Barnsley Canal History
The Barnsley Canal was granted its Act on exactly the same day as its nearest rival, the Dearne & Dove Canal. The Barnsley Canal was to be built from Barnsley town centre northwards to the Aire & Calder Navigation east of Wakefield, on route it would pass many rich coal fields. There was also to be a branch heading north west out of Barnsley to Barnby Colliery.
Although the Barnsley Canal was owned by a completely independent company it was promoted by the Aire & Calder company who wanted to increase their profits by accessing mines which were not in easy reach of their own waterway. Beating the River Don company (who were behind the Dearne & Dove Canal) was also foremost in their plans. The Barnsley Canal had an amazing amount aristocratic backers, its shareholders included the Duke of Leeds, Lord Hawke, the Countess Dowager of Bute, the Earl of Wigtoun and seven Baronets!
William Jessop – who was currently busy on the Ellesmere Canal (among others) – was employed as Consulting Engineer (which probably means he took a casual look at the goings on once a year and answered queries by letter)! The main contractor on site was John Pinkerton.
The first part of the canal opened from Wakefield to Barnsley town centre.
The final part of the Barnsley Canal was opened from Barnsley to Barnby Basin. The whole route had cost £95,000 to build, considerably more than the original estimate. It had 19 locks and was a broad canal capable of taking Yorkshire keels.
South of Wakefield a deep cutting was blasted by gunpowder near Cold Heindley. Water for the route was pumped from a reservoir which the company built at Cold Heindley, later a second reservoir was built nearby at Wintersett.
During the first few years if operation the canal struggled. This was mainly due to the failure of Barnby Colliery. Money became very tight and the company soon fell into debt.
The canal’s local rival, the Dearne & Dove Canal opened to the south Barnsley. The two routes made a junction in Barnsley town centre and this created a through-route from Sheffield to Wakefield.
An Act was granted to allow the Barnsley company to raise more money. The Act allowed them to charge higher tolls and build a number of tramways.
The company opened a horse drawn plateway from Barnby Basin to Silkstone. The quality of coal was so good from Silkstone that profits began to grow. More lines were built to connect the plateway to other mines and when Barnby Colliery reopened the canal began to prosper. As time went on the waterway became a very successful with agricultural produce, iron and linen being carried as well as coal.
When the railways threatened to invade the area both the Aire & Calder and River Don companies tried to buy the Barnsley Canal to protect their coal trade. The Barnsley company fought them off and then did the same to the Manchester & Leeds Railway.
Inevitably the company could not survive railway competition forever. Cost cutting and toll reductions can only work for so long. The company still did not want to give up their route to the railways however, instead they leased the canal to the Aire & Calder Navigation.Because the canal was now struggling and was not of such great importance to the Aire & Calder, the lease was worth substantially less than the offer made to the company at the onset of railway competition.All the same, the Aire & Calder company developed and improved the Barnsley Canal, extending wharves and enlarging the locks to allow larger vessels to access the route.
Trade improved under the canal’s new management and after 17 years of leasing the route the Aire & Calder company bought the canal outright.
The one mile section from Barnby to Barugh locks was closed and abandoned. Coal traffic on this stretch had long since been lost to the railways who had built a line right alongside the waterway.
West Riding County Council built a unique bridge over the canal east of Royston. It consisted of two pairs of gates which could be used to close the road (now the B6428). The roadway of the bridge could then be lifted by electric machinery housed in 4 brick columns – a bit like a for-poster bed with a movable mattress!
A burst bank caused the canal to be closed for 6 months. Other than this, the Barnsley Canal continued to do moderately well.
The government nationalised the Barnsley Canal along with the whole British waterways network.
The British Transport Commission was not kind to the Barnsley Canal. The route was listed as being of no commercial use and was officially closed and abandoned.
Virtually all of the Barnsley Canal was left intact though nothing had been done to maintain it since its closure. Early in 1995 a magazine article reported that Wakefield Council were very keen to have the sections of the route which came under their jurisdiction fully restored and made navigable. However, Rotherham Council who have jurisdiction of the Barnsley end of the route were not so keen.
This was surprising as Rotherham Council had been strong in supporting the Chesterfield Canal’s restoration work in the south of their borough. The Barnsley Canals Group was formed and over the next few years the first steps on the long road to a full restoration of the canal were taken. It was hoped that both the Barnsley and the Dearne & Dove canals would once again be fully navigable and create a link from the Aire & Calder Navigation, through Barnsley, to the River Don (Sheffield & South Yorkshire) Navigation.
The route of the Barnsley Canal is still (more or less) fully intact although some stretches have been filled in and are now grassed over. Only a few short sections have been built on. The Barnsley Canals Group have now grown into the Barnsley and Dearne & Dove Trust. Although the trust still have a lot of work to do in raising awareness (and money) it surely will only be a few more years before we see canal boats in Barnsley once again.
