Many people use the Bridleway, which runs through the village of Silkstone and down the valley, as a quiet, pleasant walk away from the busy roads. To the residents of Silkstone this public right of way is called the 'Waggonway'. It was formerly the route of a horse-drawn railway, built in 1809 by the Barnsley Canal Navigation Company who were granted an Act of Parliament in 1808 for the building of the Waggonway . This early railway transported the coal from the collieries in the Silkstone valley 2½ miles from Silkstone Cross to Barnby Basin, Cawthorne, the terminus of the canal.
The coal was loaded onto barges and transported throughout the canal and river network to the towns and villages in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, some being shipped from the Humber to London and other east coast ports. Back cargoes of limestone were brought back to Barnby Basin, to be burned in the limekilns. Much of the lime was used on land being brought into cultivation, such as former moorland.
Horses pulled the 3½ ton waggons, and this early railway conveyed thousands of tons of coal until the 1860s. In the late 1840s branch lines of the steam railway companies came into the area, and the use of the canal declined due to the competition. Coal had been mined in the Silkstone area for hundreds of years, but this land-locked coalfield had to wait until the coming of the canal and railways to be fully exploited.
In the early 1830s Robert C Clarke, colliery owner of Noblethorpe Hall, who was sinking a new colliery at Moor End Silkstone Common to exploit the reserves of coal in the Dove Valley, had the problem of getting the coal to the canal in the Silkstone Valley .This was solved by building an inclined plane to bring the waggons of coal up from Moor End, which was achieved by the use of a steam engine (Black Horse Engine) which pulled the waggons to the top of the hill at Silkstone Common. They were then taken by horses through Black Horse Tunnels, originally under a main road but later extended in the late 1840s to go under the new steam railway tracks.
At the other side of the tunnel there was a second inclined plane. This one was self-acting - the full waggons on their decent pulled the empty ones up. The 4" diameter rope used was wound around a large braking drum to control the operation. When the waggons arrived at the bottom of the inclined plane, which lay at the southern end of Silkstone village, they were taken by horse onto the Silkstone Waggonway at Silkstone Cross and then on to Barnby Basin.
In 1998 The Silkstone Waggonway Restoration Group was formed to look at ways of restoring some features of the Waggonway. We are fortunate that so many of the stone sleeper blocks, to which the iron rails where bolted, still remain in place. The Group reconstructed a short length of Waggonway on its original route at Silkstone Cross, and a replica waggon was added later. Signs have been put up to mark prominent sites, for people who are interested in the industrial history of the Silkstone Valley.
The Waggonway Trail is now used by walkers, ramblers, runners, cyclists and horse riders, and is promoted by Pennine Barnsley in their tourist maps and leaflets.
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