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Tom Puddings

38 compartment boats in one train

Goole's success as a port came from its ability to compete with the railways to export coal from the Humber. This was achieved by a system of compartment boats developed by William Bartholomew in 1863. They were locally known as 'Tom Puddings' ('Tom' meaning something large and 'Pudding' because they compartments looked like intestines or a string of sausages or black pudding) and consisted of long trains of compartments which could hold around 40 tons of coal each. The compartments were lifted into awaiting ships at Goole via hydraulically operated hoists. Between 1863 and 1912, five hoists were used at Goole to cope with the enormous tonnage of coal. The system continued to be used up to 1985.

How the coal hoist worked Normally trains of 21 compartments were used, although sometimes up to 38 could be carried in one go. The compartments often floated at different levels depending on the type of coal being carried. The front few compartments were usually not fully loaded to make the barge propeller more efficient. The limiting factor was the size of the locks (trains often had to be split) and any side winds which could skew the train too close to the bank.

Originally locks were between 215 and 265 feet long which allowed about 10 compartments through in one go. Eventually all the locks from Goole to Castleford were increase to 450 for a maximum of 19 compartments. Sometimes union agreements limited the size of the boats.

A large number of empty compartments and tugs were based at Goole. Collieries would inform Goole daily with their requirements. This allowed empty trains to go from Goole and be efficiently distributed between the different collieries and to ensure there were enough spare compartments to go round.

In the busy periods a tug would only have to visit one colliery, but later they had to call at two or three to be economical.

At the colliery, each compartment was dragged up from the canal onto a railway bogey running on an underwater railway track. These were then taken by an engine to the colliery for the coal to be loaded.

Once it was loaded, the locomotive would push the compartment back into the canal where it would float off the bogie and could be shackled together into a boat train and towed to Goole. The system became known as the 'Railway on the Water'. It was so economical that the cost of transporting coal this way was far cheaper than the railways or other canals in the country.

When they were towed, the compartments were held together by chains. An axe was kept handy to cut the chains as if one compartment sank, it could drag the others down. Each compartment had a walkway to allow the boatmen to move around.

A leader or jebus was attached to the front of the tug to act as a breakwater. The tugs were originally steam-powered and just given numbers, but were later powered by diesel and named after the collieries they served.

Once the compartments arrived at Goole, they were split up and stored ready to meet the demands of the outgoing ships. At peak times over 200 compartments could arrive at Goole each day. South Dock and Ouse Dock were used as storage places and could hold up to 800 loaded compartments sorted on the grade of coal they were carrying.

The hoists at Goole were 90 feet high. No.1 was built of wood and the rest of steel. A cage was lowered to below the water level and a loaded compartment was moved over it. At the same time hydraulic pistons could move the empty one out of the way. The loaded compartment was then secured to the cage and the whole thing raise to the required height for the ship. Another pair of pistons then rotated the case 125 degrees to allow the coal to tip out into the ship's hold. Two 'spoutmen' would used shovels to ensure no coal was left behind.

In the early days the hoists could handle around 100 tons of coal per hour. This increased to around 300 tons per hour as the design of ships' holds improved. The fastest loading was in 1947 when the 'Lady Sheila' loaded 251 tons in half an hour and arrived and sailed on the same tide.

Sometimes the compartments would carry bunker coal for the steamship itself. In most cases this had to be shovelled manually into a skip which was then loaded into the ship's bunker. It would take four men half a day to empty a compartment.

Hoist work was controlled at Goole by a Coal Inspector, two assistants and six Hoist Foremen. The Foremen checked which compartments needed tipping and would write the name of the ship with chalk on the side of the compartment. The spoutmen would then know which order to do the work.

It was often a Health and Safety nightmare, with the hoist operator having instructions shouted to him which he could not hear and inadequate lighting when working at night. The tugmen were notorious for turning up to work drunk and they often went poaching on the river banks to try and supplement their income.

