The canal comes through Hirst Wood
In the Parker Papers in Halifax Record Office, there are a number of letters to Cyril Jackson, Lord of the Manor of Shipley, who was living in Stamford, from his steward William Holden. Some of them contain snippets of information about the progress of the Leeds & Livepool Canal through Hirst Wood.
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On 2 July 1766 colliery owner John Stanhope called a meeting in Bradford to discuss the possibility of a waterway linking east to west across the Pennines. Three years later, when he was taken ill, he handed over masterminding the project to John Hustler of Bradford (pictured). The plan was to open up a highway that could more easily and economically transport products like coal and lime from Lancashire to where they were needed in Yorkshire, while manufactured goods like woollens would travel the other way, where they could be placed on ships sailing from Liverpool. After 46 years and more than £877,000 spent on construction, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was completed in 1816. The first company boat to travel the full 127 mile length, navigating the 91 locks and 300 bridges, left Leeds on Saturday 19 October 1916 and arrived in Liverpool the following Wednesday. Building the canal had been a massive undertaking, a glimpse of which we can see locally. .
21 June 1771 Holden reports that canal surveyor John Longbotham has staked out the route he wants the canal to take through Hirst Wood and promises he will ‘immediately proceed to have it valued till which, I can say no more about it.’ He urges Jackson to send his approval by return of post as the canal company want a quick decision and he is meeting with them the following week and has promised a decision.
9 July 1771 We learn something of the effect the canal is having on the local economy when William Holden suggests he will get the best price for the wood that has been chopped down in Hirst Wood from the canal company because builders, to whom he would normally sell it, are not very busy. This is mainly because masons have shifted to working on the canal where they can get more money - three or four shillings a day.
15 February 1772 ‘The Commissioners met last Monday and fix'd a value on all the Lands through wch the Canall is to go within the Townships of Shipley and Windall (sic) You'll be much surpris'd when I tell you that they have Valued the Soil in the Hirst Wood in its present situation at no more than 7s 6d per acre Annuall rent and that at Thirty years purchase which will but be £12. 7s. 6d per acre. ‘The Committee proposed makeing a Tender of the money immediately and after that, if it was refus'd to enter upon the Land; I desir'd they wou'd indulge me with time to have your Ansr (wch they promised) for was very sure you would not abide by what the Commissioners had done, neither to suffer them to enter upon the land till a full consideration was paid.’ Holden was able to compare the price that Jackson had been offered with that received by another client of his who was also dissatisfied and was going to take the matter to a jury. It was Holden’s view that several other landowners were also unhappy with the offers made to them and concludes: ‘am pretty sure they will not abide by the Comrs Award from the prices they asked before they came. Shall be obliged to you for your ansr by return of Post & in the mean time may depend on my getting all the information I can & after that may rely upon my best services in the affair.’
7 June 1772 By the middle of 1772 the dispute with the canal company has switched from the value of the land to the value of the wood that was growing on piece of land purchased by the canal company. Holden conceded that the company were ‘intitled to the wood now growing on the Land in the Line of the Canall, (upon which I gave it up to them as it was so trifling)’ but was ready to fight over the value of the wood that the Lord of the Manor had taken from that land immediately prior to the sale. Reading between the lines, it would appear that Holden had foreseen the problem and removed much of the wood because he later compares the fate of Mr Stansfield who was about make a ‘considerable loss’ by way of eight or nine acres of mature wood, ‘and consequently more valuable’. The canal company were clearly slow at parting with their money because he adds that he had attended a meeting the previous day at which Mr Hustler, the canal treasurer, had promised him payment in a month ‘which I agreed to take as I thought you would not object giving them a months Indulgence altho' from their past conduct they did not deserve it.’ Finally we learn that despite all the disagreements, work had started: ‘They enter'd upon cutting the last week tho' I absolutely told 'em there wou'd be an action brought against them if they did; shall call for the money as above & send your Bill for it at the time.’
17 August 1772 We get a glimpse of the financial problems the canal company were having when Holden complains that there has been another delay in them paying the money they owe for the land in Hirst Wood. ‘I have waited a number of times in expectation of being paid; I called upon Him the last week, and He has promised to pay me the whole of the purchase money as next Thursday which I think I may depend upon,. ‘The reason given me for deferring the payment was the late Bankruptcies in London, which has not only prevented his drawing at London, but has also been the cause for a number of Calls not been regularly paid. ‘And as it was thought that you have so much better price than your neighbour Mr Stansfield, hoped you would not be against given a little indulgence.’
16 February 1773 Holden explains his slow response to a letter from Jackson because he had been waiting to settle damage to the underwood. The canal company had claimed that Jackson had received such a good price for the land, he should put up with a little damage and they would settle up when they had finished working. Holden adds: ‘I suppose will not be long before I've recd the full purchase money for the Land agreable to my former Acct.’
The disputes continued into 1773, now mainly about the mess the navigators were making
8 March 1773 Holden thinks they have nearly finished the work in Hirst Wood ‘at wch time I'm in hope (if not sooner) to have all the matters finally settled. I've intimated to the Committee your intentions of haveing another Jury, Provided they did not immediately agree to settle with me the dammage sustain'd in your wood by brushing out of the Line.’
8 August 1773 Holden reports that the canal company had been ‘digging and carrying prodigious quantity of soil our of the wood for lining the sides and bottom of the Canall by which I am of opinion they have destroy'd above an Acre of the Ground. ‘I have severall times awaited upon the Gentm of the Committee respecting the dammage which they promise shall be settled when they had finished through your prems wch I think is now nearly completed.’ He requests that Jackson should arrange to visit the area so that final agreements can be reached over payment for damages, which ‘can never be so properly done as by your presence and upon your own view.’
28 December 1773 The canal clearly still had financial problems because Holden writes: ‘Since your last letter I waited upon the Treasurer of the Canall for the Ballc of the Land, as also for satisfaction for dammage on the Hirst Wood but he desired I wou'd differ the payment for three months longer as the stock at present I believe is very low.’
‘They enter'd upon cutting the last week’
THE NOBLEST WORKS OF THE KIND Despite all the problems, on 21 March 1774 the first boat made the trip from Bingley to Shipley, loaded with coal. The Leeds Intelligencer wrote: “From Bingley to about three miles downwards the noblest works of the kind are exhibited, viz: A fivefold, a threefold and a single lock, making together a fall of 120ft; a large aqueduct bridge of seven arches over the River Aire and an aqueduct and banking over the Shipley Valley. “The joyful and much wished for event was welcomed with the ringing of Bingley bells, a band of music, the firing of guns by the neighbouring Militia, the shouts of spectators and all the marks of satisfaction that so important an acquisition merits.”
The opening of the canal didn’t mean the end of disputes. On 25 October 1914 Mr C H Briggs, secretary to Sir Titus Salt, Bart., Sons & Co., wrote to the canal company asking them to fence off the land at Hirst Lock because ‘our tenants at the Hirst Farm reports to us that already two cows and one horse have strayed into the bye-wash and that he is unable to pasture his cattle in the fields adjoining without someone having to be there to guard and keep them out of danger.’