At 10 o’clock in the morning, on Wednesday 29th August 1792, the Company of Proprietors of the Navigation of the River Dun held a meeting at the Cutler’s Hall in Sheffield.
Chairing the meeting that day was the Reverend James Wilkinson (1730-1805), a River Dun Navigation shareholder, and prominent public figure; Vicar of Sheffield and a Justice of the Peace for the North and West Ridings of Yorkshire.
The business before them was discussing how to connect inland centres of industry in South Yorkshire with the River Dun Navigation, and to extend the navigable sections to enable boats to transport minerals and manufactured goods out to the Humber.
Connecting the River Don (historically also referred to as the Dun) at Swinton to Barnsley by creating a new canal would allow trade to flourish, and goods and minerals from the coalfield to reach new markets. The meeting resolved that:
“the making a Navigable Cut or Canal from the River Dun, up to Barnsley, will be of great public utility, as well to the trade carried on in and about Barnsley, as also, on account of the great quantity of Coal which may be got in that neighbourhood, and which would afford a regular supply to the towns and places, usually served from the River Dun; and that it is very proper for the Proprietors of the River Dun to use their best endeavours to forward the making of said canal.”Resolution of meeting of company of Proprietors of the Navigation of the River Dun, 29/8/1792, published in The Sheffield Advertiser, No.1694, 14/9/1792
Empire of the Dun?
By the 1790s the Company of Proprietors of the Navigation of the River Dun were an affluent regional undertaking, having been established to improve the River Don, widening and deepening and engineering safely-navigable stretches of the river from above Thorne, up at the edge of the Humber, all the way down towards Doncaster, and on towards Rotherham, and, eventually, to Sheffield.
In many ways the River Dun company marked a shift in the funding of major transport improvements across the United Kingdom; away from towns and borough project, and over to larger companies with significant powers to borrow large sums of money from a wider body of willing investors. As T.S. Willan, historian of early inland navigation noted:
How did it come about? After many years of negotiations with riverside landowners, and seeing off oppostion from neighbouring navigations like the Trent and Ouse, in 1725 the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire and the Town Trustees of Sheffield succeeded in obtaining a local act of parliament entitled ‘An Act for making the River Dun in the West Riding of the County of York navigable, from Holmstile in Doncaster up to the utmost Extent of Tinsley, Westward, a Township within two Miles of Sheffield.‘ (12 George I, c. 38)
This act gave powers to start to improve the River Don, allowing boats to sail down to Doncaster year-round, and gradually, through further expensive works, onwards down towards Rotherham. The costs to be recouped from taking dues from the hundreds of traders carrying goods on the managed waterways.
The following year, 1726 the incorporated Borough of Doncaster secured ‘An Act for improving the Navigation of the River from a Place called Holmstile, in the Township of Doncaster in the County of York, to Wilsick House in the Parish Barmby Dun in the said County.‘ (13 George I, c. 20)
A measure to secure Doncaster’s own maritime commercial interests, the two towns mutually agreed to improve and manage the stretches of the river Don navigation below each town. A position later formalised when they agreed to combine their interests as undertakers, obtaining a further Act in 1733 ‘An Act to explain and amend Two Acts of Parliament, One made in the Twelfth, and the other in the Thirteenth, Year of His late Majesty’s Reign, for making navigable the River Dun, in the County of York, and for the better perfecting and maintaining the said Navigation, and for uniting the several Proprietors thereof into One Company‘ (6 Geo II c.9)
Limiting the direct exposure of each town to the capital demands on the thousands of pounds worth of improvements needed, the newly united Company of Proprietors of the Navigation of the River Dun was, from 24th June 1733, composed of 150 shares, each of £115, drawing The Company of Cutlers of Hallamshire, Sheffield’s Town Trustees, the Corporation of Doncaster, together with many private landowners and wealthy merchants.
Ennobled River! Now the sail
Expanding shivers in the gale;
The streamer wanton flies; -
The busy hum is heard around, The stately vessel quits the ground And to thy bosom hies.
Thence to old HUMBER's parent breast
'Tis thine to guide the gallant guest,
And bid it dare explore
What Ocean shows of great or good,
From DUN's green margin, HUMBER's flood,
To Earth's remotest shore.
From 'Stanzas to the River Dun', Barbara Hoole, Poems, Sheffield: James Montgomery, 1805, pp.10-11
The Teaming of rivals: The Aire and Calder & the Barnsley Canal
Shortly before the Dun Navigation Company’s meeting in Sheffield, their main regional competitor, the Aire and Calder Navigation Company had also come forward with its own plans to unlock Barnsley’s landlocked coal by building a connective canal from their own navigation in Wakefield down to Barnsley.
