Photo: John Lord
A flight of locks can be a magnificent sight for photographers and gongoozlers, albeit one that boaters will regard with a certain amount of trepidation, anticipating the hard work and blisters that can result. One of the north east’s most impressive flights is the 11 connecting locks at Tinsley on the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, which were built to get what was originally the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal from the River Don to the centre of Sheffield. This small but vital canal featured in the opening scenes of The Full Monty in 1997.
Flights are required whenever the canal has to navigate steeper inclines that can be handled by single locks, which are usually designed for water differences that are no greater than 6-8 feet. Whenever there’s something steeper, a flight is constructed. Flights are a series of locks located in close proximity, sometimes divided by pounds and sometimes connected to form stepped ‘staircases’, in which case they share a gate with the adjacent lock. Centuries after their construction, many flights are still in use and remain impressive and effective pieces of engineering that bring a dose of ingenuity to a landscape.
The flight at Tinsley originally consisted of 12 locks, but now numbers 11 – in 1959 two locks were combined to accommodate a new railway bridge. These locks are shorter than average, so can only accommodate craft with a maximum length of 61 feet 6 inches. The engineer was William Chapman and the short canal, which is just four miles in length, was opened in 1819. Following conservation work, the towpath provides a pleasant walk out of Sheffield city centre, and is a popular spot for anglers. Several lock gates were replaced in 2016, ensuring the flight remains in great condition as the canal prepares for its 200th anniversary.