Category Archives: Talks

The Sons of George III.  Three Kings, Four Dukes and two early deaths  by Peter Stubbs – 15th March 2021

Peter Stubbs is a retired Sheffield soli­citor with a lifelong interest in his­tory.  His talk takes us back to a very dif­fer­ent time.  Our roy­alty was closely allied to the House of Hanover and the Holy Roman Empire.

George III (born 1738) was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two king­doms on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was con­cur­rently Duke and Prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire before becom­ing King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was a mon­arch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two pre­de­cessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first lan­guage, and never vis­ited Hanover.

In 1761, George mar­ried Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and they enjoyed a happy mar­riage, with 15 chil­dren.  After ser­i­ous bouts of ill­ness in 1788 — 1789 and 1801, thought now to be caused by por­phyria, he became per­man­ently deranged in 1810. The Prince of Wales (later George IV) became regent.

George remained ill until his death at Windsor Castle on 29 January 1820.

His first son became George IV of the UK. Born in 1762, he was very accom­plished youth inter­ested in art, music, lit­er­at­ure and archi­tec­ture.  He was con­tinu­ally at logger heads with his father.  At the age of 18 the Prince of Wales was given a sep­ar­ate estab­lish­ment. He threw him­self into a life of dis­sip­a­tion and wild extra­vag­ance.  When 21 he was given an annual income of over £6m plus a grant of £7m in today’s equi­val­ence.  This was totally inad­equate for his life­style.  He was illeg­ally mar­ried to Maria Fitzherbert who he adored and then was forced in 1795 to marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick who he hated. After the birth of their only child Princess Charlotte, they sep­ar­ated and divorced.  His debts in 1795 reached the equi­val­ent of £65m.  His life­style made him very unpop­u­lar with the popu­lace.

In 1763 Frederick (Duke of York) was born, fol­lowed in 1765 by Wilhelm.  Most of George’s sons served in the Army but Wilhelm was regarded as of little import­ance and served as a mid­ship­man in the Navy with no priv­ileges.  He loved the life and became a very com­pet­ent lieu­ten­ant and then a cap­tain of war­ships. In 1791 he began a rela­tion­ship with Mrs Jordan.  She was an act­ress and they were always short of money. In 1818 he mar­ried Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen.  He rose to become Lord High Admiral.  In 1830 he became King William IV to the great approval of the popu­lace and the Duke of Wellington.  He restored the pop­ular­ity of the Crown.

Space does not permit even a brief resume of the other 12 chil­dren nor the link to Queen Victoria.

Surviving Warsaw 1939–45 — Dr Marek Szablewski — 1st March 2021

Dr Marek Szablewski

What a fant­astic, emo­tion­ally charged talk by Marek about his family ori­gins in Warsaw during the Nazi occu­pa­tion of Poland!

Marek him­self grew up in Sheffield in the 1960s, leav­ing for Durham in 1992 for an aca­demic career in applied chem­istry and phys­ics.

Much of his talk centred on the war­time exper­i­ence of his father. Witold Szablewski, per­haps unusu­ally, spoke freely to Marek before his death in 2008. This was the cata­lyst for the award of a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2011 to explore the family’s involve­ment during the occu­pa­tion in more detail. The aim was to ensure that the hor­rors of that time are never for­got­ten or diluted. In the words of Primo Levi, an Auschwitz sur­vivor, “It happened, there­fore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen every­where”.

Poland’s his­tory was almost oblit­er­ated during World War II. So Marek now spends a good deal of his time talk­ing about his family’s time in Warsaw during the Nazi occu­pa­tion to groups like ours and par­tic­u­larly school chil­dren.

Marek’s father, Witold Szablewski, was a tool maker, set­tling in Sheffield after the war

Witold Szablewski

and seen here cyc­ling with a friend in Warsaw before the Ghetto was estab­lished (fig 2)

A younger Witold Szablewski on the right

The build­ing in the back­ground is the only pre-war build­ing left in that street, a vivid example of the whole­sale anni­hil­a­tion of the city by the Nazis.

Witold Szablewski returned to the rebuilt city in 2004 as a hero in recog­ni­tion of his role in the Warsaw Uprising and in remem­brance of the thou­sands of Poles whose lives were lost.

