The Inland Waterways at Mexborough
In bygone days our roads at best were dusty cart tracks, and at worse a quagmire which a horse could fall into, and where carts and drays would become stuck fast. Some areas being worse than others to the point where their notoriety was put into verse, as in the children's nursery rhyme "Dr. Foster Went To Gloucester".
It is little wonder then that goods, where ever possible, were transported by the safer, easier, and faster mode of transport, the inland waterway. It is as early as between the C.14 and C.15th. that we first find mention of this, and it is discovered in the records of York Minster that during construction, stone was transported from Doncaster by boat to York along the River Don (or as it was known then Dunn).
During the C.17th a Dutchman by the name of Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, was invited to come to this country in order to drain Hatfield Chase, to make it into a hunting park for the king. This created flooding, and to alleviate this he constructed the Dutch River which joined the River Don to the River Humber via the Ouse, thus enabling industry easier access to the international port of Hull and its foreign trade.
Its potential was first recognised by Sir Godfrey Copley of Sprotbrough, M.P. for Thirsk, who in 1697 put it to parliament that the River Don should be made navigable in order to enable South Yorkshire to move its saleable goods more easily. But this was unsuccessful.
Then in 1722 the Company of Cutlers in Sheffield approached parliament as they needed to transport their manufactured goods of pig and forge iron, edge tools, nails, cutlery, pig lead, red and white lead, and silk, by the cheapest, safest, and most rapid form of transport at that time, the inland navigation - in this case the River Don.
Objections to the navigation in Sheffield were raised by the Duke of Norfolk, who was both the principal land and mill owner of the city. His objection being that if a cut was built around the River Don at Sheffield to avoid mills then a large amount of water would be taken from the river and make these water powered mills inoperable. So the decision was taken to abandon this stretch of water and concentrate on those downstream, thus Tinsley, which In 1726 the Act was passed by parliament thanks to help from various sources, one of these being the Duke of Devonshire who steered it through. The following year the Corporation of Doncaster also applied to make the river navigable and by 1729 the navigation was completed to Mexborough, the final stretch to Tinsley being finished by 1751.
In 1722, in order to show parliament both the river as it was and what was proposed to improve it for navigational purposes, William Palmer and Partners were commissioned to undertake a survey of the river. This was a colossal undertaking, reflected only by the size of the completed map which is 7ft. 3in. x 13in. There are two differing versions of this map and I believe that two surveys must have been completed, one for The Company of Cutlers and the other for the Corporation of Doncaster. These surveys to the local historian are invaluable as they depict the Don Valley as it stood at the beginning of the C.18th. and clearly shows a Corn Mill, Iron Forge, Slit Mills, and Tilt Hammer at Kilnhurst, with another mill to be found on the bend of the river behind what is now the station at Mexborough. A map now in the possession of the Borthwick Institute at York dated 1778, clearly shows that it was necessary to dig a canal from Kilnhurst to a point close to the parish church at Mexborough in order to avoiding these obstructions, this was known as Kilnhurst Long Cut.
By September 1730 the Sheffield Company and the Corporation of Doncaster had amalgamated into one and in 1732 it officially became the Don Company and set its own tolls for those using the waterway. Iron, steel, cutlery, horns, boxwood, cheese, salt, and other groceries, plus tallow and wine, all paid a toll of 3 shillings (15p) per ton. Coal was is 6d ( 7.5p). English timber was is (5p) per ton. Lastly Derbyshire lead was is 6d (7.5p) per fodder.
In 1758 the committee met to discuss finance, this included the better supervision of the taking of tolls etc. and for the first time men were employed as Lock Keepers, Wharfingers and Porters. Then in 1765 the river was deepened throughout, warehouses were built at Swinton and new bridges at Denaby.
This area of the country was already producing large quantities of coal, plus iron and steel, and problems with transporting these goods using the navigation had been evident for a while. For example the navigation had to be closed for four months during 1761/62 due to lack of water in the river, causing boats to run aground, also on various occasions owners of water powered mills had drained the cuts in order to operate their mills. This meant that large amounts of coal could not be transported and work at steam driven iron and steel mills had to be stopped temporarily. The latter half of the C.18th. brought war with France, in all its guises, where vast amounts of these commodities were needed for weaponry and problems with their transportation could not be allowed to continue.
To alleviate this problem it was necessary to dig canals. The first one was proposed to join the River Don to the Trent in order to get coal from South Yorkshire to the Trent area. Another was proposed between the River Don at Conisbrough up the Deanne Valley to Barnsley, but nothing came of either plan. In c1775 the Don and the Aire and Calder Navigation, sponsored the idea of joining the Calder to the Don, and the Don to the Trent, and in 1793 parliament gave permission for funds to
be raised for the digging of the Deanne and Dove Canal from Swinton to Barnsley, which was opened eleven years later in 1804. Almost simultaneously in 1798 permission was given by parliament, this time to raise funds for the Stainforth to Keadby Canal which was opened in 1802.
Vast amounts of coal were needed by Sheffield to fire its furnaces used in its iron and steel mills, but barges carrying this could get no further than Tinsley, the rest of the journey being completed by cart which was long and cumbersome. So, to assist industry and to encourage expansion, in 1815 the Navigation secured an Act to construct a canal from Tinsley to Sheffield and four years later on 22nd. February 1819 the canal was ceremonially opened by the a string of seven barges lead by the Industry of Thorne entering Sheffield Basin, so for the first time it was possible to sail a keel almost into the centre of Sheffield.
