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Chesterfield Canal Trust awarded £10,000 grant to find legendary ‘Cuckoo’ narrow boat

A huge archaeological dig by Chesterfield Canal Trust has been enabled following a £10,000 grant from the Aviva Community Fund.

The money has been awarded to the Trust’s Last Cuckoo Project and will be used to run an archaeological dig at Staveley.

The archaeological dig is set to take place in August and hopes to uncover an original Cuckoo boat, unique to the canal, that is rumoured to be buried at the once thriving Bellhouse Lane canal basin in Staveley. The 19th century boat is thought to have been abandoned after the nearby brick-lined Norwood Tunnel collapsed in 1907.

The wooden narrow-keeled craft, which had a cabin below deck and could support a mast and sail, carried coal via the Chesterfield Canal, to a gasworks site in the 1800s. It was so-called a cuckoo because their unusual design meant people thought the boats looked different and out of place on the canal. Cuckoos were horse drawn and never equipped with engines, a mast was used when they ventured on to the Trent.

The dig will involve the whole community and will provide training and educating opportunities for many groups of people in the community including local history students, scout groups and school children.

The dig is a significant step forward in Chesterfield Canal Trust’s aim to preserve and record Chesterfield’s industrial heritage. 

The Aviva Community Fund is open to everyone and funds 800 projects throughout the UK with grants of £1000 - £25,000. Groups apply directly to the fund for grants and then projects are put to a public vote. Projects with the most votes are entered into the finals where a judging panel awards the funds.

Andy Robinson, a long time Trust member who wrote the Aviva Community Fund bid said: “I am absolutely delighted that we have won this money. We will spend the next few months getting everything ready for the dig itself, which will take place in August. We intend to involve lots of members of the local community, including children. This is a chance for them to learn first-hand about how Staveley played a vital part in the Industrial Revolution right from the start.”

Now that the bid has been won, the hard work is starting to make sure that everything is ready by August. Andy is appealing for old photographs, maps, documents, press cuttings and artefacts etc. relating to the Lowgates area of Staveley (especially the bottom of Bellhouse Lane).

For more information or to pass on photos to Andy Robinson, please email

The Chesterfield Canal Trust is a charitable company run entirely by volunteers who’s aim is to promote the full restoration and appropriate development of the Chesterfield Canal.

The Chesterfield Canal, widely recognised as one of the most beautiful and varied waterways in England, is being brought back to life right in the heart of the Chesterfield Waterside development.  

As well as the archaeological dig, the Trust aims to re-open the last eight miles of the 46-mile canal route, part of which is adjacent to the Chesterfield Waterside development. The tow path along the canal is known as Cuckoo Way and takes its name from the historic boats.

The tow path runs from West Stockwith in Nottinghamshire to Chesterfield passing through South Yorkshire. It runs along the edge of the Chesterfield Waterside development finishing at a new canal basin which has been constructed at the heart of the development in Basin Square.

Once the navigable waterway is restored, it will provide a natural habitat for wildlife, flora and fauna that can be enjoyed by residents, workers and visitors to Chesterfield Waterside.

To find out more about the Last Cuckoo Project please visit the Chesterfield Canal Trust website here.


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Peter Swallow,
Managing Director, Bolsterstone Group Plc.

36 The Bridge Business Centre
Beresford Way
Chesterfield S41 9FG
Tel: 01246 260206
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