The story of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal begins over 200 years ago, at a time when a network of canals was being constructed through many parts of Britain. Owing to the surge in progression of Industry at the time, it seemed a good idea to build a navigation that provided the shortest route over the Pennines, linking the Ashton Canal to Sir John Ramsden's Huddersfield Broad Canal.
The project began well enough, and by 1799 the section running from Ashton up to Woolroad, and from Marsden down to Huddersfield was complete. However, establishing the link through the Pennine Hills required the building of a 3 mile tunnel beneath Standegde Moor. This section of the build proved a difficult task and ran into serious engineering and financial difficulty, so much so that goods were transferred over Standegde by pack-horse for 16 years until navigation through the completed Standgege Tunnel was achieved in April 1811.
The tunnel remains to this day the longest canal tunnel in Britain, but in economic terms proved to be a financial sink-hole and cost more than the total estimated cost of the entire building project. At almost 3.25 miles long the tunnel was notoriuosly difficult to navigate, without a towpath 'Leggers' were employed to manually work boats through the tunnel by laying on their backs on the boat and 'walking' against the tunnel sides. For companies using the cross Pennine canal problems unfortuantely did not stop there, with any barge longer than the 57 foot lock length of the Sir Ramsden's Canal section meant not all narrow boats could pass beyond Huddersfield, and cargoes had to be transshipped.
By 1844 a railway link beween Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester was proposed to boost industrial progression, and the canal played an important role in the building of the line, especially in the boring of the first single-line railway tunnel, where cross-tunnels were constructed from the canal to ship spoil out by narrow boat. In the years that followed, railway transportation surged ahead at the detriment to the canal waterways, and by 1894 there was little trade left using the Standegde tunnel. Eventually, in 1944 the canal was abandoned, with the 'Ailsa Craig' being the last boat to pass through the entire link in 1948. The boat was hired by the newly formed Inland Waterways Association to campaign for the canals retention, but unfortunately the event only made matters worse, with the boats passage through the derelict canal causing interuptions to industrial water supplies, culminating in the British Transport Commission taking action and removing all lockgates, thereby preventing future boat passage.
Thankfully, restoration efforts began with the founding of the Huddersfield Canal Society in 1974, and in the years that followed the society has been very successful in promoting restoration of the canal. Most of the locks were repaired, much of the canal dredged, and navigation was restored from Ashton to Staley Wharf in 1995. Attention then centered on Standedge Tunnel and serious blockages in Stalybridge, Slaithwaite and Huddersfield. The formation of a partnership between the British Waterways society and the Local Authorities culminated in the award of the Millenium Grant, and in 2001 the canal was fully re-opened.
In 2012 the inland waterways were transferred from British Waterways into a new charitable body - The Canal and River Trust [CRT]. Whilst essential major repairs have been undertaken according to priorities, numerous minor repairs and necessary improvements have been unfortunately neglected owing to insufficient funds and insufficient staff on the ground. It became clear that progress on these was unlikely without alot more volunteer involvement, and CRT as a charity have been very keen to encourage and support volunteers, leading to local towns and villages forming successful volunteer groups along the canal, to help safeguard the canals future for years to come.
BOAT TRIPS & THE PENNINE MOONRAKER CRUISE:
The first locks to be completed during the restoration were Dungebooth and Lime Kiln, and navigation was restored between Saddleworth Museum at Uppermill and the Brownhill centre at Dobcross where the Limekiln cafe is now based. In 1984 the trip boat Benjamin Outram was launched at Uppermill by the Huddersfield Canal Society, and ran public trips on this length of canal for four years until it was re-located to Marsden. It was replaced at Uppermill by the Pennine Moonraker, and ownership later passed to John Lund who has operated the boat successfully since 1991. Public trips are run at weekends and most days [weather permitting] during school holidays. The hour-long return trip passes through the two locks and provides a fascinating introduction to the canal for all ages.