Though not a lot is known about Radiant’s history, it is likely that she is a Humber keel , which means she was originally a sailing barge. She would have been motorised at a later date, possibly during World War II, when grants were given for conversion to engine. She was probably built in the 1920’s or 1930’s and carried a wet cargo such as coal, as the interior hold is pitted. Clues that she was once under sail are that her engine room was small and appeared “added on” at a later date, and her rudder was designed to carry a tiller. Radiant can therefore claim Viking ancestry! The Humber keel is probably directly descended from the Viking longship: the word keel is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for a single-masted, square rigged ship, ceol.
Daybreak (pictured above) is currently the only surviving keel regularly sailing and is an occasional visitor to Chiswick Pier. Like Radiant, keels were bluff-bowed and strongly built to stand the heavy cross currents and short swell of the Humber, but with a shallow enough draught to work its feeder rivers and canals. Like Thames Sailing Barges, their southern equivalent, the keels’ high broad sails caught the wind on inland waters and their masts could be lowered when passing under bridges. In the 20th century, sail and steam engines gave way to diesel, then, as road haulage took over from water transport, many barges were sold for scrap.
Fortunately, some like Radiant, were adapted for residential living. Originally Radiant was probably 74’ long, but in the 1970’s, she was shortened in order for her to fit onto a mooring at Molesey. The hull was cut in two, around 20’ were removed, and then the boat was welded together again. Sadly the owner died before the move took place, but the story illustrates what flexible residences boats are. One generalisation that can be made about residential
boats is that they are all different!