Barnsley Canal Route
The site of Barnby Basin is on the north side of the A635, 3 miles west of Barnsley, just west of the M1 embankment. The route travelled east – now cut off by the motorway – towards Barugh where it is now crossed by the A637 and B6428. East of Barugh the route closely followed the River Dearne to the northern side of Barnsley. The disused canal can be seen on a road atlas between Barugh and Barnsley on a 3 mile section apparently isolated from major roads.
On the north west outskirts of Barnsley the route runs straight up to the A61 at a point where there is a large roundabout. In the centre of this traffic island is PC World (formerly a B&Q store) which has a very old wall along one side of its car park. It must bewilder any shoppers who notice that this wall has strange metal rings sticking out of it! These, of course, are mooring rings because the car park was built on the site of a fairly large wharf.
The line of the wall across the car park leads to an information board and a waterside walk which heads towards central Barnsley. “Waterside” is a fair description because to the east of the PC World roundabout the canal is restored and well used by towpath walkers, fishermen and ducks. At the start of this short restored section is a car park which can be reached by leaving the roundabout eastbound along Twibell Street then south onto Eaming View.
Near the eastern end of the restored section (near the A633) is the junction with the Dearne & Dove Canal. In fact, the Dearn & Dove Canal continues in a straight line while the Barnsley Canal takes a sharp turn north eastwards. At the junction there was a cottage known as Aqueduct House but only its preserved foundations can now be seen. There are 2 pulley-stones on the tight turn of the junction, these were used to keep the angle of the towrope correct while going round a sharp bend. Unfortunately these examples no longer have their pulleys intact.
Almost immediately after leaving the junction the canal used to cross the River Dearne on a 5 arched stone aqueduct but this was demolished after the BTC abandonment because it was found to be straining under the weight of the disused waterway. This was mainly due to subsidence which caused the piers to crack. Today a new footbridge crosses the remains of the piers allowing walkers to follow the original route. The canal’s route follows the north bank of the River Dearne for ½ a mile and then turns away, heading north.
My reference book tells me that the route travelled through an area heavily intersected by railways though the book was written in 1971 and my 1995 map tells me the railways, like a lot of the canal, have now long since disappeared. The reference book said the canal could still be spotted on the minor roads about one mile east of Monk Bretton and ½ a mile east of Carlton. It was said to be no more than a ditch and the road bridges had been flattened though my 1995 road map shows a ¾ of a mile stretch of this “ditch” as it zig-zags to the east of the village named St. Helen’s.
The 1971 reference book says the route was well defined one mile further north near Royston. However, it is not defined on my road map at all though there is a line of water to the north of the ditch at St. Helens, presumably this is the line of the canal. At Royston the route reaches the B6428 again. It was here that West Riding County Council built their unique lift bridge.
The 1971 reference book says the canal holds water here as it heads north and closely follows the railway. In 1971 the canal was used as a reservoir for the collieries who’s black slag heaps dominated the skyline. The heaps have now gone or have been landscaped and recent books do not mention the lift bridge so maybe this has gone too?
The route continues north and at Cold Heindley it emerges into a tranquil rural area where it still holds water and is preserved for fishing. The following section was due to be restored in 1995 by Wakefield Council so, presumably, this has now been done.
The great Cold Heindley (or Notton) Cutting can be seen from the minor road which runs eastwards from the B6132 to Cold Heindley. The sides of the cutting are heavily wooded as the route runs through rolling countryside. To the north of the cutting the canal reaches the two reservoirs of Cold Heindley and Wintersett, unfortunately the former has had to have its retaining banks extended and they have obliterated a section of the canal, which the reservoir was built to serve. When it reappears the canal curves north westerly as it zig-zags around the west edge of Haw Park, parts of which are in Walton Cutting.
On one particular bend is another rare pulley-stone and this one is complete with its pulley. The stretch from the reservoirs, past the park and on to Walton, is clearly marked on my road map. Near Walton Hall the canal is said to give the impression of an ornamental garden stream as it passes alongside the wall of the estate.Apparently there is road access and a small car park on the approach road to Walton Hall, this is probably off the B6378 at Walton. Just to the north of the hall’s drive there used to be a lock, the top one of the flight of 15 which took the route down to the Aire & Calder Navigation.
From Walton Hall the dry route continues north across the B6378 and through more mining areas until it reaches a minor road running north from the B6378 to the A638. To the west of this minor road my road map shows the line of the canal, apparently with water. It is heading north west for ¼ of a mile and then, at
Agbrigg it abruptly turns north east and is crossed by the A638 near the Jolly Sailor pub. North of the A638 there is no sign of the waterway though it obviously headed directly north for about ½ a mile and entered the Aire & Calder Navigation at a junction about halfway (as the crow flies) between Wakefield and the village of Heath. After the canal’s closure a power station was built right across the last few hundred yards of the canal, blotting out the junction. However, this has now closed down and been demolished.
For more information on the Barnsley Canal and details of its proposed restoration see the Barnsley and Dearne & Dove Trust website.