14 August 2012


The biggest "river" in Sheffield is the Don but in the centre of the city it is little more than a fast flowing hill stream that tumbles over weirs and shingle banks on its way to Tinsley where it settles down and becomes deeper, more slow-moving and navigable. At the start of the nineteenth century, as Sheffield grew into the world's premier steel producing town, industrialists saw a need to cut a canal that would link the town centre with the first navigable section of the Don. 

It was a major engineering project and involved the construction of eleven locks along the four mile long canal. This was not about making a waterway for pleasure craft. It was about bolstering steel profits, making the inbound carriage of coal and iron ore and the outbound haulage of steel products much easier. And so on February 22nd 1819 the canal was opened to great ballyhoo, a public holiday was declared in the town and around 60,000 spectators turned out to witness the transformational event.

On overcast Sunday afternoon, I walked the length of the canal, passing narrow boats and fishermen and the crumbling remains of Sheffield's old industries. In this city many "special steels" were developed and foreign visitors to this blog may like to know that it was in Sheffield that stainless steel was invented and first produced. The city is also famous for high quality cutlery - in both stainless steel and silver plate.

At Victoria Quays - Sheffield Canal Basin
Dilapidation by the old canal
"Matilda" passes under the M1 viaduct at Tinsley
I returned to the city centre via "the Five Weirs Walk" which follows the winding course of the Don referred to in 1936 by George Orwell - "the shallow river that runs through the town is usually bright yellow with some chemical or other". But on Sunday I saw an angler in waders fly-fishing in what was once little more than an open sewer for industrial waste. No bright yellow chemicals any more - just the silent echoes of long dead men and women who gave their blood and sweat and ultimately their lives to the Sheffield steel industry.
"The Five Weirs Walk"
Fisherman seeking brown trout in The Don


  1. I have learnt more about my home town from you and some other blogs I follow than I ever knew when I lived there!

    Thank you for the photos.

  2. MAD ABOUT CRAFT Thanks for dropping by and leaving such a nice comment. I just checked out one of your blogs and found you writing about a recent trip down "memory lane" in Sheffield. Thanks for referring visitors to my post about J.G.Graves.

  3. That's so good that the river is clean enough to have fish. Excellent!

    I think it must be this canal you see at the beginning of 'The Full Monty'.

  4. we have similar in huddersfield where the river colne is now a clean river (until a recent chemical works caught fire and the runoff from the firefighting damaged it) and the canal albeit leaky and 200 years old is clean, navigable and fishable - the biggest problem now is dog crap all over the towpath.

  5. KATHERINE Yes, I checked http://montymania.co.uk/site/index.php/The-Full-Monty-Locations.html
    and it certainly was this canal near the Bacon St bridge.
    ARCTIC FOX Sure it's all dog crap? Some of it could have been left by foxes!

  6. I nearly fell into victoria quay once after too many sheberts on a ward night out!

  7. EARL GRAY According to Burke's Peerage that is not how blue-blooded earls are meant to get their kicks! Try polo or pheasant shooting next time!


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