Aire & Calder Navigation

Farndale H, an oil carrying Tanker Power Barge, heading east towards Methley in the late 1960s after unloading in Leeds. The 175 feet long barge had a 240 horse power Kelvin diesel engine. It was built in 1967 at Knottingley by J. Harker Ltd.  Ferrybridge power station is on the horizon and the headstock at Savile Colliery is just above the front of the barge. Photo taken from Fleet Lane bridge by Derek Rayner.

It was not uncommon for people to drown in the canal at Woodlesford, whether by accident or design, as the newspaper reports below indicate. Over the decades there were many cases of the depressed and destitute committing suicide by jumping into the cold and polluted water and there are recorded cases of the victims of murder also being found floating near Woodlesford after their bodies were thrown in many miles upstream.

In one unfortunate week in January 1888 two members of the same family drowned in separate incidents. One was the lock keeper of Woodlesford Lock, Henry Hobkinson, who died shortly after he’d helped recover the body of his nephew who’d accidentally fallen in the day before.

The reports of the inquests into their deaths, which were held at the Boot and Shoe Inn on the following Monday, are  taken from contemporary newspapers.

An 18th century plan for the new Woodlesford Cutt.

ALARMING DROWNING CASES. Rothwell Times. Friday 20th January 1888.

An inquest was heard at the Boot and Shoe Inn, Woodlesford on the 16th inst. before Pelham Page Maitland Esq., deputy coroner. It appears that the body over which the inquest was held was that of Ephraim Goodair, a married man aged 37, boiler maker of East Moor, Wakefield.  

He was engaged a few days before his death, doing some repairs to boilers, belonging to Messrs. Henry Bentley & Co., at Oulton Brewery,  and on the night of his death left his work about 7 o’clock, and proceeded to the Woodlesford lock house, which is kept by Henry Hobkinson, uncle of the deceased.

Having to travel along the canal side, and not being thoroughly acquainted with the locality, it is  supposed that the unfortunate man had lost his way, in the thick fog which prevailed at the time, and walked into the water. His non appearance at the lodge led to inquiry: nothing however could be heard of him after leaving his work, and it was decided to have the canal dragged. 

On Saturday afternoon about two o’clock, his body was brought to the surface, and the worse appreciation of his  friends was realised. A verdict of “Accidentally drowned, during fog at night” was returned. Another inquest was held before the same coroner and jury, on view of the body of Henry Hobkinson, 58, uncle to the unfortunate Goodair, and keeper of the Woodlesford lock.

On Saturday night, shortly after six o’clock, the deceased left his house with a light to  assist a boat in passing the lock.   The captain of the boat, W. Vickers, heard a splash in the water, and immediately his wife, who had landed to help in turning the locks, cried “there’s someone in the water”.  

Mrs. Hobkinson rushed out, and saw that it was her husband. The two women succeeded in catching hold of him, and Vickers came to  their assistance as soon as he was able to land. A rope was passed round the drowning man and he was drawn out, but upon examination  it was found that he was quite dead.  

The eyesight of the deceased was slightly impaired, one eye being rather defective. This together with the shock sustained by the lamentable loss of his nephew, is thought to account for his falling in the water. The jury returned a verdict of, “Accidentally drowned”. A rider was attached to the verdict, recommending that the dock should be  protected by a rail, by the sides on the coping, and the swing bridge to be kept swinging, and a lifebuoy provided.

An inspector of the Aire & Calder Navigation Company attended the inquest and stated that their manager, Mr. Bartholomew, was  willing to do anything for the protection of lives on the canal. Several drowning accidents have happened in this vicinity during the last few years and it is hoped that the protections embodied in the rider, may be provided, and so prevent the occurrences of such sad  and lamentable accidents in the future. A five shilling reward was offered for reporting the discovery of dead bodies in the Navigation.

A five shilling reward was offered for reporting the discovery of dead bodies in the Navigation.


Leeds Times, Tuesday 24 July, 1880.

The deputy county coroner conducted an investigation at the Boot and Shoe Inn, Woodlesford, on Saturday, into the circumstances  attending the death of George Hill, a carter, who lived at 26, Acorn-street, York Road; Leeds, and who was employed by Mr. Campbell, furniture remover. 

On Wednesday week the deceased left home at dinner time, and did not return until two o’clock on Thursday morning. He left home  again within an hour to take some furniture to Snaith. He drove a light four wheeled furniture waggon.  The horse, a fine one, was comparatively new to the road.

Coming back on Thursday night, he told a Methley innkeeper that he had  lost his way between Pontefract and that place. On his way he would, in the ordinary course, have had to pass through Swillington  toll-bar, but he appears to have avoided this and proceeded along a by-road leading to the Woodlesford Potteries. 