No. 4 hoist on its way from repairs A device intended to reduce breakage A typical scene in the docks

No. 4 hoist was originally a floating hoist that could be moved from one part of the docks to another. It was built in 1910 and dismantled in 1968. Various devices were used to keep the coal in good condition. These ranged from devices at the collieries to covers on the compartments which were important to keep certain types of coal dry. Most coal damage came when it was tipped by the hoist into the ship's hold. Anti-breakage devices were tried at the end of some hoists, which would gently lower the coal on small conveyor belts, but they were fiddly to use. In the end the cheapness of the system was more important than the quality of the product.

The railway hoist today The last remaining hoist today No. 3 hoist demolished in 1993

Coal was not just transported via compartments. Railway Dock had a high-level railway coal drop run by the L&YR. Wagons would enter along a high-level railway line, be tipped in to ships, and returned via a low line.

The use of Tom Puddings ceased in 1986 due to reduced markets. The final shipment was made to the MV. Dimple with coal from South Yorkshire ending a system with 122 years of use carrying 55 million tons of coal. Of all the five coal hoists that Goole had, only hoist No. 5 remains intact and is now a preserved building used as part of the waterways museum. There are also the diesel tugs, two jebuses and four compartments in existence. Hoist No. 3 was demolished in 1993 as part of dock expansion, although the controls were preserved for display.

One of the last compartments to be built Two of the four remaining compartments Raising a sunk compartment

The last compartments were built in 1977. Accidents sometimes happened with ships hitting loaded compartments and sinking them. This was made worse if they were tied together in dock as one sinking could bring down many others. In the worse accident, sixty loaded compartments sank in Ouse Dock in 1960. Sunken compartments were recovered by lifting them up with chains or screws, or in extreme cases by lowering the water level in the docks.

Visitor Comments

Posted by George Robinson at 25/03/2006 21:53
One of the former steam Tom Pudding tugs, WATERLOO, has been found lying derelict in the River Medway near Chatham. If anyone has a pot of spare cash it could be brought back for the Waterways Museum!!
Posted by colin at 27/04/2006 15:32
Theres a tom pudding down old harbour [river Hull] being made into a houseboat [a bit small I thought]
Posted by Ian Reed at 01/05/2006 09:36
Congrats on one of the best "private" web sites I've seen.
Posted by Gordon Elston at 12/07/2006 10:50
There is a very good section on W. H. Bartholomew and all his innovations for Goole in the book "Slow Boat through Pennine Waters" by F. Doerflinger (1971) giving a summary of the puddings. He mentions the ability to partially steer them by compressing the spring buffers separating the compartments by means of tightning the steel ropes on the appropriate sides. The book includes a fairly good reproduction of an illustration from The Graphic now held by the Garside Collection of the No.5 Hoist in action.
Posted by Elaine Jones at 09/11/2006 23:51
I wish the internet and this site had existed in 1976!
I dragged my other half all round the system looking for a Tom Pudding (he'd been laughing at the name) and there wasn't one around at the time.

I found this site a few months back when we were looking for some reference to Tom Puddings (to do with an article in Archive magazine I think).
Posted by Mike Appleton at 24/12/2006 18:18
Regarding the compartment boats ('Tom Puddings') :
When the boats were laden, I believe from fallible memory (late 1940s - early 1950s) that the Jebus was coupled behind the tug, but when they were empty, the it was coupled in front as a false bow, when the leading boat would be "cocked up" i.e. the front aspect would be slightly raised. (Where else have I heard that phrase in connection with Goole?).

I was told that the position of the Jebus was altered in order to create a flow down the sides of the boats to help maintain a less deviating path, and the "cocking up" lessened drag.

Incidentally, does anyone out there know the origin of the use of the word 'Jebus' in this connection?
Posted by F Huntington at 01/04/2007 22:03
Goole Repair Yard
I served my apprenticeship at Goole Repair Yard, known locally as the Top Yard. This was situated on the Dutch River side about 400 yards before the timber pond and the then called Smiths boatyard. It had a "pan" shop, a boiler shop, a fitting shop, carpenter's shop, blacksmith's shop, sawmill, tinsmith's shop, sailmaker's. It boasted a dry dock and slipway for winching flyboats / barges out of water. The inlet from the canal was approx 500 yards upstream of the No 3 drydock which was situated adjacent to the old gas house at the back of the "Cape of Good Hope" public house. Its function was to repair compartment boats or "puddings" jebuses, or leaders to give them their correct name, tugs, of which there were originally 3 long tugs (used for towing flyboats), and approximately 7 or 8 tugs for towing the strings of "tom puddings" up and down the canal.

