One part of the River Ivel starts in Shefford being created from the joining of the Hit and the Flit. In the past it was known as The River Ivel "Navigation".
The River Hiz (flowing from Oughtonhead Common north of Hitchin) flows into the River Ivel (that rises from the north of Baldock) at Henlow Bridge Lakes and is joined at Langford by its tributary the River Ivel (originating from Shefford). The two River Ivel tributaries then meet just north of Langford Mill. This makes the River Ivel a powerful tributary of the River Ouse (which it joins at Tempsford).
The River Ivel was an obvious river to be canalised during the canal era. During this period of 'canal mania' areas which needed only moderate quantities of coal and timber were provided for with a canal.
In 1756 a plan was made public for the construction of a canal from Tempsford to Biggleswade Mill. The work for this cost about £4,000 of which £2,000 was to be spent on the construction of four locks, and despite the opposition from Hitchin the plan was made law on May 4th 1757. In 1758 the four locks were built at Tempsford, Blunham, South Mills and Sandy. They measured 110ft x l2ft and were 'v'-shaped and operated by chains.
The estimated tolls from the canal had been £400, but in the first year the tolls totalled only £350, and by the year 1762 the operators were in debt to the sum of £6,781. The trade, however, increased rapidly, and by 1780 all the creditors had been finally paid off. When the canal was finally a paying proposition it was decided to extend it as far as Shefford, Hitchin and Baldock. Since 1756 the people of Shefford had pressed for the canal to be extended; the roads between Biggleswade, Henlow and Shefford were in an atrocious state . Also by the year 1800 about 6,700 tons of coal were transported annually to Shefford from Biggleswade Wharf.
In 1807 a preliminary survey was carried out by Benjamin Bevans who estimated the cost of a canal to Shefford to be £8,000. An estimate of the trade showed that this was too expensive and the project was abandoned. Persistant demands from the Sheffordians resulted in another enquiry with another engineer, Francis Giles. Although his estimate was £14,000 it was agreed upon. This estimate, it was realised, was only for a canal as far as Clifton Common and a further £1,700 was needed for the final one and a half miles to Shefford. Five locks were constructed; they were at Shefford, Clifton, Stanford, Holme and Biggleswade. At Biggleswade there was a side opening to the canal to allow water to run to Biggleswade Mill.
In 1823, the year of Robert Bloomfield's death, the canal at Shefford was completed. In December of that year the first load of Durham coal reached Shefford.
The canal gradually fell into decline over the next half-century, and in 1876 a dam was built over the canal at Sandy, preventing navigation. The same year a bill was passed in Parliament abandoning the canal; so at Shefford the canal had only survived just over 50 years.
Until July 1968, when the North Bridge at Shefford was rebuilt, the mooring rings used to tie up the barges were visible on the bridge walls. Today the only visible remains of the canal at Shefford are the wharf walls at North Bridge. At Stanford, however, the lock is plainly visible in an abandoned section near the Stanford-Clifton road. In fact most of the stonework has remained intact, and it is only the gates that have disappeared, possibly removed for some other use. At Holme Mills (Jordan's Mill and Cereals) near Broom the canal locks are remarkably well preserved.