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Company of Proprietors of the Barnsley Canal Navigation


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Barnsley Canal Navigation: canal reports 1821-1854 and 1861, abstract of penalties and byelaws c1830, plan of canal 1838, canal bill 1871.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

The possibility of a canal to tap the coalfields at Barnby Bridge was investigated in 1790, spurred on by increasing shortages of coal. The Aire & Calder company was not the only one interested enough to examine potential routes linked to their existing canal; the Calder & Hebble and Don committee also realised the value of the coalfields north of Barnsley. William Jessop was too busy to be more than peripherally involved in the early stages, but he examined the suggestions submitted by Aire & Calder's manager William Martin and engineers John Gott and Elias Wright. An agreement was reached with the Don company regarding their intended Dearne & Dove Canal, whereby it was decided the two canals would meet and that neither would interfere with the others' water supply. Toll rates would not be reduced unless at the agreement of both companies. The Aire & Calder's canal from Heath, on the Aire & Calder, to Barnby Bridge, in the centre of the coalfield, was authorised in a 1793 Act. Samuel Hartley and John Pinkerton were employed as engineer and contractor respectively. Their working relationship did not run smoothly and eventually resulted in a lawsuit in 1812. Joseph Atkinson replaced Hartley in 1823. Walter Spencer Stanhope was chairman and William Martin was treasurer, followed from 1797 until 1824 by William Rooth. At least two committee members of the Don Navigation also subscribed to the Barnsley Canal. The canal was opened to Barnsley in June 1799. It reached the coalfields of Barnby Bridge three years later. It was 15 miles long and had 20 broad locks, all but five of which were in the first 2 1/4 miles. In 1816 the entrance lock at Heath was replaced with a new lock and cut, as each time the river level rose the old lock collected rubbish and needed to be cleaned. The remaining five were beyond the junction with the Dearne & Dove, in the heart of the coalfield. Each was suitable for vessels 78 feet 6 inches by 14 feet six inches. The Dearne & Dove met the Barnsley Canal 11 miles from Heath but did not open until 1804. At Cold Hiendley was a deep cutting and a reservoir. Near Barnsley, a 5-arched aqueduct carried the canal over the Dearne. As had been suspected, water supply in the Barnsley Canal turned out to be problematic. A cycle was established, whereby water was taken from the Dearne in breach of the Act, the Don company remonstrated with them and the Barnsley Canal temporarily stopped. Steam pumps were used to supply the locks and another was installed in 1806. A year later the reservoir was enlarged. By this time the company was in financial difficulties. As Barnby was a new coalfield, it had taken time for traffic to build up, only for it to be lost when the colliery failed. The proprietors ordered a tramroad to be built from Barnby bridge to Silkstone in 1805, to access coalfields there. Although authorised to build tramroads by the 1793 Act, the company now had no money to do so. An Act was passed in March 1808 that allowed the proprietors to raise the necessary funds but they seemed in no hurry to start work. It took until 1810 for the tramroad and enlarged basin at Barnby to open. Trade improved enough for those staff members who had suffered pay cuts to have their original wages reinstated, and new staff was employed. The Don company had finally allowed the Barnsley to take surplus water in 1812, which went some way to relieving the supply difficulties. This was not the end of the matter; as between 1831 and 1841 the two companies were again corresponding about Barnsley's proposed and actual diverting of streams that fed the Dearne. Relations with the Dearne & Dove were cooling by the 1820s. After successfully opposing a Bill that would have allowed the Dearne & Dove to build a railroad, in 1823 Barnsley announced that charges would be levied on empty boats going straight to that canal. 1826 was a bad year all round, with the canal closed due to severe frost in the winter and very nearly closed because of drought in the summer. It was largely down to the efforts of Atkinson that the canal remained in use until the rains came in December. He initiated a scheme to raise all bridges along the canal, but he died in 1828 and the works were done under the supervision of W T Hall. Tonnage peaked between 1837 and 1840, but within a few years the fortunes of the canal were in decline as more railways were constructed. The Barnsley opposed all railway Bills, sometimes assisted by existing railways, and simultaneously looked at improvements they could make to their canal and tempted trade with drawbacks. In 1840 and 1841 the North Midland Railway's Derby-Leeds and Great North of England Railway's Darlington-York lines opened. In 1845 the Don offered to lease the Barnsley for one year, and then in 1846 would buy it. The motive was to prevent its conversion to a railway. The Aire & Calder company entered negotiations to purchase the Barnsley from the Don. All the companies involved, particularly the Don, were also in negotiations with other parties and were promoting various other Bills. One successful transaction depended on another. In 1846 the Don reneged on the deal to buy the Barnsley, a situation rejected by the latter who insisted the purchase go ahead as agreed. It did not. An offer later that year from the Aire & Calder to lease the canal was rejected. Understandably, this mess meant that none of the three companies were inclined to co-operate with the others. Tolls were reduced and extensions to drawbacks were refused. At the same time, 1846, it became possible to send coal from Silkstone via rail. The Manchester & Leeds Railway and Aire & Calder vied for the Barnsley again in 1847. The proprietors were holding out for a 21-year lease and refused to consider leases for a shorter period despite the fact that their revenue in 1847 was just over half that of 1840, and the only increase in trade was that of railway construction materials. It took until 1854 for the Barnsley and Aire & Calder to reach an agreement, with the latter agreeing to a 21-year lease beginning 1 December that year, but the other terms were much reduced. Barnsley's revenue in 1853 was roughly a quarter of that in 1840 and it was not possible for the Barnsley to hold out indefinitely. The proprietors remained in existence mainly to receive rents and attend to some other formal duties. For the first half of the lease the Aire & Calder did well out of the Barnsley, although there were later problems with subsidence and water supplies. Even so the Aire & Calder decided that, after the lease expired in November 1870, they would purchase the canal and an Act was sought to that effect. Formal transfer and dissolution of the proprietors took place on the 17 August 1871. Another pump was installed in 1874 and between 1879 and 1881, all the locks below Barnsley were enlarged. A short length above Barugh Wharf closed in 1893 due to disuse. However, traffic remained good for another fifty years and only decreased when the canalside collieries began to close. Subsidence caused part of Barnsley aqueduct to collapse in 1911. Repairs took seven months to complete. By 1945 the aqueduct was condemned as unsafe, the canal had burst at Littleworth and subsidence along the length of the canal was so serious it would eventually force the canal to close. The Aire & Calder received permission to abandon the canal before nationalisation in 1947, but it actually took until 1953 for the Barnsley canal to close and for the dangerous aqueduct to be demolished. For further information see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of Yorkshire and North East England Volumes 1 and 2'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has therefore been arranged in chronological order.

Associated material

[See also: BW91 for records of the Barnsley Canal under the Aire and Calder Navigation ownership]