The Sheffield and Tinsley Canal approaching the right now disused Attercliffe Railway Bridge in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.
Sheffield is on the River Don, but the upper reaches of the river were not navigable. In medieval times, the goods from Sheffield had to be transported overland to the nearest inland port – Bawtry on the River Idle. Later, the lower reaches of the Don were made navigable, but boats could still not reach Sheffield. Proposals to link Sheffield to the navigable Don at Tinsley (and so to the Rivers Ouse and Trent, and to the Humber and the North Sea) were made as early as 1697, but these came to nothing.
In 1815, the Sheffield Canal Company was formed by Act of Parliament in order to construct a canal.
The surveyors’ recommended route was to leave the River Don at Jordan’s Lock, opposite where the "Holmes Cut" of the Don Navigation joins the river and follow the north side of the Don Valley to a basin "in or near Savile Street". When this was put forward the Duke of Norfolk’s estate noted that it would preclude coal from their collieries at Tinsley Park and Manor reaching the canal and as the Duke was the largest financial backer of the project an alternative should be sought more favourable to their cause.
The alternative route was on the south side of the Don Valley, to terminate at a basin on the site of the former orchards of Sheffield Castle. This would require two series of locks, one, at Tinsley to raise the level from the river and a second, at Carbrook, to gain the necessary height for a level flow into the city centre. It was suggested that a short branch, known as "The Greenland Arm" should be built to afford access to Tinsley Park Collieries. Although the longer and more expensive option, the Duke’s support meant that this route was the one for which parliamentary approval was sought.
The Act of Parliament was passed on 7 June 1815 with 182 subscribers, the Duke of Norfolk (2,000) and the Earl Fitzwilliam (1,000) being the largest contributors. The civil engineer William Chapman had prepared the plans, and he became the Engineer for the project, which would cost £76,000. The foundation stone of the canal basin was laid by Hugh Parker of Woodthorpe Hall on 16 June 1816 and all was ready for opening less than three years later.
By 1840 the city could boast a service second to none, services to Greasbrough ran in connection with the twice weekly "fly-boat", which itself ran in connection with the Hull and London steamers. Richard Preston & Company offered a "fly-boat" service to Thorne for onward transshipment, whilst the London and Sheffield Union Company offered a service "without transshipment" to the capital. Other services ran to Gainsborough (fortnightly) and Leeds (every three weeks). Only five years on and the first major change came about when William Cobby offered water transport from London to Hull and Selby with onward forwarding to Sheffield by rail.
In 1846 there was a move by the long titled Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Wakefield, Hull and Goole Railway to acquire the Sheffield Canal Company and provide itself with a city terminus. Before this deal could be completed the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway came in with an offer which was accepted. The S.& L.J.R. became part of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway and on 22 July 1848 they became the owners of the canal. The canal was transferred to the River Dun Navigation Company by an Act of 28 July 1849 where it was joined by the Stainforth and Keadby Canal and the Dearne and Dove Canal. After fusion with the South Yorkshire, Doncaster and Goole Railway it became the South Yorkshire Railway and River Dun Navigation Company. The South Yorkshire Railway passed to the M.S.& L.R. and they again became the canal’s owners.
In 1895 the Sheffield Canal was amalgamated with the River Don Navigation and the Stainforth & Keadby canal to form the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation. The following year the facilities at Sheffield were modernised and a brand-new warehouse built straddling the basin.