Poland’s tur­bu­lent his­tory is also rep­res­en­ted by a series of maps of its ever-changing bor­ders from war­fare.

Reference: Norman Davies “God’s Playground Vol 1 Clarendon Press Oxford 1989

The absence of black (upper right) indic­ates loss of Poland’s sov­er­eignty in 1791–1807, 1874–1918, 1939–45 by Prussia, Russia and Austro-Hungary respect­ively.

Grandfather Stefan seen here upper cent­ral

was a printer and trade uni­on­ist, arres­ted by the Russian author­it­ies on mul­tiple occa­sions for organ­ising strikes, and spend­ing time in Tsarist pris­ons. He had a Russian wife and was con­scrip­ted into the Army. Captured by the Germans, he escaped from Lamsdorf (later StalagVIIIB) and fought in the Polish upris­ing which led to inde­pend­ence, by which time his Russian wife and child had dis­ap­peared. He filed for divorce.

He became a police­man, remar­ried and Marek’s father was born to his second wife, who died a few years later

His Grandfather’s reac­tion­ary beha­viour overtly tempered after he became a detect­ive. He then mar­ried a Jewess, and was work­ing at the Škoda fact­ory in the mid-1930s, prob­ably also under­cover when cor­rup­tion in the com­pany was rife, for instance, issu­ing false qual­ity cer­ti­fic­ates.

He then man­aged blocks of flats claim­ing that he lost his police job “because his wife was Jewish”.

Marek’s father, Witold, became an appren­tice tool maker in spe­cial­ist sur­gical equip­ment in the Ghetto. During the occu­pa­tion, the family house was exchanged to one out­side the Ghetto wall. He had to travel in and out every day to work but often car­ried money, obtained by selling con­tra­band, into the Ghetto.

Jews were expec­ted to walk in the gutter if a Nazi passed by, schools were shut, only a basic edu­ca­tion was avail­able, Jewish bank accounts were frozen, and Chopin was banned. Life was very dif­fi­cult and viol­ent. For instance a state­ment in a 1940 issue of Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi news­pa­per; “In Prague, big red posters were put up on which one could read that seven Czechs had been shot today….  if I had to put up a poster for every seven Poles shot, the forests of Poland would not be suf­fi­cient to man­u­fac­ture the paper”.

The Ghetto was large with an area of 1.5 square miles and 300,000 Jews within. Enclosure walls across tram tracks had “typhoid” notices to keep people out. It was com­pletely des­troyed by the Nazis at the end of the war as the Russians’ moved in.

This pic­ture shows Josef Blösche, the Warsaw SS-Rottenführer, (with the machine gun) round­ing up Jews during the Uprising. He was nick­named Frankenstein because of his cruelty and he was sub­sequently executed for war crimes.

Marek’s father, who was not car­ry­ing Jewish papers him­self, was sworn into the Resistance. As a keen pho­to­grapher, he recor­ded troop move­ments. At one point he was arres­ted by the Gestapo with a gun to his head but bluffed his way free and lying that he had no know­ledge of his Jewish mother’s where­abouts. On another occa­sion he was car­ry­ing a hidden mes­sage for the Leader of the Jewish Council, when the offices were raided by the Gestapo. He was lent a Star of David arm­band to evade cap­ture within the Ghetto.

Witold gave Stefan’s daughter’s (Russian) birth cer­ti­fic­ate to his Jewish wife, together with its Nazi tax stamps. She was then able to mas­quer­ade as his own daugh­ter as a non-Jewess.

With the help of a local his­tor­ian, after return­ing to Poland, Marek found the ruin of a gues­t­house run by Carmen Achmarańska, and where his Jewish step-grandmother had worked during the occu­pa­tion. It was a favour­ite Nazi water­ing hole. They deman­ded to stay the night. She evac­u­ated the guest house, and was accused of being Jewish, which she denied. She was to be taken to Warsaw 15km away but was shot in the head on the way. The locals were instruc­ted to leave her in the ditch as a warn­ing. She had saved so many lives. The ‘Carmencita’ guest house was burned down in the 1950s.

At the end of the occu­pa­tion in August-October 1944, after the Warsaw Uprising in which Witold took part, there was sys­tem­atic destruc­tion by the Nazis as the Russians moved in. No more than 1000 people remained in the ruins of the city, left hidden under rubble in cel­lars when the city was lib­er­ated by the Red Army in January of 1945.

