Dearne and Dove Canal



In 1793 The Dearne & Dove Canal was granted its Act on  the same day as its  rival, the Barnsley Canal. It was to be built from the River Don Navigation near Swinton heading north west into Barnsley. It was primarily designed for the transportation of coal, using branches into the significant coal fields of Silkstone to the south west of Barnsley. Although the Dearne & Dove Canal was owned by a completely independent company, it was also promoted by the River Don Navigation Company who wanted to increase their profits by accessing mines not currently in easy reach of their waterway. Beating the Aire & Calder company (who were backing the Barnsley Canal) was also foremost in their plans. The engineer was Robert Whitworth, and he planned a route which was to follow the courses of the two rivers which named the route. It was to be 9 miles long, built to broad standards with 19 locks, and was to be built specifically to carry coal from the collieries on route, having two short branches which would reach other collieries away from the main line. Both of these branches would also serve as water feeders with reservoirs built alongside each of them. In Barnsley the main line would make a junction into the rival Barnsley Canal, which made a continuous route from Sheffield to Wakefield.

The Dearne & Dove took considerably longer to complete than the Barnsley Canal, which had been partly open since 1799 and had been fully opened in 1802, two years before the Dearne & Dove. Both routes had cost just under 100,000 each to build.

By the 1830s The Dearne & Dove  was a  successful canal. This was it's peak, before the railways arrived.

When the railway competition arrived in 1846 it was the Don Navigation who faced the biggest losses. To counter this they leased the Dearne & Dove Canal and took over the running of its route. Although this meant they could make sure they made best use of the canal, it did not stop the railway competition.

In 1850 The Don Navigation Company amalgamated with the Doncaster & Goole Railway Company and the two concerns became one under the name of the South Yorkshire & River Dun Company. (Dun being the alternative name for Don). The new company continued to lease the Dearne & Dove Canal throughout this period.

                                                                                                                                                   The History of Canal and River Navigations by Edward Paget-Tomlinson

Elsecar Basin                                                                                                                      (Click on the link for discount and free delivery from Amazon)

Later, in 1857, The SY&RD company bought the Dearne & Dove Canal outright for 210,000. They already owned the Stainforth & Keadby Canal so this meant they now owned the whole waterway route from the River Trent to Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley, in other words, monopolising the waterway traffic form South Yorkshire to the Humber estuary. A few years later the SY&RD company was itself leased to the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway Company but the new controllers had little interest in water bound trade. Bit by bit the Dearne & Dove was used by less and less traffic.

The ownership changed again in 1894 when all the waterways owned by the SY&RD company were bought up by the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation Company as part of a project to build better communication between Sheffield and the Humber. However, the MS&LR company still held the lease on these waterways and therefore maintained control over finances. This meant that the new owners found it almost impossible to develop the routes. Being in a heavy mining area the Dearne & Dove Canal had always suffered from subsidence. Because the railway lessees would not finance the necessary repairs the canal soon deteriorated.

In 1906 The canal branch to Worsbrough was the first part of the Dearne & Dove Canal to be closed to navigation, although it was kept open as a feeder from the reservoir on its line.

The second branch, to Elsecar,  was also closed to navigation in 1928.

In 1934 The S&SYN company decided to close the Dearne & Dove Canal and the last boat to travel the full route from the River Don to Barnsley past through during this year. The canal was not closed completely however and many short-haul journeys continued for another 18 years. It was was nationalised along with the rest of Britain's canal network in 1948.

The British Transport Commission officially closed the whole of the Dearne & Dove Canal in 1961. Only the first half mile was kept open to allow access to Canning Town Glassworks at Swinton.

Major restoration began in 1994 on the Elsecar Branch of the canal. Alongside the canal a new heritage centre including a pumping engine, steam trains and cottages was built. Nearby, the canal itself was dredged and filled-in locks were excavated.

The Dearne & Dove Canal, along with its rival the Barnsley Canal, is now supported by the Barnsley and Dearne & Dove Trust. who hope to fully restore both waterways.


The Dearne & Dove Canal left the River Don (now part of the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation) on the east side of Swinton. Swinton Junction can be found close to Swinton Station at Dun Street near the Red House pub off the A6022 which runs between Swinton & Mexborough.There is one lock on the river near the junction and there were 5 locks immediately after the junction on the Dearne & Dove Canal. In more recent times, these locks were used as moorings for long-since-redundant barges. Today the locks are used as dry docks for boat maintenance. It is thought that a restored canal would not use this original junction but would bypass it via the River Dearne.

The canal headed north west towards Wath upon Dearne but the route is completely filled in after the top surviving lock (about half a mile from Swinton Junction). About one mile further on, near Wath and Adwick, there was a 472 yard tunnel though a bypass was constructed when the railway was built in the mid 1800's. The original tunnel still survives and  could still be found in the undergrowth to the south of the railway. Past Adwick the course of the canal followed the railway on its south side. The minor road heading north off the A633 and other lanes off the same road all lead to the canal but most bridges have been flattened. On Westmoor Lane there was a good stone bridge crossing the filled in route.

At Brampton the canal route came alongside the A633 but there is little trace of it today. It was here that the Elsecar Branch left heading south west. The branch was also used as a feeder and is still in water today. It is marked on my road atlas from the main line very close to the junction of the A633 & the B6089. There were 6 locks on the branch though all were converted into weirs. The top part of the branch runs alongside the B6097 between Hemmingfield and Elsecar. However, the mines are now closed so the area may be subject to redevelopment or landscaping.  The small Elsecar Reservoir is situated a few hundred yards south west of the end of the branch in Elsecar.

A short stretch could still be found in water between Wombwell and Barnsley where the canal passed under the A633 though it is exteremely overgrown . Just past here there were 7 locks and a junction with the Worsbrough Branch, some of which could still be detected in the early 1970's. Worsbrough reservoir is situated to the west of the village between Worsbrough Hall and the M1. There was a basin at the end of the Worsbrough Branch. Today, the area around the reservoir has become Worsbrough County Park, which has 200 acres of footpaths, fishing areas, a working farm and a mill museum. At the bottom of the overflow car park is a path which leads to the canal branch. There is a short stretch still in water, with well kept grass banks. The head of this branch was a very busy transhipment wharf, the neighbouring A61 formerly being an important turnpike road. 

The junction with the Barnsley Canal can still be seen in the town centre,  the area around the junction was  fully restored in the 1990s. Just before the junction is a stop lock which marks the official end of the Dearne & Dove Canal, at the junction the preserved foundations of Aqueduct House (a canal cottage) can be seen and there are some rare pulley-stones, devices which helped horse-drawn boats to negotiate tight bends without the towrope going slack. The Barnsley Canal heads north west towards Barugh and north east towards Wakefield. Both directions are part of a Waterside Walk.

For more information on the Dearne & Dove Canal and details of its proposed restoration see the Barnsley and Dearne & Dove Trust website.


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




(replace me with neil)