Chesterfield Canal Partnership


AINA Representative: Dr Geraint Coles - Development Manager

Hollingwood Lock House,
22 Works Road,
S43 2PF
Telephone: 01246 477 569  or  07747 765 567


Description and a brief history of the navigation

The Chesterfield Canal opened in 1777 and ran for 46 miles from a wharf on the outskirts of Chesterfield to West Stockwith on the River Trent. The River Trent provided a connection with the rest of the UK Inland Waterways network.


To modern eyes the Chesterfield Canal runs somewhat awkwardly west to east across the strong north-south grain of the surrounding country. This reflects the trade patterns established in this area by the 1300’s. At that time the fledgling Lead and Iron industries of North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire found their main outlets via pack horse to the inland port of Bawtry at the head of reliable navigation on the River Idle. From Bawtry cargoes where dispatched to Hull and onward to eastern England, London and the Low Countries. In return Bawtry imported goods from throughout Europe and Scandinavia. By1350 it was one of the principal ports for South Yorkshire & North East Derbyshire.

The River Idle navigation underwent improvement during the late 1600’s but trade from South Yorkshire fell away with the improvements to the River Dun (Don) undertaken from 1720’s onwards. Trade from Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire began to be hampered by the poor state of the roads to Bawtry and high tolls on the Dun Navigation. In Chesterfield thoughts began to turn to replacing the road with a canal and by 1768 there was sufficient local interest to engage the services of a civil engineer; James Brindley.

By 1768 James Brindley had an enviable reputation and many schemes were clamouring for his services. As a result he sent one of his assistants, John Varley, to undertake the initial survey. In early 1769 Varley surveyed a route from Chesterfield to Shireoaks that was almost identical to the route eventually constructed. At Shireoaks, following his brief to survey a “water way to Bawtry”, his proposed route turned north east across open country to reach the shallow valley of the Ryton which he then followed to the Idle and Bawtry.

In December 1768 the notion of the canal began to circulate in Retford. Inspired by a visit to the Bridgwater Canal the headmaster of Retford Grammar School, the Reverend Seth Ellis Stevenson, began a vigorous campaign to bring the canal to Retford. Approaches to the Chesterfield promoters brought a positive response and by June 1769 Varley was again in the field this time searching out a route via Worksop and Retford to West Stockwith.

In August when the first public meeting was held in Worksop to promote the canal Brindley supported the Retford route. At that same meeting parties from Gainsborough made strong representations that the canal should terminate on the Trent at Gainsborough not West Stockwith. There followed a brief but spirited campaign between the two camps which was settled by the further intervention of the Reverend Stevenson. When, in January 1770, Brindley spoke to another crowded meeting at the Crown in Retford he was able to announce that the route would be Chesterfield -- Worksop -- Retford -- West Stockwith.

Building the Canal

The early records of the canal company have survived and provide an almost unique insight into the construction of the canal. They show the struggles of local shareholders to come to terms with this new technology and to overcome the inevitable crises which followed the death of James Brindley in 1772.

At first sight the Chesterfield Canal appears to be a typical early meandering contour canal, however, it also displays civil engineering features which presage the later, straighter, cut and fill canals. These include the overall boldness of the route, the first extensive use of locks in multiple flights and the use of embankments and cuttings to shorten the line. In consequence the physical remains of the canal include several pioneering civil engineering features and unique survivals of late 18th century canal construction. Many of these structures are listed ancient monuments.

Brindley’s death in 1772 resulted in the works being carried to completion by his assistants Varley and Henshall and it is a moot point if some of the innovations seen on the canal where designed by Brindley or were the work of his assistants. Whatever their origins, the civil engineering innovations on this canal warrant greater recognition.

Opened for Business

The Chesterfield Canal opened in 1777 and faced an early struggle caused by the economic recession which followed the loss of the American colonies. Nevertheless, within ten years the canal began to show sound dividends and a steady trade in all manner of goods was established, including:

  • Agricultural produce
  • Malt
  • Hops
  • Sail Cloth
  • Gravel
  • Bricks and Tiles
  • Coal and Coke
  • Iron Ore
  • Iron Bar and Cast Iron products
  • Lead
  • Lime
  • Marble

From the outset the canal had several short branch canals or arms of which the Norbriggs Cutting at Mastin Moor was the longest at 1 ¼ miles. Shorter arms led to coal wharfs at Killamarsh (Church Lane) and Staveley (Bellhouse Lane, Lowgates) and stone quarries at Cinder Hill and Lady Lee, near Worksop.