During the Uprising, German pris­on­ers were extrac­ted from the cel­lars of the tele­phone exchange in Warsaw. According to Marek’s father, women miners dug their way into the build­ing to allow the res­ist­ance fight­ers access, as they were smal­ler and could gain access more easily. His father was heav­ily involved in the Uprising which res­ul­ted in 250000 deaths. The Nazis plundered much art work and other valu­ables, scorch­ing the city before the Red Army moved in. It has now been beau­ti­fully restored to its ori­ginal state in the old town.

At the end of the Uprising, Witold was taken pris­oner and trans­ferred to Germany as a POW, like his Father in Lamsdorf.  His par­ents and half-sister were taken to Berlin as slave labour­ers for the build­ing of Berlin’s Templehof air­port. He came to Hardwick Hall after the war and was employed at Gilbow Tools, Bridge Street Sheffield, and then at W.Tyzack Sons and Turner Ltd of Little London Road in Heeley.

Further recom­men­ded read­ing and pod­cast:

9780131719187: Conversations with an Executioner …

East West Street by Philippe Sands | Waterstones

Marek’s report for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust:

Marek’s recent pod­cast for Holocaust Memorial Day:

Exploring Iceland’s Volcanoes — Dr Dave McGarvie — 22nd Feb 2021

The men­tion of Icelandic vol­ca­noes takes most people back to the 2010 erup­tion, when fine ash caused wide­spread dis­rup­tion to air flights over north­ern and west­ern Europe from April to July.

But the  erup­tions of Eyjafjallajökull in the south of the coun­try were but a drop in the ocean – prob­ably lit­er­ally for most of the ash – when com­pared with earlier recor­ded erup­tions and poten­tially even greater ones to come.

Dr Dave McGarvie, a Scot who has worked in Yorkshire in the past but is cur­rently an hon­or­ary research fellow at Lancaster University, spe­cial­ising in vol­can­ism, kept 45 of our mem­bers and guests enthralled during a one-hour illus­trated talk on Iceland and its vol­ca­noes.

This was an addi­tion to our cur­rent pro­gramme of twice-monthly Zoom present­a­tions during lock­down, brought for­ward because Dave, after being groun­ded not by vol­canic ash but by Covid-19 in 2020, is hoping to get the green light to carry out another six weeks’ research in Iceland during the coming summer.

The 2010 Eyjafjallajökul ash cloud caused so much dis­rup­tion because it was, as Dave explained, a ‘per­fect erup­tion.’ It was unusual on four counts – it occurred during a pro­longed spell of dry weather, a higher pro­por­tion than normal of the ash was very fine, the winds at the time car­ried the ash dir­ectly towards the UK and the rest of Europe, and it was unusu­ally long-lived for its size, pro­du­cing ash for 39 days.

In addi­tion, all air­craft were groun­ded because of inflex­ible flight rules.

By com­par­ison, the Grímsvötn erup­tion to the north east of Eyjafjallajökull in 2011 — known as the for­got­ten erup­tion – res­ul­ted in a 20-kilometre high plume, com­pared with Eyjafjallajökull’s plume of around eight kilo­metres, and pro­duced as much ash in two days as Eyjafjallajökull did in 39 days.

In July 2011, a few weeks after the erup­tion ended, Dave trav­elled on the first exped­i­tion to the erup­tion site to study it and col­lect samples before snow covered the evid­ence.


Dr Dave McGarvie at Grímsvötn shortly after the 2011 erup­tion.

Our next port of call during Dave’s talk was Askja, a vol­cano in the cent­ral east of the coun­try which last erup­ted in 1961 but which, he assured us, would def­in­itely erupt again. In 2014 there was a large land­slide and a ‘tsunami’ which exceeded 50 metres in height and washed a great deal of pumice from an earlier (1875) erup­tion into the water-filled cal­dera (Spanish for boil­ing pot — GS) formed by that erup­tion and, at around 257 metres, the deep­est fresh­wa­ter lake in Iceland.