The Don Navigation was quick to respond Tuesday 16th October 1792, at another General Meeting of the Company at the Cutler’s Hall. This meeting was chaired by Richard Ellison, from a Lincolnshire family who had largely made their fortunes from investments in inland navigation. He had traveled from the family mansion at Sudbrooke Holme to attend to business as part of the Committee appointed for managing the business of the intended canal from Swinton to Barnby Bridge and Haigh Bridge. They resolved:
On Saturday 20th October 1792 at the White Hart Inn in Wakefield a joint meeting was held between a Committee of Proprietors of the Rivers Aire and Calder and of a Committee of Proprietors of the River Dun.
A Committee of the Proprietors of the Aire and Calder Navigation:
- John Smyth [Gentleman, of Heath Hall, Wakefield, 1748-1811],
- Walter Spencer Stanhope [MP of Leeds, 1749-1822],
- John Lee [Lawyer of Wakefield, 1759-1836];
Committee for the Dun Navigation:
- Richard Ellison [Gentleman of Sudbrooke Holme, Lincolnshire, 1754-1827]
- Samuel Shore [Gentleman of Norton Hall, formerly Derbyshire, now in Sheffield, 1738-1828],
- Thomas Walker [?]
- John Ellison [Banker, of Thorne, brother of Richard, 1764-1810]
- Reverend Francis Cripps [Minister of Leeds Trinity Church, 1763-1801]
- Gamaliel Milner [Gentleman of Attercliffe Hall, Sheffield, 1747-1825]
- Robert Cutforthay [Gentleman of Rotherham, 1749-1799]
Who all agreed:
Enter the Engineers
In December 1792 Robert Mylne left London bound for Yorkshire. He rode out to Thorne to meet the Dun Navigation’s own engineer Mr John Tompson and to survey the prospective route for the proposed Dearne and Dove Canal.
By 5th April 1793 the House of Commons Journal records the Dearne and Dove engineers’ representations to Parliament in support of the Petitioners for the new canal Bill.
Joining the company – 1792
The Dearne and Dove Canal company was initially formed at a meeting held on 22nd Oct 1792, when the first call for subscriptions for shares was made, and the monies needed to proceed in the surveys and plans as well as petition for an Act of Parliament.
After the passage of the Dearne and Dove Bill into law in June, the first General Meeting of the Dearne and Dove Canal Compay took place on 4th July 1793 at the Red Lion Inn in Rotherham. The Chair was taken by Richard Ellison, and the officers of the company were appointed officially (the same gentlemen performed the same roles before the passing of the Act), and their pay was set out as the real business of canal building began:
- Mr William Stanley – Treasurer and Agent Accountant, £100 per annum (Stanley unfortunately died later that year)
- Mr William Hoyle – Law Agent to the Company, £50 per annum
- Mr John Tompson, engineer – also working for the Dun Navigation and the Stainforth and Keadby Canal Co.
After the first General Meeting, the first operative meeting of a Committee of the Dearne and Dove Canal Co. Took place on 12th July at the Bull’s Head in Brampton Bierlow, in the Parish of Wath upon Dearne. On that occasion the engineer was given the green light:
Power to the (wrong) people?
Despite becoming an Act, there was still local opposition to the new canal. The opponents appealed to the small land owners affected. It was a political as well as economic appeal, as those small owners also constituted the (male) voting electorate, in a period before significant parliamentary and electoral reform in the United Kingdom.
The small landowners none-too-subtly pointed out the inequities of Canal legislation, providing compulsory purchase powers to support the Canal promoters’ aims. They contrast the vested interests of the landed aristocracy, the Peers of the realm, who might also just happen to be the major coal and mineral owners locally; significant financial beneficiaries of inland navigation, both from the expansion of their own trade as well as the dividends from canal shares. Silently pointing the finger towards Wentworth, they protested:
To the smaller Proprietors of Land in Great Britain, and particularly those of the Parishes through which the Dearne and Dove Canal is intended to be cut.
[…] This act has now passed the Legislature, and powers are granted in it not only to enable the Company of Proprietors to force the land-owners to sell them their property, but to give every coal owner within a certain distance of the canal, a right to demand the sale of land from every proprietor between the coal and the canal, for the purpose of a rail-road, by which his coal is to be transported from the mine to the water.
[…] Thus the land-owners of Wath are to have their estates invaded to double the extent of the land owners of any other township. And why? Because it would seem the Lord of the Manor is a Peer of Parliament – Equality of Rights! …
A YORKSHIRE FREEHOLDER. Doncaster, July 20, 1793The Patriot, 17th July 1793, pp.267-276