After the Floods

Calder valleyAlong most of this stretch of the valley the River Calder is kept within its course by flood embankments except after exceptionally heavy rain, such as in last winter’s Boxing Day floods, but once it has overtopped these manmade levees there’s no direct way for the water to make its way back to the river as the flood subsides.

Increasingly, the canal, the Calder & Hebble Navigation, which runs parallel to the river, acts as an overflow channel but downstream from the Figure of Three locks the canal itself has what effectively acts as an embankment possibly built up in part by the navvies tipping spoil alongside the channel when they excavated this stretch of the navigation in the 1830s.

Following the Boxing Day floods, the farmer’s solution appears to have been to flatten a short stretch of the banking and to cut an overflow notch so that the field can drain across the towpath into the canal.

alluvial depositalluvial depositThe excavations have exposed alluvial deposits which are typical of this stretch of the Calder valley: sandy silt containing pebbles of what appears to be local sandstone.

As I understand it, these deposits were laid down after the last ice age in a valley that had been deepened because the river that occupied it was heading down towards a lower sea level. Sea levels were so much lower during the ice age that most of the North Sea was dry land.

Swollen by meltwater, this precursor of the Calder was more powerful than the river as we see it today, which meanders over its flood plain re-sorting the alluvial deposits by cutting into the riverbank on the outside of a meander and depositing a sandbar elsewhere. I imagine that flash floods were more powerful in the treeless landscape of the ice age.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, stretches of the river were channeled into a straighter course by canal building navvies and much later in the early 1960s the river was diverted during the construction of Healey Mills railway marshalling yards.

Over the Weir

Weir from the HepworthweirIn December there was so much water coming over this weir by the Hepworth gallery that a large barge was almost swept over it. The chain of orange barrels that straddled the river above the weir was snapped from its moorings on the far bank and now it trails down in front of the Hepworth like a giant string of beads.

weirI drew the weir from a table in the cafe then, as we walked around the galleries, I paused to make a couple of sketches of the turbulence at the foot of the weir, crouching or standing to draw. It was only then that I spotted that folding stools are available, which makes drawing in the galleries a whole lot more comfortable.

Wet media aren’t allowed in the galleries so I’ve added the watercolour later from memory.

Barbara Hepworth’s Workbench

vicemalletHammer, mallet and the ‘Parkinsons’ Patd Perfect Vise’ (that’s the American spelling) on Dame Barbara’s workbench all look well used.

Barbara’s dad always referred to this kind of hammerheavy square-headed hammer as a lumping hammer.



Hepworth activity sheet.
Hepworth activity sheet.

Picking up an activity sheet, I went in search of two wrestlers; Henri Gaudier-Brzeka had drawn wrestlers in a gym in Putney in November 1912 and he carved these two in herculite plaster the following year.

Sixty years later, in 1972, when I started as a student in London, I remember seeing the posters for Ken Russell’s film Savage Messiah. The poster features Brzeka drawing by chipping away at the tarmac with a pneumatic drill. The tagline is:

Every man has a dream that must be realized . . 
a love that must come true . .
a life that must not stop.

What impressed me about Brzeka was that he’d head for the London Zoo on Sundays where he’d draw at lightning speed, working so quickly that the ink didn’t have time to dry before he turned the page of his sketchbook. In contrast, as a student, I tended to choose one of the more sedate animals to draw, like the Indian rhinoceros. 

Link: The Hepworth

View across Cluntergate to New Street from the Caffe Capri
View across Cluntergate to New Street from the Caffe Capri


goosandersHorbury Bridge, 2.55 p.m.; A female goosander leads her seven young up the rapids at the foot of the old weir. As we watch the whole family disappears from view, giving the impression that mother and young have dived simultaneously. It’s the first time that we’ve seen a mother with young on the Calder.

Wakefield’s Old Park

  • Stanley Hall.

This walk, which starts and finishes at Wakefield cathedral and passes Pinderfields, the Old Park and the Chantry Chapel. There are a number of Robin Hood connections, including a sculpture of his sparring partner George-a-Green, the Jolly Pinder of Wakefield. On 25 January 1316 the maidservant of Robert Hode, was fined two pence for taking dry wood and green vegetation from the Old Park. This walk must pass very near the scene of the crime!

More about Robert Hode and the early Robin Hood ballads in my Walks in Robin Hood’s Wakefield, available in local bookshops, visitor centres and some farm shops. Also available online, post free in the UK, from Willow Island Editions, price £2.99.

The walk passes the site of St Swithen’s chantry chapel. Walk it while you can because there are plans for a relief road which it is proposed will go through the Old Park, later the site of Parkhill Colliery, linking with the roundabout near Wakefield Hospice at Stanley Hall.

The View from the Hepworth

IF YOU STAND on one of the bridges in Inverness you can see to the bottom of the river but it’s a surprise to find that you can do the same in Wakefield, looking into our lowland River Calder. This is the view from the Chantry Bridge side of the Hepworth gallery.

You’re looking down towards the Roman river crossing – which was probably a ford. The bedrock is sandstone, which might explain the pebbles although the riverbank has been restored using landscaping fabric here, so these pebbles might have been tipped here to protect the bank.

This is the inside of the bend on the river so you’d expect slack water and deposits of silt here however there’s a weir not far upstream so the strong currents will scour the riverbed.

We’re here to deliver books but we manage to time that to coincide with a late lunch (goats cheese and spinach risotto, a good winter warmer on a cold, wet breezy afternoon) at the table with the view of the Chantry Chapel so I get chance to make a quick sketch as we wait for our meal.

One of my paintings, Waterton’s World, a large acrylic on canvas from 1984, is in the Hepworth collection but wasn’t hanging in the public galleries today. Perhaps one day . . .

Actually I say it was a large painting but it was tiny compared to Clare Woods’ mighty composite panel paintings of Brimham rocks which are getting on for the size of the actual rocks themselves.

Link: Waterton’s World image of my painting on BBC Your Paintings at the Public Catalogue Foundation. You’ll also found a student picture, acrylic on board of Denby Grange colliery.