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Stanley Ferry History

This page covers all aspects of Stanley Ferry history, if you have any information that we could use please contact us.

When you talk to people about a conservation area people think of a grand house or formal gardens, but if you look at the history of Stanley Ferry it is deserving of the title for its engineering achievements and for the history surrounding the area. If you take a look around you will see the Aqueduct, when opened in 1839 it was described as a piece of workmanship unequalled in Europe. Nearby to the Aqueduct is boat repair yard with a dry dock, and the road bridge that was opened in 1971 by Mr Harold Wilson, at the time former Prime Minister and to be Prime Minister again in 1974. The two old basins at Stanley ferry were for loading coal onto the Tom Puddings from nearby Collieries. The Tom Puddings were designed by the Aire and Calder Navigations engineer William Bartholomew, and could be taken from the water to be transported by railway trucks to local pits for loading.

Obviously the main attraction at Stanley Ferry is the Aqueduct, built by Messrs Graham Milton Ironworks at Elsecar between 1836 & 1839; it cost almost £50,000 to build. It was erected under the supervision of a Mr Haythorn. The Aqueduct has two bow string girders supporting the waterway with suspension rods. The tank measures 180ft by 24ft by 9ft and with the water at a depth of 8ft 6 inches holds 940 tons. The Aire and Calder Navigation came to be after the 1699 act of parliament to make rivers navigable but it was not until the 1830s that the navigation authority provided the canal cut. A Wakefield Journal from 1839 described the new canal as “ being the finest line of canal in the kingdom.” And describes the first boat to cross as “a splendid scooner of 160 tons burthen” The boat arrived at the Aqueduct around 3pm to the cheers of the many onlookers. It was drawn across by 3 horses. The Engineers and spectators were treated to dinner at the Strafford Arms afterwards, while the 700 workmen went to the local ale houses of Stanley and Bottomboat.

Stanley Ferry lies at a point where an old Roman road from Pontefract to Lingwell Gate crossed the river. When the Calder was made navigable it became too deep to ford, and from the 17th century was crossed by a ferry boat. According to accounts of the time it was so small that horse and cart had to cross separately. In the 19th century demand grew for a bridge, each bank was a 1 in 10 fall and was extremely dangerous to cross on dark nights or times of flooding. At that time accidents were common with people falling into the canal or trying to get over the Aqueduct. The bridge was eventually built in 1879; a result of Altofts need for water, the cost of the project was £2000 with Altofts contribution eventually reaching £700. On the day of opening the Altofts board Chairman Mr Watson paid the first toll, entertaining guests at the Heywood Arms.

The 1971 bridge replaced the old toll bridge after nearly 100 years of service, it closed in December 1969 when it was declared unsafe and at the time was used by 540 vehicles a day. A joint committee of Stanley and Normanton Councils led to the provision of the new bridge, it was built by White Young, and Partners of Leeds and opened on June 5th 1971 only 12 months after the committee first met. After Nationalisation in 1947 the Aire and Calder Navigation passed to the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, again in 1963 they were taken over by the British Waterways Board. Today oak lock gates are still made at Stanley Ferry, and boats repaired. Unfortunately the coal industry and local sand and gravel quarries have long since gone the aqueduct and Canal the only reminder the areas world leading industrial past.

Ariel view of Ferry Lane 1969

Aqueduct a danger to life

In 1970 fractures were found the Aqueduct structure and one of its arches had become twisted, this led to a report being done by the Waterways board in 1972 as to the poor state of the Aqueduct through lack of funding on the canal network over many years. This led to a re-tensioning of some support rods because the weight was being unevenly distributed in sustaining the 140 tons of water in the tank.

Doing these repairs was no more than a temporary measure as barges much larger than those the Aqueduct was built to carry were regularly passing across it. Because the modern barges displace much more water than the 90 ton horse drawn barges of 100 years ago, they pass much nearer to the sides and bottom of the tank increasing the risk of hitting rubble at the bottom and punching a hole through the tank.

Damaged trash screens in the Calder were also making matters worse by letting objects pass unhindered, and at times when the River was high these objects were hitting the outside of the Aqueducts tank. After recommendations in the report weekly checks were carried out when it was feared there was a high chance the Aqueduct tank could fail allowing 7 million gallons of water between the nearest locks (some 4.5 miles apart) to drop into the River Calder beneath causing serious flooding. As the canal drained it would also cause a relief of hydraulic pressure which in turn would collapse the canal sides and cause the Aqueduct structure to collapse putting lives of people crossing in barges in danger. Because of this threat a second concrete Aqueduct was built along side in the late 1970s and new trash screens added.