Much of the trade in Derbyshire reached the canal via an intricate network of feeder tramways, plateways and railways, including the earliest know “raile way” in Derbyshire from Norbriggs Wharf to Norbriggs Colliery and dating from 1789. These tramway feeders mostly brought coal to the canal although the tramway from Whittington which terminated near Bilby Bridge brought iron castings and glass to the canal as well. These tramways flourished from the 1790’s through to the 1830’s and 40’s when several appear on the first Ordnance Survey maps. Most went out of use by the 1850’s but one or two lingered on until the 1870’s.

The Coming of the “Stephenson” Railways

Long distance railway competition arrived in the 1840’s with the opening of the North Midland Railway from Derby to Leeds. After initial attempts by the company to seek powers to convert the canal into a railway by 1842 the canal company had settled on an agreed sale to what was to become the Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway.

Initially this stimulated additional activity on the canal; the railway company opening a new interchange wharf near Kiveton Park Station and attempts where made to compete with the Midland Railway. This boom was short lived as by the 1860’s revenues began to decline. The decline accelerated In the late 1880’s as the MS&LR planned and built its “Derbyshire Lines” which extended from Sheffield to Chesterfield and the coalfield beyond. By 1890 the majority of canal side customers were connected to the railway system.

The construction of the MS&LR’s “Derbyshire Lines” had marked consequences for the Chesterfield Canal; the planned route south followed a straight course and was to cross and re-cross the original line of the canal – to avoid the cost of numerous bridges a number of diversions were carried out. These were:-

  • Killamarsh to Renishaw (the Long Straight); The cut-off loop of canal to the west of the new railway was abandoned but can still be traced today.
  • Renishaw to Hague Lane; here the cut-off sections were largely removed or buried by the construction of the Goods Yard of Renishaw Central Station.
  • Hounsfield Bridge to Staveley Works; the isolated section was again west of the new railway and ran around the margins of the Stanton and Staveley Works. Any trace of the Brindley route has been destroyed through a combination of works redevelopment, opencast coal extraction and land reclamation.
  • Chesterfield Wharf. The Brindley Wharf was isolated from the canal by the Railway and a new wharf was constructed upstream on the edge of the new railway goods yard. This became known as the “Great Central Wharf”.
  • All of these new sections were constructed quickly and all were in use by the opening of the railway from Beighton Junction to Staveley Central and thence to Chesterfield in June 1892. Eventually this became part of a new route to London. On 1st August 1897 the MS&LR changed its name to the Great Central Railway.

Decline, a Fall and Revival

The arrival of a parallel railway route accelerated the inevitable decline in trade. By the early 1900’s most manufactured goods and sundries trade had been lost and the cargoes which remained were low-value and high-bulk; coal, coke, stone, bricks, aggregates and grain.

Notwithstanding, the canal continued to carry commercial traffic throughout its length until 1907. In October of that year the central portion of the Norwood Tunnel (at the canal summit between Killamarsh and Kiveton Park) collapsed, severing the western and eastern lengths of the canal. In 1908 the Great Central Railway company declined to repair the tunnel and through traffic ceased.

For a short time commercial carrying (largely coal, coke and tar products) continued on the isolated western section from Killamarsh to Chesterfield but this ceased entirely during the First World War. On the eastern section commercial carrying continued with cargoes of coal from Shireoaks Colliery, Bricks and Warp (dried silt used to polish cutlery) from Walkeringham and Misterton Brickworks, and grain and malt from Worksop and Retford. Regular cargo traffic ended in 1954 although some sporadic carrying did continue until the 1960’s.

Following the end of commercial carrying around 1914-18 the western section from Chesterfield to Killamarsh continued to be used for water supply to the Iron, Steel and Chemical works at Staveley and the Iron works at Renishaw. With the gradual closure of these works, and the development of piped water supplies, the canal further declined and by the 1970’s several sections of the canal had been infilled. At Killamarsh housing was built upon the canal line and other sections were infilled to form public open space.

