Making the River Navigable

The Derwent was made navigable under authority of the Statute, 1 Anne V. 20 (1702), which conferred powers on certain persons, called the undertakers, to make the river navigable from Scarborough Mills to Hemingborough, the point of its confluence with the River Ouse. The navigation was never commenced at Scarborough Mills, and from a case which was submitted in 1807 to the then Solicitor-General upon the grievance of preferential tolls it would seem that for the space of some 20 years after the passing of the Act the powers conferred by it remained dormant. The original undertakers did not appear to have exercised their rights, but probably disposed of them for valuable consideration, as about 20 years later the rights appear to have been acquired by Lord Rockingham, to whom the greater part of Malton then belonged.
Between 1720 and and 1730 two persons, supposed to have been lessees of Lord Rockingham, made the river navigable from Hemingborough (the lower end) to the beginning of the town of New Malton, by building 5 locks (which still remain) and doing some other trifling work - this part of the river being naturally in such a state that it required few alterations to make it navigable, and including 16 miles of tidal water. The outlay was understood to have been about £4,000 out of a total estimated outlay of £60,000 required to complete the navigation to Scarborough. [1]
[1] Malton in Olden Times, first article, Malton Messenger

Manipulating the Tolls?

It would appear that the tolls on the river were manipulated; at first to benefit the land owner and later the railway company. The author of a letter to the editor of the Yorkshire Gazette in 1844 [1] observes that due to the system of tolls much of the trade of Malton has passed to Driffield and York. A newspaper report in 1913 [2] suggests that at one point a vessel was sunk across the river to prevent it being navigable beyond Lord Rockingham’s wharf. This would have ensured that those with freehold property adjoining the river would not have access for their goods. The obstruction was removed and local traders funded the necessary navigation improvements. On the opening of the railway there was competition between the canal and the railway. Speed and the lower rates of the railway company began to kill off the Navigation Company. In 1855, Lord Fitzwilliam sold the navigation to the railway company for £40,000. Lord Fitzwilliam’s agent handled the negotiations and became a director of the railway company. At that point competition ceased as tolls were raised from 10d to 2s8d per ton. In 1871, the railway company brought a Bill into Parliament containing clauses to vest the navigation entirely in them. Such a strong opposition was organised that a number of clauses were dropped. ‘On Saturday, a meeting of the committee of owners, merchants, traders, and others interested in preventing the North Eastern Railway Company from acquiring possession of the river, was held at the Talbot Hotel, Malton [3]
[1] Yorkshire Gazette, 28 December 1844
[2] Yorkshire Gazette, 1 March 1913
[3] York Herald, 18 February 1871


Before the arrival of the railway, the River Derwent helped maintain Malton's status as a trading centre. Malton had at least one resident boat builder, and launches from Thomas Smith's yard were a local spectacle. The Brothers was built for the corn and coal and carrying trade, to Wakefield, Leeds, and other parts of the West-Riding … in the evening the owner, workmen and other friends partook of a supper in connection with the event [1].
Mr. Smith also built the Charles and Jane, belonging to Mr. Charles Wood of Malton [2], and the James Russell, belonging to Messrs. Russell & Son [3]. Following the launch of the latter, 60 persons attended a launching supper at the Royal Oak Inn.
Another use of the river was revived by the Christian Brethren sect, led by Mr. Wright who baptised four adults. 'The novelty of the ceremony attracted crowds of persons of all classes, the bridge, the railway viaduct, and the island, and every available point where a view could be had, were crowded.' (a boy named Blackburn fell into the river and was rescued by a lad named Killen) [4]

[1] York Herald, 23 May 1840
[2] York Herald, 14 August 1841
[3] York Herald, 9 July 1842
[4] Yorkshire Gazette, 18 March 1865

The Malton and Hull Navigation Company

In the Malton Messenger of 1 January of this year the "Articles of Agreement" of the Malton and Hull Navigation Company were printed, from which it transpires that in 1837 the following gentlemen formed a company with the purpose of developing navigation between Malton and Hull.
James Dunlop, draper, Edward Rose, wine merchant; Robert Pickering and Henry Pickering, drapers; Abraham Sewell, grocer; Joseph Priestman and Isaac Priestman, tanners; Joshua Priestman and John Hopkins, curriers; Robert Woodroffe and Showler Woodroffe, ironmongers; Richard Tomlinson and George Kingston, brewers; George Barnby, stationer; William horsily, druggist; Joseph Taylor, factor; Robert Clegg, draper and grocer; Thomas Etty, wine merchant; Joshua Metcalfe, grocer; Thomas Taylor, grocer; Robert Rutter, boot and shoemaker; John Rutter, grocer; James Metcalfe, merchant; Charlotte Smithson, stationer (all of which reside in New Malton in the county of York); David Priestman, of Old Malton, in the said county, miller; John Slater, of the parish of Old Malton, aforesaid, nursery and seedsman; Robert Searle, of Norton, in the said county, grocer and spirit merchant; Edward Setchfield of the same place, raft merchant; and Benjamin Collins, of Scarborough, in the said county, gentleman.
The original capital of the Company was fixed at £2,500, divided into shares of £10 each.
Mr. X senior, used to tell his son that the Rye was navigable, at any rate as far as Newsham Bridge, which may well be so, as when the old Malton dam was demolished the Rye fell eight feet.

