Canal history

The Great Wall of Todmorden, 1881, during major works. Photo courtesy of Pennine Horizons Digital Archive.The Great Wall of Todmorden, 1881, during major works. Photo courtesy of Pennine Horizons Digital Archive.

Special features

Hebden Wharf

William Patchett’s will of 1825 refers to “a timber yard Coal Staith and Wharf with the buildings”. When Hebden Wharf was in use it had a loading basin or arm, sufficient for one boat, where the dry dock now is. After the cessation of trade, the wharf became the site for the Central Garage, which used the old arm as the location for an underground fuel storage tank. Later, at the time of the restoration through Hebden Bridge, the arm was restored and a slipway and dry-dock incorporated. In recent times several large vessels have been lifted into or out of the water by crane at this site, now usually referred to as Hebden Bridge ‘Marina’. The adjacent building called Butler’s Wharf has no apparent connection with the canal, nor is a Mr Butler known of. The last wharfinger employed at the wharf was a Mr Thomas Morgan.

Black Pit Aqueduct

This aqueduct is one of the principal aqueducts on the canal and comprises a low four-arched structure over the River Calder, just below its confluence with the Hebden Water. It is particularly wide, with a footpath on the opposite side to the towing path, and is strongly built. This may have been Jessop ensuring the safety of this aqueduct as an earlier one to his design across the Derwent on the Cromford canal had collapsed during construction and had to be rebuilt at his own expense.

Of special note is the carved stone head on the north face of the aqueduct, facing towards Black Pit. The position is strange, as it cannot be easily seen from any vantage point then extant (it can now be seen from the school playground). It has been suggested that the true meaning of the stone head is much deeper, that it is there in some way to guard and protect the aqueduct,. This fits in with the ancient Celtic mysticism connected with carved stone heads and this tradition seems to have lingered on even to the start of the nineteenth century. Certainly, when the rivers are in full spate, the whirlpool created at the confluence is a frightening and dangerous sight.

Hebble End and the Neptune Inn

Passing along the canal towards Hebble End, the major structure adjacent to the aqueduct is the former Central Dyeworks, recently converted into apartments, having been disused after a fire in March 1967. This conversion is typically ‘Hebden Bridge’, as it has no road access except by arrangement along the towing path. The large boulder at the western end of the aqueduct was put there specifically as a deterrent to vehicles attempting to pass that way.

Next, there is a small street of houses, Fountain Street, with its own curious iron bridge over the River Calder. This bridge was originally built to allow goods to be taken to and from the now demolished Salem Mill. The Alternative Technology Centre in Hebble End Works specialises in green technology and recycling.

In 1790 there was an important meeting promoting the idea of the canal which was held in a building at Hebble End. It is often supposed that the meeting was in the Neptune Inn, but the inn was not built by then. The Neptune Inn is now a private home near the canal bridge. The meeting was probably held in the building which can be seen n the towpath with the windows level with and overlooking the towing path.

Guillotine gate at Todmorden Library Lock No. 19

The road was widened here in the 1920s; to allow the lock to remain full length it is believed that a guillotine, or vertically rising, gate was installed. This vertically-rising gate takes up much less space than the conventional mitred gates at the head of the lock. The lock chamber itself can be shorter, as there is no need for room for the gates to swing inwards, nor is there need for space for the balance beams to be moved. This guillotine gate would have remained in place until the canal was abandoned in 1952 and the bottom gates of most of the locks removed.

IN 1982, the then Manpower Services Commission was employing young and unemployed people on Job Creation Schemes throughout the country. Calderdale council, together with the West Yorkshire County Council became joint sponsors of a scheme to work on canal restoration in Calderdale. The scheme was operated under the control of the Calderdale engineer, Dick Booth. This lock was chosen as the first to be restored. It was not practicable to re-install the guillotine gate, so mitre gates were installed in the ‘short lock’ gate recesses for ease and economy. The lock could not be extended uphill as the river is culverted under the canal just above the top gates.

Unfortunately, this meant that the lock could only be used by boats up to 60ft (narrowboat lying diagonally in the lock). However, the canal was landlocked with long-term blockages at each end, and no boats longer than this were moving on the canal, so the decision made sense. It was decided that in the full restoration the mitre bottom gates would be replaced by the new guillotine gate to allow full-length boats through once more. [Photo]. This was done in 1997. Since the opening of Tuel Lane lock in May 1996, boats have had access from the rest of the canal system. Unfortunately this was still limited to 60ft or under (for narrowboats) or 57ft 6in for wide-beam craft by the locks on the Calder & Hebble.

Guillotine gates are not very common on the inland waterways; local examples are at Salterhebble, on the Calder & Hebble navigation and at Slaithwate on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Again, both of these were put in place as a result of road-widening schemes.

The Slaithwaite gate was built by the same contractors(Wilde & Partners) who built the gate for Library Lock. Elsewhere this type of gate is used on the bottom gates of River Nene locks to aid in flood control. More unusual examples are on a non-operational stop lock at King’s Norton Junction near Birmingham and for flood protection of the aqueduct at Sykehouse on the Stainforth and Keadby Canal. Most guillotine gates are power-operated, usually by the boater, but the lock at Salterhebble was hand-wound until a few years ago.

Another feature of particular interest, presumably created by the road widening, is the separate horse tunnel or towing-path tunnel. This separation of the path from the canal would have made towing difficult, but by the time of the road widening, horse towage was being superseded by powered vessels.

Fielden Wharf

Fielden wharf after the canal closed was a ramshackle assortment of buildings, fronted to the road by a restaurant. The derelict buildings behind the wharf were cleared following the initial restoration and basic facilities for boaters installed. The restaurant closed in 2000, and the area again became undesirable and prone to vandalism.

Now the restored and improved Fielden Wharf is used by local people, visitors and boat-owners. It offers a canal-side amenity with moorings and sanitary facilities for boat users, flower beds, picnic tables, and a number of sculptures designed by a local artist and school children. Todmorden Pride was keen to make sure that the wharf was seen as a public open space, and involved lots of local groups to provide support.

The project received a commendation in the ‘Community’ category at the British Urban Regeneration Association Waterways Renaissance Awards Ceremony. The awards commend best practice in sustainable waterway regeneration and development throughout the UK.

The Great Wall of Todmorden

This imposing embankment wall is seen in views looking along the canal, and is particularly in evidence looking west from just above Library Lock. It was built to carry the railway along the valley edge and it was calculated at the time that about 4 million bricks were used in its construction. Following completion of the Summit Tunnel the line was opened throughout from Manchester to Normanton on 1st March 1841. The embankment has had to be maintained from time to time and a photograph from about 1880 shows the wall being partially rebuilt.