Ripon Canal

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Ripon Canal basin, at the end of the Ripon Canal

The Ripon Canal in the West Riding of Yorkshire was built by the canal engineer William Jessop to link the city of Ripon with the navigable section of the River Ure at Oxclose Lock, from where boats could reach York and Hull. It opened in 1773, and was a moderate success. It was sold to the Leeds and Thirsk Railway in 1847, and was effectively closed by 1906, due to neglect. It was not nationalised with most canals and railways in 1948, and was abandoned in 1956.

In 1961, members of the Ripon Motor Boat Club formed the Ripon Canal Company Ltd, and gradually restored the canal up to Littlethorpe. Subsequently, the Ripon Canal Society spearheaded restoration, which was completed in 1996. It is now managed by the Canal & River Trust.


The building of the Ripon Canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament passed on 15 April 1767, and the canal was the final part of a larger plan to upgrade the River Ure from its junction with the River Swale to Oxclose, where the canal would leave the river and head for Ripon, some 2½ miles away. Below the Swale, the Ure becomes the River Ouse, and so carriage of goods to and from York and Hull would be possible.[1] The estimated cost of the whole project was £9,000, and the Act established Commissioners, who could borrow money in order to fund the development, although the total amount of money to be borrowed was not regulated by the Act. The works were designed to allow the passage of keels along the waterway, which were 58 ft by 14 ft 6 in.[2]

Work started on the lower sections first, which were progressively opened from 1767. The canal route was surveyed by William Jessop, and work on its construction started in 1770, with Jessop acting as Engineer, supervised by John Smeaton. The engineer overseeing the day-to-day operation was John Smith, and a masonry contractor from Halifax called Joshua Wilson was also employed. Construction was completed in early 1773, at a cost of £16,400, and regular services between Ripon and York started in February. The canal was fed with water by a feeder which left the Rivers Laver and Skell in Ripon.[2] One of the primary purposes of the canal was the carriage of coal to Ripon, north from the Yorkshire coalfields, with lead and agricultural produce moving in the opposite direction.[1]

Trade on the canal grew steadily, but there were difficulties by the 1820s, as the commissioners had failed to repay the original loans, and interest totalling £11,450 had accrued on them.[3] The original Commissioners had ceased to function, and so a group of creditors formed "The Company of Proprietors of the River Ure Navigation to Ripon", and obtained a second Act of Parliament on 23 June 1820, which gave them powers to raise £34,000 by the issuing of shares, with an extra £3,400 if needed. They were required to spend £3,000 on repairs within five years of the Act being issued.[1]

Improvements were made, both as a result of the Act, and separately in 1838, which resulted in larger boats being able to negotiate the canal. Payloads increased from 30 tonnes in 1822 to 70 tonnes in the 1840s, when the navigation could accommodate boats drawing 4 ft 6 in all the way to Ripon. It was never able to handle the Humber sloops, which ran as far as Boroughbridge, with their width of 15 ft 9 in and draught of 6 ft 6 in.[3]

Despite the railway from Darlington to York opening on 4 January 1841, which provided a way to bring coal from the Durham Coalfields south to York, the Aire and Calder Canal were shipping around 26,931 tons of coal per year along the Ure Navigation at the time, and the Company of Proprietors were making profits of £886 on an income of £2,013. Some of this traffic stopped at Boroughbridge on the River Ure, but a good proportion passed along the canal to Ripon.[3]


1844 marked a turning point for the canal. The Leeds and Thirsk Railway Company wanted to build their railway, and sought to buy the Ure Navigation, and hence the canal, in order to gain local support for their plans, and hopefully to reduce the potential opposition to their bill in parliament. The sale was agreed between the two Boards, and the railway Company's shareholders endorsed the decision in January 1845. An Act of Parliament to authorise the railway was obtained in July 1845, and the Navigation was bought for £34,577 in January 1846, although only £16,297 was paid in cash. The Act required the railway Company to keep the navigation open and in good order.[4]

Railway expansion was rapid, with the Leeds and Thirsk Railway becoming the Leeds Northern Railway, and then that becoming part of the North Eastern Railway in 1854. The navigation was neglected, and the lack of dredging resulted in boats having to be loaded with less cargo. There was a brief upturn in trade in the 1860s, but the decline continued after that. By 1892, no traffic proceeded past Boroughbridge, and the Ripon Canal was effectively disused. The first attempt to abandon the waterway was made by the North Eastern Railway in 1894, but local opposition prevented this action. It was then offered to the Corporation of York as a gift, but it was not accepted. The NER then took action to prevent the waterway above Boroughbridge being used,[4] and the canal was reported to be impassable by 1906. The River Ouse, and therefore the canal, were not nationalised in 1948, when most British canals were, but with no traffic, the canal was officially abandoned in 1956,[5] under the terms of the British Transport Commission Act of 1955.[4]


Although an attempt by the British Transport Commission to sell the canal to Ripon Corporation in 1952 had been declined,[6] closure of the canal was unpopular locally, and such opposition prevented the canal from being filled in. In 1961, the Ripon Canal Company Ltd was formed, consisting largely of people who were part of the Ripon Motor Boat Club, with the intention of leasing the canal, and gradually re-opening it. The lower half from Oxclose Lock to Littlethorpe was finally restored to use 25 years later.[5] To assist with the restoration of the section from Littlethorpe Lock to Ripon, the Inland Waterways Association managed to have the idea included into North Yorkshire Council's "River Ure and Ouse Recreational Subject Plan". The Council suggested that a restoration society should push this forwards, and so the Ripon Canal Society was formed in 1983.[7] The restoration was finally completed in 1996, and David Currey, MP declared it open at a ceremony held on 8 September. With their task completed, the Ripon Canal Society disbanded at their 1997 annual general meeting, donating the remains of their funds towards the repair of Linton Lock, lower down the River Ure.[8] Management of the canal was handed over to British Waterways,[5] and transferred to the Canal & River Trust in 2012.


Ripon was said to be the most northerly point of the connected British canal system, a claim which has been affected by the opening of the Ribble Link in 2002. The Lancaster Canal is now considered to be part of the connected canal system, and Tewitfield, at its northern end, now qualifies for this accolade.[5]

The canal terminates at a basin close to the centre of Ripon, where one of the warehouses has been restored. New housing on one side of the basin has been designed to fit in sympathetically, and there is some older housing on the other side.[9] There are no moorings in the terminal basin itself, but short-term mooring is available just to the south. There is also a marina near Ripon Racecourse. The canal is under 2½ miles long, and the entire length has a canalside walk, which utilises the towpath from Rhodesfield Lock to Oxclose Lock, although the towpath cannot be used by cyclists.[5]

Points of interest


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Priestley 1831, pp. 648–650
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hadfield 1972, pp. 111–112
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Hadfield 1973, pp. 345–347
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Hadfield 1973, pp. 450–452
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Cumberlidge 2009, pp. 253–254
  6. Squires 2008, p. 31
  7. Squires 2008, p. 112
  8. Squires 2008, p. 140
  9. Nicholson 2006, p. 83


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