The build up to the construction of the Aqueduct started in 1699 when the passing of an Act through Royal Assent gave permission to make the River Aire and Calder navigable to Leeds and Wakefield. The Aire and Calder Navigation Company cleared parts of the river from silt and in the early part of the 19th century a lock and a ferry boat had been introduced at Stanley - hence 'Stanley Ferry.
By this rime we were playing our part in the Industrial Revolution which made it necessary to improve our transport systems. To this end our rivers were put to better use. The engineering skills of Brinley (who died in 1772) and Smeaton (who died in 1782) had made many canals and cuts which eliminated the natural twists and bends in our rivers and made it easier on maintenance. When one looks at a map of Stanley showing the river we can see many such features as the river twists and curls through our village. These great engineers were followed by Thomas Telford (1757-1834).
It was in 1836 that the Aire & Calder Navigation made plans to build an Aqueduct in order that the existing 'cut' could cross the river and join up to a further waterway. A contract to build was given to Messrs Graham Milton Iron Works of Elsecar at an estimated price of £40-50,000. The works were supervised by their engineer, Air Haythorn. There were engineering opinions expressed which regarded this Aqueduct as one of the best engineering projects of its kind in this country.
The tank which was suspended by rods from two bow-string girders was 180 feet in length, 24 feet in width and 9 feet in depth. When at a water level of 8ft 6ins, the weight of water was 940 tons; total weight of the structure when full of water being 1.700 tons. The opening ceremony was in August 1839 - the Wakefield Journal of August 16th 1839 gave the following report:-
'Yesterday' there was a gay' and animating scene at Stanley Ferry' on the occasion of the opening of the remainder of the new canal from Broadreach, below Lodge Farm, to Fairies Hill. The water was turned on at Broadreach Lock at 3 p. m. It was an interesting sight to witness the process of filling, which occupied from 3 to 4 hours; during which time, as a matter of course, the water in the river below the lock fell several inches exhibiting a variety of shoals.
The canal, when full, altered much of the appearance of the scene, affording as it does an attractive sight in the chasm in which it flows. Taking it altogether, perhaps there is not a finer canal in the kingdom. A vessel named "James", a 160 ton schooner built by Cravens of Wakefield, was the first to travel through this new "cut". She was drawn by three horses and was colourfully decorated and crowded by people from different occupations. Amid much cheering from the many onlookers she entered the Aqueduct late afternoon. The engineers, inspectors and management staff were entertained to evening dinner at the Stafford Arms, Wakefield. Mr Maude of Knostrop, Leeds, took the chair. Meanwhile the many workmen who had been employed on the building of this Aqueduct and its surrounds were entertained in the local public houses.
We now had the Ferry and Aqueduct in operation. 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 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. There was the need for a bridge.
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 Revd. 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.
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