Large sea going barges were now using parts of the river for the first time and alterations had to take place in order for it to cope, or barges would use the
Barnsley Canal in order to get to and from the Humber. Firstly an Act was procured from parliament in 1821 for cuts to be placed on the river at Arksey, Arksey Ings, and Barnby Dun. Following the success of these in 1826, permission was sought for the Company to make further cuts north of Doncaster and to abandon the line of the old river from Mexborough, this was the time when the canal as we know it was cut and it was completed in 1834.
As a steam engine could pull more than a barge could carry, railways came to this area early in their history and their rise brought the demise of the canals. The first railway in South Yorkshire was to have been constructed between Sheffield and Goole, along the Don Valley, but this was not taken up and it was the North Midland who eventually opened their railway with a station at Swinton in 1840, with the primary purpose to carry coal. For the first time the canals of our area had a serious threat to their wellbeing, to compete and to encourage businessmen to use the canal in favour of the faster railway system the toll charges were reduced, and for a time this was successful. But the canals had had their day as railway after railway was opened, in 1849 came the railway to Doncaster and the following year in 1850 the Railway Commissioners issued an official certificate to the South Yorkshire, Doncaster, and Goole Railway stating its amalgamation with the Don Company and its subsidiary canals, so ending 120 years of transport history. Different things have been tried to revive it, including in 1886, plans for a Sheffield to Goole Ship Canal on the same lines as the Manchester Ship Canal. In 1930 there were improvements made at Sprotbrough, Doncaster, and Bramwith. Then in 1983 it was deepened and widened from Goole to Rotherham in order to take barges with a capacity to take 700 tons but with the closure of the pits this also failed and the death of the inland waterway for cargo carrying craft was finalised.
Next month I will try to inform you of what all the changes brought about by the navigation and the construction of the canals, brought to the everyday person of our area.
At the beginning of our last meeting Vera Mown our Vice Chairman read out a message from me stating that all society news in our new Mexis Newsletter would be found on the back page, and here as promised it is.
On 12th.Sept. many of us went on an excursion to York, some going to the orvik Centre to see a display of Viking. York life, others to more recently opened places such as Barley Hall close to the Minster and Shambles. The hall is named after Professor Maurice Barley the founding Chairman of the York Archaeological Trust, and it is they who discovered the hall. In /987 it was a derelict plumbers' workshop which was going to be demolished. It had been found that most of it was mediaeval and now through the efforts of the York Archaeological Trust it has been brought back to its former glory and escorted tours may be taken or if you wish a tape recorder may be loaned, this tells the history of the hall in theatrical play form, the main characters of which are Robert Hardy and Dame Judy Dench.
Others of our group went to the Castle Museum which has recently had an extension constructed. Here can be found the history of chocolate, Cadbury's, Rowntree's, Terry's, and Macintosh's.
The 2nd. October brought our annual break, and this year it was to the Portsmouth area. On our way down we called in. at Winchester the seat of our Sawn Kings. The forerunner of The Houses of Parliament known as The Great Hall can be found here containing the Round Table and magnificent stained glass windows, among these the Montagu Coat of Arms.
Saturday morning was spent at the Fishbourne Roman Palace which contains some of the best Roman Mosaic flooring anywhere in the world. The afternoon was free and found some
at Portchester Castle where The Ermine Street Guard could be seen with Cavalrymen, and ancient artillery But some preferred to return to Seaport and the D. Day Museum, while others like myself took a boat tour of Portsmouth Harbour, and some adventurous ones even went. by Hovercraft to the Isle of Wight.
Sunday saw us at Portsmouth Harbour looking around the Victory and being shown a cannon emblazoned with the W.co. of Walker's of Masborough. The Mary Rose I had first seen on T.V. in the early 70's and had avidly followed its progress over the years, now to actually see it and also the vast amount of everyday things used by normal working people which I had last seen on the sea bed, was a great thrill and I could have stayed there all day.
We all have thoroughly enjoyed our excursions and weekend breaks and the Trips Sub - Committee are to be congratulated both for their organisational skills and at times their patience, watching Fawlty Towers will never be the same again.
The excursions and weekend breaks were originally arranged to raise money for the society, and the members who have attended them have all enjoyed themselves, but unfortunately not sufficient numbers have attended and some have even run at a loss, therefore it has been the committee's unpleasant duty to take the decision that next year there is to be no weekend break and only one excursion, the venue of which has still to be decided.
Last Christmas came the sad loss of our Chairperson Joyce Thompson and a memorial to her was decided upon, if possible this was to be in Mexborough Parish Church. At first a stained glass window or panel was thought of, but there is an abundance there and in May we were informed that there was no need for this item. In June we came
upon the idea of obtaining a silver and gold gilt christening scoop for the church in her honour, but on 8th. Oct. we were informed that as the church already had two that this number was quite sufficient. Negotiations are continuing. this time with our new vicar Father David Wise,. and we are. hopeful. of a successful outcome.
It is rumoured that the landlord of the New Masons Arms where our meetings take place, will shortly be leaving, and it is with this in mind that some of your committee members attended a meeting of Mexborough groups, all of which are interested in obtaining a new civic hall or community centre in Mexborough. The meeting was successful and we left in an optimistic mood. Another meeting is planned for 3rd. November.
Information obtained from: The Development of Inland Navigation in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire 1697-1850 by G G Hopkinson MA
The Early History of the River Don Navigation by T S Willan.
Notes made by Mike Taylor.