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The Dearne and Dove Canal ran for almost ten miles through South Yorkshire, England from Swinton to Barnsley through nineteen locks, rising 127 yards.
The canal also had two short branches, the Worsbrough branch and the Elsecar branch, both about two miles long with reservoirs at the head of each. The Elsecar branch also has another six locks. The only tunnel was bypassed by a cutting in 1840. The canal was created mainly to carry cargo from the extensive coal mining industry in the area. Other cargo included pig iron and glass. A combination of railway competition and subsidence caused by the same mines it served forced the canal into a gradual decline, closing completely in 1961. Ironically, as the local coal industry also collapsed in the 1980s the canal was thrown a lifeline with the forming of the Barnsley Canal Group who are now attempting to restore the whole canal, an effort further boosted by the abandonment of the railway which replaced it. The idea of creating a navigable waterway to Barnsley was first proposed in 1773 by the Marquess of Rockingham. However the idea wasn't pursued any further until a meeting of the shareholders of the Don Navigation Company in 1792, where a canal from the River Don Navigation into Barnsley was proposed. At the same time the Aire & Calder Navigation company was considering a canal from Wakefield to Barnsley. On 20 October 1792, the rival companies held a famous meeting at the White Bear Inn (now the Royal Hotel) in Barnsley and agreed to join their canals just south of Barnsley and go forward with complementary proposals. These were to become the Dearne and Dove Canal and the Barnsley Canal. The canal obtained its Act of Parliament in June 1793 on the same day as the Barnsley Canal. Robert Mylne was appointed as chief engineer on the project. It was opened as far as Elsecar by 1798 and fully opened by 1804 at a cost of just under £100 000. It was shut briefly the following two summers due to a shortage of water. Built to carry coal, the canal was initially successful and by 1830 it carried 181 000 tons of cargo a year. The North Midland Railway opened in 1840 and this represented a major threat to the domination of the cargo trade by all the South Yorkshire navigations. Parts of the railway ran alongside the canal including at the tunnel near Adwick upon Dearne, which as a consequence was bypassed into a cutting. The canal was taken over by the Don Navigation Company in 1846 but competition from the railways lead to it being amalgamated with the Doncaster & Goole Railway Company four years later. The canal then passed through the hands of several different owners, mostly as part of the slow amalgamation of the railway companies. In 1889 an Act of Parliament put the canal under the control of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation Company along with the Sheffield Canal, the River Don Navigation, and the Stainforth and Keadby Canal. The start of the decline can be traced back to 1884 when a 25 yard stretch of the Worsbrough branch collapsed due to subsidence. It took 6 months and cost £19000 to repair. In 1906 the branch to Worsbrough closed due to the increasing cost of subsidence caused by local mining. The Elsecar branch was the next to close in 1928, also due to subsidence. The central section was closed in 1934 leaving only a mile at each end and by 1942 only the lower section was left open. It was formally closed in 1961 although traffic had ceased nine years before. Only the half mile to glassworks in Swinton was maintained. The canal suffered badly from subsidence in its later years due to mining activity. This also caused many bridges to be lowered. 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. 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 renamed to Barnsley, Deare & Dove Canals Trust in 2000. The two branches have faired far better than the main line since its closure. The more rural nature of these sections means that the land has been left relatively untouched. In parts of the main line problems of obstruction and poor maintenance means that alternative routes have been suggested. This is particularly acute in Wath-upon-Dearne and Wombwell, where road improvement schemes have utilised several miles of the former canal bed. The closure of all the local mines that the canal served means that further subsidence is no longer a problem. The abandonment of the railway line that replaced the canal in 1988 has given the canal 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. It is also being used as part of the Trans Pennine Trail. The canal is referred to as 'a vital missing link' by the Barnsley, Dearne & 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. So far the top two pounds and top lock have been restored and a launch ramp has been added in the top pound. Other parts such as the top of the Worsbrough branch have remained in good condition despite neglect. The whole canal, including both branches, is currently undergoing a feasibility study. Parts of the towpath also form sections of the Trans Pennine Trail. The reservoir at the top of the Elsecar branch has also been designated a local nature reserve by Barnsley Council and the area surrounding reservoir at the top of the Worsbrough branch has become Worsbrough Country Park. The canal started at a junction with the Don Navigation at Swinton. From there it passed through six locks before it passed through a 472 yard tunnel. This tunnel was bypassed in 1840 when the canal was diverted to run through the same cutting created to accommodate the railway. It then passed Manvers Main Colliery and entered Wath-upon-Dearne running parallel to Doncaster Road, before passing between rows of terraced houses past the town centre. It then looped north-west towards the middle of the valley, with a wide section on a high embankment which became known as the Bay of Biscay. After that it passed into Brampton and back onto the hillside. There were another four locks up to the junction with the Elsecar branch, which lay between Brampton and Wombwell at the junction of the Dearne Valley Parkway and the A633. The canal then passed Wombwell to the north of the town centre, and Aldham before arriving at the eight locks of the Stairfoot flight. At that point there followed the junction with the Worsbrough Branch. The canal then passed through the site of Stairfoot Rounderbout and headed towards Hoyle Mill where a final stop lock marks the boundary between the Dearne & Dove and Barnsley Canals. The Elsecar branch was built to serve the coal mines and so went past many of them. Starting in Brampton the branch passed Cortonwood Colliery (now a retail park). After passing below Hemingfield and the site of the Hemingfield Colliery it finished at Elsecar basin. The reservoir is about another half a mile from the basin past the heritage centre. The majority of the towpath is on the Elsecar Greenway, part of the Trans Pennine Trail. After leaving Stairfoot the Worsborugh branch passes through Swaithe and then passes under the Penistone Line. After this it ran alongside the River Dove until reaching Worsbrough Basin. The reservoir is just beyond the basin. In the survey done by the Barnsley Canal Group in 1987 it was established that the original route of the canal would be very difficult to restore. This is due in large part to canal land reclaimed by the council in the 1970s. Overtime, different proposals have been put forward as to a possible new route. These include the use of the River Dearne or the use of the Mexborough to Barnsley railway line, which was abandoned in 1988. A new feasibilty study presented its findings in November 2006. The route which they are currently considering now follows the old route through Swinton onto the old Manvers pit pony field where it will divert around the newly built Dearne Valley College and Call Centres. It will then divert around to the north of Wath-Upon-Dearne via the longest Aqueduct in the world to join up to its old route near what was once the Bay of Biscay. There would be relatively minor course corrections to the rest of the route through to Barnsley, although it would follow a parallel route to the original canal on this section.
Barnsley Canals Consortium
The Barnsley Canals Consortium is the name given to all the interested parties who are cooperating in order to restore the Dearne and Dove along with its sister canal the Barnsley. Its members include:- Barnsley, Dearne & Dove Canals Trust Inland Waterways Association Royston and Carlton Partnership Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council Wakefield City Council