President Dawn Cragg welcomed members of Retford Ladies Probus Club back after the summer recess in September and then introduced David Dawson to speak to the group about his lifelong interest in the Worksop and Chesterfield Canal. In fact, his devotion stretched to using his house deposit to buy a boat called the Avocet when he married in 1965. Fortunately, his wife shared his enthusiasm!
In 1751 when the canal was built, lives were very narrow. People would tell the time by the church clock and everything they needed could be obtained within a five-mile radius. Goods were usually swapped and only the wealthy had money. Initially the canal was not coming through Retford but Seth Ellis Stevenson, Rector of St Swithun’s, campaigned to have it routed through Worksop, Retford and on to the River Trent. This involved hills so enter James Brindley lock designer. Landowners objected to boats passing through their land so men dug tunnels under and aqueducts over. They literally made it up as they went along, using flannelette, tar and pitch between plates of riveted iron which are still waterproof to this day.
It cost a shilling to travel first class on a boat and a penny halfpenny for the poor. Methodists would charter a boat for a picnic lunch, the only holiday some people ever had. Boats would travel from West Stockwith to Gainsborough with wheat and bring back a load of manure on the same boat. Heaven knows what their bread tasted like!
By 1850 canals were on the decline due to the advent of railways. In the 1947 Transport Act, canals owned by railways were nationalised and by the 1960s they were boatless and in disrepair and there were plans to fill them in. Some were, but organisations such as the Chesterfield Canal Society managed to save 26 miles and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough played a large part in restoring the other 20 miles. Kiveton Marina can now boast as many as 67 vessels. It’s good to know that something which is an intrinsic part of our history is still being maintained.
Retford Ladies Probus Club meets the second Wednesday of every month at Westhill Community Centre, Ordsall, at 10.00am for 10.30am. All are welcome.