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Calder & Hebble Navigation
Rivers Calder and Hebble, Wakefield to Halifax, West Yorkshire, UK
associated engineer
John Smeaton
James Brindley
William Jessop
date  1760 - Sept 1770, 1772 - 1774, 1776, 1783, 1828
era  Georgian  |  category  Canal/Navigation works  |  reference  SE206196
ICE reference number  HEW 2022
The Calder & Hebble Navigation made the upstream reaches of the River Calder navigable. To the east it connects to the earlier Aire & Calder Navigation and to the west the later Rochdale Canal. It runs through the Pennines from Fall Ing in Wakefield to Sowerby Bridge near Halifax, with branches to Dewsbury, Huddersfield and Halifax. The scheme was promoted by Acts of Parliament in 1758, 1769 and 1825.
John Smeaton was asked to design a navigation scheme for the River Calder, and he fitted the work around his commitments at Eddystone Lighthouse. In 1757, he proposed a series of locks, weirs and cuts that would accommodate 20-25 tonne vessels drawing around one metre. He had to balance the needs of navigation with the 13 mills located along the river, which required sufficient head of water to drive the mill wheels. A further difficulty was that the river was subject not only to floodwater from the Pennines but also had a fall of some 54m over the course of 39km.
Work began in 1760 and by July 1764, a 29km stretch of the navigation was open from Wakefield to Brighouse, at a cost of £56,000 — raised mostly from tolls. This section had 17 locks — each lock was 19.5m long between gates, 4.6m wide and had an average fall of 2.4m.
Smeaton was appointed engineer to the navigation on 25th November 1759, at an annual salary of £250. The resident engineer was Joseph Nickalls, who received an annual salary of £100-120, although he was dismissed in November 1761. Nickalls was replaced in March 1762 by John Gwyn and Matthias Scott, on annual salaries of £50 and £60 respectively.
Although good progress was achieved during the first five years, the project was beset with changes of committee and lack of coherence by the employers. Differences of opinion led to Smeaton being replaced by James Brindley on 31st January 1765, and Gwyn and Scott were discharged. However, by mid 1766 Brindley had left the works and his duties were taken on by the company clerk, Thomas Simpson.
The navigation had been completed up to Salterhebble when a flood damaged the works on 7/8th October 1767. Smeaton was asked to return, and this he did on 30th November 1767 — remarking that had his proposed flood gates been installed the damages would have been less “though probably not entirely prevented”. Further floods followed in February and June 1768.
The project ran into debt, and in 1769 Calder & Hebble Co. took over the works, converted loans to shares and increased tolls to raise the necessary funds.
By September 1770 the navigation plus flood gates was completed up to Sowerby Bridge with a short branch to Dewsbury. Over a length of 35.4km, falling 58.7m, it included 28 locks (bypassing weirs) and at least 9km of cuts. The total cost was some £75,000. The two longest cuts are Calder Grove to Ravensthorpe and Brighouse to Sowerby Bridge.
Smeaton was consulted a couple of times more on improvements to the project. He advised that the best way to supply water to the summit at Sowerby Bridge was to construct an adit through the high ground at Hollis Mill, and this was built between March 1772 and June 1774. In 1783, Brindley’s pair of staircase locks at Salterhebble were replaced by two single locks saving "half the lockage water" — William Jessop was engineer in charge.
In 1776 the branch to Huddersfield opened, originally called Sir John Ramsden's Canal, and now known as Huddersfield Broad. Other improvements followed, such as new cuts at Mirfield and Brighouse and various new locks.
In 1828, Thomas Bradley’s branch to Halifax opened. It followed the course of the River Hebble and rose 33.5m through 14 locks to a terminus at Bailey Hall, behind the railway station. The branch was abandoned in 1942, except for a short stretch between Salterhebble and Exley.
By 1955, the navigation was used mostly for leisure. Coal was transported to Thornhill power station until 1981 but other commercial traffic ceased.
Some of the locks have paddle gears that can only be raised by using a specially designed tapering wooden 'hand spike', unique to the navigation. Local boatyards sell the hardwood spikes, which are about one metre long.
Supervising engineer (Nov 1759 - Jan 1765): John Smeaton
Supervising engineer (Nov 1767 - Jul 1781): John Smeaton
Supervising engineer (Jan 1765 - mid 1766): James Brindley
Supervising engineer (1783-92): William Jessop
Supervising engineer (1792-1832): Thomas Bradley
Supervising engineer (1832-3): William Gravatt
Supervising engineer (1833): William Bull
Superintendent (1766-70): Thomas Simpson
Resident engineer (Dec 1759 - Nov 1761): Joseph Nickalls
Resident engineer (Mar 1762 - Jan 1765): John Gwyn
Carpenter (Mar 1762 - Jan 1765): Matthias Scott
Contractor (1769-74): Luke Holt
Contractor (1769-79): Robert Carr
Contractor (1779-92): William Brassey
Contractor (Mirfield cut 1775): John Pinkerton
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers, Canals, and Railways, of Great Britain" by Joseph Priestley
Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, London and Richard Nichols, Wakefield, 1831, p120-125
www.jim-shead.com
www.penninewaterways.co.uk
www.waterscape.com
reference sources   JS
Location

Calder & Hebble Navigation