Waterways in the Aire and Calder Valley (West Yorkshire)

Air and Calder navigation
The Aire and Calder Navigation is a river and canal system of the River Aire and the River Calder. The Aire and Calder Navigation runs for 33 miles from Leeds to Goole, with a branch of 7.5 miles from Wakefield to Castleford.

The Aire rises at Malham Tarn, flowing underground to Malham Cove (Aire Head), near Malham, in North Yorkshire, and then flows through Gargrave and Skipton. After Cononley, the river enters West Yorkshire where it passes through the former industrial areas of Keighley, Bingley, Saltaire, and Shipley. It then passes through Leeds and on to the villages of Swillington and Woodlesford. At Castleford is the confluence of the Aire and Calder. ( just downstream of the confluence was the ford where the ancient British road, used by the Romans, crossed on its way north to York)

The Aire and Calder Navigation Company made the River Aire navigable as far as Leeds in 1704 with the construction of locks and lock cuts between Knottingley and Leeds. Two years later, the company made the River Calder navigable from Castleford to Wakefield.

New locks and longer sections of cut were added between Castleford and Leeds. In 1821 a new 17 mile cut was constructed from Knottingley to the River Ouse at Goole, where docks were built. In 1839, a twisting length of the Calder was bypassed by a straighter 4 mile section between Fairies Hill and Broadreach, also with a depth of 7 feet. This included building an aqueduct across the river at Stanley Ferry.

William Bartholomew, the cheif engineer between 1853 and 1895, developed the “Tom Puddings” – compartment boats that were put together in trains to be pushed by a tug. They transported coal from the Yorkshire collieries to Goole and later to power stations.

The navigation never went out of use and is still used for commercial traffic with such cargoes as oil and sand being carried.

More information

The Calder and Hebble Navigation

The Calder and Hebble Navigation, running for 21 miles from the Aire and Calder Navigation at Wakefield to Sowerby Bridge, was one of the first navigable waterways into the Pennines. It was an extension westwards of the Aire and Calder Navigation and was surveyed by John Smeaton and the later sections by James Brindley.

Work began in 1758 to make the River Calder navigable above Wakefield. The navigation to Sowerby Bridge was completed in 1770, including a short branch to Dewsbury. Sir John Ramsden’s Canal, now known as the Huddersfield Broad, was opened in 1776, providing a branch to Huddersfield.

In 1804, the Rochdale Canal opened, branching off the Calder and Hebble just before its terminus in Sowerby Bridge, crossing the Pennines to link Yorkshire with Manchester.

In 1828 a branch to Halifax was opened, rising 110 feet to a terminus at Bailey Hall, behind Halifax Railway Station. There were 14 locks on the branch. Most of the branch was abandoned in 1942 apart from the short section from Salterhebble to Exley.

About half of the navigation is along the course of the River Calder, with short man-made cuts with locks to by-pass weirs. There are two lengthy man-made sections, from Calder Grove to Ravensthorpe and from Brighouse to Sowerby Bridge. The Halifax branch closely followed the course of the River Hebble.

Most commercial traffic on the Calder and Hebble had ceased by 1955, although coal was still carried to Thornhill power station until 1981. However, the whole of the Calder and Hebble remained open for leisure use. The re-opening of the Rochdale Canal between Sowerby Bridge and Littleborough summit in 1996 and Manchester in 2002 has increased the traffic along the Calder and Hebble and it now forms part of the South Pennine Ring.

Calder River
The River Calder is a river in West Yorkshire, in Northern England, with a length of 72 km. The Calder rises on the green eastern slopes of the Pennines flows through alternating green countryside, former woollen-mill villages, and large and small towns before joining the River Aire near Castleford.

The river’s valley is known as Calderdale, which gives its name to the large urban and rural borough (centred on Halifax) through which the upper river flows. The lower reaches flow through the boroughs of Kirklees (based on Huddersfield) and Wakefield.

Calderdale is made up of the amalgamation of six former local government districts, spanning (from east to west), the towns of Brighouse, Elland, Halifax, Sowerby Bridge, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.

The river was key to the success of the textile industries in the local area, and flows through the area known as the Yorkshire Heavy Woollen District. Many major mills were constructed along its banks, particularly at Dewsbury and Wakefield, but also in the smaller communities of Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden, as well as along its tributaries: the Hebble at Halifax, and the Colne at Huddersfield. The mills in the Upper Calder Valley specialised in cotton weaving, with some cotton spinning , while those in the lower part of the valley specialised in wool and shoddy. Some of these structures still exist as listed buildings, although the large scale production of yarn and textile has now ceased.

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