The History of the Aire and Calder Navigation

A potted history of the Aire and Calder Navigation with a special focus on the companies and individuals working on the canal in 1918.

The History of the Aire and Calder Navigation
Goole Docks

Here's a potted history of the Aire and Calder Navigation with a special focus on the companies and individuals working on the canal in 1918. The WW1 period is my favourite era to research.

The Aire and Calder Navigation was conceived as an improvement to navigation on the River Aire (from the River Ouse at Airmyn via Castleford to Leeds) and on the River Calder (from Castleford to Wakefield). The proposal was principally motivated by wool traders in Leeds and general merchants in Wakefield.

A parliamentary bill was drawn up in 1698 and the route was surveyed by two engineers: John Hadley on the Aire, and Samuel Shelton on the Calder. After much heated debate the act of Parliament was granted in May 1699, naming nine gentlemen from Leeds, and nine from Wakefield, as the undertakers who would oversee the work. John Hadley was engaged as the engineer.

By 1704 the original specification was complete. It included 12 locks on the Aire between Haddesley and Leeds, and 4 on the Calder. The early trade consisted mainly of woollen goods and other cloth from Leeds, Wakefield, Halifax and Bradford, with wool and corn from Lincolnshire and East Anglia travelling in the opposite direction. By the 1720s there were also significant quantities of coal. Construction of the Selby Canal began in 1775, and it was opened on 29 April 1778. Construction of Goole Docks started on 28 September 1822 and the docks and the Knottingley and Goole Canal were completed on 20 July 1826. Goole became an official port the following year, when it opened its own Customs facilities.

Trade plumetted in the 1840s with the advent of the railways. A novel solution was proposed in 1861, a system of sectional boats, each consisting of multiple compartments, with a bow and stern section. These soon became known as Tom Puddings. By 1913 there were 18 of these tug trains plying their trade on the Aire and Calder.

The New Junction Canal, jointly funded by the Aire and Calder Navigation, opened in 1905. It was the last waterway built in Britain until 2002. The New Junction Canal now forms part of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation (S&SYN).

In 1918, towards the end of WW1, the Aire and Calder Navigation was managed by the Northern Sub-Committee of the Board of Trade’s Canal Control Committee. Its office was in Dock Street, Leeds. The Secretary was S Barraclough, the Traffic Manager was W H Breach, and the Engineer was H Pickard. The telegram address was ‘Navigation, Leeds’, and the telephone number was Leeds Central 20957.

There were Branch Office Agents in each of the principal towns along the Navigation:

  • Goole – F Hinchliffe, Aire and Calder Navigation Dock Offices. Telephone Goole 19.
  • Hull – H J Oldroyd, Nelson Street. Telephone Hull 4236.
  • Knottingley – C E Maude, Bank Dole.
  • Castleford – W P Ellis, Junction House. Telephone Castleford 13.
  • Leeds – W Metcalfe, Carrying Department. Telephone Leeds 26161.
  • Bradford – P S Atkinson, Canal Road. Telephone Bradford 280.
  • Barnsley – W O Sykes, Telephone Barnsley 16.
  • Wakefield – J H Oliver, Bridge Street. Telephone Wakefield 200.
  • Dewsbury – J F Tunnicliffe, Navigation House, Savile Town. Telephone Dewsbury 41.
  • Ravensthorpe – T Neville, Navigation House. Telephone Desbury 34.
  • Huddersfield – J Batho, Aspley. Telephone Huddersfield 495.

The following Carriers were registered by the Canal Control Committee on the Aire and Calder Navigation and the New Junction Canal.

