Category Archives: Transports of Delight

The Alpine Route

Queensbury Tunnel, West Yorkshire (1979)

Anyone who’s visited the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway will be familiar with Keighley railway station, where main-line trains between Leeds, Skipton and beyond connect with the Oxenhope branch that is now the heritage railway.

Keighley branch platforms used to serve another route, spectacular to ride and difficult to operate, known formally as the Great Northern Railway’s Queensbury lines and unofficially as the “Alpine Route” for its steep gradients, sharp curves and heavy engineering works, a Y-shaped system connecting Bradford, Halifax and Keighley.

Opened in stages between 1874 and 1884, the junction between the three routes lay in the valley bottom at Queensbury, a highly unusual six-platform triangular station.  The only other true triangular station in Britain was at Ambergate, Derbyshire.

The village of Queensbury, home of the famous Black Dyke Mills, was four hundred feet higher, accessible only by a dimly-lit footpath.  By 1901 Queensbury had electric tram services to Bradford and Halifax, so most of the rail passengers used the station simply to change from one train to another.

Queensbury station has, sadly, been obliterated, but its location is the starting point for the Great Northern Railway Trail, which Sustrans and Bradford City Council have developed, firstly between Cullingworth and Wilsden in 2005, and then a separate section between Thornton and Queensbury between 2008 and 2012: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/files/Great%20North%20Trail%202012.pdf.

The long-term aim is to provide a trail along much of the original rail routes between Bradford, Halifax and Keighley, but there is an immediate problem which needs an imminent solution.

Immediately south of Queensbury station, the line to Halifax ran through Queensbury Tunnel, 2,501 yards long, which has a constant gradient of 1 in 100, so that the north portal is seventy feet higher than the southern one.

After the track was lifted in the early 1960s, the Strines cutting to the south of the tunnel was sold as a landfill site, without adequate drainage, so that the run-off from within the notoriously wet tunnel backed up to a depth of thirty-five feet in the cutting, flooding the graded bore to almost half its length.

This accumulated water was pumped out in 2016 to enable a detailed engineering inspection, which found that though the tunnel had inevitably deteriorated and the brick lining had collapsed in two locations the tunnel itself was safe and capable of restoration.  (The lining doesn’t actually hold the rock tunnel up;  its function was to prevent loose rock falling on to the track or, worse, passing trains.)

The Queensbury Tunnel Society has mounted an energetic campaign, supported by Bradford City Council, to reopen the tunnel as a lit, paved cycle-way, using resources that the current owner, Historical Railways Estate (HRE), part of Highways England, had allocated for a short-sighted scheme to infill the bore.  Infilling for 150 metres at each end and capping the ventilation shafts was estimated to cost £5.1 million;  a cheaper scheme filling only 20 metres at each end would cost around £3 million.

The Queensbury Tunnel Society’s estimate for remediation to Network Rail standards would cost £3.3 million, and the installation of a cycle path and lighting would cost a further £1.5 million. The Society argues that taxpayers’ money would be better used for a scheme which delivers social and economic benefits, rather than one which renders the empty tunnel permanently unusable.

Detailed accounts of this controversy can be found on the Society’s website [http://www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/index.shtml] and at https://www.railengineer.uk/2018/07/12/securing-a-future-for-one-of-englands-longest-disused-railway-tunnels.

Are these trams going anywhere?

Sheffield Cathedral tram stop:  South Yorkshire Supertram nos 206 & 113 (September 2018)

Sheffield Cathedral tram stop: South Yorkshire Supertram nos 206 & 113 (September 2018)

Photo:  John Binns

The announcement that the new Tram-Train service between Sheffield Cathedral and Rotherham Parkgate would begin service on Thursday October 25th 2019 was not before time.

It was initially planned to open in 2015, and the seven new Tram-Train vehicles have been running on the main Stagecoach Supertram network since September 2017.

The South Yorkshire Supertram network now runs two separate fleets, the original German-built Siemens-Düwag units of 1992 (numbers 101-125) and the seven new Spanish-built Vossloh vehicles (number 201-207).

