Photos of the Humber keel now known as MFH

Old photos of the steam keel Gainsborough Trader, supplied by the the Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society

Alan Gardiner has sent me two old photos of the keel MFH, otherwise known as Master of Fox Hounds and in her earlier life Gainsborough Trader. In doing so he’s really replying to Peter Radclyffe’s question following an earlier post about the Humber sloop Spider T.

I gather MFH is now at Falmouth; I certainly saw her there a couple of years ago and may even have a photo somewhere.

Here’s what Alan has to say:

Gainsborough Trader was built as what was locally known as a steam keel, though in her case she was diesel powered from the day she was built. She was, I believe, the first vessel that Dunstans built with engine power and, although these barges still had the keel tag, they were not rigged in the normal way. Their use was to act as towing barge for the company as well as carrying cargo. Often, as in the case of Gainsborough Trader, they would rig a small sail from a mast that was primarily used with a derricking pole to handle cargo.

‘Of the two pictures, one shows her very early on in her life just about to drop a tow from a wooden keel actually at Gainsborough, and the other shows her alongside King’s Staithe at York with two sloops and a lighter or keel behind that she has towed up the River Ouse. It also clearly shows the small sail that she had on her mast to assist her on the inland stretches when the wind was favourable.

‘I have not done any research on Gainsborough Trader specifically, so would be interested in anything surrounding her working life.’

Thanks for the photos Alan! If any reader has any information they would like to pass on, please contact me at and I will pass the information to Alan.

Gainsborough Trader is listed in the National Historic Ships register.

See the Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society website:

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14 thoughts on “Photos of the Humber keel now known as MFH”

  1. thanks Alan & Gavin, my brother fitted her out in brentford, west london,'78 then to faversham, holland, finally Penrhyn, pete

  2. Peter, would your brother's name be Stefan by any chance? I knew the people who had her when she first arrived in Falmouth, and I spent quite a bit of time on her. They had a piano…….

  3. yes John, Stefan & Suki, & my neice Ilka, Lizzie & Zamien , i think Patrick Selman made the sails, did you live on a boat nearby or work with them,pete

  4. Peter, yes, I knew them all well. Patrick did make he sails.

    I wrote a note to Gavin asking him to pass on my email address, but I'll repeat what I said to him here:

    "It must have been 1980 and I was living in a houseboat in Sailor's Creek and working in a boatyard in Penryn when a very interesting boat called MFH arrived at Falmouth. We soon got to know each other and I think I might have suggested he ask for work at the boatyard I was working at, and he was fortunate enough to get work there. I say "fortunate" – in fact he was one of those multi talented people who can tackle anything.

    At that time there was a thriving boating sub-culture at Penryn and Falmouth which I would like to write more about some day. I seem to remember counting about 100 people living on boats, and there were many people building or restoring boats. Some of that lives on today, but at that time Falmouth was quite a depressed area, and there were many derilict or unused quays, warehouses and workshops which made for a very interesting environment where room to live or build your dreams was cheap. Most of that old waterside has now been turned into incredibly ugly waterside homes. Thomas's Yard was an architectural treasure which I think should have been listed, an organic motley collection of corrugated iron and wood sheds with an assortment of slipways, cranes and other boaty stuff. One of my all-time favourite buildings, gone without trace now to be replaced by a grey concrete building surrounded by gravel drive and Mercedes.

    Whilst Stefan as a skilled boatbuilder fitted straight into the liveaboard build-it-yourself scene, and MFH became somewhat of a hub for socialising, I was a twenty year old beginner looking in from edge, but absolutely loving it. Looking back on it I was a right twit; straight out of college, incredibly naive and ignorant, but Stefan had a lot of time for me and he was quite an inspiration. At the time he seemed much like the others, but as with a just handful of other people in my life, when I look back I see he stood taller than the others.

    As I said in my comment, MFH had a piano, a Rayburn, an upstairs and downstairs, a seperate engineroom in which you could walk round the enormous engine, there was even a cavernous space forward of the downstairs accommodation which was just empty. Stefan was keen to put a sailing rig on her and I drew a small drawing for him of what this might look like. Instead of taking the design process further he was so taken with the drawing that he just went ahead and built it. I went on to become a designer and I now ponder over how things should be, but he was one of those people who just got on with it. I should have taken more notice of his style…….

    I hope Peter feels able to share some info. I'll probably now find out he's an accountant or something. Nothing would surprise me, the guy could do anything."


    MFH was wonderful. Apart from the fact that Stefan & Suki were always welcoming, the boat had the ambience of an old cottage. It felt absolutely solid, and in winter warm, thanks to it's Rayburn. There was very much a workboat feel, but the new deckhouse which Stefan had made, and which covered much of the hatch (you had to step over an eighteen inch high hatch coaming as you entered the door) was a lovely bit of joinery on a massive scale. Stefan also converted a Falmouth Working Boat to a cruiser for somebody, and again the joinery was superb.

    I remember a massive tree turning up one day and Stefan just laying into it and a really good mast emerging much later. Shavings everwhere. All this on the deck of MFH.

    I have some fun memories too. Whilst there were a lot of people building and restoring boats I was one of the few who had actually got a boat and explored the upper estuary, so I was given the job of "pilot" when Stefan decided to try Truro as a mooring spot. It was dark and we had to use a searchlight to find our way up-river. The problems of taking a 70' boat up a small dead end creek made for an exciting trip.

    I think this must have been the time they tied up to a bus shelter, and I was later told that as the tide went out MFH slowly slipped down the mud, taking the bus shelter with it.

    I saw Suki and Lizzie in Falmouth about ten years ago, and I'd love to know what happened to Stefan, Zamien and Ilka. I guess Zamien & Ilka are in their thirties now……




    1. Hello John Hesp – I have many photos of MFH – we sailed her to amsterdam and back again – i have many stories and photos if any one wants to contact me

      1. John contact me – Zamien is Sail making – and his 22 year old son is boat building too – i would love to catch up with you xx

  5. thanks John, i didnt know you designed the rig, we may have met at the tall ships 82 falmouth, Stefan is still woodworking & forestry managing in wales,& playing guitar & fiddle in a ceildh band, you may know he took a 20ft ferro gloetog which had been built with an arts council grant, to wales & fitted it & rigged it, he wants to build a ferro cement 50ft celtic trader i designed for him, to take some goods off the road transport gridlock & open some disused small wharves, zamien is fishing & was making a 45ft g r p pilot cutter in cornwall, pete

    1. Hi I also have – apart from many photos of MFH some os Saira – which i owned as well as MFH/ Gainsborough Trader – which I owned with Stefan

  6. the craft in the photo = Gainsborough Trader This Humber keel, or coastal barge, has provided altogether less comfortable accommodation, notably on May 31, 1940, when it was ‘one of the last boats from Dunkirk mole’, according to a Navy report. Then it provided a refuge to 140 exhausted soldiers, including a colonel, as the defeated British Army evacuated northern France.

  7. Stefan and I owned MFH /Gainsborough Trader _ I then owned Saira – the last remaining Humber Billy boy – if any of the above wish to contact me i have photographs and film ( a little ) of both vessels x

  8. Hi, what a lot of amazing memories! A time long ago when we very much younger and lived such “alternative lifestyles” . Hope everyone is happy and well.

  9. I am Suzuki’s son Zamien. Great adventure, and very fond memories, thanks mum.i have a model of MFH,and also a stack of photos and memorabilia.

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