The canal was built to link Chesterfield, Worksop and Retford to the Trent and so gain access to more trade. Local Anston Stone was transported by the canal to the river Trent for the building of the new Houses of Parliament. During the 19th century the canal was a commercial success due to local coal. However, mining caused subsidence in the Norwood Tunnel, severing the top end of the canal.
In June 2003, the entire canal from the river Trent to the eastern portal of the collapsed Norwood Tunnel became navigable with the reopening of the section between Shireoaks and the tunnel. The isolated westernmost five miles of the canal from Chesterfield to Staveley is also completely restored, with four formerly derelict locks restored by the volunteers of The Chesterfield Canal Trust, and one entirely new lock being designed and partly built by the Trust. Derbyshire County Council owns this section. Between Staveley and Norwood, the canal has been filled in and is in mixed ownership. Chesterfield Canal Trust’s volunteer working party continues to support the restoration and work.