Even before the new service started up, the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) initiated a consultation exercise to determine the future of the system from 2024, when the Stagecoach franchise expires:  https://www.travelsouthyorkshire.com/futuretram.

It seems that no provision has been made to finance the replacement of the original fleet, which is nearing the end of its useful life.

The consultation includes the suggestion of scrapping the whole system, which understandably has few political friends outside Sheffield:  https://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/news/mayor-ros-jones-no-more-cash-from-doncaster-taxpayers-for-supertram-1-9344722.

This has, predictably, greatly exercised the tram-enthusiast community –  [http://www.britishtramsonline.co.uk/news/?p=24061] – and provoked South Yorkshire taxpayers (such as me) to query whether their community charge and taxes are being wisely spent.

I wonder if this option among a range of others is actually political shroud-waving.

It’s not simply a matter of scrapping the vehicles and covering the tracks with tarmac, as happened to Sheffield’s first tram-system in the 1950s.  Not only has most of the track been relaid over the past few years, but dismantling Supertram would involve demolishing viaducts and reconfiguring road junctions and traffic signals across an eighteen-mile network.

It would also fly in the face of applying the results of the Tram-Train pilot scheme to other parts of South Yorkshire as well as the rest of the UK.

As a Sheffield resident I’ve often wondered why the South Yorkshire Supertram system has not developed, apart from Tram-Train, since it opened a quarter of a century ago.

In that time the Manchester tram-system has extended from two former rail routes with a street link into Piccadilly Station to seven routes (with an eighth, to Trafford Park, under construction) and the original 26 trams have been replaced by a fleet of 120 trams with 27 more on order.

In Nottingham, an initial service to the north of the city has grown to an X-shaped system running 37 trams over twenty miles of track, and the Birmingham tram-line to Wolverhampton, which initially stopped short of the city-centre, is now extending across the city with the intention of reaching Edgbaston by 2021.

In Edinburgh, where the tribulations of construction caused uproar, the tram service is hugely popular and likely to be extended in the next few years.

Why is there talk – even hypothetically – of shutting down Supertram when other cities are reaping the benefits of light rail?

Update:  The first day of service for TramTrain didn’t go well:  https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/sheffield-tram-train-derails-after-collision-with-lorry-causing-major-travel-disruption-1-9414192.

Rails across Malta

Malta Railway:  Valletta Viaduct

Malta Railway: Valletta Viaduct

Malta Railway:  Floriana Viaduct

Malta Railway: Floriana Viaduct

The Malta Railway opened in 1883, and never made much money.  Its original metre-gauge line ran through Birkirkara to an inconvenient terminus, called Notabile, in a deep cutting outside the hill-town of Rabat.

The Malta Railway Company went bankrupt in 1890 and reopened two years later under the auspices of the Malta government which improved and in 1900 extended the line up to a station called Museum, nearer to the ancient capital city, Mdina.

In 1905 Malta Tramways Ltd opened its three routes to Birkirkara, Zebbug and Vittoriosa, two of which directly competed with the railway.

Both the railway and the tramways were British exports.

The olive green steam locomotives for the railway were built by Manning Wardle of Leeds, Black Hawthorne & Co of Gateshead and Beyer Peacock of Manchester.

The trams expired in 1929 and the railway closed two years later, both defeated by the relentless competition of Malta’s self-employed bus drivers.

The Valletta railway terminus was located next to the Royal Opera House:  the tracks were underground and emerged on to a viaduct which crossed a ditch that formed part of the city fortifications and entered another tunnel.  It then crossed another viaduct alongside the Porte des Bombes in Floriana.

The tunnels apparently remain in good condition, and have occasionally been opened to the public:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121022/local/Railway-tunnel-part-of-Malta-s-heritage.442073.

Both viaducts were originally timber, at the insistence of the military authorities who wanted to destroy them quickly if necessary in an emergency.  Eventually they were rebuilt in stone and still exist.  They’re easy to locate, thanks to a meticulously obsessive video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8OlMnpZvtQ.  It helps to know what you’re looking for.

Several of the country station buildings survive.  Hamrun is a scout headquarters;  Birkirkara is a childcare centre;  Museum station is a celebrated restaurant: [https://www.facebook.com/pg/stazzjonrestaurantrabat/photos/?tab=album&album_id=218770048333827].

