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The Stainforth and Keadby Canal is a navigable canal in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, England. It connects the River Don Navigation at Bramwith to the River Trent at Keadby, by way of Stainforth, Thorne and Ealand, near Crowle.
The River Don, which flows through Sheffield and Doncaster, had originally emptied into the River Trent near Adlingfleet, close to its junction with the River Ouse.
Following the work of the Dutch drainage engineer Cornelius Vermuyden to drain Hatfield Chase, a new channel was cut for the Don from Thorne northwards to the River Aire, passing through Newbridge. The scheme was not entirely successful, and after severe flooding near Sykehouse, Fishlake and Snaith, accompanied by riots, a new channel was cut between Newbridge and the River Ouse near what became Goole. The old course of the Don gradually silted up.
Navigation on the Don was improved by the construction of cuts and locks, with the lowest lock situated at Stainforth. From there to the Ouse, boats used the Dutch River, Vermuyden's artificial drain, which was hazardous due to its fast flows, its tides and its shallowness at times.
The idea of reconnecting the Don to the Trent was first raised in 1763, when James Brindley assisted the manager of the River Don Navigation to survey a route for a canal to do this. In 1772 a second survey was made, this time by John Thompson, the Don Navigation's engineer, for a canal from Stainforth to Althorpe, some 1.5 miles (2.4 km) above Keadby on the River Trent.
An agreement to build the canal, which would have had three locks and cost £14,614, was reached, but no further action occurred. The plan was revived in 1792, by which time the cost had risen to £24,000, and an Act of Parliament to authorise the work was obtained in 1793. This allowed the Stainforth and Keadby Canal Navigation Company to raise £24,000 by issuing shares, and a further £12,000 if necessary. Work began at the Keadby end in late 1793. A second Act, obtained in 1798, allowed the company to raise an additional £20,000 from shareholders, instead of the original £12,000, and to raise £10,000 by mortgage. The canal opened without ceremony in early 1802.
The canal had a lock at Thorne and another where it joined the River Trent at Keadby. This lock had four sets of gates, so that it could be used whether the level of the river was higher or lower than that of the canal. It could take keels up to 81 by 22.5 feet (25 by 6.9 m), which could carry up to 200 tons.
In 1828, there was a proposal to build a canal from West Stockwith on the River Trent to the River Don at Doncaster, which would have bypassed the Stainforth and Keadby. There was also a plan for a lower Don bypass, to connect direct to the Goole Canal, avoiding the difficult Dutch River.
Neither scheme progressed any further, but the Keadby end of the canal was improved, and a new deep water jetty was constructed on the Trent in 1833. Traffic improved, with boats using the canal as an easier way to reach the Don than the Dutch River.
The Don Navigation Company then proposed a new canal from Stainforth to the River Ouse at Swinefleet in 1836. They needed to buy 2 miles (3.2 km) of the Stainforth and Keadby from the Don towards Stainforth, and started to negotiate, while applying for an Act of Parliament. The Stainforth and Keadby opposed the bill, and an agreement was reached in May 1836 that the Don would buy the whole canal for £48,000. A bill to authorise the sale was opposed by some of the Stainforth and Keadby shareholders and was rejected by the House of Lords. After several more abortive plans at amalgamation, where the Stainforth and Keadby pulled out at the last minute, agreement was finally reached, and the Don Navigation took control of the canal on 1 January 1849. A year later, it became part of the South Yorkshire Railway and River Don Company, after the Don Navigation and the Doncaster and Goole Railway companies merged.
Under an Act of Parliament of 1874, the South Yorkshire company was absorbed into the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Traffic held up surprising well, with the waterways carrying a total of 982,000 tons in 1878, but there was a growing dissatisfaction with the situation, particularly the high tolls compared to the railways, and the refusal to allow steam haulage, which had been in use on the Aire & Calder Navigation for over 50 years. In an attempt to improve the situation, the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Canal Company Ltd was formed in 1888, with the intention of buying back the canals from the railway company, and upgrading them to offer effective competition to the railways. As a result of their efforts, the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation Co was created by an Act of Parliament dated 26 August 1889, with powers to raise £1.5 million to purchase and improve four canals.
These were the Sheffield Canal, the River Don Navigation, the Dearne & Dove Canal and the Stainforth and Keadby Canal. The intention was to upgrade the Don and the Stainforth and Keadby to take 300 or 400 ton barges, to investigate the use of compartment boats, and to build a new port facility at Keadby, where coal could be trans-shipped to sea-going vessels. Negotiations with the railway company were long and bitter, and the Navigation company only managed to raise £625,000 of the £1.14 million purchase price, with the result that although they owned the waterways, the railway company still nominated five of the ten directors.
During the protracted negotiations, the company had also been talking to the Aire & Calder Navigation about compartment boats, which resulted in a proposal to jointly fund and build a canal from Bramwith to the Aire and Calder. The 5.5-mile (8.9 km) New Junction Canal was authorised in 1891, and finally opened in 1905. This removed the need to build a new port at Keadby, and the planned upgrade to take larger vessels was also shelved, because the company were unable to raise significant working capital.
Despite the lack of investment and the difficulties of the First World War, the waterways were still quite busy, with traffic recovering from 381,727 tons in 1926, the year of the general strike, to over 800,000 tons in 1937.
Bramwith lock, the first on the Stainforth and Keadby, was lengthened in 1932, and a new colliery layby was constructed to enable compartment boats to reach Hatfield Main Colliery. Stainforth lock, which connected the canal to the River Don, was closed in 1939.
After the Second World War, the canals were nationalised on 1 January 1948. The winter was particularly severe, and the Stainforth and Keadby was closed for a period in late 1947 due to ice.
The S&K canal is now part of the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation. It is little used for commercial carrying, but as it is part of the fully-connected network of English and Welsh canals, narrowboating holidaymakers can reach Keadby from as far away as Bristol, Llangollen, Lancaster, Ripon or London.