Aqueduct 2011 photos added

Dug out boat at Stanley Ferry

When constructing the Aqueduct in 1835 a hollowed out boat was discovered at a depth of 18ft 6 inches below the present ground level, 6ft below the river bed. The boat was made from the trunk of a single tree, having been hollowed out by the use of fire and by axe. The boat measured 17ft 9 inches in length and 4ft 2 inches across the widest part. The boat was square sterned with pointed bow, semi cylindrical in traverse section; the bottom rises in a continuous curve. The boat was strengthened by ribs exactly like the framing of a plank built boat, and was probably propelled by paddles. This medieval oak logboat is important not least because it is the earliest-known logboat from Britain with direct evidence for fitted ribs. Its useful beam, flared transverse section and (probable) stabilizers mean that it would have had good stability. This and the fact that it may have had thwarts would make her suitable for use as a passenger ferry, a role echoed in the site name today.

The old wooden toll bridge at Stanley Ferry

Previous to the wooden toll bridge being built at Stanley Ferry in 1879, the only means of crossing the river was by a ferry boat. The ferry boat was so small that it was necessary to have two journeys for a horse and cart - the cost being sixpence. A pig cost one penny the same price as a pedestrian, and a sheep cost one halfpenny. The ferry boat had served the area for many years up to this point, but due to a growing demand for transporting heavier loads than ever before, and for people to be able to get to work in the nearby collieries, there was now the need for a bridge.

The bank for this ferry was at a gradient of one in ten and was a soul of great danger especially on dark and foggy nights when there had been heavy rain followed by floods, and when taking heavy loads there were many accidents in this area. Some people tried to find their way over the Aqueduct to cross the canal and fell into the water. At the same time the village of Altofts was having the problems of water shortage and the local Board of Health was negotiating with the Aire and Calder Navigation a means of getting water pipes across the river. Consideration was given to plans to take a water pipe under the bed of the river but this involved great expense. Also it could have been a project of a dangerous nature involving risks of serious accidents. Eventually, all agreed to have a bridge built.

The Navigation undertook to make and supervise the building of the bridge. Mr Batholomew, the Aire and Calder Navigation engineer was delegated to supervise the works. The estimated cost was £2,000. The Altofts Board made a contribution of £400 towards this. Mrs Meywell Ingram of Temple Newsam, Lady of the Manor of Altofts, contributed a further £300. The bridge was completed in 1879. On the day of the opening, Mr W. Watson, the Altofts Board Chairman, paid the first 'toll' which was a half penny for pedestrians, two pence for a horse. At the opening, the Rev. R. Burnell, vicar of Stanley, said the two parishes of Stanley and Altofts were like two lovers looking across the river at each other and on this day they had been joined together. Stanley, he added, was now in a position to give Altofts all they needed in the way of coal or anything else. In 1895 a special toll concession was granted to miners going between Parkhill and Altofts. The rate of the concession being 4½ pence weekly. Tolls were levied between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. The gates were then locked for the night.

Stanley Ferry Workshops

The first Aire & Calder Navigation Workshops were not as many believe built at Stanley Ferry, but half a mile down river at Lake Lock, (Lake Lock Yard) which opened in 1802. As demand increased It was later decided that rather than pay individual contractors to repair vessels, they would have a central workshop. The decision was made to purchase land alongside the river at Stanley Ferry to build the new workshop and erect houses to accommodate their workmen, Calder Row.

In 1833 more land was purchased to accommodate the increased trade that would be brought by the building of the canal and Aqueduct over the coming years. In 1854 the land alongside the Aqueduct was leased to a firm of boat builders who built a dry dock. The Navigation Company built its offices alongside and in 1873 they took over the dry dock and built new, larger workshops.

By 1875 this repair facility was established as the principal repair yard for the Aire and Calder Navigation Company. The workshops made 58ft long cargo boats until the Second World War when the workshops went on to store Tom Puddings and repair vessels and lock gates.

By the 1960s the boom in bulk handling vessels was well and truly over. Motorways became the transport of choice forcing the workshops to move into sole manufacture of lock gates. The workshops today thrive as one of only two places in the country where lock gates are refurbished and new ones constructed. Sadly the dry dock is no longer in use, but it is hoped when British Waterways hand over the running of the waterways to the Canal & River Trust later this year investment can be found so that once again boat repairs will take place at Stanley Ferry.

Stanley Ferry Sand & Gravel Quarry

By Barry PinderThe sales side of the operation took place on the land adjoining Balk Lane, this was also where the large wooden hoppers were filled with the sand and gravel brought over from the quarry on the other side of the canal via an overhead ropeway. Lorries were driven under these hoppers, filled and then driven to the weighbridge where they were given the paperwork and sent on their way. My father Joseph Pinder worked for many years on the production side of the canal working on "the mast" where the sand and gravel was brought out of "the pond" before being loaded onto loco's and taken to the grading area and then to the ropeway.