Little else remains.  The only surviving piece of railway rolling stock is a third-class carriage which has stood in the open for years at Birkirkara:  https://web.archive.org/web/20170408171035/http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20170407/local/watch-maltas-last-surviving-train-carriage-chugs-toward-restoration.644585.

An intriguing hint that there may be more can be found in a news article about the reappearance of four reversible seats from one of Malta’s trams, suggesting that a tram body survives at St Thomas’ Bay:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20170628/local/century-old-malta-tram-benches-found.651902

There are images of both the railway and the tramways at https://vassallohistory.wordpress.com/maltese-public-transport-since-1856-a-brief-history-of-the-public-transport-in-malta-the-omnibus-up-to-the-mid-1800s-the-only-means-of-human-transport-w.

It’s clear from an article in The Guardian that Valletta’s railway tunnels are only a tiny part of the fascinating underground beneath the city:  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/20/malta-secret-tunnels-inside-newly-discovered-underworld-valletta.

Bus nostalgia

Because they’re essentially peripatetic, preserved buses present differently both to enthusiasts and to the general public.

While railed vehicles – trains and trams and, paradoxically, trackless trolleybuses – congregate where there is track on which they can run, buses can go wherever there’s tarmac, and so are most often seen at rallies, running heritage services, or on private hire for weddings and birthdays.

There are bus museums, such as the admirable London Bus Museum at Brooklands, but they’re few and far between, though South Yorkshire has two within a mile of each other.

The Nottingham Area Bus Society maintains an evocative collection based at the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) centre at Ruddington, south of the city of Nottingham:  http://www.nottinghamareabussociety.co.uk.

Here they restore and maintain a rich variety of vehicles that ran in the East Midlands in the post-war period – Nottingham Corporation, Midland General, South Notts, Felix and, perhaps best-loved of all, Barton.

Thomas Henry Barton bought his first charabanc in 1908, and built an extensive network of stage-carriage services and a thriving private-hire business, first based in Beeston, and from 1934 at Chilwell.

In the early years the company was largely staffed by some of Barton’s five sons and five daughters.

By the late 1930s they were advertising ‘Road Cruises’ to Belgium, Germany and France.

T H Barton was an engineer, and his vehicles were distinctive.  He favoured Leyland chassis and Duple bodies, and had an eye for a second-hand bargain bus.  He never ever referred to “diesel” – only “oil” – engines.

He was also a great character.  At his funeral in 1946 his peaked bus-driver’s hat rested on his coffin, and he was carried to his grave on a brand-new bus chassis.

In the decades after Tom Barton’s death his company’s buses remained both modern and distinctive, in an elaborate red, cream and maroon livery with generous amounts of trim.

The Nottingham Area Bus Society looks after five of Barton’s fleet, dating between 1947 and 1976, keeping alive the moving street furniture that made the locality distinctive.

And the Barton name lives on through trentbarton, the local bus operator that took over the Barton fleet in 1989.

North of the Gap

Great Central Railway (Nottingham):  LMS 8F 2-8-0 8274

Great Central Railway (Nottingham): LMS 8F 2-8-0 8274

The Great Central Railway (Loughborough) has a long and fortunate history since it was formed as the Main Line Project Group in 1970.

Through many struggles against all manner of setbacks, volunteers have maintained and expanded their train services and recreated much of the infrastructure of the old Great Central.

It’s fair to say, without disparagement, that their colleagues at the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) have more challenges to face.

Their line, north of Loughborough, didn’t become available until the 1990s, by which time the buildings on the only original station, East Leake, had been demolished, though track remained because of British Gypsum and Ministry of Defence freight traffic.

Initial preservation work concentrated on creating a branch and terminus, Ruddington Fields, on the former MoD site, which became the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre.  This is currently the centre of activity, with plenty for transport enthusiasts to enjoy.

Train services run out of Ruddington Fields on to the former main line, reverse at Fifty Steps Bridge and run down the old GCR to a stop-board about a mile from the other preserved Great Central Railway at Loughborough Central.