Dave then took us to the espe­cially scenic Eastern Fjords, and on to Hvalsnes, which means ‘Whale Point’ where lookouts used to watch, and which has a repu­ta­tion as one of the win­di­est places in Iceland, as he found out in 2003 when the win­dows on the sea­ward side of his parked minibus were smashed by flying sand and pebbles driven by a wind of around 140mph.

Öraefajökull, Iceland’s largest and tallest vol­cano.

Öraefajökull, in  the south east of the coun­try, is Iceland’s largest and tallest vol­cano, with a dia­meter of 25 kilo­metres at its base and a height of 2,000 metres. Öraefajökull had a huge erup­tion in 1362 and its last was in 1727–28. But in June 2017, there star­ted what Dave omin­ously described as a ‘period of unrest.’

If any­body is plan­ning a hol­i­day to Iceland, that might be a good place to avoid. Or at least wear a hard hat.


  • All images via Dr Dave McGarvie


Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the highest moun­tain in Africa at 5,896 metres (or 19,341 feet in old money) and the tallest single freest­and­ing moun­tain in the world.

We wel­comed Anne Jones as our speaker who was the Head Teacher of the Infant and Junior School of Sheffield Girls High School for four­teen years until her retire­ment some four years ago. She became an ambas­sador for Sheffield Children’s Hospital, volun­teer­ing at the Charity Hub in the new outpatient’s depart­ment of the hos­pital.

Whilst at the Children’s Anne decided to take part in the hospital’s first over­seas fun­drais­ing chal­lenge to climb Kilimanjaro. What were the reas­ons for taking up the chal­lenge?

One to raise money for the ‘Build It Better’ cam­paign which aims to extend and ren­ov­ate the Oncology ward, to renew the Emergency depart­ment and to build a helipad on the hospital’s roof.

Secondly Anne wanted to test her­self by embra­cing new oppor­tun­it­ies and taking risks. She had never done any­thing like this before.

Preparation involved fund rais­ing via appeals to the public, talks to the girls at the High School and Tapas even­ings. A total of over £4,000 was raised in this way. Anne also had to assemble the neces­sary equip­ment with a weight limit of 15 kilos for the week. Finally, she wanted to make sure she was phys­ic­ally pre­pared and this involved many hours of walks and climbs in the Peak District and on the north coast of Menorca, yoga ses­sions and trips to the gym.

In September 2019 the party of twenty four arrived at the foot of the moun­tain ready for the task ahead.

The group took the Machame Route which is the longest approach with a total ascent of 7,130 metres and a dis­tance of 62 kilo­metres but is the most effect­ive for avoid­ing alti­tude sick­ness. The climb took five and a half days going up and one and a half days coming down. At the foot of the moun­tain there is rain forest so shorts and T shirts were the order of the day. At night they had sharp frosts so that everything in the tents was frozen. They were accom­pan­ied by an English guide, a Tanzanian doctor, who mon­itored oxygen levels daily, and a team of Rafiki. All their bags, tents and cook­ing equip­ment were trans­por­ted from one camp to the next.

By day three the reduced oxygen levels were notice­able, all phys­ical exer­tions took longer and tem­per­at­ures had fallen con­sid­er­ably. In addi­tion, the ter­rain became more dif­fi­cult. However, Anne said that all the things she wor­ried about before her trip such as the toilet facil­it­ies, the shar­ing a tent, the not shower­ing paled into insig­ni­fic­ance once you were on the moun­tain.

The last camp was at 4,663 metres on rocky sur­faces and with low oxygen levels. They were only able to cover 4 kilo­metres that day. They pre­pared for the final ascent with more cloth­ing layers, extra snacks and water. They left camp at 10.30 at night. It was a tough quiet climb although Anne had Rod Stewart on her head­phones to help! Twenty three of the group made it to the summit although they could only stay there for half an hour because of the thin air.

The des­cent from the top took one and a half days and was very hard — it rained all the way down and the sur­faces were steep and slip­pery.

Anne reflec­ted on the factors that kept the team motiv­ated – food they con­sumed 10,000 cal­or­ies a day so it was essen­tial to have a high carb diet and lots of sweets. The sup­port of the Rafiki (port­ers and sup­port team) who were fant­astic and the unfor­get­table views. Finally, there was the reason for the chal­lenge – the hos­pital. In the end the group man­aged to raise over £125,000.

