The Leven Canal must surely be unique in that it was built and owned by a woman. Mrs. Charlotta Bethell was a widow who owned a large area of land in the East Riding of Yorkshire near the River Hull.
1800’s In the very early days of the 1800’s Mrs. Bethell commissioned William Jessop to make a survey and he reported back with a estimate of £4,041 for a cut which would be almost dead straight heading east from the River Hull into Leven village, a distance of 3¼ miles.
1805 When the canal opened its cost had well exceeded Jessop’s estimate and this meant tolls were quickly increased. However, this does not appear to have hampered the waterway as it remained in use for over 130 years – a lot longer than many more famous routes. The canal could take Yorkshire Keels via a tidal lock at its entrance, it exported local agricultural produce and received coal, lime and building materials. It was a fair success and remained in the Bethell family throughout its commercial life.
2004 The whole of the Leven Canal is intact though not navigable due to its tidal locks being replaced by a weir. There is a good footpath along the whole of this wholly rural route. The canal is still owned by descendants of Charlotta Bethall but, sadly, they are not currently able to allow boats onto their waterway. I am told that the owners have been trying to restore the canal for over 30 years. They have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on dredging operations and although this work has been undertaken, they have been prevented from putting boats back onto the canal by conservation bodies. The owners have on-going negotiations with English Nature regarding boating and other activities that would enable pleasure for many people and although these negotiations are painfully slow due to the canal and banks forming an SSSI Site, the owners are hopeful of reaching an agreement soon which will see the return of boats onto the waterway. We wish them well.
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There was only one wharf on the Leven Canal, this was at the eastern end of the line close to Leven village centre. In 1971 the wharf was still accessible but today it is off limits within the huge garden of a house. A footpath runs along the edge of the garden with a high wire fence keeping “researchers” at bay! The footpath can be found heading west off the main road (A165) on the south side of the substantial New Inn. This pub can be found a little way south of the main crossroads in the village. Within the large garden is a small basin which in 1971 was described as “damply muddy”, it can now be described as “green and grassy”! Between the main road and the basin is an elegant house built in the Regency style. This was occupied by a firm of Solicitors in 1971 but was probably originally built for the canal manager. Its rear windows overlook the basin (garden).
The basin (in 1971) was cut off from the rest of the canal by a turf bank but there were still warehouses on each side of the wharf. The one on the south side had already had its upper storey removed and re-roofed while another was about to have the same done to it. These buildings were apparently built in 1825 but have now either gone or been converted beyond recognition.
To the west of the turf bank the whole 3¼ miles is well watered and has a towpath which can easily be followed. After about a mile there is a bridge near Little Leven though it is high enough only to allow passage by canoes or rowing boats. Just before the bridge the canal crosses a dyke on a squat aqueduct. Close to the bridge there is a caravan site.
Near the west end of the cut is the site of the canal’s only lock. This was a double-gated tidal lock which allowed passage to and from the River Hull. The lock has been converted into a weir, preserving the water supply which is much used by fishermen.
Past the lock the Leven Canal comes to a T-junction with the River Hull (or Driffield Navigation). To the north boats can enter the Driffield Canal – most of this route is navigable. To the south the River Hull flows past Beverley (and the once busy Beverley Beck) to Kingston-Upon-Hull (or Hull city) and then into the Humber estuary.
Visit the Leven Village web site at http://www.leven-village.co.uk. It contains information about the village, its community and the surrounding area.