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The charity making life better by water

Unlocking Leeds with stories of the past

A unique arts event on Friday 2 February, as part of National Storytelling Week, will see a free public open weekend on the 3 and 4 February. Plus, new, handmade lock gates are being installed at the first lock on the Aire & Calder Navigation at Leeds Dock.


To celebrate the old lock gates being replaced with brand new handmade gates at Lock 1 on the Aire & Calder Navigation, we're unlocking the stories from the past during a special arts evening and open weekend.

During National Storytelling Week on Friday 2 February from 6pm, people can travel back in time to hear waterway stories from the past from a giant talking storybook and a haunted unknown navvy, one of the men who helped to build the navigation, deep inside the dark lock.

The stories in ‘Hidden Depths: Unlocking stories from below the waterline' are inspired by real life characters and events throughout the years. Tickets are £5 and include a free drink.

Public able to step inside the lock

The stories will continue over the weekend as visitors will be able to walk down into the huge drained lock, right next to the Royal Armouries in Leeds Dock, to see the old gates up close and talk with the experts from the charity about the work taking place. Archive photographs of the Aire & Calder Navigation and plans of the dock dating back to 1850 will be on display and there will be special sword fights down in the drained lock performed by the Royal Armouries team at 11.00am and 2.00pm on both days.

There will also be family activities, a pop-up museum of artefacts from the National Waterways Museum and a chance a find out if you have what it takes be one of the new volunteer lock keepers we're recruiting for.

Tom Wright: "It's not every day you get to walk down into a drained lock and this particular lock hasn't been drained in 30 years so it's a great space to explore. I'm really looking forward to finding out what the team from the Royal Armouries are fighting about and hear stories the unknown navvy will be regaling on Friday night deep in the lock. Make sure you book a ticket for the Friday night!

"With free entry to the Royal Armouries Museum, which has a great view overlooking the lock, this is certainly an event not to miss. As well as learning all about the works and the history of the area, we'll show visitors why we think Leeds is a city full of culture and creativity. Join us for a weekend of unearthed secrets and whispers from the past."

The lock gates are being replaced as part of our annual £38 million, five-month programmer of repairs to England and Wales' waterways between November and March. As a charity, we carry out an annual programme of restoration and repairs to the nation's waterways during the winter to minimise the inconvenience of navigation closures to boaters during the busy summer season.

The lock gates at Lock 1 on the Aire & Calder Navigation have come to the end of their life and are being replaced with brand new handmade gates made bespoke at the charity's lock gate workshop in Wakefield.

Martin Pollard, from the construction team working on Lock 1, says: "After a tricky start to the works due to high river levels, we now have the stop planks in which hold back the water. We're starting to drain the water out of the lock and clear the silt which has built up over the years. We'll then use the 60-tonne crane to lift out the rotten and waterlogged seven tonne old gates and replace them with brand new five tonne gates. Leeds Dock has had a lot of regeneration over the last few years and we're pleased the navigation can get in on the act with these new gates!"

Richard Parry, chief executive of Canal & River Trust, says: "Our teams work year-round to keep the waterways open and safe for everyone to enjoy, which requires a huge amount of planning, investment and craftsmanship as well as a wide range of knowledge and expertise. By opening up the lock to the public we can give them a glimpse into the waterways' original 18th Century design and explain the scale of the Canal & River Trust's work to care for all of our waterways now. We really believe that whatever you do life is better by water so we want to inspire more people to support us to ensure we can continue to make our waterways great places to enjoy."

Last Edited: 30 January 2018

photo of a location on the canals
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