Dearne & Dove Canal History

1793
The Dearne & Dove Canal was granted its Act on exactly the same day as its nearest rival, the Barnsley Canal. The Dearne & Dove Canal was to be built from the River Don Navigation near Swinton heading north west into Barnsley. It was also to have branches into the rich coal fields of Silkstone to the south west of Barnsley.

Although the Dearne & Dove Canal was owned by a completely independent company, it was strongly promoted by the River Don Navigation Company who wanted to increase their profits by accessing mines not currently in easy reach of their waterway. Beating the Aire & Calder company (who were behind the Barnsley Canal) was also foremost in their plans. Robert Whitworth was appointed engineer and he planned a route which was to follow the courses of the two rivers which gave the route its name.

The canal was to be 9 miles long, built to broad standards with 19 locks, it was to be built specifically to carry coal from the collieries on route and would have two short arms which would reach other collieries away from the main line. Both of these arms would also serve as water feeders with reservoirs built alongside each of them. In Barnsley the main line would make a junction into the rival Barnsley Canal creating a continuous route from Sheffield to Wakefield.

1804
The Dearne & Dove took considerably longer to complete than its rival to the north. The Barnsley Canal had been partly open since 1799 and had been fully opened in 1802, two years before the Dearne & Dove. Both routes cost just under £100,000 each to build.

1830
The Dearne & Dove Canal was a good success. It reached its peak in the 1830’s but soon after this the railways began to arrive.

1846
When railway competition arrived it was the Don Navigation who were facing the biggest losses. To counter this they leased the Dearne & Dove Canal and took over the running of its route.

Although this meant they could make sure the canal was used to their liking, it did nothing to stop railway competition.

1850
The Don Navigation Company “amalgamated” with the Doncaster & Goole Railway Company and the two concerns became one under the name of the South Yorkshire & River Dun Company. (Dun is an alternative name for Don). The new company continued to lease the Dearne & Dove Canal throughout this period.

1857
The SY&RD company bought the Dearne & Dove Canal outright for £210,000. They already owned the Stainforth & Keadby Canal so this meant they now owned the whole waterway route from the River Trent to Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley. A few years later the SY&RD company was itself leased to the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway Company but the new controllers had little interest in water bound trade. Bit by bit the Dearne & Dove was used by less and less traffic.

1894
The business merry-go-round spun again when all the waterways owned by the SY&RD company were bought up by the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation Company as part of a project to build better communication between Sheffield and the Humber. However, the MS&LR company still held the lease on these waterways and therefore keptcontrol over finances. This meant that the new owners found it almost impossible to develop the routes. Being in a heavy mining area the Dearne & Dove Canal always suffered from subsidence. Because the railway lessees would not hand over money for repairs the canal soon deteriorated.

1906
The canal branch to Worsbrough was the first part of the Dearne & Dove Canal to be closed to navigation though it was kept open as a feeder from the reservoir on its line.

1928
The second of the two branches (to Elsecar) was also closed to navigation.

1934
The S&SYN company decided to close the Dearne & Dove Canal and the last boat to travel the full route from the River Don to Barnsley past through during this year. The canal was not closed completely however and many short-haul journeys continued for another 18 years. (The canal was nationalised along with the rest of Britain’s canal network in 1948).

1961
The British Transport Commission officially closed the whole of the Dearne & Dove Canal. Only the first ½ mile was kept open to allow access to Canning Town Glassworks. The rest was left to die.

1994
The Elsecar Branch of the canal became the first part of the route to see major restoration work. Alongside the canal a new heritage complex including a pumping engine, steam trains and cottages was constructed. Nearby, the canal itself was dredged and filled-in locks were excavated.

TODAY
The Dearne & Dove Canal, along with its old rival the Barnsley Canal, is now carefully watched over by the Barnsley and Dearne & Dove Trust. who hope to fully restore both waterways. The Dearne & Dove Canal will be (by far) the most difficult of the two to restore as it has many blockages and missing links. One solution to this may include using the River Dearne as a bypass around some of the obstacles.

