Lighterman Laurie Dews

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2023

David Lewis explores the life of North East lighterman Laurie Dews, who recently passed away aged 100

The ’60s and ’70s Laurie proudly took charge of his vessel, Selby Michael, as new from Thorne around 1960 and continued hauling for BOCM (the names of barges had moved on from planets and constellations to the children of BOCM board members). Laurie also continued the Dews family tradition of taking his own children on barge trips in the holidays. Some of the physical labour had gone out of the job with mechanised loading and unloading, but the weekly slog of the 80-mile round trip stayed constant for years. Occasionally, the weather intervened. In the big freeze of 1962/3, Laurie was tasked with using Selby Michael as an ice-breaker by ploughing his way along the navigation channels. Fog was also a problem – with no radar, a sharp lookout had to be kept, with the Blacktoft Bull foghorn being a welcome sound. As the 1970s went on, the fleet of BOCM motorised barges began to reach the end of their designed lifespan. BOCM had to decide whether to replace them or inv…

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