When I started my apprenticeship all the tugs were steam driven reciprocating engined vessels,and were all rivetted construction as were the "puddings." The compartment boats were floated into a small cut at the end of the pan shop and then an overhead crane picked them out of the water and deposited them on four blocks which stood them about four feet off the floor, from which position they were repaired. The "pan shop" could hold approximately 12 pans and they were worked on in rotation with two or three pans a week being repaired. Boiler work was also under taken and shell repairs on the tugs and barges as required.

Without this yard the coal trade would have come to a grinding halt and yet strangely there seems to be no mention of it.
Posted by Shuffleton Streets at 04/05/2007 19:59
Terrific memories - please send them to Waterways Museum, based next door. Waterways www. on this website. They are right next door to the old Smith's yard. Used to go there with my dad to help with his fitting-out work on his timber-hulled "Vega" - brought north from Suffolk estuary - Deben, I think?
Can F. Huntington fill in on the former Dog and Duck across the canal. Used to be taken there as a child in the 40s, to visit the Acaster family.
Posted by jim at 15/05/2007 23:08
If this was top yard what was bottom yard???
Posted by f huntington at 02/07/2007 20:24
Top Yard
the name above has always been applied to the repair yard,which was then(in 1949)a part of the Aire and Calder navigation,and was subsequently part of the nationalisation of many industries.It subsequently was called the D.I.W.E.(divisional inland waterways engineering) or executive.The yard manager at that time was Mr Charles Marland,and he was superceded by Mr Leslie Pearce,the well known Goole Town cricketer.The timber pond was a shallow area some 200 yards upstream of the repair yard where baulks of timber were floated in and left to season or stored until required .Directly across from the timber pond was a basin known as the "Dog and Duck",I seem to remember being told that sometime in the past a pub of that name had been located there.At the time I worked at the Top yard the "Dog and Duck" basin was the site of Camplings repair yard owned and managed by the late Claude Campling. I have a host of memories of the time I worked there from 1949,until 1964.If anyone wants to know of people or events during that time I would be glad to help them and share my memories of that period of my life
f huntington
Posted by pete at 06/07/2007 18:20
I remember also my parents some 60+ years ago mentioning a pub named the Dog and Duck in this area.For Jim top yard as stated by F.Huntington during my childhood we had the top yard and the shipyard so I can only summise the bottom yard would be goole shipbuilders.
Posted by Shuffleton Streets at 07/07/2007 09:24
Believe it is so, that Dog and Duck may have been a "beer house" once upon a time, probably when the basin behind it was the canal boat mooring, in earliest days of Goole's history, i.e. 1820s - 50s. Have a look at
In the 40s, it was home of Acaster family, although perhaps it began as a lock-keeper's canalside cottage. There were small cottages for canal workers south of present Dutch River and Canal bridges. Called Bridge Houses 5 and 6 in 1901 census, lived in until 40s, if not later.
Posted by Shuffleton Streets at 07/07/2007 09:30
For F. Huntington - within your detailed memories, I am keen to know if you have anything on The Cooperage - pre-Smith's boatyard, but on same site?
Posted by pedro at 09/07/2007 23:07
Re-Cooperage cant help with any info as yet hope to jog my elder brothers memory hes in his late 80s.But a cooperage certainly would make sense in the area.Barrel making look at the clues.Seasoned timber on the mill pond.MaltKins-Flourmillers-Breweries etc.All products transported and packed in barrels for transporting possibly by canal barges or ships.Even a Couper Street in Old Goole:)
Posted by f huntington at 15/07/2007 21:06
for shuffleton
sorry,I have no recollection of the Cooperage.or its whereabouts.There will no doubt be some info in Goole's archives,I would suggest somewhere around the 1900's.
Posted by Shuffleton Streets at 16/07/2007 17:41
Thanks for all cooperage info. There is also a pic. in Waterways of potatoes packed in barrels. And of course these were a staple crop in 1850s at the Airmyn farms. Plus the Bennett's ships built on potatoes grown Eastoft area and merchanted by J. B. Bennett.

