Walk traces 200 years of Sheffield canal history

Walkers will be learning about the history of Sheffield Canal on Saturday (May 25), on a special walk tracing its 200-year history.

By julia.armstrong1
Tuesday, 21 May, 2019, 14:08
Sheffield Canal Basin celebrating its 200-year anniversary with a flotilla of boats in February

Sheffield Canal is 200 years old this year, running from Sheffield Canal Basin, at Victoria Quays near Park Square roundabout, to Tinsley Locks, where it joins the older River Don Navigation.

It was Sheffield’s first waterway link to the sea via the Humber, and to the rest of the country’s canal system, via the Trent and other routes.

When the canal was opened amid huge fanfare, Sheffield was then a rapidly-growing town, thanks to its thriving steel, cutlery, silverware and edge tool industries.

However, until that point all its supplies made at least the final stage of their journeys by road in horse-drawn wagons.

They included high-quality Swedish iron, which was converted to steel in cementation furnaces like the one in Hoyle Street, and used for making the best Sheffield knives and hand tools.

The Swedish iron came via the port of Hull and the River Don Navigation, and until 1819 it had to be transhipped to wagons at Tinsley.

The canal thus greatly helped the further growth of the Sheffield metal trades through the 19th century.

To mark the bicentenary, the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society invited the well-known local historian Graham Hague to give a talk about the canal, which took place on Monday at Kelham Island Industrial Museum, and to lead a walk along it from Sheffield to Tinsley.

To join the walk on Saturday, arrive at 10.30am at the Park Square entrance to the Canal basin. Expect to reach Tinsley by about 3pm, and return from there by tram or bus, but walkers can leave earlier if they wish. You are requested to bring a picnic lunch, and wear suitable clothing and shoes.

For inquiries, call Derek Bayliss, on 0114 230 7693. There is no need to book in advance.

On February 22, the anniversary of the opening day, a flotilla of boats sailed along the canal and a crowd enjoyed entertainment and activities.

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Writing in Retro in February, local historian Joyce Bullivant said that Sheffield threw the biggest party the city had ever seen in February 1819.

She wrote: “Over 60, 000 people crammed round the Sheffield Canal Basin to see the first flotilla of barges come into the basin.

“There was a parade of dignitaries that walked up to Waingate and to the Tontine Inn, which used to be across from the Old Town Hall, for a celebratory dinner, and around 20 toasts were given so must have been pretty merry by the end of it.

“ The next day there was a grand ball (for the ladies). On the 23rd the papers proudly listed the Sheffield Ship News

“ After the party came the hard graft. Around 10 boats a day came into the Basin in the beginning. The barges or keels were horse-drawn through some areas and by sail the rest.

“ The keels are described as broad and square and ugly but when in full sale beautiful. Squeezed into the cabin was the captain and his family. The wealthier master might own his boat and a rent lodging for his family.

“A keel could travel to Hull and transfer its load to a larger ocean going vessel or hug the coastline and sail direct to London.

“The Barge Master had to be more than a freight carrier, he had to be a mariner. Family members sometimes left the canals to join the navy.

“There is a tendency for history books to dismiss the canal as no longer important after the railways came but it was still the best way to transport some loads for a long time afterwards, and people still have memories of the canal as a working canal.

“The last working barge was called the Dorothy Pax.”

A bar at Victoria Quays now bears the name The Dorothy Pax.