On the Eastern Section the length from Kiveton Park to Shireoaks Colliery had no commercial traffic after the collapse of Norwood Tunnel and decayed into a non-navigable feeder to bring water from the reservoirs at Pebbly and Harthill. The rest of the waterway continued to see trade in coal, aggregates, bricks and agricultural produce until the mid 1950’s. With the end of regular commercial coal carrying in 1954 the length from Shireoaks Colliery to Worksop also eventually reduced to the status of a non-navigable feeder. The last commercial cargoes of bricks and warp (silt from the Trent) were carried from Walkeringham Brickworks around 1954. By 1964 only 25½ miles and 16 locks remained navigable and moves where made to close the remaining canal.

A vigorous local and national campaign was mounted to prevent closure and this was recognised in the 1968 Transport Act which established much of the current national waterways structure. The Act gave remainder status to the section from Kiveton to Worksop and cruiseway status to the canal from Worksop to West Stockwith. Oddly the section from Chesterfield to Norwood is not mentioned at all and thus this section is technically still a canal having been neither remaindered or abandoned.

The Chesterfield Canal Society was formed in 1976 to promote the use of the canal and to campaign for its eventual restoration. In 1996 this became the Chesterfield Canal Trust.

With growing public support for restoration the Chesterfield Canal Partnership was formed in 1995 to bring together all the bodies with an interest in the restoration and development of the Chesterfield Canal to co-ordinate activities and pool expertise.

Current situation and use

chesterfield.jpgIn 2004 the canal was extended by a further 110 metres at Mill Green Wharf, Staveley. This work was carried out by the Canal Trust’s volunteers with financial support from Wren and Virador. 

In parallel with the Trust’s work, significant environmental improvements were carried out at the former Staveley Gas Works site (adjacent to the canal at Mill Green) by Derbyshire County Council.

In 2012 the canal was extended for a further half mile to a new canal basin at Staveley Town.  The basin will be developed as a training centre over the next five years.  The new basin is largely the work of Derbyshire County Council and the link canal largely the work of Canal Trust Volunteer Work Party.  CCT Volunteers and the Waterway Recovery Group have commenced on the construction of the fall lock for the dropped pound required to pass under a Mineral Railway – the next obstacle (see below).

In Nottinghamshire the full Restoration of the 5 km section from Worksop (Morse Lock) to Shireoaks Basin was undertaken by British Waterways in 2001. This included restoration of eight original locks and the construction of the first new lock since 1777 (Boundary Lock -- to compensate for mining subsidence), the raising or rebuilding of five bridges, together with the creation of new marina facilities on the site of the former Shireoaks Colliery loading basin. 

This was followed in Rotherham by the full restoration of the 9 km length from Shireoaks to the Eastern Portal of Norwood tunnel. This included the restoration of twenty two listed locks, reconstruction of six bridges and repairs to many other bridges including the aqueduct over the River Ryton.

The above restoration project was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, Yorkshire Forward, British Waterways and underpinned by a 21-year maintenance programme funded by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. The section was opened in 2003 and has attracted very favourable comment.

Also in Rotherham, as part of the English Partnerships funded reclamation scheme, the line of the canal through the former Kiveton Park Colliery site has been secured, cleared of all potential impediments (services, etc.) and a cutting and retaining wall has been built in preparation for the eventual construction of a new surface route to replace the largely destroyed Norwood Tunnel.

The initial stages in the Waterspace Masterplan for reclamation of the former Kiveton Colliery site have been implemented with the construction of two large fishing lakes (designed to be converted to a marina when the canal is restored across the site).

Visitor and community facilities on the Derbyshire section were greatly improved in 2011 with the opening of the Hollingwood Hub in a converted and extended Lock House at Works Road, Hollingwood.  The Hub has meeting rooms, a coffee shop and offices for the Trust and Partnership.  The Hub encourages better use of the canal and has increased visitor numbers several fold since opening.

Plans for the future

Since 2008 just over 10% of the Nine Mile “missing link” between Staveley and Kiveton Park has been restored to a navigable condition.  The Partnership has now completed detailed plans for the remaining eight miles (13.05 km) and is actively pursuing restoration.  Projects in progress as of March 2012 include:

  • Construction of a footbridge at Church Hill, Staveley, replacing the original demolished in the 1970’s.
  • Construction of a new lock at Staveley Town Basin – this is the down lock of the dropped pound required to pass under the Staveley Mineral Railway
  • Negotiation with Network Rail regarding construction of the railway bridge.
  • Construction of a new Training Centre and Bunkhouse at Staveley Town Basin, together with cottages for rent and small business units – all intended to generate new income to support the restoration and maintenance of the canal.
  • Further work at Renishaw to extend the recently completed short length.
  • How we consult with our users

Through the Chesterfield Canal Partnership – see below

The partnership is a non-statutory cross regional advisory partnership.

