By Alan Stopher, chairman, Huddersfield Canal Society

May 1st 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the re-opening of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to through traffic.

Current pandemic restrictions make celebratory gatherings impossible this year but we aim to mark the re-opened canal’s ‘Coming of Age’ on the 21st anniversary on May 1st 2022 instead.

The picture above shows the then Mayor of Kirklees, Clr Ann Denham, cutting the tape on the approach to the new Bates Tunnel. The image below shows the first boat to make the full passage from east to west.

The re-opening in 2001 enabled boats to cross the Pennines once more by the shortest route and traverse the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in the UK.

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The canal had officially been closed during the Second World War and the last known passage was in 1948 when an intrepid crew made the journey from Ashton-under-Lyne to Huddersfield in 1948.

The Huddersfield Canal Society, formed in 1974, gradually gained the confidence of local and navigation authority partners and started to restore sections from the 1980s onward.

The first boat through. Pictures by: Alan Stopher/Huddersfield Canal Society

Although significant progress had been made on reconstructing 62 of the 74 locks by the mid-1990s, it took major funding from the Millennium Commission and English Partnerships to open the remaining blockages.

At first, British Waterways took on the operation and maintenance of the 20 mile long canal as part of the national network and from 2012 it became the responsibility of the Canal and River Trust. Both organisations have made improvements in the navigability of the canal. It is now an established part of the network and on many boaters’ bucket-lists.

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As well as transforming the centres of Stalybridge and Slaithwaite it has encouraged regeneration and new businesses in the Tame and Colne Valleys. Standedge Visitor Centre also opened in 2001 and since then it has given many visitors trips into the restored Standedge Tunnel.