Tuesday, 9 July 2013

British Waterways

When talking about the inland waterways to the uninitiated the most common name that pops up is British Waterways. Most people say that the canal and river trust as an entity is a new one on them. Obviously cart its not been around long enough yet.  Yet people seem to know about one or more of the local canal preservation groups. They have seen the odd article in the local newspaper or they know someone who knows someone who is involved.

There are many small societies and associations who make up of the real stalwarts of the inland waterways. Often working for years as a seemingly snails pace slowly dragging their particular waterway back from the point of extinction. First through raising awareness, then through fund raising and then through the hands on restoration. Usually a few hard won yards at a time. Looking out of my window I can see one such canal restoration project that continues to improve bit by bit. I know the canal will never be open to navigation in my lifetime. But it is still an important part of the cultural heritage of my part of the country.

Contrast and compare this small band of committed waterway restorers with the Canal and River Trust and you soon get an idea of the complete difference in ethos. 

For the typical canal group to succeed they need to interact with a wide variety of different sources. The local councils for instance to get the plans in place for the long term preservation of the line of the canal. preservation until such time as that section can be restored. Organising various activities to attract new members and to raise the much needed funding. Organising working parties to systematically clear, repair and return the tiny sections to water. 

In 1 April 1984, after a number of articles in the local press, twelve people met to address the lack of interest in local waterways. The Barnsley Canal Group was formed at this meeting and started campaigning for the preservation and restoration of the Dearne and Dove and Barnsley Canals. Since the late 1980s the group has been active in trying to protect the remaining canal bed from obstruction through the local planning process. 

In 1991 the canal group commenced restoring the top of the Elsecar branch of the canal in conjunction with work at what is now the Elsecar Heritage Centre. A feasibility study was also carried out on the branch. It determined that, although expensive, it is viable to restore that section of the canal. The Barnsley Canal Group was reformed as the Barnsley, Dearne and Dove Canals Trust in 2000.

The bit of canal that passes close by our home is the Elsecar branch. Which was unfortunately closed in 1928 partially due to effects of mining subsidence. The last boat traversed the central section of the main line in 1934. An abandonment order for the canal was never obtained by the canal company. After this date water levels were no longer maintained and the maintenance necessary to combat the effects of the ever present mining subsidence to be reduced. The canal was finally closed in 1961, under the terms of the British Transport Commission Act. Only a small half mile section to the Canning Town Glass works in Swinton was retained. The last boat called at the glass works in 1977. Since that time the lower portion of the remaining canal has been incorporated into Waddingtons boat yard.

But all is not lost. 

The closure of all the local coal mines that were served by the canal means that further subsidence is no longer a problem. Add to this the abandonment of a near by railway line 1988 has provided the canal with an alternative route. This land has been secured from intrusion by other land users and will be relatively easily excavated to create a new channel. 

Threats seemingly come and go. The most recent danger to the route of the canal is HS2 Stage 2 extension to Leeds which is planned to run across the  Dearne and Dove Stairfoot flight diversion which is planned to go down the old railway line. Levels look promising as the HS2 line goes well under our proposed water levels but will require a large single span aqueduct.

The canal is referred to as 'a vital missing link' by the Barnsley, Dearne and Dove Canals Trust. Their aim is to completely restore the canal along with the Barnsley Canal in order to complete the Yorkshire Ring. The canal is now undergoing restoration. The Elsecar branch is to be the first part of the canal to be restored. Then the reservoir at the top of the Elsecar branch will be used to keep the restored sections of the canal in water. The reservoir has been designated a local nature reserve by Barnsley Council and the area surrounding the reservoir at the top of the Worsbrough branch has become Worsbrough Country Park.

You are invited to join or to make a donation to the Barnsley, Dearne and Dove Canals Trust.

Click Here for details of the trust.

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