Found a guy living in Manuel Street 1901 census who was a working cooper too.

Couper Street, O.Goole, named after developer of that time - one George Couper. Incidentally he was a pal of George Gleadow, father of the hatter and hosier.
Posted by John at 14/08/2007 12:23
Researching my family history I found my Great Grandfather worked on Tom Puddings but fell off and drowned at Altofts July 1913. Name John Thomas Hyde age 36.
My question is does anyone have any information on the "S.S. Remus" of Goole. Torpedoed 23rd Feb 1918 off the Orkneys. My GG Uncle Martin Morrisroe drowned in this attack. I have been to the Towerhill Memorial and Trinity house but the records are very short.
Posted by remus at 27/08/2007 18:01
All I got she was a small coaster built for owners GBWadsworth of Goole on the 12-10 1908.Sunk of Copinsay on the first her sinking was attributed to a mine later confirmed sunk by torpedo.She was 1079 tons.Suggest you try George Robinson on ships page he may be able to furnish more info.
Posted by pedro at 28/08/2007 21:07
Shame considering the war ended some 9months later.The wreck of the Remus lies east of South Ronaldsay in 66mtrs of water.Apparently she broke up on sinking but not too badly with the loss of 5 lives
Posted by John Evans at 15/01/2008 11:32
In 1986 I converted (by inserting a 4ft centre section) a Tom Pudding to carry a 20ft ISO container.

It worked a treat and we got a plug on BBC TV.

The idea was to start a service from Leeds to Goole, with up to 8 puddings in a string (one 20ft container in each), taking approx a day to make the journey. The energy required was insignificant.

Unfortunately BWB had the redundant Tom Puddings (there were about 80) cut up for scrap, so there was nothing to convert,
Posted by Andy Garrett at 29/04/2008 21:20
Anybody remember freight pioneer or freight trader - pusher tugs? Any pictures would be appreciated
Posted by Geoff Overington at 28/08/2008 10:38
Hi, could anyone give me the location where the SS Mersey was sunk by land mine in 1940. Any other information would also be welcomed on the ship.
My uncle Fred Overington was lost in the incident and i am just trying to find the location and any further information.
Thanks in advance.
Posted by john howard at 28/08/2008 22:36
ref tom puddings i used to dive off them into the canal as a kid very dangerous as i no now but not a thought then in the 60s the canal had two levels one half was about three foot deep other half was real deep i remember trying to swim to the bottom my friends dad was canal keeper his name was dickson he lived at side of canal in a deep revine which once flooded i remember near museam we used to dive off rail bridge wat runs over canal too them were the days
Posted by john howard at 28/08/2008 22:50
do you remember my father albert yarbo howard he worked at no3 dry dock for shipyard in the 60s 70s we used to live behind cape good hope in row of houses next to no 3 dry dock he was well known im trying to find some photos of him around that time thanks john howard
Posted by Terry at 14/09/2008 22:29
re. Pioneer and Trader

