In the late 1600s, the Aire & Calder Navigation carried coal and cloth. Despite competition from railways and roads, the waterway was improved to carry larger tonnages and it is still an active commercial waterway today, carrying coal, oil, gravel and sand.
It was announced in October 1964 that at Ferrybridge "C" Power Station a coal discharging installation was to be built to raise and tipple 210 ton barges in nine minutes. Coal would be delivered in trains of three 210 ton capacity compartment boats, propelled by a powerful tug. The system was designed by Strachan and Henshaw Ltd, of Bristol. On arrival at Ferrybridge, the barge trains were to be led into a channel approaching the unloader. At this stage they were to be taken in hand by a marshalling system and the tug moved away downstream to collect waiting empty trains. The barge tippler was a large unloading hoist which was to raise the boats forty feet above water level, discharging the coal into an elevated receiving hopper which feeds the conveyer system, leading to the power station. By this means, a planned unloading rate of 1,000 tons per hour was to be achieved. The manufacturers claimed that this system of water-borne transportation and handling could make a considerable contribution to industrial efficiency. The use of a tippler enabled barge carriage to compete favourably with, and be independent of, all other forms of transport, wherever there is reasonable water access from the supplier to the customer.
Apparently, after much research had been undertaken into the Ferrybridge installation, the Railway Board attempted to make out a case for delivery of coal to the power station by rail. Fortunately, the Electrical Authority were convinced of the striking superiority of the barge system, which was able to go ahead as planned.
The 1981 IWA National Rally and Waterside Arts Festival was held on the Aire & Calder Navigation at Leeds with 410 boats, including many commercial craft, in attendence.
In 1992, 520 craft and 375 caravans and tents attended IWA National Festival at Wakefield on the Aire & Calder Navigation. This event is still remembered for the mud caused by the wet weather and for the efforts of the Waterway Recovery Group in keeping the site in a usable condition.