Dearne & Dove Canal Route

The Dearne & Dove Canal left the River Don (now part of the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation) on the east side of Swinton. Swinton Junction can be found close to Swinton Station at Dun Street near the Red House pub off the A6022 which runs between Swinton & Mexborough.

There is one lock on the river near the junction and there were 5 locks immediately after the junction on the Dearne & Dove Canal. My reference book says that in the early 1970’s these were still used as moorings for long-since-redundant barges. Today the locks are used as dry docks for boat maintenance. It is thought that a restored canal would not use this original junction but would bypass it via the River Dearne.

The canal headed north west towards Wath upon Dearne but the route is completely filled in after the top surviving lock (about ½ a mile from Swinton Junction). About one mile further on, near Wath and Adwick, there was a 472 yard tunnel though a bypass was constructed when the railway was built in the mid 1800’s.

The original tunnel still survives and (in 1971) could still be found in the undergrowth to the south of the railway. Past Adwick the course of the canal followed the railway on its south side. The minor road heading north off the A633 and other lanes off the same road all lead to the canal but most bridges have been flattened. On Westmoor Lane there is a good stone bridge crossing the filled in route (if it has not also been flattened by now).

At Brampton the canal route came alongside the A633 but there is little trace of it today. It was here that the Elsecar Branch left heading south west. The branch was also used as a feeder and is still in water today. It is marked on my road atlas from the main line very close to the junction of the A633 & the B6089.

There were 6 locks on the branch though all were converted into weirs. The top part of the branch runs alongside the B6097 between Hemmingfield and Elsecar but it was described in 1971 as “a miserable stretch of water overlooked by coal-tips”. However, the mines are now closed so the area may well have been redeveloped or landscaped.

In Elsecar a project known as the “Heritage Workshops” has opened and is due for completion in 1997. It is situated on the old canal wharf and should include some canal restoration in the scheme. The small Elsecar Reservoir is situated a few hundred yards south west of the end of the branch in Elsecar. In the 1920’s the reservoir became very popular with local people and the village gained the nickname “Elsecar-by-the-sea”!

The rest of the main line from Brampton to Barnsley was already in the hands of a West Riding land reclamation scheme in 1971 so by now most of this part of the route may be impossible to trace.

A short stretch (in 1971) could still be found in water between Wombwell and Barnsley where the canal passed under the A633 though it was described as little more than a weed filled ditch and my reference book’s author predicted that it would soon be completely obliterated. However, my road atlas clearly marks a short broad blue line of water at the point where the A633 crosses the route on the north west side of Wombwell. I expect that if this is the remains of the canal then it is not really quite as blue as the line on my map!!!

Just past the blue line there used to be 7 locks and a junction with the Worsbrough Branch, some of which could still be detected in the early 1970’s and is marked as a stream on my atlas. Worsbrough reservoir is situated to the west of the village between Worsbrough Hall and the M1. There was a basin at the end of the Worsbrough Branch which was still filled with water in the 1970’s and was described as “a pleasant area”.

Today, the area around the reservoir has become Worsbrough County Park, 200 acres containing footpaths, fishing areas, a working farm and a mill museum. At the bottom of the overflow car park is a path which leads to the canal branch. There is a short stretch still in water, with well kept grass banks. The head of this branch was a very busy transhipment wharf, the neighbouring A61 formerly being an important turnpike road. The Wharf pub is close by.

The remainder of the main line into Barnsley is not described in my reference book though the junction with the Barnsley Canal can still be seen in the town centre. Better still, the area around the junction has recently (1990’s) been fully restored. Just before the junction is a stop lock which marks the official end of the Dearne & Dove Canal, at the junction the preserved foundations of Aqueduct House (a canal cottage) can be seen and there are some rare pulley-stones, devices which helped horse-drawn boats to negotiate tight bends without the towrope going slack. The Barnsley Canal heads north west towards Barugh and north east towards Wakefield. Both directions are part of a “Waterside Walk” (see the Barnsley Canal for more info).

For more information on the Dearne & Dove Canal and details of its proposed restoration see the Barnsley and Dearne & Dove Trust website.