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The Driffield Navigation is an 18 km (11 mile) waterway, through the heart of the Holderness Plain to the market town of Driffield, East Riding of Yorkshire, England.
The Driffield Navigation is an extension to the River Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It runs from the end of Aike Beck, near Beverley and continues through the Holderness Plain up to the small market town of Driffield.
There are branches off to Corps Landing, and North Frodingham. The Leven Canal leaves the navigation, in the tidal river section 2 miles north of Hull Bridge.
The River Hull has long been used for transport, but in 1767 an act of parliament was made law. The preamble read: An Act for improving the Navigation of the River Hull and Frodingham Beck, from Aike Beck Mouth to the Clough, on the East Corner of Fisholme, and for extending the said Navigation, from the said Clough, into or near the Town of Great Driffield, in the East Riding of the County of York.
The navigation was to become an amentity for the town, and people of Driffield, and so commissioners were appointed. They ran the canal, and were responsible for borrowing the money to build the navigation, and to leavy tolls based on tonnage of cargo.
The original plans for the canal section of the navigation allowed for 4 locks. Each lock was timber floored, and built to Yorkshire Keel dimensions. Sheepwash Lock (now known as Town Lock), Whinhill Lock, Wansford Lock & Snakeholme Lock.
Trade in the early years did not develop as rapidly as had been hoped. Many of the problems to the development of traffic in these early years stemmed from the restrictions imposed by the Hull Bridge, near Tickton, and the shallow depth of the navigation due to silting. These factors, coupled with the short period of time either side of high tide that vessels could gain access to the Navigation through Snakeholme Lock, made the need for modification to the Navigation obvious.
Dredging was performed down to Aike Beck, and rather than build a new lock further downstream, the lock at Snakeholme was made into a staircase. This lower chamber with a deeper cill allowed vessels to use it over a greater range in water levels.
The Commissioners also wanted to extend the Navigation down to Hull Bridge, but the Beverley Corporation - the owners of the bridge - opposed the suggestion.
In 1801, after a prolonged stoppage at Hull Bridge, an act was created to improve the Navigation. This allowed the Commissioners to rebuild Hull Bridge within 6 years, to build a new lock at Struncheon Hill, and to create a new lock cut.
Hull Bridge was replaced in 1803, and the other works completed in 1805. Traffic increased, and even with the advent of the railway in 1846, the canal continued to flourish. However by 1870, trade started to fall off. By 1922 the tolls were £714 and the profits £88. In 1931 receipts were £414 and the profits down to £11.
With less traffic, lower profits, and little prospect of a growth in trade, maintenance standards fell. By 1937 the Locks and Bridges were in a poor state of repair. A report in 1939 records that the canal was weedy throughout its entire length. Water began to leak through the Banks between Whinhill and Snakeholme Lock and a real danger to the surrounding land drainage was evident.
Some dredging was carried out during the early 1940’s but this did little to improve the condition of the Canal.
The last commercial craft to reach Driffield was the Keel 'Caroline' loaded with 50 tons of wheat on 16th March 1945. The last commercial craft on the Navigation was the vessel 'Ousefleet', delivering coal to Frodingham Wharf during the period to December 1951.
With the demise of commercial navigation, the interest of the Commissioners waned. In 1955 an unauthorised fixed bridge was built across the navigation at Whinhill but the IWA received the assurance that, if at any future date the navigation was reopened to Driffield, the bridge would be removed. The major obstruction to the renewal of the navigation to Driffield was incurred in 1967, when the County Council replaced the bridge which carries the public right of way over the Navigation at Wansford with a fixed bridge. As this action was taken without the agreement of a quorum of Commissioners the legality of the step must be questioned. Only a Court could adjudicate on this action.
In 1968 the Driffield Navigation Amenities Association was formed to help restore the canal back to navigation. Volunteers kept the remaining navigation structures working to allow navigation to Brigham, and North Frodingham, but only in the last few years grants have been available to restore new sections.
In 1996 Town Lock was restored completely by volunteers and fund raising. This effort helped to obtain further grants, and in 2003 two major obstacles were officially opened. Brigham swing bridge, last opened in the 1960's and then replaced by a fixed structure in the 1970's was restored to full operation. This allows navigation to Snakeholme lock, 1.2 miles away. Snakeholme lock was official opened later the same year, though a fixed bridge over the tail of the lock limits headroom to 6 foot. There are plans to replace it with a swing bridge.
In 2005, Whinhill Lock was restored, and opened to navigation. Unfortunately another fixed farm access bridge has been placed over the lock chamber, and limits use to boats of 4.6 m (15 feet) in length or less.
The necessary funding to restore the lock at Wansford was secured in mid 2008 and work commenced later the same year. The first priority was the creation of a flood relief channel (bywash) around the south side of the lock to carry the excess flow during periods of heavy rain. This work was completed in autumn 2008.
The final stages of the restoration were completed during spring and early summer of 2009. The new gates were installed during April and May and considerable restoration work was carried out on the north wall of the lock chamber. The stop planks were removed and lock commissioned on 30 May 2009 with the first boat in over 60 years entering the lock.