Chesterfield Canal, Past, Present and Future by John Lower 10th Sept 2018

The West Stockwith basin at the River Trent end of the canal.

John atten­ded Sheffield University and became a chartered civil engin­eer.  In 1981 he became involved with the Chesterfield Canal Trust, a registered char­ity with many volun­teers.

The Past:  The canal was built in 1777.  James Brindley being the engin­eer.  It was a mag­ni­fi­cent achieve­ment for its time includ­ing the 2,880 yard Norwood Tunnel.  The prime pur­pose of the canal was to carry Derbyshire coal to new mar­kets on canal barges.  It was a big saving on pre­vi­ous meth­ods whereby ten pack-horses were needed to trans­port one ton of coal.  A barge could hold 24 tons of coal.

Due to the coming of the rail­ways boat traffic declined and in 1907 the col­lapse of part of the Norwood Tunnel isol­ated the Derbyshire sec­tion of the canal.

In 1834 there was a big fire in the Houses of Parliament and stone which was quar­ried at North Anston was taken by barges to West Stockwith and then to London via the Trent, Humber, North Sea and the Thames.

The Present:   In the 1950’s the 26 miles between West Stockwith and Worksop were barely nav­ig­able.  A cam­paign was star­ted by the Retford and Worksop Boat Club to save the canal.  Funding was gran­ted and this sec­tion of the canal was restored.

John showed us many pic­tures depict­ing the canal res­tor­a­tion .  Grassy fields with a slightly sunken path indic­at­ing the pre­vi­ous route of the canal became restored canals due to the efforts of the volun­teers.

The path is the centre line of the canal.

The brick­work and masonry skills of the volun­teers were second to none and would have put many of today’s build­ers to shame.  So many pro­jects of restored canal sec­tions, locks, and towpaths, were shown to us and the before and after shots were amaz­ing.

In 1978 The Telegraph repor­ted that an over keen worker, clear­ing rub­bish from the canal, caught his hook on a chain. He pulled hard and out came “the plug” res­ult­ing in all the water being drained from that sec­tion of the canal.  Nowadays it is no longer pos­sible to drain the canal because of envir­on­mental reas­ons i.e. the poten­tial loss of fish and wild­life etc.

At Staveley, an archae­olo­gical dig was com­menced by stu­dents.  This res­ul­ted in unearth­ing three old ori­ginal cuckoo boats.  These were the ori­ginal type of barges made for the canal.  The find of the cuckoo boats promp­ted the volun­teers to build a rep­lica cuckoo boat by hand using all the old skills of the work­ers.  A “steam box” was used to bend the planks which formed the bow of the boat and sim­ilar mater­i­als and skills were employed.  The boat was launched in 2015, recre­ated with copies of the ori­ginal mast and sails and named “The Dawn Rose”.

Millions of pounds have been needed to restore sec­tions of the canal, many with Government grants plus a size­able sum from fun­drais­ing and public dona­tions.  Sponsored “boat pulls” and other events have con­trib­uted to the res­tor­a­tion funds.

The Future:  The future plans for the HS2 rail­way also impact on the canal.  Many con­sulta­tions have res­ul­ted in part of the HS2 track being rerouted from the present canal route into a hous­ing estate in Mexborough.

The latest con­struc­tion is a £310 mil­lion Chesterfield water­side com­plex.  This is still under­way. The long term aim is to link up sec­tions of dif­fer­ent canals in three adja­cent counties to rival the nav­ig­able water­ways of the Midlands and the North West.

2027 will be the 250th anniversary of the Chesterfield Canal and it is hoped that all work will be com­pleted by then.

There are many delight­ful walks along the canal, boat trips and activ­it­ies organ­ised by the Chesterfield Canal Trust.

Have a day out on the canal and enjoy all that it has to offer!

John’s talk was very well received and he was thanked for his inter­est­ing and beau­ti­fully illus­trated present­a­tion – many of which can be seen, along with a host of inform­a­tion, on their web­site —

A map of the canal can be found here: