Tom Puddings return to Leeds

Published: Wednesday, 14 July 2010

FOR THE first time in nearly 30 years, the historic Tom Puddings  will return to Leeds as part of this year's Leeds Waterfront Festival celebrations.

These are the long 'trains' of flat  bottomed floating containers, linked together and loaded forming a canal train at Yorkshire coal mines then towed by tugs to Goole Docks.

As the last remaining type of their kind, this ‘Railway on the Water', was unique to the Aire & Calder Navigation, and operated for 125 years until finally ending in 1986.  The journey along the Aire & Calder navigation will be on Friday 16 July, for the weekend celebrations in Leeds.

Original skippers

As part of this year's waterfront festival they'll be heading up to Thwaite Mills Museum with two original skippers from their last run to Leeds—Goff and Ernie Sherburn.

During the industrial revolution huge amounts of coal were needed to power industry throughout Britain and Northern Europe. Transporting such a heavy and bulky cargo was made much easier when two navigations which meet in Wakefield, the Aire & Calder and Calder & Hebble navigations, were opened in the 18th century.

Designed the 'Tom Puddings'

However, loading and unloading coal from boats by hand was slow and gruelling work. After the 1840s, railways offered a faster, cheaper means of moving coal, so the navigation companies responded by inventing a way to move large amounts of coal quickly and cheaply. In 1862 waterway engineer, William H Bartholomew's answer was to design the ‘Tom Puddings'.

Trains of up to 38 Tom Puddings, or flat bottomed floating containers, would be linked together.  To speed up the loading of ships they would be lifted by one of five hydraulic hoists and the coal tipped into ships to be transported to other British ports and all around Europe.

Each train of Tom Puddings could transport around 800 tons of coal, but in windy weather the containers would sometimes snake across the canal making it difficult for other boats to pass.