Waddingtons bought the pair of them and the last i know they were layed ashore topside of swinton lock.
Posted by Murray Riggs at 06/10/2008 10:59
I have just found this site by chance. I was interested to see the posting by Geoff Overington. My interest in the canal is purely from the songs a a blind folk singer that I heard in Devon many years ago. Gez Overington (sadly no longer with us) sang working songs from the Aire and Calder Canal and if my memory serves me correctly his father worked on one of the tugs. Gez had a real presence about him and sang these songs with real feeling. I have a cassette of a copy of a tape Gez made of the songs of the canal, I don't think this was ever commercially available. Geoff, if this is a relative and you don't already have a copy of the songs I would gladly send you a copy.
Posted by alan lewis at 28/02/2009 15:39
i was mate on a guernsy ship the BELGRAVE that loaded coal in goole the master was from that port his name was tom mitchell and i belive was a member of the local freemason
Posted by Malcolm Bristow at 25/03/2009 12:22
Just visiting site for first time - I have worked in Goole as a ship's agent since leaving school in 1968 and, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the floating hoist was called either No.4 or No.6 hoist?? (not No. 5 hoist as per the intro), No. 5 is the preserved hoist on the South Side of South Dock and as far as I know was always a fixed hoist with the Tom Puddings being stored in the South Dock Basin at 90 degrees to the hoist. No. 4 (or 6) floating hoist was almost directly opposite on the North bank in Albert Street where South Dock Terminals now operate, I vaguely remember calling at a vessel loading at that hoist when I first started working and feeling a little queazy by the movement of the hoist when lifting loaded puddings. At that time the Puddings were individually numbered for identification and our company was shipping coalite breeze/peas/beans/nuts (being descriptive of the size of pieces) out to Norway which continued for many years. There would be around 32-34 tonnes of coalite breeze (slag size) in a pudding and at the other end of the scale around 20-22 tonnes of nuts, (being bigger, lighter pieces and therefore less dense). Suppliers were Askern, Bolsover, Grimethorpe and Rossington works who delivered in lorries to canalside chutes for gravity tipping into the puddings, therefore you could have 3 or 4 different tonnages from each works in one pudding. Ted Beevers, Eddy Chafer and Don Cawkwell were in the 'coal office' as supervisors and they gave us a loading list with numbers identifying which puddings had been loaded into the ship. From that we were able to tie up what tonnage from which works had been loaded into each pudding to determine the final tonnage from each works. My abiding memory is of when the ship was nearly full the coal trimmers would go under the wings and ends of hatches (no box shaped/self trimming holds in those days). and disappear from sight as 30 tonnes was tipped into the hold where they were, after a minute or two you would see the coalite slowly shifting downwards as they dug their way out like moles, filling the void in the end/wings behind them as they did so until they resurfaced, Health and Safety would have a field day with those practices now.
Posted by Stuart (Webmaster) at 25/03/2009 20:47
Malcolm, welcome to the site and thanks for spotting the deliberate mistake, now corrected(!)
Posted by Malcolm Bristow at 26/03/2009 17:40
Thanks Stuart, - if anyone is interested the vessel in the 3rd postcard down on the right, (the light blue and white livery) is one of the Norwegian Rhine Line (NRL) fleet operated by Paal Wilson & Co of Bergen. They used to carry coke or coalite for our clients to ports in the Norwegian Fjords and their vessels were regular callers and a common sight in Goole Docks from the mid 60's until the late 80's early 90's when the solid fuel trade almost totally declined. Looking at the structure of the vessel in the postcard she is one of their 850-900 tonne vessels and could be the "Torpo", "Vosso", "Follo" "Venlo" or anyone of a myriad of sisterships (all ending in "o")
Posted by Anna J Dixon at 13/12/2011 19:01
To john Howard The friend of yours that dived off the railway bridge , did I know him!. And the man you name as Dickinson is spelt Dixon My father Willam Henry Dixon. He was a top dart player and so was my mother ethel , I came to goole at the age of 3 on a narrow boat called Tipton its had a international petrol/diesel engine in it!, we came from Birkwood on that narrow boat with all our animals like goats hens duck pigs cat called blacky and dog Lassie
and they both love to swim in the canal ,I went too School in Old Goole At aged 5 , but I can still remember the day we landed in Goole or Should I say Airmyn yes Number 5 swing bridge was in the borough of Airmyn Not Goole it was right next too the BR engine shed ,yes I had my own railway to my self Thank you BR you could set your watch by them coal trains ,like WD 2-8-0 austerity Locos Number's90531 90300 90213 90228 90186 90281 all 25C shed code of Goole 90099 .90132 .90172 90094 90091 90009 All 53Aor 53C for Hull Depot's these are the ones i remember the shunters where 0-6-0 tender locos and some tank locos ,mostly Aspinalls class 23's and class 27's L&YR the smallest ones we have at Goole where the unforgetable 0-4-0 L&YR Aspinall Pugs like 51222 (3 little ducks) thats what we all call it! and numbers 51241&51244 well i can go on for ever with steam loco's . And I was One of Gooles Moblie DJs And I not done any Djing work for some 10years or so But Now I'am Back , So if you like to make a booking then Email me at , for top music in Rock&roll Tamla Mototown Northern Soul, Party Disco 70s80s, All At Rock-it Roadshow , yours A J Dixon
Posted by Ruth at 07/02/2012 22:36
Message to F Huntington - I would be most grateful if you could get in touch with me please as you have info that I would be interested in as Claude Campling was my Grandad.
Email me
Posted by Ed Pollard at 06/03/2012 01:41
Hi Ruth, I lived on Mt pleasant rd 3 doors from Claud Campling I went to school with Brian Campling. the last time I saw Brian was on kings cross station he was doing his natonal service and I was going to Southampton to join my ship.would that be your father or Uncle ?Ed
Posted by SteveG at 10/04/2013 23:55
I'm interested in the chain compressors that were fitted to some pans whilst in the dock (commonly called knacker bouncers). As far as I can see they were at one time fitted to 2 of the surviving pans but have been removed. If anyone knows where there is one, or likely to be one, I would be very interested. They were made of cast iron and fixed to the deck by 4 bolts. They had a bed with the shape of 3 chain links, and attached hinged arm with a heavy round weight on the end to flip over and trap the chain. They were used like modern chain compressors for a quick release of the chain.
Posted by Stuart at 17/07/2013 22:08
Does anyone have information or things of interest on the Smith Family that were owners of smiths boatyard please!!
Posted by Corby Bunting at 18/07/2013 09:03
Hi Stuart. I have an extensive knowledge of this family.Far to much for this page .Please Email me
Posted by Corby Bunting at 09/08/2013 09:09
Hello Stuart. If you have been unable to locate my Email address. Its I am intrigued now to find out what information you may be interested in
Posted by NR Goole at 26/06/2014 12:35
Cus Howard of Doyle St first house in the row of terrace houses opp Gas works age 71, are I was at schoole with you, hope you are still about old friend.
Regards N R
Posted by Stefan spett at 27/08/2015 12:57
Very interesting story !
I have a question, can anyone tell me how many Jebus were numbered when at their most numerous ?
( I am a homebrewer and have decided to name my milds "Jebus" and a batch number. If my missus allows it )

