The Aire & Calder Navigation - a waterway filled with history

Angler Richard Marper by the Aire and Calder canal at Stanley Ferry near Wakefield.
Angler Richard Marper by the Aire and Calder canal at Stanley Ferry near Wakefield.
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As this photograph of angler Richard Marper, enjoying a clement day on the Aire and Calder canal at Stanley Ferry near Wakefield, shows, fishing is a popular pursuit here.

Roach are found and so, too, are skimmers and perch and even trout. And while these days anglers can enjoy a pleasant view, it hasn’t always been the case.

The canal, or Navigation to give it its proper name, emerged on the back of an Act of Parliament dating from the late 17th century. This allowed short canal cuts to be added to the rivers Aire and Calder.

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Work was completed by 1704, making the Aire navigable between Knottingley and Leeds, and the Calder from Wakefield to its junction with the Aire at Castleford.

The Aire and Calder Navigation grew over the decades. Steam tugs were introduced in 1831. In the 1860s, compartment boats were introduced, later called Tom Puddings, from which coal was unloaded into ships by large hydraulic hoists.

This system enabled the canal to carry at its peak more than 1.5 million tons of coal per year, and was not abandoned until 1986.

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A new canal junction was built in 1905 – the last waterway built in Britain until 2002 – linking the system to the River Don Navigation.

The navigation has been regularly improved and upgraded throughout history.

Some of the most famous names in engineering, including Smeaton, Jessop, Rennie and Telford, have left their marks. And while the waterway is usually considered a river navigation, the Ferrybridge to Goole stretch is entirely man-made.

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The legacy of this continual expansion and improvement means the Aire and Calder Navigation is still a busy freight artery 300 years on, despite competition from road and rail, with goods carried from the Humber ports.

It is also a popular route for pleasure boats, particularly along the redeveloped waterfront area close to the centre of Leeds. And it’s still a popular draw for anglers.

Camera Details: Camera, Nikon D5 Lens, Nikon 12-24mm. Shutter Speed, 1/160 sec Aperture, f/8.0 ISO, 100