Aire and Calder Canal


The Knottingley to Goole section of the Aire & Calder Navigation was completed in 1826, by-passing the slower route through Selby and Airmyn. By the 1870s the canal, which had the severe competition of railways, decided upon an all out effort to compete by dredging, lock-lengthening and extending the facilities at the port of Goole. These improvements helped, but also their engineer, William H. Bartholomew, appeared to be a man of great vision. In the past, small wooden tub boats had been tried on various canals, but they had been of no great benefit, probably because the horse lacked suitable power, and so no great future had been envisaged for this method of transporting goods.

The Aire & Calder Navigation's chief product was thousands of tons of coal to transport from the Knottingley area, and a method of moving vast quantities in bulk in an efficient manner would be a great advantage. Steam tugs were being introduced, and these, utilised properly with an efficient tub boat, could be the answer. The earliest tub boats, which were known locally as 'Tom Puddings', made their appearance on the Aire & Calder Navigation in 1860 and could carry between 10 and 15 tons each. Enlargement to the locks on the canal to a length of 215ft and 22ft wide with a depth of 9ft meant that the Tom Puddings could be of a larger size and were developed until they became a steel construction, 20ft long and 15ft wide and could carry between 35 and 40 tons of coal each. The ends of each compartment boat were designed so that each boat was attached to its neighbour. Whilst in transit it was still possible to navigate the bends in the waterway.

With trains of nineteen compartment boats towed by steam tugs, the total average tonnage moved per trip was 740. A royalty of 1/2d per ton was received by William H. Bartholomew for all coal transported by this method. Progress was continual, and regular trains of Tom Puddings made their journey to the port of Goole. The compartment-boat system and shipment of coal, together with the rise of the Goole Steam Shipping Company, brought the port into prominence as one of the country's more important ports, despite the fact that it is 50 miles inland from Spurn Point.

Swing bridges were built over the Aire and Calder, including three at Heck and one at Pollington. Each had a Bridge House where the bridgekeeper lived. Number 3 had been demolished by the 1930s. Number 2 Bridge House in Heck, which was occupied by the Thorntons, probably from around 1834, was demolished in 1959. In 1871 Ann Thornton (nee Langhorn), then a widow, was still listed in the census as bridgekeeper at the age of 70. She had also produced 15 children. Ann died 3 October 1875. Three of Ann's sons, Thomas, Langhorn and Richard, were canal labourers. Langhorn drowned in the canal on 21 May 1892, the family legend says after being kicked by a horse, although the inquest noted that he was returning from the pub! Many years later, in 1909, Langhorn's daughter Ann's husband James Bateman also drowned in the canal. James' son Langhorn Bateman and his wife Blanche also turned the same No.2 bridge as the two previous generations had. The last connection with the canal was when Blanche retired in 1967.

Aire and Calder Navigation (Archive Photographs: Images of England )  
Mike Clarke

see also The Canals of the Aire & Calder Navigation (Transport through the ages)

Mike Taylor

return to main genealogy page

Dearne and Dove Canal



(replace me with neil)

acknowledgements to Terry Langhorn, Michael Woodhead, and the late Audrey Bateman