The road curves past the Potteries to the side of the Aire and Calder Canal near the Woodlesford lock, where it becomes very stony  and rutty. It is supposed that in passing along this road one of the wheels of the van struck against a large stone, diverting its course  towards the embankment, down which, judging from the marks about the place, it then fell. 

No one was near the spot at the time the accident occurred. A small screw steamer belonging to the Aire and Calder Navigation  Company, whilst towing a number of boats up the canal between one and two o’clock on Friday morning week, accidentally struck  against the immersed furniture van, and at once came to a standstill.

Means for removing the vehicle were devised, and it was ultimately  pushed into the lock, and the water having been ”raised,” it was brought to land. The horse, which was still in the shafts, was dead, as also was Hill, who had hold of the reins. It is supposed that he had fallen asleep on the road home, and that the horse, being somewhat strange to the locality, had taken the wrong turning.

A steam powered canal boat.

Deceased, who was  forty-four years of age, leaves a wife and four children. At the inquest, James Harrison, captain of the screw-steamer, deposed that just before reaching the Woodlesford Lock on the Aire and  Calder Canal on Friday morning, about two o’clock, they ran into something. Witness was at the helm, and ordered the fireman to stop  the engine. On peering over the sides he saw part of a furniture van above the water.

The shafts had been broken from the van, and the body of a  horse was in them about twenty yards distant. Thinking that the driver might be in the water also, he roused the lock keeper, and after  searching about for nearly an hour, they found the deceased in the van. The driver must have come half a mile out of his way.

Instead of going along the road through the Swillington toll-bar, he must have  taken along the Tadcaster and Wetherby turnpike. A juryman considered that the side of the canal ought to be fenced off. No accident would have occurred if there had been a fence there. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidentally drowned,” adding that they thought a representation should be made to the Aire and  Calder Company as to how the place was neglected.


This tiny house stood on the approach to the bridge over the canal opposite the junction of Pottery Lane with Aberford Road. It was originally a toll collector’s cottage for road traffic crossing the bridge. In 1841 the toll bar keeper was Joseph Waddington who lived with his wife Charlotte. Both of them were 50 years old. Also there were their 20 year old twin daughters, Sarah and Charlotte. Forty years later it was occupied by Ann Mortimer, who was the toll collector, her daughter and grand daughter. Ann had come from Gildersome following the death of her husband who was a toll collector there. In 1911 the house was lived in by William Morton, a canal labourer, and his family. Close by another house was occupied by the family of James William Dinsdale, an Inspector for the Aire and Calder Navigation Company. In the 1950s it was the home of  Walter Gibson and his wife Harriet. Walter was an employee of the nationalised British Waterways. His niece remembered visiting the house as a child and climbing its narrow staircase. There were also well kept gardens to the back of the house by the canal with a pond which had goldfish in it.   

A LOCK KEEPER’S SAD END. Wakefield Express Friday 3 December 1926.

Mr. C.J. Haworth (West Riding Coroner) held an inquest at Oulton Institute on Monday to enquire into the circumstances of the death of Joseph Bacon (41) Swillington Bridge Lock House, Woodlesford. Christina Bacon, daughter, gave evidence of identification.

Harry Cawthorne, lock house Woodlesford spoke of assisting some boatmen near his house on Saturday November 27th about 9pm in a dense fog when he heard a faint splash which might be taken for anything, but there was not a murmur of any kind. He put his flashlight on the water and saw something white which he could not distinguish owing to the fog. 

Running into the house he asked if all the family were there and then said: “Where is Joe?” Upon being told he had just left he inquired at the deceased’s house across the canal and found that he had not arrived. After sending the lads up the street and still not finding him witness got out a long boat hook and noticed some bubbles on the water and a cap floating which he eventually recognised as belonging to the deceased.

He continued grappling until 11 o’clock without result. Owing to the fog anyone could easily have fallen into the water. The body was recovered at 7.30 am on Sunday. Deceased fell in at the Swillington side 5 yards from the house of the witness. The lock was full and there would be a 3 1/2 ft drop.

Deceased had been in the employ of the Aire and Calder Navigation Company for close upon 21 years and was off duty at the time. Elizabeth Hughes of Woodlesford spoke to finding no marks on the body. The hands were clenched. The coroner returned a verdict of Accidental Death.   

The wharf next to the Aberford Road bridge over the canal. This photo dates from the early 1960s when coal from opencast workings was transported by lorries and tipped into barges and Tom Pudding compartment boats.