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Huddersfield Narrow Canal
Huddersfield in West Yorkshire to Stalybridge in Greater Manchester, UK
Huddersfield Narrow Canal
associated engineer
Benjamin Outram
Nicholas Brown
date  July 1794 - 4th April 1811
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Canal/Navigation works  |  reference  SE145160
ICE reference number  HEW 2037
photo  ICE R&D Fund
During the canal era, there were three routes across the Pennines for heavy goods and bulk materials. The Leeds & Liverpool Canal (1770-1816) took the long northern route, the Rochdale Canal (1794-1804) followed the middle course and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal took the direct route. It follows the valleys of the Rivers Colne and Tame and cuts through the high ground at Standedge in a tunnel.
The Huddersfield Narrow Canal links Sir John Ramsden’s canal at Huddersfield (Huddersfield Brad Canal) with the Ashton Canal at Portland Basin in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester. It is the highest canal in Britain, reaching some 197m above sea level at the lengthy Standedge Tunnel.
William Jessop declined the position of engineer to the canal company and Benjamin Outram was appointed instead, with Nicholas Brown as surveyor. Outram withdrew in 1801 when work was at a standstill. On resumption of work, Brown took over, along with John Rooth. In 1807, Thomas Telford advised on planning and construction, and his advice was followed up to completion.
The canal is 32km long and provides for boats up to 21.3m long and 2.1m wide. It has a summit pound 6.4km long, with a 108.2m fall through 32 locks to the west (Greater Manchester) and a 132.9m fall through 42 locks to the east (West Yorkshire). There are also five aqueducts.
There are two reservoirs, one of 323 million litres at March Haigh and one of 309 million litres at Slaithwaite. This is about one quarter of the total storage capacity proposed and Telford recommended extra reservoir capacity be provided. In later years, eight more reservoirs were built, adding 911 million litres to the total capacity.
The canal passes through two tunnels — the 200m long Scout Tunnel and the 5.2km long Standedge Tunnel between Diggle and Marsden, which is both the longest and highest canal tunnel in Britain.
The canal arms either side of Standedge Tunnel were completed by 1799, but tunnel excavations were hampered by water ingress and misalignment. Goods were transported by horse between the completed sections of canal to generate revenue for continuing the works.
When the tunnel was completed in December 1810, it had no towpath and barges were ‘legged’ through by boatmen who lay on their backs and 'walked' the roof of the tunnel to move the boat, which could take up to four hours. The narrow tunnel had only four passing places, leading to long queues.
The project cost more than £396,000 — almost £124,000 for Standedge tunnel alone.
The canal was well-used until 1845 when trade gradually tailed off with the building of the Huddersfield & Manchester Railway. It closed in 1944. In the 1950s the timber lock gates were replaced with concrete planks and the Slaithwaite section was infilled and the canal put into a culvert.
Hudderfield Narrow Canal has been owned by British Waterways since 1962 and the Huddersfield Canal Society was formed in 1974 to restore it.
In the 1980s the society received a £1.2m grant from Greater Manchester Council and restored the Marsden to Slaithwaite section. In the 1990s, grants from English Partnerships and The Millennium Commission helped to re-open the Ashton to Stalybridge section and begin repairs to Standedge Tunnel. On 1st May 2001, the canal re-opened to through navigation after a £30m restoration project, with an official re-opening ceremony by HRH Prince Charles on 3rd September 2001 at Marsden.
Research: PD
reference sources   BDCE1CEH North

Huddersfield Narrow Canal