For more information on its activities please see:

How we are structured

The Chesterfield Canal Partnership is made up of local authorities, statutory and non-statutory bodies, the voluntary sector and private enterprise, and is fully committed to the protection, restoration and development of the Chesterfield Canal.

All members share the belief that the canal constitutes a major natural history and heritage feature with the potential to significantly enhance the recreational, tourism and business life of the region. The Partnership works to protect and enhance the natural history and historic value of the canal, whilst promoting the development of its business and amenity potential to benefit all sectors of the regional community.

Members of the Canal Partnership include:

  • Chesterfield Canal Trust
  • British Waterways
  • Inland Waterways Association
  • Bassetlaw District Council
  • Chesterfield Borough Council
  • Derbyshire County Council
  • North East Derbyshire District Council
  • Nottinghamshire County Council
  • Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Environment Agency
  • Natural England (formerly English Nature)
  • Derbyshire Wildlife Trust
  • Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust
  • Yorkshire Wildlife Trust


The Chesterfield Canal Partnership is a cross regional advisory partnership. It consists of a membership drawn from the statutory, non-statutory and voluntary bodies who have an interest in the restoration and development of the Chesterfield Canal.

All members of the Partnership are represented at a senior level on the Executive Steering Group. This group consists of Local Members (councillors) and senior offices from each organisation. The ESG meets twice a year and sets out the broad strategy and policy of the Partnership. The ESG approves the CCP work programme and budget.

The Partnership is chaired on a two year rotating cycle by a councillor from one of the member local authorities. The Vice-Chair is appointed for the same period and is usually expected to become the Chair at the end of two years when a new Vice-Chair is appointed.

Reporting to the ESG is a Technical Officers Group (TOG). The TOG consists of officers drawn from the Partnership Members who are directly involved in the delivery of the work of the Partnership. The Technical Officers Group is the delivery mechanism for the strategy and policy decided by the ESG. The Chair of the TOG is a senior council officer usually drawn from the same authority as the Chair.

In addition the Partnership establishes, from time to time, special interest, working or Sub-Groups to deliver particular studies or project elements. These have specific remits set by the Technical Officers Group and are dissolved as the completion of the project they were set up to accomplish. 

Work Programme

The Partnerships’ Work Programme is set by the Executive Steering Group is response to the recommendations of the Development Manager and the Technical Officers Group.


The Chesterfield Canal Partnership employs a full time Development Manager who is   responsible for leading and growing the Partnership, for creating project programmes and then managing all aspects of their delivery.

The Development manager reports to the Executive Steering Group.


The operation of the Partnership is supported by financial contributions or technical contributions in kind from each of the Partner organisations. The budget is administered through Derbyshire County Council and managed by the Canal Partnership Development Manager.

Navigation statistics

British Waterways Section

West Stockwith to Kiveton Park

Length/area of navigable waterway

33 miles or 53 km

Number of locks


Derbyshire County Council Section

Staveley to Chesterfield

Length/area of navigable waterway

5 miles or 8 km

Number of locks




72’ 21.95 m


6’ 10” 2.08 m


2’ 6” 0.76 m


7’ 1” 2.16 m


Larger boats up to 72’ (21.95 m) long by 16’ (4.88 m) beam and up to 7’ (2.10 m) draught can enter West Stockwith Basin from the Trent. There is no headroom limit on this entrance.
Please note these statistics refer only to the isolated section of the canal owned and operated by Derbyshire County Council on behalf of the Canal Partnership.
They exclude the larger, nationally connected, British Waterways section from Kiveton Park to West Stockwith the statistics for which form part of the East Midlands region figures.

Boating statistics

12 month period – Licences/Registrations

Boat Type







Privately owned





Hire – day boats





Hire – overnight stay/timeshare





Hire – trip boat/ restaurant/passenger





Hire – hotel





Other business/charity boats





Requirements for boating

Boat Safety Scheme


Third Party Insurance