Rose Skinner’s Windlass Belt

Rose Skinner’s Windlass Belt

Simple style, 100% functional and totally unique

These are the words I’d use to describe Rose Skinner’s windlass belt when I first saw it being modelled by Kate Saffin (who, at the time, was busy working on her new production, Rats, Ropes and Revolution next showing at Banbury Canal Festival 30 Sept to 1 Oct 2023 at Tooleys dry dock!)

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). 

The windlass or lock key

A windlass 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 unwieldy piece of kit, usually made out of heavy steel – or sometimes aluminium to make it lighter to carry and use. 

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

Kate Saffin modelling Rose Skinners windlass beltRose Skinners windlass belt

Kate modelling Rose Skinner’s windlass belt” “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 limited edition quantity of replica windlass belts are available to buy from Craftybird. They will be on sale at the Banbury Canal Festival on 30 September and 1 October or available online through the shop at


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 performing in 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.

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.

Back to blog