About this image
The River Rother looking south-west from Wharf Lane footbridge with the famous twisted spire of St Mary's Church on the skyline. Since the 18th century the form and use of the Rother immediately north of Chesterfield has been closely entwined with the history of the Chesterfield Canal, which used it (apparently without any legal authority) to reach the town from Tapton.
The Chesterfield Canal was a 46 mile waterway that ran from West Stockwith on the River Trent in a generally south-westerly direction via Retford and Worksop to reach Chesterfield. It opened in 1777 and remained quite successful until the mid-1800s when much of its traffic began to be lost to railways and indeed it was taken over by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (later re-styled the Great Central Railway) in 1846. In engineering terms the canal was effectively in two parts with a summit pound at Norwood, west of Worksop, approached on either side by long flights of locks. The summit level included the narrow and lengthy Norwood Tunnel, which at 2,884 yards (2,637 metres) was the longest canal tunnel in the country when first built. However, it was the tunnel that proved to be the achilles heel of the canal as it was plagued by mining subsidence, which eventually caused its closure in 1908, thus isolating the westernmost section of the waterway. There was very little traffic above Worksop after this and the portion to Chesterfield gradually became derelict. Eventually sections were drained, filled in or built over.
In recent years the Chesterfield Canal Trust have developed long term plans to reopen the canal all the way from Chesterfield to Kiveton, the present head of navigation at the eastern end of the now blocked Norwood Tunnel. Between 1989 and 2012 restoration of the length from Chesterfield (Tapton) to Staveley was completed in stages and a new terminus basin constructed at Chesterfield in advance of a commercial redevelopment scheme. At the time of writing (2014) this basin is not yet connected to the restored section of canal as it requires reinstatement of navigation on the river for about half a mile upstream from Tapton Mill Bridge to Tapton Bridge (Brimington Road) and construction of a new entrance lock.
The stretch of river seen here will form part of the reinstated navigation. When first built the original terminus of the Chesterfield Canal was at the bottom of Wharf Lane and this was reached by a short arm off the Rother. This lay to the rear of the photographer but disappeared around 1890 to make way for construction of the owning Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway's new loop line through Chesterfield. A replacement wharf was provided further south nearer to Tapton Bridge by the MSLR, which then involved boats using this part of the river to access it, although with the closure of Norwood Tunnel this practice did not last long.