Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Legging It Up on the Huddersfield Canal

I love history. You probably noticed. So many fascinating stories, so many amazing personalities! I am currently reading about a daring female sea captain in Iceland in the late 1700s/early 1800s. She’ll feature in a future post. But something else mentioned in Sea History Today, the newsletter of the National Maritime Historical Society, caught my attention, and I simply had to write about it.

By the early 1800s, England was crossed with a number of canals used to carry goods between towns. Like on the Erie Canal in the United States, narrow canal boats were towed by horses walking a path alongside. But as more people began to clamor for more goods, it wasn’t as easy as building a canal along the flat. Sometimes, the engineers had to go up over hills with locks and lifts. And sometimes they just went through those hills.

Such is the case of West Yorkshire’s Standedge Tunnel. Authorized in 1794, it officially opened in 1811 on the Huddersfield Canal. It burrows through the Pennine Hills and is said to be the longest, highest, and deepest canal tunnel in the UK. Narrow boats would approach the tunnel, and the horse would be unhooked and led up over the hill to meet them on the other side. So, with no motor, no room for oars in the low-roofed, narrow-sided tunnel, how did the boat make it through?

With the help of leggers.

Leggers were burly fellows who would lay down on the deck of the narrow boat and set their feet on the tunnel ceiling. Then they would “walk” along the ceiling, propelling the boat through the tunnel and out the other side. The Canal Company actually employed them for the purpose. The gate at one end of the tunnel pays tribute to them.

I imagine they were great fun at local assembly dances!

Canal and hillside copyright John Topping

Tunnel gate copyright Linden Milner

1 comment:

Angela Rivera said...
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