This was a fas­cin­at­ing present­a­tion which was thor­oughly enjoyed by our mem­bers.

Any dona­tions to the hos­pital would be grate­fully received:

(All photos cour­tesy of Anne Jones)

Sheffields Ancient Woods and Trees – A surprising History and Heritage — 1st February 2021 — Prof Ian Rotherham

   This was the third visit (1st on Zoom) by Prof. Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam University, who is an author, broad­caster and cam­paigner on envir­on­mental issues.

   With the pro­spect of the plant­ing of the Great Northern Forest, between Liverpool and Hull, extend­ing down into South Yorkshire, todays talk was very top­ical.

    To begin with, some defin­i­tions:-

Forest – a land­scape with a high dens­ity of trees.

Woodland or woods a low dens­ity forest, which arose nat­ur­ally, but then was man­aged, and may include clear­ings, shrubs, shade, and grassy areas.

Ancient Woodland – Woodland that has exis­ted at least since the 1600s.

Timber – The large size pieces used in e.g. con­struc­tion, mainly oak, as in cruck houses or box framed dwell­ings.

Wood — The smal­ler pieces e.g. small dia­meter poles cut from cop­pice and used for fuel and wattles etc.

Coppice – Trees cut down to ground level so that they regen­er­ate and ‘’spring’’ into regrowth. Hence in Sheffield, ‘’Ladies Spring Wood ‘’, ‘’New Field Spring Wood’’ and ‘’Parkwood Springs’’ where the cop­picing was used to make char­coal into the 1880s.

Pollard – Trees cut down for shap­ing or regen­er­a­tion, at a point above where an animal can get at it.

Shredding – har­vest­ing of fire­wood and animal fodder,

Herbage – leaves from when pol­lard­ing or cop­picing takes place. Preferred by cows, rather than grass.

Standards – Trees grown in the open with no man­age­ment.

Wavers – young stand­ards

    In 1992, there was a National Woodlands Conference instig­ated by the Peak National Park, between Ecologists, Foresters and Archaeologists to dis­cuss the his­tory, and to co-ordinate future pro­tec­tion, of our ancient wood­lands. The pro­ceed­ings were recor­ded as ‘’Ancient Woodlands – Their Archaeology and Ecology’’. Inspir­a­tion was drawn from pub­lic­a­tions by Prof. Oliver Rackham, our own Prof. Mel Jones. Also, from a 1600s pub­lic­a­tion by John Evelyn entitled ‘’SYLVA’’, which told how wood was pro­cessed, and a Welshman Thomas Pennant, in 1772, who wrote about how trees and local resources are used throughout the coun­try.


If we were to go back to medi­eval times we would find a very dif­fer­ent land­scape. Peoples lives were dom­in­ated by the nat­ural mater­i­als around them, and wood­lands were vital resources and busy places, where anim­als for­aged, people lived, and there were even paved tracks for pack­horses. The peoples names reflec­ted the trades and crafts that fed their life­style – Carter, Cartwright, Wood, Underwood, Croft, Fletcher, Warren etc.

There were char­coal makers, besom makers, bow and arrow makers, wheel­wrights etc, and all the build­ings were built using loc­ally sourced mater­i­als.  


Styles of con­struc­tion around the coun­try depended on the type of timber avail­able. Uplands had birch but in the fens with no timber they used mud, with­ies, turf, and reeds. Nothing went to waste. Clay, bracken, fungi, wattle and daub, and stone were used. (Wharncliffe was the biggest sup­plier of Quern stones for grind­ing in the Roman Empire). Bark was used for tan­ning, which was best in spring when the sap was rising, and timber was felled in winter after leaf fall, chosen by a master crafts­man. Structural tim­bers were felled when the tree was 50 – 150 years old. This was then box halved with cross saws in a saw pit, (hence top dog and under dog). Some large trees are thou­sands of years old and have been pol­lar­ded and har­ves­ted about every 15–20 years, but have to be retired even­tu­ally, due to old age. They can be cored to find out when they were last pol­lar­ded. They then develop their own eco­sys­tems and become status sym­bols. In Japan bamboo is used, and in North America log cabins abound, as timber was plen­ti­ful, and the pur­chase was fin­anced by potash sales.

