Driffield Navigation and River Hull
Driffield Navigation and River Hull - History
The Driffield Navigation is actually made up of a number of linked waterways situated in
East Yorkshire to the north of the Humber. The main part of the route is the River Hull while at the northern
end is Frodingham Beck and the Driffield Canal. Also connected to the Hull are Beverley Beck and the Leven
Canal. The River Hull and part of Frodingham Beck are navigable while the Driffield Canal is mostly unnavigable
- though under various stages of restoration. .
The Driffield Navigation Commissioners gained an enabling Act allowing them to create a canal of about 5 miles
in length from the town of Driffield to the River Hull. The upper reaches of the Hull would then continue the
navigation south towards the Humber. Work began with John Grundy (who had worked on the Louth Canal) as
The Commissioners totalled 95 men which must surely be a record? This early date makes the
Driffield Navigation one of the earliest canals to be built in this country though it was regarded as an
extension to an existing river navigation rather than an independent waterway.
The Driffield Canal opened after 5 years of construction and having cost around
£15,000. Its main use was in carrying agricultural produce south to the Humber
from Driffield and the surrounding land.
In return it carried coal upstream into the villages along
its route. On this basis the route was fairly successful though problems on
the river portion of the navigation gave the Commissioners a lot of problems
and proved very expensive to maintain.
Constant repairs and maintenance, including rebuilding Hull Bridge, caused the
commissioners to fall into debt.
An Act was gained to allow the raising of tolls but this was granted only with the agreement
that the tolls would be reduced again as soon as all the debts were paid. Once the debts were cleared the
navigation would only be allowed to charge enough to keep the waterway maintained - without making a profit.
This was easy enough to agree to at this time as the Commissioners knew it would be many decades before the
debts would be cleared.
The Hull & Bridlington Railway arrived in Great Driffield. This forced the Commissioners to drop their corn
tolls but when two more railways opened in the area the navigation began to struggle. However, despite a
drastic decline over the next few decades the navigation stayed in business and continued to slowly clear its
It was reported that only £200 was left outstanding and the navigation would soon be out of debt.
Trade continued on the whole length of the navigation until the start of WW2. However, the trade which was lost
during the war was not regained afterwards and all trade came to a halt by 1949. In 1949 Brigham swing bridge
was fixed in place cutting off the Driffield Canal from the rest of the navigation. No boats have navigated the
whole of the canal section since this time though the bridge was reopened in 1964 and boats were able to reach
Wansford Bridge until 1970.
After a decade of disuse the future of the Driffield Navigation was secured when it became a major channel for
the supply of drinking water for Hull, millions of gallons of water now pass along the route everyday. The
navigation is also an important drainage channel so there is little chance of it ever being closed or
The Driffield Navigation Amenities Association was set up as a fund raising organisation for the navigation.
One of their first jobs was to re-establish the Commissioners for the navigation. However, this was no easy
task and it took some 10 years of lobbying by the association and the IWA before the association could gain
control of the waterway.
The Driffield Navigation became one of a very small number of waterways in Britain which is
managed independently (it is now looked after by the Driffield Navigation Trust) and the re-establishment of
the Commissioners meant that restoration of the canal could begin.
In the late 1960's the area around Driffield Basin was landscaped and had a picnic site
added. Old buildings, warehouses and two canal cranes were preserved and can still be seen today.
Driffield Town Lock was restored though it has stood unused since this time due to a dispute with a local
resident over the rights of access to the lock side. This dispute is still on-going in 2001 although the land
around the lockside has now changed ownership. The new owner is said to be "far more reasonable" and it is
hoped the dispute will be resolved fairly soon.
Another dispute arose near Snakeholme locks during the mid 1990's. This time it was the
local Trout Farm company who complained following some unauthorised works which were carried out on the locks
by well-meaning, but misguided, volunteers who were not members of the Driffield Trust. The Trout Farm believed
this work threatened water levels which were needed in the course of their business. Court action followed but
eventually work on the locks was allowed to continue. The final stage of this work is due to commence in Spring
The river portion of the route and the Frodingham Beck branch remain navigable and are used by local sailing
clubs, pleasure boats and a trip boat. The top part of the original navigation, the Driffield Canal, is
unnavigable but it's restoration continues and full navigation is expected in the near future.
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Driffield Navigation and River Hull - Route
The River Hull starts on the Humber at Kingston upon Hull , or simply "Hull" as it is more
commonly known. (The junction of the Hull with the Humber is situated at OS Grid ref TA101283, map 107). The
River Hull travels north out of Hull and after about 7 miles it passes to the east of Beverley where there is
an entrance lock into Beverley Beck (TA054398).
A further 1½ miles north is Hull Bridge (TA054417) where the original road bridge (A1035)
has now been superseded by a new bypass. However, the old bridge is still used by pedestrians and there is
still a fine pub and small settlement around the river. I had a nice lunch at the pub in April 1997, boats were
constantly moving up and down the river, many more were moored alongside the pub while sailing boats and canoes
were also making use of the waterway.
A lot of the stretch from Hull to Hull Bridge has a road alongside it though there is no
"towpath" as such. The river here is often higher than the level of the surrounding land so views of the
waterway are not always clear from the road. However, it is possible in places to walk along the top of the
embankment alongside the river.
About a mile north of Hull Bridge the river takes on a big loop near Arram (TA044442), about
another mile north is the point (near Aike) where the Hull Navigation officially becomes the Driffield
Navigation. Close by is the junction with the Leven Canal (TA062462 approx) which heads east for a couple of
miles into the village of Leven. It would appear that there is no road access to the junction though the Leven
Canal is short enough to walk its whole length from the main road (A165) in Leven (TA106451) or from the
lane/track leading to some holiday homes about half way along the Leven Canal (TA096450). Go to the Leven Canal
page for more info.
