!

Who are the people round him? His wife Mary Elizabeth Flora Scott? His children Eva, Frank and Gordon? Other friends, family and locals from among the watermen and women, mariners and sailors in our blood?

I dearly hope someone reading this now or in the future may know much more than I do about this photo, so together we can discover more about our roots and the stories behind the faces. 

Please do get in touch if you recognise anyone or anything here. I would love to hear from you.

Comrade sailing on  the Humber

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