The Huddersfield Narrow Canal

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal is an inland waterway in northern England. It runs just under 20 miles (32 km) from Lock 1E at the rear of the University of Huddersfield campus, near Aspley Basin in Huddersfield, to the junction with the Ashton Canal at Whitelands Basin in Ashton-under-Lyne. It crosses the Pennines by means of 74 locks and the Standedge Tunnel.

The canal was first proposed in 1793 at a meeting in the George Hotel, Huddersfield. Its engineer was Benjamin Outram on the recommendation of William Jessop. His plan was to start from the Huddersfield Broad Canal and follow the River Colne with a climb of 438 feet (134 m) to its summit where it would pass through a tunnel at Standedge before descending through Saddleworth and the Tame valley to the Ashton Canal near Ashton-under-Lyne. There were many woollen, worsted and cotton mills along its route which promised ample trade.

The canal operated for approximately 140 years. Although it was moderately successful for a while, its width (limited to boats less than 7 ft (2.1 m) wide), the large number of locks and the long Standedge Tunnel made it much less profitable than its main rival the Rochdale Canal which had a similar number of locks but was twice as wide with no long tunnel.

Standedge Tunnel proved to be a bottleneck having been constructed without a towpath. Narrowboats had to be ‘legged’ through, eventually by professionally employed leggers. A company employee would chain the tunnel entrance behind a convoy of boats and walk over Boat Lane, accompanied by boat boys and girls leading the boat horses, to unchain the opposite end of the tunnel before the boat convoy arrived. This journey was made at least twice per day for over twenty years.

The construction of a double railway tunnel parallel to Standedge canal tunnel adversely affected canal revenues and the canal was mostly abandoned in 1944 (a short stretch in Huddersfield survived until closure in 1963).

After 27 years of campaigning and restoration by the Huddersfield Canal Society, the canal was fully re-opened to navigation in 2001 when it again became one of three Pennine crossings, the others being the Rochdale and the Leeds and Liverpool (both broad canals). The canal is now entirely used by leisure boaters.

During the period of time when the canal was closed, several lengths were culverted and infilled and in some cases built over. Over the course of the restoration project, the vast majority of the obliterated line became available to be opened out again and the canal remains on a substantially identical alignment with some minor alterations.

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