The River Hull takes the Driffield Navigation north on a meandering course. Over to the
west, though not always close by, is the Beverley & Barmston Drain. On this stretch are (or were) Tophill
Low Landing, Baswick Landing and Wilfholme Landing, the names suggesting that they were formerly staithes or
wharves where goods would be loaded and unloaded.
After 4 miles the navigation reaches Stuncheon Hill Locks (TA079498) near the settlement of
Hempholme. There appears to be a track/road leading to the locks. Just above the locks is the joining point of
the river and the Beverley & Barmston Drain.
Half a mile further north the navigation passes the entrance to Scurf Dike which heads off
(straight) to the west. This dike (on a map) looks as though it may once have been navigable? About ¼ of a mile
further on is the only remaining operational swing bridge on the navigation. This is Bethell's Bridge which
gives access to Hempholme to the east and Rotsea to the west. However, vehicle access appears to be from the
east only as the roads on the western side are marked on the map only as tracks.
About 400 yards further north is a junction (TA082518) with a branch which runs westwards.
This watercourse is actually the old River Hull, known as West Beck, which leaves the main navigation and
meanders north west to Great Driffield. It is still navigable for about 2 miles to Corps Landing. Although this
stretch is still covered by the original Act of Parliament (and therefore is open to pleasure craft), mooring
on its banks and at Corps Landing (at the head of navigation) is not permitted. Nevertheless, it makes a very
pleasant diversion for boaters who fancy a trip off the main navigation. The tiny settlement of Corps Landing
is marked on my map, one small lane/track appears to be the only road access but I don't know if this is open
to the public (probably not).
After passing the junction of West Beck (the old River Hull), the main line of the Driffield
Navigation continues northwards, now using the course Frodingham Beck. Another ¾ of a mile brings the
navigation to another junction (TA082527). To the north west is the partly disused Driffield Canal while
straight ahead (north east) Frodingham Beck continues for one more mile to a former swing bridge beside
Frodingham Wharf. This bridge is on the B1249 about one mile west of the village of North Frodingham. The
navigation used to continue north eastwards via a short arm to Foston Mill. When I visited Frodingham Wharf in
1997 I found a large trip boat moored at the head of navigation. It runs trips at weekends and on bank
The Driffield Canal, heading north west, is still navigable for its first mile to the
village of Brigham which is on a minor (dead-end) road off the B1249. This pretty farm village lies on the east
bank of the canal, the minor road comes to an end at the swing bridge in the village - on the west side of the
bridge is farmland. The bridge (formerly a swing bridge) has been fixed in place since 1970 and was in poor
condition when I saw it 1997, its restoration would open up another mile or so of the navigation. My latest
information on this bridge is that a new one has been made and is awaiting installation.
On the next stretch, between Brigham and Wansford, is Snakeholme Lock - or "Locks" as there
was a staircase of 2 here which replaced a single lock in the 1790's. This flight, which is currently under
restoration, has been officially listed as a "historic structure" (TA067555).
The passage through Wansford is tree-lined with Wansford Lock situated just before the B1249
swings along side the canal (TA062562). The lock has survived well though its top gates had rotted badly when I
saw them. However, the Driffield Navigation web site reports that the top gates are now in good condition and
are complete. A number of tree roots still need to be removed from the brickwork although the brickwork itself
is in good condition. The bottom gates have survived but will need to be renewed. In the 1970's a sunken barge
lay on the canal bed beside the lock. The canal at Wansford, alongside the main road, is very pretty though
there is no towpath.
It is here at Wansford that perhaps the biggest obstruction to full restoration is situated.
This is the road bridge (leading to the village of Skerne) which is now fixed in place. However, this is a
minor road and the bridge should be easy to restore - unlike so many other restoration schemes which have
dozens of such bridges and even motorways to contend with.
The canal and road run side by side out of the village, within half a mile or so Whinhill
Lock is reached (TA051568) beside a bridge which gives access to Whinhill Farm. This used to be a roving bridge
though it has now been flattened and will have to be rebuilt to allow navigation. The top gates of Whinhill
lock appear to be in good condition though the beams are very short and will need to be extended before the
lock can be used. The bottom gates have long since gone but the stonework is in fairly good condition.
From Whinhill Lock there is a good towpath on the western side. Near Whinhill Farm the canal
curves away from the road to head south west for about a mile. It then bends around to head north west into the
small town of Great Driffield.
The last lock on the navigation is Driffield Town Lock (TA031569), this is the one which has
been restored but awaits official opening. A pretty bungalow stands beside the lock with an immaculate garden
which is actually right on the lock side. A former owner of the bungalow refused access to the lock, claiming
that when he bought the house it stood alongside an abandoned canal with no apparent right of way. Now that the
lock is restored and, unofficially, usable again, the lock side is once again a right of way. The bungalow has
changed ownership in recent years and the newer owner is said to be far more reasonable. For the time being
though - unless you are daring, rebellious or seeking attention - it is best to stick to the well marked
footpath around the back of the bungalow.
About 600 yards above the lock is Driffield Basin (TA027574). The approach to the basin is
flanked by a well kept grassy area. There are two preserved canal cranes at the basin - seating and tables have
been provided for picnics here since the 1960's. The whole area was then described as "very pleasant" and was
said to be the most attractive feature of the town. Having seen the basin myself in 1997 I can confirm that
this still holds true. There are lots old buildings at the basin including a number of terraced cottages and
warehouses which have been converted into flats. Access to the basin is via the minor road which runs across
the south eastern edge of the town from the B1249 to the A164.
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