[1] Malton in Olden Times, first article, Malton Messenger in which the Malton Messenger columnist "Spectator" had discussed memories of an old resident of the town - his father was a waterman.

End of the Navigation

Clearly there were big advantages of transporting goods by rail. Just how quickly the river traffic had reduced can be deduced from the wording of a newspaper report in 1867. " … a most unusual occurrence for an inland town took place at Malton. One of the few sea-going sloops that even in these railway times still continues to ply to Malton, and belonging to Messrs. Metcalfe, merchants, was burnt at her moorings. The vessel had been discharged of coals during the day … …" [1]
The situation was compounded by the railway company failing to maintain the river i.e. dredging and cutting back overhanging trees. In 1874 a typical incident was reported [2] ‘the navigation of this river is becoming so much impeded near Malton, by the silting up of the bed, that it is no uncommon occurrence to see the few vessels that now track to the town, stuck fast when near their voyage end. Yesterday, one stuck right in the centre of the stream right beneath the new railway bridge, and had to be lightened of its load before it could be moved.’ A government inspector in 1884 concluded that 30 years previously there were ‘nearly 20 keels plying on the Derwent to Malton, there are now only 3, a result due to the action of the North Eastern Railway Company, to whom the Derwent Navigation was leased by Earl Fitzwilliam. A railroad probably from Malton to York, would soon remedy this, and render the river of comparatively little use and importance’ [3] In 1893, the Board of Trade held an inquiry into the canals owned by the North Eastern Railway Company [4]. At this inquiry, Mr. John Soulsby, president of the Malton and Norton District Traders’ Association recalled that previous to the arrival of the railway there ‘was a very considerable amount of traffic to Malton on the canal, some sixty to eighty vessels trading up and down, carrying coals and general cargo.’
The canal traffic was finally strangled, and at the time of writing the 1913 report referred to above [5], no vessels were trading on the river.
[1] York Herald, 14 December 1867
[2] York Herald, 29 September 1874
[3] Hull Packet, 28 November 1884
[4] York Herald, 4 November 1893
[5] Yorkshire Gazette, 1 March 1913

The County Bridge

The existing bridge was originally constructed around 1760 [1] and given the river is the dividing line, is part in Malton and part in Norton.
A new footpath on the west side of the County bridge was laid down in 1871 [2], 'and is a great convenience for passengers'.

The coming of the motor car made it hazardous for pedestrians to use the bridge and they also had to cross the railway. In 1914 there was discussion as to whether a bridge that went over both the river and the railway was feasible. The general conclusion by the Malton Chamber of Trade was to have a footbridge alongside the existing road bridge. [3]
[1] British Listed Buildings website
[2] York Herald, 10 June 1871
[3] Malton Messenger, 6 January 1923

The Wooden Bridge

The new iron bridge over the Derwent at Malton was opened for foot passengers on Thursday 26th January 1871. In a week the bridge is expected to be ready for general traffic. The whole of the old wooden bridge has been now removed [1]
[1] Driffield Times, 28 January 1871

River Connections

Death: Same day (Friday 31st July), at his residence, Barmby-upon-the-Marsh, Mr. Samuel Holdsworth, aged 71. He was 36 years dues collector on the Derwent Navigation for Earl Fitzwilliam, and was much respected. His end was peace. York Herald, 8 August 1846.
Death: Saturday se’nnight, in the evening, very suddenly, aged 55, Mr. W. Hastings, of Malton, Earl Fitzwilliam’s agent for his estates there, and manager of the Derwent navigation. Hull Packet, 30 August 1808
In March 1865 adult baptism in the river was revived by the Christian Brethren, led by Mr. Wright Yorkshire Gazette, 18 March 1865

STEAM versus WATER. - We may notice it as a passing sign of the times, that whereas the useful and necessary article of coal is now selling at 8s. per ton at York, it is sold for 18s per ton at Malton; but then it is brought by railroad and steam to York, whereas the Maltonians have to put up with the blessings of high freights and lock dues, on the celebrated navigation of the Derwent. We need say more on the subject. "Verbum sat," &c.
York Herald, 22 June 1839
… a Government inspector under the Canal Boats’ Act had paid a visit to Malton and on enquiry he found there were three boats on the river to which the Act applied, and which must be registered forthwith… … Of the three on the river, one is the navigation boat … … leaving only two keels plying to Malton with merchandise. This state was contrasted with that existing 25 to 30 years ago when there were 20 vessels plying to Malton.

York Herald, 29 November 1884

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The Derwent Navigation

An Act of Parliament was commenced on 30 December 1701 to make the River Derwent navigable. It was purchased by the North Eastern Railway Company on 1st May 1855 [1]. The initial work made the river navigable up as far as Yedingham. In 1846 a drainage scheme removed all the weirs beyond Malton to improve the drainage [2].
[1] National Archives
[2] York Herald, 4 November 1893

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