Huddersfield Narrow Canal

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was built to join Huddersfield to Ashton-under-Lyne and the network in the west of the country. It rose through 42 locks and ended at what is now Tunnel End at Marsden. Goods were then unloaded, and taken by horse across the moors to Uppermill.

On October 2nd 1793 a crowded meeting in Huddersfield listened to Benjamin Outram, a civil engineer, who presented his report for a proposed navigable canal to link the Calder and Hebble Canal with the Ashton Canal. The Huddersfield Canal Company was formally established shortly after the Act of 1794 received the Royal Assent. The canal to Marsden was opened in 1796.

Work began but was always under-funded and, as a consequence poorly supervised by inexperienced incompetent people. The Huddersfield Canal Company built March Haigh, Diggle and Slaithwaite reservoirs. The 3 Wessenden reservoirs were completed in 1800 by a consortium of mill owners. Water powered mills were located along the banks of the River Colne and mill owners were concerned that the canal shouldn't draw water from the river and thus reduce the water available to run the water wheels.

On the 29th November 1810 disaster struck when the earthwork of the Swellands dam wall collapsed. "Work seemed to be drawing to a conclusion when a very serious accident occurred with the failure of Swellands dam. Water rushed eastwards into the Colne valley at one o" clock in the morning inundating the valley at Marsden and as far as Paddock. Factories and homes were destroyed in what became known as the night of the Black Flood"

The canal was completed in April 1811 having taken 17 years to build.
"Throughout those troubled years it was the workforce of miners, tradesmen and labourers who suffered most from the frequent stoppages and shortness of funds." They were not paid anything whilst being laid off. Welfare of workers was of small account; only once was 1 pound 1 pences granted - "towards the expense of burying a workman who died today on the canal and, although a sick fund was set up, the company subscribed only 5 shillings each week."


In 1974 the Huddersfield Canal Society was formed to try reopen the canal. Funding from English Partnerships, the Millennium Commission and other sources enabled the re-opening of the blocked sections of canal and tunnel.

The canal tunnel was restored at a cost of 5 million and re-opened in May 2001.

Timeline 1


21 new canals authorised by Acts of Parliament; the peak of ‘Canal Mania.’

April 1794

Act of Parliament authorising construction of Huddersfield Canal.

1800 & 1806

Second and Third Acts passed to raise more capital.

April 1811

Official opening of the canal. Total cost of project £400,000 (13.2million in 2021 terms)


Long awaited dividends paid on shares as traffic steadily increased.


At least 7 firms competing for the valuable, express Flyboat trade.


Huddersfield & Manchester Railway & Canal Company (HMRCC) takeover.


London & North Western Railway Company merger with HMRCC.


The first railway tunnel (the Nicholson), is completed.


The second railway tunnel (the Nelson) is completed.


The third, twin track, tunnel is completed.


Last regular traffic through the canal tunnel ceased.


Canal abandoned by Act of Parliament.


Campaign cruise by Inland Waterways Association founders Aickman & Bolt.

1947 - 62

Canal nationalised under the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive.


British Waterways takes control of the inland waterways.

April 1974

Huddersfield Canal Society formed to promote restoration of the canal.

April 1986

1.2m abolition grant to the Society by Greater Manchester Council.

1980 - 1990s

Employment schemes restore many locks and lengths of the canal channel.

July 1988

Closure Act rescinded allowing boats to use the canal.

December 1996

Major grants from English Partnerships & the Millennium Commission.

May 2001

Huddersfield Narrow Canal reopens to complete through navigation. Boats, in restricted convoy towed through by an electric tug.

May 2001

Huddersfield Narrow Canal officially reopened by HRH Prince Charles.


Boaters, with chaperone, are permitted to navigate the Tunnel themselves.


Celebrations to mark the Bicentenary of the canals official opening.


British Waterways becomes a charity as the Canals & River Trust (CRT)


Canal Society & CRT Explorers’ Cruise with 12 boats navigating the Tunnel.


Canal Society commissions an electric boat for trips Tunnel End to Marsden.

Standedge Tunnel

In 1894, an Act of Parliament was passed to allow the building of the Standedge Tunnel. It took 17 years to build. The engineer was Benjamin Outram, who died before it was completed. The new engineer was John Booth, who reported in 1806 that the average rate of tunnelling was 11 yards per week. The first boat went through in December 1810, and the last one in 1948. The tunnel is not wide enough for a towpath, so boats were "legged" through the 3 miles. Expert leggers could do the trip with an empty boat in 1 hour 20 minutes, and 3 hours with a full load. They were paid 1s 6d, and the horses were led over the hills to join the boat at the other end.

Watch the YouTube video above,'Exploring Standedge Tunnel' courtesy of Foxes Afloat or visit Standedge Tunnel on the Forgotten Relics website.

1 Acknowledgements.

I am pleased acknowledge the permission granted by Trevor Ellis & Bob Gough to quote from the timeline in their booklet “Tunnel End: A Visitors’ Guide”, published by Huddersfield Canal Society, 2021.
Roger Logue