The Aire and Calder Navigation Company made the River Aire navigable as far as Leeds in 1704 with the construction of locks and lock cuts between Knottingley and Leeds. Two years later, the company made the River Calder navigable from Castleford to Wakefield.
It was soon found that the navigation was inadequate for the potential demand. Shoals, shallow lock cills and low water levels in the easterly section of the Aire meant that passage was restricted to smaller, shallow-draughted boats
New locks and longer sections of cut were added between Castleford and Leeds. In 1821 a new 17 mile cut was constructed from Knottingley to the River Ouse at Goole, where docks were built.
By 1835 all the locks had been rebuilt to have depth of 7 feet over the cills. In 1839, a twisting length of the Calder was bypassed by a straighter 4 mile section between Fairies Hill and Broadreach, also with a depth of 7 feet. This included building an aqueduct across the river at Stanley Ferry.
William Bartholomew, the cheif engineer between 1853 and 1895, developed the "Tom Puddings" - compartment boats that were put together in trains to be pushed by a tug. They transported coal from the Yorkshire collieries to Goole and later to power stations.
The navigation never went out of use and is still used for commercial traffic with such cargoes as oil and sand being carried.