Aire and Calder Navigation

Aire and Calder Navigation

The Aire and Calder Navigation is a river and canal system of the River Aire and the River Calder in the metropolitan county of West Yorkshire, England.

History and route

In 1699 an Act was passed to improve the navigability of the River Aire (from the River Ouse at Airmyn via Castleford to Leeds) and River Calder (from Castleford to Wakefield). This involved the creation of weirs bypassed by very short "cuts" equipped with locks. John Hadley was engaged as an engineer and by 1704 the original work was completed, including 12 locks on the Aire between Haddesley and Leeds and 4 on the Calder. The locks were 58-60' long by 14'6" to 15' wide with 3'6" depths over the sills. [Charles Hadfield: "The Canals of Yorkshire and North East England Vol 1." Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1972] The early trade consisted mainly of woollen goods from Leeds, Wakefield, Halifax and Bradford and wool and corn inwards from Lincolnshire and East Anglia.

During the 18th century the navigation was improved by longer cuts to bypass difficult or circuitous stretches of river. The major improvements were made in the last quarter of the century by civil engineers John Smeaton and William Jessop. In particular, the 6-mile Selby Canal connected the Aire at Haddlesey directly with the Ouse at Selby - bypassing the lower reaches of the Aire completely, and forestalling a plan by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal company to construct their own extension from Leeds to Selby.

Selby boomed until the major development of the 19th century. In 1826 a wide canal was cut from Knottingley to bypass both the "Selby canal/mid Ouse" route and the whole of the lower reaches of the Aire. The new canal met the Ouse at a point well downstream of Selby, and created the inland port of Goole, easily reachable by large ships coming up the Humber. In 1839 a fine aqueduct was built at Stanley Ferry to take the navigation over the River Calder.

The 20th century saw two major phases of improvement. In 1905, the New Junction Canal connected the Aire and Calder to the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation near Stainforth. In the 1980s, the navigation underwent a huge scheme of modernisation in which, the locks from Goole to Leeds were modernised and enlarged to accommodate the new 600 tonne euro-barge standard. This makes the locks a massive 185 foot by 18 foot 9 inches (56.5 m by 5.7 m) whereas those on the Wakefield section are only 142 foot by 17 foot 8 inches (43.3 m by 5.4 m) - but Doncaster still awaits the large influx of cargoes from Rotterdam!

The Aire and Calder still fulfills its original purpose (although by different routes) by linking Leeds and Wakefield with York and the Humber (and thence the Trent). More recent canals now also make the A&C a vital link in the English (and increasingly, Welsh) connected inland waterway network. The current set of links is formidable. The A&C joins the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leeds. The Calder and Hebble Navigation (from Wakefield) allows boats to reach the Huddersfield Broad and Narrow Canals, and the Rochdale Canal. The upstream Ouse (reached via the Selby Canal) allows boats to reach York, Boroughbridge and Ripon. The downstream Ouse (reached via Selby or Goole) connects to the River Derwent and the Humber (and hence Hull, Immingham, and the North Sea). The S&SYN (reached via the New Junction Canal) forms a link with (in one direction) Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, and (in the other) the tidal River Trent at Keadby.


In the second half of the nineteenth century, the company's chief engineer William H. Bartholomew devised the successful compartment boat system for the transport of coal from the Yorkshire collieries for transhipping to coastal colliers at Goole. The system consisted of "Tom Puddings" loaded at the canal side, formed into trains of up to 19, pulled by a tug, and emptied into the collier by a hoist.

A 20th century modification of this system was used to feed the coal-fired power stations(s) at Ferrybridge. A train of three tubs ("Coal Pans") was loaded via canalside chutes at the coliery and pushed by the famous "Hargreave" tugs to Ferrybridge, where a hoist lifted each pan from the canal and upturned it to drop it contents onto a conveyor belt. Until recently the amount of coal (the waterway's main traffic) amounted to about 2 million tonnes per year, but coal carrying came to an abrupt halt during the late 20th century when the St Aidens opencast mine was exhausted and the coal from Kellingley colliery was found to have levels of sulphur content way above the acceptable limit. At Ferrybridge, the massive hoist, and the channel down which coal pans were pushed under it can still be seen - as can rows of idle pans. Near Castleford, idle tugs can still be seen in Hargreaves boatyard. Newer commercial traffic is starting to use the navigation, such as petroleum tankers and gravel barges, though the majority of users are now leisure boaters.

Leisure boating

For holidaymakers, the "mixed" aspect of the waterway can be more interesting than the "100% chocolate-box" appearance of many other canals. It is true that "industrial heritage" is sometimes very apparent, and perhaps appreciated better for being in short bursts (stretches where most boaters would not wish to moor for an al-fresco lunch!) but a programme of tree planting on river-banks and waste tips is already bearing fruit (no pun intended). Much of the ex-industrial (western) part of the Navigation now has the appearance of a tree-lined, gently-twisting river. The eastern part of the Navigation (Knottingley and Goole Canal) is rather different: it has long straight stretches, but mainly through flat land that has always been agricultural. The majority of pleasure journeys are made between Wakefield and Leeds, via Castleford (this stretch is part of the "Ring" formed by the Leeds & Liverpool and the Huddersfield or Rochdale canals) with only the more adventurous boaters travelling on to Selby, York, Goole, Sheffield, and Keadby. However, with the restoration of the Barnsley and the Dearne & Dove canals (still perhaps ten years away) the section between Wakefield and the New Junction Canal will become part of a new "Southern Yorkshire Ring", which will no doubt bring more traffic to these less-used reaches.


External links

* [ Pennine Waterways]

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