It’s refreshing to be able to travel on a stretch of the old Great Central, but for the moment it’s also a frustrating experience because of the Gap that was severed in the 1970s.

Though the bridge across the Midland Main Line has been reinstated, there’s still a canal bridge to refurbish and a 300-metre stretch of embankment to rebuild before the GCR (Loughborough)’s depot can be swept out of the way and trains can run uninterruptedly eighteen miles from Ruddington to Leicester:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvvO9GkjtK0.

Indeed, though it can’t be high on the agenda, it seems possible that the line could be reinstated north of Ruddington to the point where the NET tramway occupies the old GCR formation at Clifton Boulevard.

This is the work of decades, if not generations, but it’s testimony to the determination and hard work of transport enthusiasts that what was once discarded as useless infrastructure is slowly, doggedly being restored to useful amenity.

Hardly anybody would have imagined, when the Great Central main line was wound down in the 1960s that it would ever again carry trains, let alone trams.

The Great Central Railway (Nottingham) website is at http://www.gcrn.co.uk and the Great Central Railway (Loughborough) is at http://www.gcrailway.co.uk.

Both railways are included in the itinerary of the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.

Road blocks

Grantham Canal:  Woolsthorpe Locks

Grantham Canal: Woolsthorpe Locks

The twentieth-century mismanagement of the decline of canals and railways in Britain is most obvious in the planners’ assumption that these moribund routes would never again be needed.

Essential road-developments rendered waterways practically useless for lack of foresight.  Lengthy routes could have been protected at a fraction of the cost of the reverse solutions now needed to restore canals as environmental assets.

The Grantham Canal was built in 1793-1797 to connect the Great North Road and the Vale of Belvoir to the River Trent, giving access to the coal-carrying canals of the Erewash valley and the rich manufacturing towns of the East Midlands.

Traffic was never heavy.  The highest dividend was paid in 1839, 1841 and 1842 – £13, equivalent to 8.67%, after which traffic fell away.

The company was sold in 1854 to the competing Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston & Eastern Junction Railway which promptly leased itself to the Great Northern Railway.

The Grantham Canal was formally abandoned in 1936, subject to an agreement to keep the waterway in water for agricultural use.  This guaranteed the integrity of the route but not the termini, both of which were destroyed by post-war trunk-road construction.  Furthermore 49 out of 69 hump-backed road bridges over the canal were levelled and piped.

Local resistance to filling in the canal began in 1963.  After the Inland Waterways Association defeated a British Waterways Board attempt to stop maintaining the water supply along the canal the Grantham Canal Society was formed in 1969 to work towards restoring navigation.

Slowly but surely, the Society has returned parts of the canal to navigable standard.

A railway embankment, constructed to replace a rickety timber bridge over the canal, was cleared away in 1992 as part of a project to restore the top three of the Woolsthorpe flight of locks.

Another 2¼-mile section from Hickling Basin to Hose was restored in 1994.

The subsequent rebuilding of the piped Casthorpe Bridge in 1995 restored navigation to a 4½-mile stretch of waterway.

The ongoing restoration of the bottom locks at Woolsthorpe will extend this section to ten navigable miles.

The most serious problem facing the Society is linking the canal with the River Trent.  The old alignment is blocked by the modern A52 trunk road and the plan to build a new canal on a different route doesn’t qualify for restoration funding because it’s not a restoration of an existing structure.

Yet the Trent Link is strategically crucial to the practical restoration of the whole canal and the economic benefits that would spring from it.

The Department of Transport’s flat refusal to pay for a high-level replacement for the piped Mann’s Bridge was perverse, since a short distance away a new high-level bridge crosses the A46 trunk road the canal at Cropwell Locks.

Plans for a cycle tunnel under the A1 west of Grantham could provide an opportunity to reach and redevelop the original terminal wharf, which is now a scrapyard.  A culvert could have been budgeted and built in the first place.

In the post-war boom of road building the possibility that the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century networks of canals and railways might have environmental value was largely ignored.

The huge popularity of leisure boating, the demand for marinas and waterside housing, and the economic advantages of bringing tourists to less-frequented parts of rural England are each reproaches to the narrow vision of planners and civil servants.

