Calder and Hebble Navigation

Calder and Hebble Navigation

The Calder and Hebble Navigation is a Broad (ie with 14-foot wide locks and bridgeholes) inland waterway in West Yorkshire, England, which has remained navigable since it was opened.


By the beginning of the 18th century, the Aire and Calder Navigation had made the River Calder navigable as far upstream as Wakefield. The aim of the Calder and Hebble Navigation was to extend navigation west (upstream) from Wakefield to Sowerby Bridge near Halifax.

The first attempt at obtaining an Act of Parliament was defeated in 1740, as a result of opposition from local landowners and from millers, who thought that navigation would disrupt their water supply. Following a new survey by the civil engineer John Smeaton in 1757, an Act was obtained in 1758, for a somewhat different route, and construction was started soon afterwards by Smeaton (assisted by William Jessop). Smeaton was replaced by James Brindley in 1765, who was in turn replaced by Smeaton again in 1768.cite book | author = David Perrott and Jonathan Mosse | year = 2006 | title = Nicholson Guide to the Waterways, Vol 5 | publisher = Harper Collins | location = London | pages = | isbn = 0-00-721113-9] The navigation originally consisted of improved stretches of the River Calder with short "cuts" between sections of the river to avoid circuitous stretches, shoals and the weirs that supplied mills along the course of the river. [ Joseph Priestley (1831) "Priestley's Navigable Rivers and Canals"] ] Construction of the initial phase was finished in 1770


A later branch was made from Thornhill to Dewsbury, this was necessary because the main line of the navigation had by then bypassed the Dewsbury section of the Calder.

In 1828, a convert|1.75|mi|1|adj=on branch opened along the route of the River Hebble, from Salterhebble to the centre of Halifax, teminating near the railway station, at Bailey Hall. The terminus was convert|110|ft above the level of the canal at Salterhebble, and the branch required a total of fourteen locks. [ [ Pennine Waterways: History of the Calder and Hebble Navigation] ] Hugh McKnight (1981)"The Shell Book of the Inland Waterways" ISBN 0715 382 39X] In order to avoid disputes with the mill owners along the length of the River Hebble, water supply was obtained by building a tunnel from the basin at Salterhebble to a pit near the top lock. The tunnel was convert|1170|yd long, and the water was pumped from the pit to the top pound by a steam engine. The branch was abandoned in 1942.


In later improvements, ever-longer cuts bypassed more and more sections of river. The mill owners prevented some of the more ambitious plans, but in many cases, the navigation company bought out the mills in order to remove the obstacles. These days the navigation largely consists of long "cuts" (all named as such : eg "Horbury Cut") joining fairly short river sections.

Competition from the railways led to the navigation being leased to the Manchester and Leeds Railway, and then to the Aire and Calder Navigation. During this period, the locks from Fall Ing lock to Broad Cut Top lock were enlarged. After the Aire and Calder's lease expired in 1885, the Navigation Company again took charge, rebuilt many of the bridges, and established the Calder Carrying Company. Shareholders continued to receive dividends until the canal was nationalized in 1948, and the canal was used by commercial traffic until 1981.

Current route

The Navigation runs from Wakefield (junction with the Aire and Calder Navigation) upstream via Mirfield (junction with the Huddersfield Broad Canal) to Sowerby Bridge (junction with the Rochdale Canal). Other towns on the navigation are Horbury, Ossett, Dewsbury, Brighouse, and Elland. The Branch to Halifax is no longer navigable, except for a stub now known as the Salterhebble Arm.

Current use

The navigation is used almost entirely by leisure boaters, to whom it represents both an attractive cruising ground in it own right, and also a vital four-way link.
*The Rochdale Canal leads to Rochdale and Manchester
*The Huddersfield Broad and Huddersfield Narrow canals lead to Uppermill and Ashton-under-Lyne, and on towards the Midlands and Wales
*The Aire and Calder Navigation carries boats to Leeds, and (via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal), to Lancashire
*East to Selby and York, Goole and the Humber, Keadby and the River Trent, and Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster

The importance of the Calder and Hebble as a through route makes one notorious feature of the canal very significant: its short locks. The canal is a "wide" navigation, meaning that its locks are wide enough for convert|14|ft|adj=on boats, but its shortest locks are amongst the "very" shortest on the connected network of English/Welsh inland waterways (the Ripon Canal has locks of a similarly restricted length). The canal was built to accept (57 ft by 14 ft) Yorkshire Keels coming up the Aire and Calder Navigation. The locks on the Aire and Calder and the lower Calder and Hebble (below Broad Cut Locks at Calder Grove) have since been lengthened, and can accommodate boats which are 120 ft by 17.5 ft (36.6m x 5.3m), but the shortest locks on the upper Calder and Hebble force boats longer than about convert|57|ft|abbr=on to lie diagonally in the locks. This is only possible for narrowboats, so convert|57|ft|abbr=on is the maximum length for a wide-beamed (convert|14|ft|adj=on) barge on the C&H. Even for a narrowboat (less than convert|7|ft|adj=on beam) the maximum possible length is about convert|60|ft|abbr=on (which is convert|12|ft|abbr=on shorter than a full-length English narrowboat). Narrowboats approaching convert|60|ft|abbr=on can only be squeezed through the shorter locks, even when lying diagonally, by expedients such as removing fenders, having shore parties pole the boat into position, and going down locks backwards. In particular, an inexperienced crew of any boat longer than about convert|57|ft|abbr=on might find it impossible to negotiate the middle lock of the "Salterhebble Three", which is the shortest of all. The C&H Navigation, and the Salterhebble locks in particular, thus define the maximum length of a go-anywhere English narrowboat. (Note that other factors can restrict the places to which a boat can reach : for instance, boats with a high cabin top, or with insufficient tumblehome may not be able to fit into Standedge Tunnel at the summit of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal).

It was the disparity in boat sizes between the Calder and Hebble and the Rochdale canal which made Sowerby Bridge (at the junction of the two canals) so important : long boats coming over from Lancashire had to have their cargoes unloaded, stored, and transferred to shorter boats at Sowerby Bridge Wharf.

Another quirk of the Calder and Hebble locks is the handspike, a length of Convert|2|in|-1|abbr=on by convert|4|in|abbr=on timber shaped at one end to provide a comfortable two-handed grip. Calder and Hebble boaters have to carry these in addition to the more usual windlass, in order to lever open the simple lock gear which lifts the lock paddles to allow a full lock to empty or an empty one to fill. [ [ Calder and Hebble Handspikes] ]


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