Stefan spett Stockholm Sweden
Posted by Ruth Houlder at 11/09/2015 17:21
Ed Pollard - Brian Campling was my father. I would be interested in any information you have regarding him as I was only 13 months old when he died. My email is
Posted by Corby Bunting at 11/09/2015 19:18
I'm Sorry Ruth. But Ed passes away at his home in New Jersey April 2013
Posted by Corby Bunting at 04/12/2015 09:00
After surviving the Great War in 1917 My father lived a further 50 years until succumbing to Bronchitis. There is no doubt the cause of this was for the years spent as a Coal trimmer.
Like many other family members in Goole who were employed in this profession . From coal face to consumer Coal trimming was the most dangerous link. Not forgetting the transporting by sea. Which incurred a different hazard.My thought go out to all men who lost their life in these industries
Posted by Anne Howard Webb at 07/12/2015 21:20
Hi NR I think you are on about my dad Brian Cus Howard who lived in Doyle st x
Posted by John brown at 13/03/2017 19:57
My Grandad Charles Oglesby was on the tugs pulling Tom puddings to Goole what tug he was on I've know idea is there any records in goole id de love to find out
Posted by Frank Huntington at 23/12/2018 13:32
Tom Puddings/Top Yard/Goole/!933-2018
I was born in Goole in 1933 in back pasture Rd.My mum was Esme Daniels(maiden name)my Dad was Frank Huntington-coal trimmer until 1939,when he became a merchant seaman serving in the"Ouse" Lanky boat,which was sunk by a collision with the"Mersey"lanky boat in an E boat attack circa 1940,and was picked up by the"Rye" lanky boat .He subsequently joined the R.N.And served on rescue tugs.He eventually became a commissioned officer .My life was lived in Widop St until I was 18 then we moved to Broadway.I joined the 1954 for my national service until 1956 when I rejoined my former employment at the Top Yard.I knew everyone who worked there from 1949-1965.regards Frank Huntington e mail
Posted by frank huntington at 07/08/2019 15:28
goole and the tom pudding/docks/hoists/correspondence.I have viewed your cover of the canal/compartment boat history.The hoists etcetera,and the evolvement throughout 100 years history,and arent impressed of your cover of the whole system,and accuracy of the maintenance of the history relating to gooles role.I will elaborate later.
Frank Huntington e mail

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