Rose Skinner’s Windlass Belt

One morning, when Craftybird was at Braunston, I met up with Kate Saffin for a delicious Gongoozlers breakfast and a good old catch up! Amongst the many topics we covered, was a discussion about how best to carry a windlass when doing locks on the canal… It transpired that Kate had a genius method which had been handed down to her by Rose Skinner…

Who is Rose Skinner?

Rose Skinner was born in 1925, lived and raised her family on canals throughout the UK. One of the last boat people to carry freight. She died on June 27 2012, aged 87

Jack and Rose got married on Easter Monday in 1946. Rose was born in 1925 so she would have been about  21 when she got married. Rose and Jack lived and worked on their boat Kent with butty Forget Me Not delivering coal from Warwickshire to Oxford. And Subsequently Redshank, and butty Greenshank. Twice they are credited with helping to save the Oxford canal from closure. The first time in 1955 and again in 1957. They only moved off the boats in about 1962 as carrying got harder (by this stage they both worked for Willow Wren). S

The windlass or lock key

One bit of equipment that can’t be avoided on the canals is the windlass. It is essential for opening and closing the paddles on the lock gates in order to go up or down hill on the canal system. A large and quie unwieldy piece of kit, usually made out of heavy steel – or sometimes aluminium to make it lighter to carry and use. 

They often get dropped into the canal, especially at lock sides. Or left on lock gates. If the windlass is made of steel you can fish them out with a magnet if you’re lucky enough to have spotted where it dropped! 

Sadly the more expensive aluminium or stainless steel kind can’t be retrieved in this way, so care needs to be taken when carrying them!

Rose Skinner’s windlass belt

Kate happens to own a very special solution to carrying a windlass which has been bequeathed to her by Rose Skinner. Hence our conversation…

There are lots of different styles of windlass holders. For example I make a style on Craftybird so that the windlass can hang from a regular belt through a loop and is secure there until you need it. 

Rose Skinner’s windlass belt

Rose’s belt is quite narrow and made from veg tan leather that has been painted white. It has 53 heavy duty rivets on it! The belt just ties over whatever clothing you are wearing and your tummy does the job of holding the windlass in place.

Rose Skinner’s solution to carrying a windlass is so simple it is brilliant. 

After parting company that morning I decided that I really wanted to find out more about Rose’s windlass belt from Kate. We arranged to meet again; over a very pleasant lunch (delicious!) in the sunshine opposite Tooleys in Banbury at the museum, where Kate told me the story of Rose Skinner’s windlass belt:

Kate says “its great [the windlass] tucked into this belt I find I can sort of forget it’s there really … I can even pop into the loo fairly easily without taking it off!”

How do you know Rose Skinner?

“When I first moved onto a boat in 1999 I had a mooring at Langford Lane. In the cottages there lived Jack and Rose Skinner. (Jack was nephew of the famous Joe Skinner who was the last of the Number Ones).

Jack and Rose retired from working the boats to a little cottage in Langford Lane. They had a GRP cruiser for days out. I used to go and see them – Jack would joke ‘see you in 3 weeks!’… I suppose that was because of how long it was between visits! They both loved to sit and chat, so it was really hard … I needed to make enough time to visit them. I couldn’t just pop in for half an hour… It needed to be more like an hour and a half!

How did you come to own Rose Skinner’s windlass belt?

The whole windlass belt thing happened because Rose showed me that she would wear their windlasses tucked into a belt around their waist. Initially she gave me a belt to wear – it was a very nondescript brown plastic affair that came off Banbury market which she had already. 

When she saw that I was using it regularly, and seeing me enthusing about how good it was… I had proved that I was using this belt all the time (and her little boat had gone by then) she told me that now she wasn’t boating any more, she presented me with her windlass belt. It felt very special.

I don’t know if she bought originally it but I know Jack put all the rivets into it for her as a present to decorate it.

She used to tell me a story about how when she took the GRP cruiser out and getting off to go and work the lock and having some patronising modern boater who was on holiday speaking to her in a loud voice (in case she was deaf as well as stupid) “YOU NEED A LOCK KEY LOVE” … she’d reply in a fake doddery voice “yeeees? … a lock key”.. the boater continued “YOU NEED A LOCK KEY TO WORK THE LOCK!”… Rose said “I unzipped me coat and whipped it out and had it up before he knew what had hit ‘im!”

She did a trip from Langford Lane up to here [Banbury] on Utopia one time who was coming here for some work. And she said “right, we gotta start early!” She was knocking on the roof at about 6 in the morning… she was in her 80’s by this time – she completely wore the crew out!”

In memory of Rose Skinner a very limited quantity of replica windlass belts have been made by Sally from Craftybird. The belts are just over 1cm wide, painted white and feature 53 heavy duty rivets. They are set in a presentation box and each belt is numbered. There are just five.

The replica Rose Skinner Windlass belts will be available to buy at Braunston Historic Boat Rally on 24 and 25th June 2023 only available on Roach Coal Boat.


Image of Jack and Rose Skinner by Andrew Manson (AKA Mani) and is on display at Tooleys Boat Yard.

More about Jack and Rose Skinner 

Oxford Mail

The Guardian

Kate Saffin and Alarum Productions

Kate Saffin is currently working on a new production called Rats, Ropes and Revolution which is a series of stories about the 1923 strikes in Braunston through the eyes of a boatman.

Rats, Ropes and Revolution will be performed on Thursday 22nd June at Braunston Marina (7pm) £10 all proceeds to go to village organisations.

The production marks the 100 year anniversary of the strike action. The boatmen and women were stuck on 50 to 60 boats in a blockade during the strike action with 300 adults and 60 children all tied up in the FMC wharf in Braunston and along the Oxford and Grand Union canals for around 14 weeks during 1923. The stories are about the way that these families lived and survived for the duration of the strike.

This is a compilation of three separate productions. One about The Children (by way of a summer production at the local school in Braunston around what it was like to have 60 extra children turn up at their school), Secondly about The Villagers of Braunston (derived with input from the local community with the aim of having a show in the autumn in the village of Braunston) and thirdly about the Boat Women (focussing on what it was like to raise their families and participate in the strike with no real knowledge about where their next meal was coming from or even how to clothe their children).

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