The ropeway went over the canal quite near to the swing bridge which was operated by Alfie Goddard. Jack Silverwood who I think lived in the Bottomboat area was the man in charge of the ropeway. I attended Rothwell Grammar School and during the summer holidays I worked at the sand quarry at both sides of the business on Ferry Lane. I also worked at their other quarry on Denby Dale Road in Wakefield. I worked in the office on Ferry Lane weighing the lorries and completing the ledgers of each day's business and also at the production side driving the "Shawnee Pool" tractors bringing the sand and gravel from "the pond" to where my father and Jimmy Steele, from Eastmoor, worked at the mast.

In the fifties the manager of the quarry was Mr. Walter "Wally" Peake, the under manager was Mr. Charles May who later became manager and the foreman was, I think, Norman Stenton who lived on Aberford Road at Moorhouse.

This photo is courtesy of Barry Pinder, and shows his father in the garden of his prefab on Balk Lane. In the background there are parts of the old sand quarry. On the left are the hoppers at the sales side where the lorries were filled. Over the roof of the car is part of the ropeway going over the canal and then behind the car may be the mast from where the bucket used to go down into the pond to drag out the sand and gravel. It looks as though it may have been taken after the quarry closed down because there doesn't appear to be any sign of the ropes between the pylons at the canal's edge and the hoppers. It is likely that the photo was taken whilst the quarry was being decommissioned.

The early canal cuts on the River Calder

In 1699 an Act was passed to improve the navigability of the River Calder (from Castleford to Wakefield). This involved the creation of weirs bypassed by short "cuts" equipped with locks. John Hadley was engaged as an engineer and by 1704 the original work was completed, including 4 locks on the Calder. One of these locks was built at Kirkthorpe along with the weir (that was later improved in 1815). It is also documented that a boat was damaged on Kirkthorpe Lock Weir in 1776, however little else is known about this event. The photos below show the route of the cut, which is still visible today. The cut widened towards the middle presumably so boats could pass or turn and was complete with a lock house (which is still visible on 1907 maps of the area). During the 1830s the navigation was improved by a longer cut to bypass the difficult stretch of river between Wakefield and Castleford leaving these earlier smaller cuts in the river redundant. It is possible however, that the lock may have been used after this time to serve places on the old loop of the river.  

 1767 map showing the "cut" on the River Calder at Kirkthorpe

2010 ariel photo, the blue dotted line shows the old "cut" and the red dotted line shows the route of the river before it was diverted for the railway. The later canal cut towards Stanley Ferry can be seen to the left of the photo.

Photo showing entrance into the "cut" from the river

View down the old canal, the stone work is still visable to both sides of the canal

Stone work where the lock gates stood, the masons marks on the stone are still visable

Thank you to Paul Dainton for his help with the above article, his contributions to the website are appreciated

Ferry Lane Reservoir

The collecting Reservoir and pumping works of the old Wakefield Water Works were at Stanley on the now Ferry Lane football fields. Water was pumped from the River Calder into the Reservoir and driven by pumps to the filtering beds and storage reservoirs on high ground a mile away towards Wakefield. The water then ran into the town by gravity. A new water supply from beyond Ripponden led to the disuse of the Stanley works, the engines and pumps were removed leaving only the Engineers house. The Reservoir was then drained and the site used for landfill up until the 1970s. It was then grassed over becoming the football fields we see today.

The moving of Wakefield Market to Ferry Lane

A little known fact these days is that during the 1645 plague the Market at Wakefield was moved to Ferry Lane in Stanley, also mentioned is the erecting of a market cross at the site which would have probably been a wooden structure. It is said that the air became so warm and infectious over Wakefield during August and September that year that even dogs, cats, mice, rats died, and that several birds dropped down dead in flight over the town. Many people from the Town fled to the surrounding countryside to escape the plague explaining the reason for the market being moved to an out of town location.

Old Park Farm

Situated on the land between the River Calder and Canal, Old Park Farm lies between Stanley Ferry and Eastmoor on Welbeck Lane . The exact age of the farm is not known but it is believed to date back at least to the early Victorian Era. The farm which was owned by Wakefield council up unto recently, has been run by a number of families over the years. Today the farm stands derelict; plagued by its recent history.

In 2008 the farm was closed after concerns were raised about the welfare of the birds that were kept there. These included Harris hawks, red-tailed hawks, two emaciated European eagle owls and Lanner falcons. In 2005, nine eagle owls kept at the council-owned site were used in film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Since the farm was abandoned it has become a dangerous eyesore, and a meeting place for local kids and with evidence of drug taking on the site. Piles of rubbish litter the farm buildings, where slates have been stolen from the roof and fires have been started. In 2009 RATS president Paul Dainton called upon Wakefield Council to make the site safer after the buildings became too unsafe to be left as they were. In July 2010 the farm was sold at auction by Wakefield Council for £162,000, selling for almost double the guide price. It is unsure of what the new owners plan to do with site at present. The old photos below are courtesy of a previous occupant of the farm who now resides at Altofts. Thank you to her for allowing Paul Dainton access to them.

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