Echoes of the past: Mill owners unhappy over plans for Brighouse canal

editorial image

One of the main ingredients to make a town or city prosperous are its transport links.

It was 1740 when consideration was being given to the idea of constructing a canal through Brighouse owing to the un-navigable parts of the river. But the mill owners would have none of this and objected to it. They all thought that it would leave them short of water for their mills.

In 1757 the Act of Parliament was passed to make the River Calder navigable from Wakefield to Salterhebble by constructing the canal. Within three years Brighouse had its own canal, constructed by James Smeaton the engineer who built the Eddystone lighthouse and was assisted by James Brindley who was to become the foremost canal building expert of his time.

It is difficult to imagine as you look across the canal basin that it was to become an industrial hub for Brighouse. It was once described as an inland port where it received and transported non-perishable goods and materials along the canal networks. These networks also lead to coastal ports and the eventual transhipment to ocean going vessels, Brighouse was now an exporting town.

From the town’s basic industries of stone quarrying, woollen textile mills, card clothing and cotton over a 25- year period from 1837 the industrial diversity of the town change considerably.

The canal basin was constructed alongside what was to become the Victoria Mills complex or Baines Square when it was purchased by Samuel Baines a nineteenth century entrepreneur in 1849. The first mill on the site was built in 1837 by J & H Noble with other mills soon following. It was to this site that Robert Newton and James Burrows moved their fledgling silk waste dressing business. After their partnership came to an end in 1852 Burrows and Monk began a new aspect of the silk industry by introducing silk spinning and would become a major employer in Brighouse for the next fifty years.

The cotton industry also flourished on this site and was soon in terms of numbers employing almost as many as the silk industry.

Looking across the canal basin in our featured photograph from the 1960s it shows two adjoining long buildings. These were built in the nineteenth century as navigation warehouses and were occupied by many different businesses for over a hundred years.

Following the closure of Sagar Marine the barge builders only a few years ago these warehouse buildings have been given a hug make over. This work has injected a new lease of life with a large part of it now being Jeremy’s, a favourite bar and grill for many people not only local residents but many visitors to the area as well.

The decline of the canal network started soon after Brighouse opened its first railways station in 1840 and even more so with the expansion of road transport.

At the recent and very successful Beer and Canal Fest the canal basin was a hive of activity. It was good to see so many people enjoying the leisure boat rides and so many others just taking a walk in an area of the town they will have rarely if ever have visited before.