John Smeaton’s Journal

John Smeaton’s Journal

The construction of the Calder and Hebble Navigation in the 1760s was a major development in the Waterfront area. Before this there was no through traffic on the water above Wakefield Bridge (now Chantry bridge) and almost no development on the river sides apart from the soke mills and an early dye works.

On the visit to the National Archives arranged as part of the Waterfront Project Shirley Levon photographed the journal of John Smeaton covering the years 1760-63. Smeaton, sometimes known as ‘the father of civil engineering’, was the instrument-maker and engineer from Whitkirk near Leeds employed to design and oversee the initial opening up of the Calder above Wakefield. His Journal includes the building of the Cut across to Fall Ings and the construction of the Barnsley and Doncaster road bridges over it, as well as the gradual completion of locks and other engineering projects working out of the base in the Wakefield yard.

After transcribing this Journal we intend to explore many of the things mentioned there or related to it. The Act of Parliament passed to set up this Navigation will show how its construction was intended to be managed. The Minutes of the Calder and Hebble Committee who steered the Act to set up the Navigation through Parliament and the Commissioners to whom Smeaton was reporting his progress are stored at the National Archives and are available to view on microfilm either there or in the Calderdale Archives. Smeaton drew up a very fine plan of the proposed Navigation in 1757, prints of which can be found in several archives as well as on the wall of the upstairs room in the Wharfside pub! Later plans of this Navigation in Wakefield Archives should throw light on some of the actual construction described in the journal.

The Turnpike Trust minutes, which may mention the bridging of the roads, are available in Wakefield Archives, where we can also search for Registry of Deeds records of land on the Waterfront purchased by the Commissioners. There are illustrations of some of the early warehousing along the Calder in the British Canal and River Trust Archive at Ellesmere Port. The Institute of Engineers has other reports by Smeaton which will throw further light on his work, and the Royal Society has six volumes of Smeaton’s working drawings which include warehouse designs on the waterfront, and a new soke mill and machines on Wakefield bridge. In John Goodchild’s collection is an interesting reference to Smeaton’s ownership of half an estate in Walton.

Lesley Taylor

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