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Aire & Calder Navigation
Rivers Aire and Calder, Goole to Leeds, Yorkshire, UK
associated engineer
John Hadley
John Smeaton
William Jessop
Thomas Wood
George Leather
John Rennie snr
William Hammond Bartholomew
date  1704-06, 1721, 1775-79, 1818-20, 1821, 1824, 1834-
UK era  Stuart  |  category  Canal/Navigation works  |  reference  SE745228
ICE reference number  HEW 294
The Aire & Calder Navigation enables commercial and leisure vessels to travel from the North Sea via the tidal Rivers Humber and Ouse, inland to the Pennine waterways. It was one of the earliest river navigation schemes in the UK, and predates public canals by almost half a century.
The navigation scheme begins at Goole, dividing at Castleford with branches to Leeds and Wakefield. At Wakefield it connects to the Calder & Hebble Navigation, and at Leeds to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. A branch to Selby was added later, connecting the River Aire with the River Ouse. The scheme was enabled by Acts of Parliament in 1699, 1774, 1820 and 1828.
The Aire & Calder Navigation Company appointed John Hadley as engineer in 1699, at a huge annual salary of £420. Under his supervision locks and cuts were constructed between Knottingley and Leeds, making the River Aire navigable to Leeds in 1704. In 1706, the River Calder was made navigable between Castleford and Wakefield. In 1721, the navigation was extended to Selby. However, low water levels and limited clearance over lock sills — particularly in the eastern Aire — rendered the navigation inadequate for larger vessels.
By 1760 the navigation’s lease had passed to Peter Birt — said to be unpopular but efficient — who employed John Gott as resident engineer. In 1771, Birt approached John Smeaton for his ideas on improving the navigation and thereby countering the threat posed by a trans-Pennine canal scheme that would bypass the navigation altogether.
Smeaton’s report of 28th December 1771 recommended extensive dredging to provide a minimum water depth of one metre in dry seasons, with new locks and cuts, and a bypass cut below Haddlesey. In 1772, William Jessop, then Smeaton’s assistant, extended the canal cut to almost 8km between Haddlesey (River Aire) and Selby (River Ouse).
Jessop was appointed as engineer, at an annual salary of £250. He supervised the works, which were constructed between 1775 and 1779 at a cost of some £40,000. The Selby Canal opened on 29th April 1778.
Between 1816 and 1818, Thomas Wood, then company engineer, suggested further improvements to the navigation. His new Leeds basin was opened in 1818 but two years later he was dismissed for malpractice. Wood’s assistant George Leather constructed further cuts in 1820 between Castleford and Leeds, with new locks.
Meanwhile, in 1819 John Rennie proposed a 27km long cut from Knottingley to Goole, with a cut back into the River Aire at Bank Dole to give access to the Selby Canal, and a branch to the Dutch River at Newbridge. There would also be a basin and locks at Goole. These works were built in 1821.
In 1824, George Leather recommended increasing the water depth to 2.1m along the entire navigation from Leeds to Castleford, and in a new cut to Wakefield. In 1834 he built the Goole dock and ship lock. By 1835 all locks had been altered to ensure a water depth of 2.1m over their sills.
In 1839, part of the River Calder was bypassed by a 6.4km section between Fairies Hill and Broadreach, including an aqueduct at Stanley Ferry.
Resident engineer Thomas Hammond Bartholomew supervised work on the new Goole dock between 1841 and 1843. On his death in 1853, he was succeeded by his son William who was engineer to the company until 1895.
Locks on the Leeds to Selby section are typically 17.7-18.3m long and 4.4-4.6m wide, although some of the newer 19th century locks are 5.5m wide, and allow the passage of vessels with up to 1.7m draft and 100 tonnes burthen. The canalised section from Ferrybridge to Goole has a 2.1m depth of water with a bottom width of 12.2m and a top width of 18.3m. Locks here are 21.3m long and 5.8m wide.
William Hammond Bartholomew developed the so-called “Tom Puddings” — compartment boats joined into ‘trains’ and pushed along the navigation by steam tugs. They were used to transport coal from Yorkshire collieries. His invention was granted a patent in February 1862, and the boats were used for more than a century.
In addition to being its engineer, Bartholomew was made general manager of the company in 1876, at an annual salary of £1,500. He oversaw many improvements to the navigation including extending the Ouse ship lock (1862), the Aldam Dock at Goole (1881), and the 152m long 14m wide Victoria entrance lock at Goole (1888).
The Aire & Calder Navigation covers some 74km of waterways, and is still used by both commercial and leisure traffic. Some of the locks have been upgraded to European standards, and are regulated with traffic light signals — red for ‘don’t enter the lock’, green for ‘enter’ and amber for ‘lock is boater operated’. The larger locks are operated electrically, by lock keepers when commercial vessels are using the facilities and by boatmen at other times.
Beal and Haddlesey locks (1704): George Atkinson and James Mitchell
Resident engineer (1760-87): John Gott
Resident engineer (1825-53): Thomas Hammond Bartholomew
Research: ECPK
"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, p5-18
reference sources   JS

Aire & Calder Navigation