John Smeaton and the Calder Navigation

On Saturday 2nd October Lesley Taylor and Shirley Levon of the Wakefield Historical Society gave a talk on the part played by a John Smeaton and the development of the Calder Navigation. John Smeaton from Austhorpe, east of Leeds, is now regarded as the father of civil engineering. With the aid of maps, photos and diagrams illustrating the project that was begun in 1760, Lesley and then Shirley explained that when they discovered Smeaton’s journal while conducting their own research on the Wakefield Waterfront, they decided to publish a book following their research. They transcribed the Journal which follows the day to day work up the Calder from Wakefield to Sowerby Bridge. Linking this to the accounts held by the National Archives and local archives they were able to they were able to research the background to the building of the navigation. The many problems that were faced and the opposition encountered by local landowners were not sufficient for Parliament to eventually pass an Act in 1758 that gave the ‘go-ahead’ to Smeaton which enabled the building of the navigation system.

Shirley described the busy scene that developed with masons, sawyers, smiths, quarrymen and carters and the setting up of workshops built for their purpose. The supplies of stone, wood and other materials, the equipment, engines and pumps that had been gathered at the waterfront were listed.  Details about the actual workforce employed is sketchy but we do know that labourers, numbered in their hundreds. worked a twelve- hour day for 6 days a week.  The project took 3 years to complete between 1760 and 1763.

The research carried out by Lesley and Shirley and the subsequent publication of their book is a tribute to hard work and dedication to the project.