    Examples of local old pol­lar­ded trees are

Continue read­ing Sheffields Ancient Woods and Trees – A sur­pris­ing History and Heritage — 1st February 2021 — Prof Ian Rotherham

The Chesterfield Canal ” Michael Edwards 18th January 2021

Our Speaker this week worked as a Biomedical Scientist for the NHS.  One of his many interests before and since retire­ment has been the res­tor­a­tion of the Chesterfield Canal.  He is cur­rently Vice Chairman of that waterway’s res­tor­a­tion soci­ety, the Chesterfield Canal Trust.  We had pre­vi­ously enjoyed two talks on this fas­cin­at­ing topic from other speak­ers and Michael’s talk was to make that a happy treble as he explored an import­ant aspect of our local Economic History.


Canal entrance at West Stockwith  “

With illus­tra­tions through­out, our Speaker was to take us on a ‘before and after’ trip -both vir­tual and historical- along the near 46 miles of the canal.  We star­ted at the canal’s junc­tion with the River Trent and its entrance at West Stockwith tidal Lock, and fin­ished with a glimpse of Chesterfield’s famous twis­ted spire viewed from a spot which is now becom­ing the ‘Waterside’ devel­op­ment off the A61.

Michael opened his talk with a resume of the dif­fi­culties faced by the canal’s con­struc­tion. The land­scape is fairly flat east of Worksop: there­after the topo­graphy no longer per­mit­ted fol­low­ing con­tours. There is a rise west­wards to over 240 feet above river (Trent) level reach­ing a summit at a point where the course runs under the M1 motor­way.  A 74ft drop towards Staveley fol­lows with a final 40ft rise before Chesterfield.  All this required the con­struc­tion of no less than 65 locks, two aque­ducts, sev­eral ‘feeder’ reser­voirs, a minor tunnel at Drakeholes and the major 2284 yard effort at Norwood. There were also other tun­nels which linked dir­ectly with coal work­ings.  Norwood was the scene of a major col­lapse in 1907 due to mining sub­sid­ence, effect­ively cut­ting the canal in two, isol­at­ing Chesterfield and thus losing much trade.

 “Eastern Entrance to Norwood Tunnel near Kiverton Park”

The Chesterfield Canal was con­struc­ted between 1771 and 1777 at the height of the Industrial Revolution, with its rap­idly increas­ing use of steam power. These two devel­op­ments, together with numer­ous tech­nical and mech­an­ical innov­a­tions, res­ul­ted in a grow­ing and  insa­ti­able appet­ite for coal, Iron and other heavy raw mater­i­als.  Likewise, the car­riage of fin­ished products to home and export mar­kets was being hampered by the trans­port logist­ics of the day: access to main artery of the North Midlands, the Trent, was lim­ited to horse and cart or sub­ject to the whims of the Idle and other small rivers.  Under the Leadership of the Duke of Newcastle and sev­eral other large land­lords, who owned min­eral rights – and with the sup­port of local towns along the pro­posed route- “The Company of Proprietors of the Canal Navigation from Chesterfield to the River Trent” was incor­por­ated in 1771.  The share cap­ital raised was £100,000.  The Company appoin­ted James Brindley as its Chief Engineer.  Originally the plan had been for ‘narrow boats’ (requir­ing 7ft locks) only, but nine share­hold­ers funded the extra cost of installing ’broad locks’ (14ft) as far as Retford.  Apart from allow­ing a far cheaper deliv­ery of coal (which halved in price), the canal was  also to  build up a thriv­ing trade a wide range of car­goes includ­ing iron, lead, sand, cement, gravel, bricks, timber and later, ‘wark’  (a kind of mud used in the cut­lery and other trades).  And it was carry stone from the South Anston quar­ries to the Trent (and hence to London via the coast and Thames) which was used to con­struct the then new Houses of Parliament we know today. The busi­ness traded prof­it­ably up to around 1845, at one point paying a dividend of 7%!