Future generations will salute the determination of canal enthusiasts and local people who saw possibilities in dried-up canals and ruinous wharfs and continue to work year in, year out, to bring the boats back to Grantham and many other places around the UK.

A visit to Woolsthorpe Locks is included in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.

Burying an excavated canal

Nottingham Canal from Carrington Street, Nottingham

Nottingham Canal from Carrington Street, Nottingham

The Great Northern Junction at Langley Mill, on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, connects three eighteenth-century canals that were once the arteries of the local coal and iron industry.

Once a busy freight facility, it’s now a picturesque marina, renovated by the Erewash Canal & Preservation Trust from the 1970s onwards.

As you stand on the bridge, the Erewash Canal runs to the south, flourishing as a leisure waterway which was never completely closed.  Ahead to the north is the line of the Cromford Canal, of which the first three miles, including six locks, was obliterated by opencast mining in the 1960s.  To the right, the Nottingham Canal ran along the eastern side of the Erewash valley, connecting with the River Trent and the centre of Nottingham.

The Nottingham Canal is a wreck.

It opened in 1796, to the annoyance of the Erewash Canal proprietors who resented its competition though there was more than enough traffic for both.

After the Midland Railway built its Erewash Valley line in 1847 the Nottingham Canal sold out in 1854-55 to the Ambergate, Nottingham & Boston & Eastern Junction Railway & Canal Co, which was in turn leased to the Great Northern Railway in 1861.

The Great Northern, which had no interest in canals, built their own railway branch parallel to the canal and the Midland line, in 1878.

By the early twentieth century most of the traffic on the Nottingham Canal was between Nottingham and the River Trent.

Commercial traffic practically ended in 1928, and the GNR’s successor, the London & North Eastern Railway, leased the section between Nottingham and Lenton to the Trent Navigation in 1936 before abandoning the rest of the canal the following year.

Nottingham Corporation bought the length of abandoned canal within the city boundary in 1952 in order to drain and pipe the line to prevent flooding.

Between 1955 and 1966 most of the canal within the city disappeared and much has since been built over apart from a section used as a diversion for the River Leen.

A Nottingham Canal Society was formed in 1976 to conserve the remains of the canal.

After making some practical efforts the Society admitted defeat when Nottinghamshire County Council declined in 1979 to fund a navigable under-bridge as part of its plans for the Awsworth By-Pass.

Broxtowe District Council bought six miles of the canal from Eastwood to the city boundary at Bramcote and has worked with voluntary and professional organisations to develop its amenity value as a right of way and nature reserve.

When you walk out of Nottingham railway station and turn towards town you cross a bridge over the waters of the remaining length of the Nottingham Canal, a much-used amenity for boaters and gongoozlers alike.

The hopes of reviving the rest of this canal, which ran through populous suburbs and rural farmland, were dashed for the sake of a short-sighted decision over the cost of a bridge.

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour is based in Nottingham and includes a visit to the Great Northern Basin.  For further details please click here.

Excavating a buried canal

Derby Canal:  Sandiacre

Derby Canal: Sandiacre

The Derby Canal promises to be an unlikely triumph of canal restoration, though it may take decades to accomplish.

The canal was built at the height of Canal Mania, between 1793 and 1796, engineered by the young Benjamin Outram (1764-1805), who had worked with William Jessop (1745-1814) on the Cromford Canal (completed 1794).

There were three branches, each connecting with the River Derwent in the centre of Derby:  a line south joined the River Trent at Swarkestone;  another ran north up the Derwent valley to Little Eaton, and the third went east to join the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre.

The Derby Canal did good business.  The historian Charles Hadfield estimated that its total traffic in 1839 was around 200,000 tons annually.

Then, within a couple of years, the three branches of the Derby Canal were duplicated by the three railways that made Derby a railway town.

Somehow the Derby Canal, like its neighbour the Erewash Canal, remained independent of railway ownership, though generations of directors would have liked to unload the responsibility.

In 1872, when the company offered the canal to the Midland Railway for £90,000, the railway manager, James Allport, chose not to keep an appointment with the committee.

The canal branch to Little Eaton was formally abandoned in 1935.

