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The Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation (S&SY) is a system of navigable inland waterways (canals and canalised rivers) in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, England.
Chiefly based on the River Don, it runs for a length of 43 miles (69 km) and has 27 locks.
The system consisted of five parts, four of which are still open to navigation today:- The River Don Navigation The Sheffield Canal (effectively abandoned in the early 1970s but re-vitalised since the 1990s) The Stainforth and Keadby Canal The New Junction Canal, The Dearne & Dove Canal (closed 1961).
The River Don Navigation Company had bought out the Dearne & Dove Canal in 1846, the Sheffield Canal in 1848, and leased the Stainforth and Keadby Canal in 1849.
They then amalgamated with the South Yorkshire, Doncaster and Goole Railway in 1850, to become the South Yorkshire Railway and River Dun Company.
This in turn was leased to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1864.
By the 1880s, there was dissatisfaction among the users that the rates for traffic were higher than on the railways, and the canals were failing to modernise, as steam boats were banned, despite them having been in use for 50 years on the neighbouring Aire & Calder Navigation.
A plan to upgrade the waterways to allow the use of 300 to 500 tonne boats led to the formation of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Canal Company Limited in November 1888. The cost of the scheme was estimated to be around £1 million, in addition to the cost of acquiring the canals from the railway company.
The new company obtained an Act of Parliament on 26 August 1889, creating the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation Company, which was authorised to raise £1.5 million and to purchase the four canals either by negotiation, or by compulsory purchase if negotiations failed. The railway company was unwilling to sell, and it was not until 1895, after protracted negotiation and legal battles that the transfer was agreed.
The Navigation Company had only succeeded in raising £625,000, which was less than the purchase price of the canals, and therefore the railway company nominated half of the ten directors, while the Aire and Calder Company declined to buy any shares because of railway influence. Many of the ambitious plans for the modernisation of the system were hindered by a lack of capital, although some further developments took place.
After being plagued with subsidence problems, poor water supply and railway competition, the company effectively abandoned the majority of the Dearne & Dove Canal in the 1930s, although formal closure did not take place until 1961.
In 1948 the company was nationalised and became a part of British Waterways.
By the 1960s traffic was dwindling and the official head of the main line of the navigation became the new steelworks at Aldwarke, below Rotherham.
Repeated proposals were made in the 1960s and 1970s to upgrade the system to allow larger vessels as far as Rotherham. Go-ahead was finally given in the early 1980s: the channel was deepened to 8 feet and the locks were rebuilt to take 700 ton vessels. A new wharf and freight terminal were built in Rotherham utilising the disused riverside bus depot as warehousing; various other facilities on the navigation below Rotherham were upgraded. The improvements were opened in 1983. Although these have received traffic sporadically since (and are still used in a limited fashion today), the upgrade was not the success that was hoped.
By the 1970s, boats rarely ventured above Rotherham. The effort made in the 1980s to attract traffic to the waterway below Rotherham did not extend to the stretch above the town: the locks remained suitable only for much smaller barges. Over time parts of the Sheffield Canal gradually slid towards dereliction through lack of use.
In 1990 there was a concerted effort by Sheffield City Council and British Waterways to revitalise the waterway, which brought traffic back to a redeveloped Sheffield Basin (now focussed on leisure and commercial activities and renamed Victoria Quays).
Today the system is open to navigation throughout the main line, the Stainforth and Keadby and New Junction canals, and is mostly used for leisure boating. Some commercial carrying does take place from the quarry at Cadeby and the wharves at Rotherham and Doncaster; plus there is an active commercial barge-yard at Swinton and leisure boatyard and boat-builder at Sheffield. In 2008–09 the system carried 290,000 tonnes of freight, of which 266,100 tonnes were limestone from Cadeby.
The Rother Link is a scheme that would see the River Rother upgraded to navigable status from Rotherham as far as Killamarsh, where a short canal would link to the Chesterfield Canal to complete a leisure cruising circuit.
A canal restoration group is also seeking the re-opening of the Dearne & Dove Canal, has performed some restoration work at Elsecar and commissioned an engineer's report into reopening.