  • The Aire and Calder Navigation Company, Dock Street, Leeds.
  • Acaster, J, 20 Percy Street, Old Goole, Goole.
  • Acaster, William, High Street, Hull.
  • Askew, S, Denmark Street, Belle Vue, Wakefield.
  • Askew, W, Portland Street, Agbrigg, Wakefield.
  • Barraclough, J, West Holme, Barton on Humber.
  • Barraclough, S, Canfield Villas, Barton on Humber.
  • Bleasdale and Company, Prince’s Dock Side, Hull.
  • Branford Bros., Ainwell Terrace, Knottingley.
  • Burn, G, Goole.
  • Burn, George, Shepley Bridge, Mirfield.
  • Bywater, Joseph, Twyhill Street, Barnsley.
  • Calder Carrying Company, Halifax.
  • Calvert Lightering and Stevedore Company Ltd., Adam Street, Goole.
  • Carey, R, 22 Clone Bridge, Huddersfield.
  • Carrying and Trading Company, Hartmann’s Chas., Goole.
  • Casye, Martin, Portland Crescent, Leeds.
  • Claxton, T, Sandal, Wakefield.
  • Clough, T H and H J, Lower Row, Mirfield.
  • Dutton, W, Plaines Lane, Elland.
  • Finney, J T, Chadwick Street, Leeds.
  • Firth, George, and Company, Selby.
  • Fletcher, T, 8 Prospect Place, Hull.
  • Fletcher, William, 24 Grafton Street, Hull.
  • Foster, R, 27 Valley Road, Shipley.
  • Furley and Company Ltd., Minerva Chambers, Hull.
  • Gardiner, T J, Marsh End, Knottingley.
  • Goole and Sheffield Transport Company Ltd., Old Custom House Buildings, Goole.
  • Greaves, H, Hull.
  • Greenwood, J, Shepley Bridge, Mirfield.
  • Grimsby Express Packet Company Ltd., Marshall’s Wharf, Victoria Street, Grimsby.
  • Haigh, H, Castleford.
  • Hall, F, and Company, 46 Hedon Road, Hull.
  • Hall, J H, 22 Faraday Street, Hull.
  • Hamilton, John, 64 Hollis Street, Grimsby.
  • Hampshire, Charles, Wakefield and Hull.
  • Harker, John, Cow Lane, Knottingley.
  • Hartmann, Ferdinand, Boothferry Road, Goole.
  • Hill, William and Son (Carriers) Ltd., The Calls, Leeds.
  • Holden, Mrs S J, Skipton.
  • Holmes, G D, ‘Bournville’, Goole.
  • Hoyle, W, Greetland.
  • Hull Keel and Lighter Company, C/O Thomas Wilson Sons and Company Ltd., Shipowners, Hull.
  • Hunt, J. and Son, Ware Lane, Leeds.
  • Hutton and Company, 10, 12, and 14 North Walls, Queens Dock, Hull.
  • Jackson, George, Water Lane, Leeds.
  • Jackson, George, 22 Savile Road, Castleford.
  • Kendall, A. and Son, Leeds and Shipley.
  • Kendall, John, 82 Kirkgate, Shipley.
  • Knowles and Martin, Thornhill.
  • Leeds, Goole and Hull Transport Company Ltd., Bowman Lane, Leeds.
  • Lightowler, H., Thornhill.
  • Mead, H. and Company Ltd., Princes Dock Chambers, Hull.
  • Meek and Sons, Bank Chambers, Goole.
  • Mellor, H. and Sons, Brighouse.
  • Mellor, John, Belle View, Wakefield.
  • Noble, J W, Black Bull Street, Leeds.
  • Norminton, J O, Shepley Bridge, Mirfield.
  • Oldridge, H, Barton on Humber.
  • Pease, T, Lock Lane, Castleford.
  • Raper, C, Hull.
  • Schofield Brothers, Lower Hopton, Mirfield.
  • Shaw, George, Thornes Lane, Wakefield.
  • Spencer and Baldwin, Leeds.
  • Spivey, H, Brighouse.
  • Thompson, T. and Company, Great Union Street, Drypool, Hull.
  • Thornton, J R, Skipton.
  • Wakefield Carrying Company Ltd., 24 Wesley Street, Belle Vue, Wakefield.
  • Waring, S, Brighouse.
  • Weldrick, William, Wesley Street, Belle Vue, Wakefield.
  • Wood, Albert, Canal Wharf, Sowerby Bridge.
  • Woodhead and Sons, Canal Road, Bradford.

The Tom Puddings continued in business on the Aire and Calder Navigation for many years, outliving the commercial traffic on most other canals, until the collapse of the coal industry led to their demise in 1986. Today the western part of the Navigation including the Leeds to Castleford section and much of the Wakefield branch is a pleasure to cruise, having almost entirely abandoned its commercial role. To the east, however, there is still plenty of commercial traffic. It is a fascinating Navigation with huge locks and a wealth of heritage to explore.

Present day Route:

  • Aire and Calder Main Line – Goole to Leeds (includes the Knottingley and Goole Canal)

Present day Branches (west to east)

  • Wakefield Branch – Castleford to Wakefield
  • River Aire – Knottingly to Chapel Haddlesey
  • Selby Canal – West Haddlesey to River Ouse at Selby
  • New Junction Canal – near Sykehouse to Sheffield and South Yorkshire Canal at Kirk Bramwith

Key Facts

  • Length 34 miles
  • Locks 11

Maximum boat dimensions (depending on water levels)

  • Length 61m 200ft 2″
  • Width 6.1m 20ft
  • Draught 2.5m 8ft 2″
  • Headroom 3.6m 11ft 9″


  • John Hadley
  • Samuel Shelton
  • John Rennie
  • George Leather
  • Thomas Hammond Bartholomew
  • William Hammond Bartholomew

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