I’ll journey some distance to hear Mike Spick, the distinguished Sheffield local historian, and indeed I travelled as far as Chesterfield when he gave his Sheffield Canal presentation to the North-East Derbyshire Industrial Archaeological Society.
At the risk of showing disrespect I took issue when Mike referred to the Worksop Road Aqueduct as “T’ackydoc”. The “t’” may be useful in print, but in Attercliffe dialect it was a pure glottal stop, as in “Weer’s thi dad?” “Is on ’closet.”
Otherwise I listened to Mike’s presentation with admiration for the accuracy of his account, the richness of his illustrations and his adept use of PowerPoint to animate and explain.
The Sheffield & Tinsley Canal, not quite four miles long, climbs from the River Don at Tinsley, very near to the latter-day M1 viaduct and the much-lamented cooling towers that were demolished in 2008, by a flight of eleven (originally twelve) locks to its terminus on the edge of Sheffield city centre.
For over a century before it was built the nearest navigable waterway was the River Don Navigation at Tinsley; the next nearest was the River Idle at Bawtry, over twenty miles away.
The canal was financially supported and its route along the south side of the Don Valley was directly influenced by the estate of the Duke of Norfolk, the ground-landlord for much of Sheffield.
To please the Duke a branch canal was built to his Tinsley Park collieries. The course of the Greenland Arm is now Greenland Road, part of the Sheffield ring-road.
Authorised in 1815, four years after Attercliffe Common was enclosed, the Sheffield Canal opened with much celebration in 1819.
It was the first effective means of breaking Sheffield’s physical isolation, surrounded by seven hills.
Its heyday lasted barely twenty years, until the Sheffield & Rotherham Railway opened in 1839, following (as it still does) the north side of the valley.
For thirty years Sheffield passengers and goods headed east to Retford or north to Rotherham in order to travel south to London. Only in 1870 did the Midland Railway complete its direct line from Chesterfield, the present-day route via Dronfield that to this day is known to railwaymen as the “New Road”.
The canal continued to serve the city under railway ownership well into the twentieth century. Indeed, a new warehouse was built, for lack of anywhere else to put it, over the quay in 1896 and is known for obvious reasons as the Straddle Warehouse.
The last commercial cargo went down the canal in 1980. It never became unnavigable but it was practically derelict by the time the opening scene of The Full Monty was filmed near Bacon Lane in 1997.
Now, as part of the regeneration of the Lower Don Valley, the canal has become almost unrecognisably emparked. The terminal basin is a marina called Victoria Quays, presumably commemorating the defunct Victoria railway station. The Quays, like the former station, is out on a limb, not easily accessible from the city centre.
There are hotel boats offering an alternative pied-â-terre to the corporate hotels, and a trip-boat offering “cruising for all occasions”, along the surprisingly silvan Attercliffe Cutting, over ’Ackydoc and down the locks to Tinsley.
In fact, it’s an ideal venue for a birthday party.
The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield. For details, please click here.