Before the Norwood tunnel col­lapse, the main turn­ing point in the canal’s for­tunes was the advent of what became the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway (from 1890 the Great Central), which effect­ively took the busi­ness over in 1845.  The MSL did not, how­ever, use part of the Canal as a track-bed as ori­gin­ally pro­posed. It was to remain in rail­way oper­a­tion and own­er­ship (LNER from 1923) up to nation­al­isa­tion in 1948 thence becom­ing the respons­ib­il­ity of British Waterways.  By that point, rap­idly devel­op­ing and more flex­ible road trans­port was to take over the vast major­ity of freight traffic, lead­ing to formal clos­ure in 1960.  Under the Transport Act of 1968, the east­ern Worksop-Stockwith sec­tion (which remained in water but in parts clogged by weed), was des­ig­nated for leis­ure use, but this was only after much cam­paign­ing, led by the Worksop and Retford Boat Club.  Sadly, the sec­tion west of Norwood was to be sold off in parts for devel­op­ment.  Years of neg­lect were to follow together with some destruc­tion of locks etc and the con­struc­tion of new over bridges with insuf­fi­cient head­room to allow a boat or horse to pass.


Transformation: Turnerwood locks before and after res­tor­a­tion in 2002”

Michael Edwards then went on to out­line how the Canal Society came into being in 1978 (It became the Chesterfield Canal Trust in 1998) to spear­head res­tor­a­tion. The Trust ini­tially sought to extend the sec­tion beyond Worksop, but when pro­gress was slow, moved to work­ing on the Chesterfield end.  Over five miles of canal, includ­ing five ori­ginal locks and a brand new lock at Staverley Basin were nav­ig­able by 2017.  The east­ern end was restored from Worksop to the mouth of Norwood Tunnel at Kiverton Park between 1995 and 2003, funded by Derelict Land Grants, English Partnerships and the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Three new mar­i­nas have been con­struc­ted.  Old build­ings have been restored and sev­eral tra­di­tional ‘hump-backed’ over bridges have been rebuilt to replace the more recent ‘’flat’ intru­sions. The canal now boasts a new scratch built ‘Cuckoo Boat’ the ‘Dawn Rose’ not men­tion the tow–horse “Charlie”.  There are 4 ‘trip’ boats.

Charlie” with his keeper Dean

Less than nine miles of the ori­ginal route towards Chesterfield remain to be restored to link the two nav­ig­able sec­tions but this will require some new lengths of the canal to be built to bypass the hous­ing devel­op­ment at Killamarsh.  While the west­ern end is still in good con­di­tion, there will be a need to replace most of Norwood Tunnel  which cannot be restored.  Michael explained some of the options which might bring this about.

Inside Norwood Tunnel look­ing east toward col­lapse”

 The Eastern sec­tion here is man­aged by the Canal and River Trust and the west­ern end by Derbyshire County Council, includ­ing the vis­itor centre at Tapton. The Trust’s centre is loc­ated at Hollingwood.  It’s worth a visit to see the amaz­ing devel­op­ments and regen­er­a­tion around with more work to come.

Michael con­cluded his talk by look­ing ahead to the future. In the longer term there are pro­pos­als to make a link with the Sheffield  Canal via the Rother Valley Country Park.  In the shorter term, while the Chatsworth Estate had been very sup­port­ive, any fur­ther sig­ni­fic­ant pro­gress around the Burrow Hill/Trebor/Staverley Irons works site is cur­rently unclear. This is due to cur­rent fund­ing con­straints, and decisions over the route and main­ten­ance depot for the HST2 Birmingham Leeds sec­tion.  Funding is also a prob­lem at the waterway’s Terminus, the ‘Waterside’ marina devel­op­ment in Chesterfield, which may have to be scaled down.  But few pro­jects of the size of restor­ing 46 miles of canal go without prob­lems and set-backs.  The Trust has raised nearly £200k in dona­tions and £20m in public funds. It now has 2000 members- new mem­bers always wel­come!  The Trust has recently appoin­ted its first paid man­ager, George Roberts, ex Cromford Canal.

While much remains to be done, there has been immense sat­is­fac­tion in restor­ing a derel­ict ditch into an attract­ive public amen­ity.  The canal now attracts not only nature watch­ers and fish­er­man but cyc­lists and walk­ers (0ver 1000 a week at the latest count). We would be very wel­come to join them and thought will be given to a canal walk fol­lowed by a pub lunch when Covid per­mits.


The Spire in the dis­tance.

Our talk –via Zoom- was appre­ci­ated by a record audi­ence of 54, includ­ing one member in California and three guests.