The Giggleswick Tarn Logboat is probably one of the least impressive logboats to be found in the British Isles, but it does have a very interesting and chequered history. Although not within a display, the boat is currently in storage at the Leeds Museum Resource Centre in Yeadon, and can be viewed with an appointment. Hopefully a new Leeds Museum will be opening within the next five years, and the logboat will be on display once again.
The logboat was discovered by accident on the 25th May 1863, during drainage work in a field by Giggleswick tarn. The village of Giggleswick lies a few miles to the west of Settle in Yorkshire, although the tarn has subsequently silted up and disappeared. The workers realised they had an artefact on their hands and got in touch with the Leeds Philosophical and Literacy Society, who were the local antiquarian group interested in such finds. The logboat was given to the society as a gift, and was put on display in the vestibule of the Leeds Museum.
No conservation work had been carried out on the boat, nor any records made of its dimensions. Drawings and photographs taken of the artefact in 1883 and 1888 show its gradual decline. As the water within the cells of the wood evaporated in the dry conditions, the boat began to warp in shape, crack and fragment. Its death knell came on the 16th March 1941, when Leeds Museum received a direct hit from a bomb during an air raid. The subsequent fire destroyed much of the museum's collections and records, as well as destroying another of the UK's prehistoric boats, the Brigg Logboat, which was hung from the ceiling in one of the galleries.
After the fire had been extinguished, people began to sift through the wreckage. The Giggleswick logboat was found, broken into fragments, amongst the rubble. Each piece was collected up and wrapped in newspaper, the Leeds News Chronicle to be exact, and then placed in a crate. The crate was put into storage and nothing more was heard of the boat until the 1970s.
There are many logboat finds throughout the UK, but until the 1970s very little had been done to catalogue this collection. The logboats were scattered throughout museums, often with very little conservation having been carried out on them, as many dated from antiquarian excavations. A survey in the 1970s rescued many of these artefacts, taking them to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich where they were conserved using modern techniques to prevent any further decay.
In 1975 the Giggleswick Logboat, in 45 fragments, was taken to the National Maritime Museum, on loan from the Leeds collection. Although the newspaper had been removed by the Leeds museum, very little else had been done. During conservation each fragment was brushed with stiff brushes to remove any dirt or newspaper that was still attatched. A rather toxic methenol based substance was then used to remove the sticky coating of creosote-like linseed oil that covered the surface. (This had been seen as a way to bind the boat early in its display history, although it did more harm than good and certainly didn't stop the boat from breaking up). Finally the clean fragments were placed in tanks and impregnated with polyethylene glycol (PEG), a form of wax which takes the place of water within the cell structure of the wood and supports the artefact.
Eventually the boat was reconstructed and dated and to everyone's surprise was found to be Medieval in date. It is common to assume logboats are all prehistoric, due to their primitive form, but this is not the case. The boat was found to be 2.5 metres in length, but the circumference and beam of the log and boat could not be exactly calculated due to warping and shrinkage of the wood. It was also found to be made of ash rather than oak, which raised many questions about other boats having been made of less durable woods in the past which may have not survived to appear in the archaeological record.
The boat was returned to the Leeds Museum, and received a lot of attention until the museum was closed in the late 1990s. Now it is stored next to an Egyptian mummy within the Leeds Museum Resource Centre, (which acts as a temporary store for artefacts that will one day be re-housed in the new Leeds Museum) and is often mistaken for part of the mummy's coffin.
Although this is not the most impressive of the logboats of the British Isles, it is one that spread new light on the use of logboats throughout the ages, as well as the materials they were made from. If you are local to Leeds, do try to get a look at it, the Resource Centre is open most weekdays within normal working hours, and the staff are very friendly. More information about the boat can be found in Antiquities Journal 144. So far there are no available pictures on the web.