Imperial Chemical Industries raised an objection to the canal company’s proposal to abandon the Sandiacre line in 1937.

Commercial traffic on the canal ended in 1945 and the following year the proprietors, anxious to avoid reopening the canal, locked the gates at Sandiacre against a commercial boat and its butty, Atlas and Vela.

As a result the canal was not included in the 1948 nationalisation that formed British Transport Commission.

A further protest cruise by the Inland Waterways Association in 1961 was thwarted when the canal company felled a tree across the lock at Sandiacre and chained the gates shut.

The canal company obtained a warrant for abandonment in 1964, and a year later a stretch of the canal bed at Breaston was sold for one shilling for the construction of the M1 motorway.

Just as the loss of the Euston Arch propelled the preservation of St Pancras Station, so the loss of the Derby Canal made local supporters of inland waterways all the more determined to preserve the Erewash Canal.

And because of the success of the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association (ECP&DA) the eventual restoration of the Derby remains practically possible, and thanks to the foresight and acumen of the Derby & Sandiacre Canal Trust, it looks likely that it will happen.

Apart from the M1 crossing, the only other section of the Derby Canal lost to redevelopment is in Derby city centre.  Otherwise, though most of the waterway is dry, the land is available for restoration and protected by local-authority planning policies.  Overbridges have been lowered and locks and the canal bed filled in but these changes are reversible.

Crucially, the Trust was in a position to find funds for a navigable culvert under the Derby Bypass at Swarkestone in 1996.

In 1998 the buried Borrowash Bottom Lock was excavated and partly restored, and since 2015 working parties have begun to return the lock and its adjacent half-mile pound to water.  A length of waterway will be reinstated along the so-called “Golden Mile” at Draycott, where the Trust is restoring a group of canal cottages as a residential and commercial development.

The most exciting development of all is the Derby Arm, a thirty-metre high boat lift to convey boats between the canal and the navigable River Derwent giving access to the city-centre and Silk Mill – a solution to the impracticality of restoring the original Derwent crossing at the Holmes.

Comparable to the highly successful Falkirk Wheel (2002), this structure will be visible from a new visitor centre at the Derby Triangle, adjacent to Pride Park.

Staring at the blocked waterway at the Sandiacre Lock Cottages, where the Derby Canal joins the Erewash Canal, it seems unlikely that boats could ever again float under the bridge and into the currently buried Bottom Lock.

But they will.  One day.

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour includes a visit to the Sandiacre Lock Cottages.  For further details please click here.

Main artery

Erewash Canal:  Great Northern Basin, Langley Mill

Erewash Canal: Great Northern Basin, Langley Mill

The valley of the River Erewash, which forms a border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, is remarkable mainly for being unremarkable – a wide flood plain with a diminutive stream meandering across the flat meadows.

Its market towns perch on the hills above – Heanor, Ilkeston and Eastwood – the last of which associates the area with the epithet “the Lawrence country”, for here the young author, David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930), known round about as “Bert”. grew up in what he later called “the country of my heart”.

Lawrence’s childhood, described in such novels as Sons and Lovers (1913), was the heyday of the local coal industry, now gone, which began when a couple of canny eighteenth-century landowners, Robert Barber and Thomas Walker, eyeing their Leicester competitors’ efforts to gain a waterway from their coalmines to the River Trent, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1777 to build the Erewash Canal from the Trent near Long Eaton to Langley Mill, which sits in the valley between Heanor and Eastwood.

They engaged the Heanor-born John Varley (1740-1809), surveyor and resident engineer of the Chesterfield Canal, but despite his achievements building the 2,850-yard Norwood Tunnel and the great flights of locks at each end of it, his reputation was questionable and after he mistook the levels at the top of the canal he was dismissed.

Construction of the canal was in fact straightforward – a waterway of fourteen broad locks with a single low aqueduct over the River Erewash near Shipley.  Despite the difficulty with the top lock, the canal cost £21,000 – a couple of thousand pounds below budget – and opened ahead of schedule.

Not only did the Erewash Canal open up the coalfield along its course, but it prompted the construction of a whole network of connecting waterways – the Cromford Canal (1794) and, with the same year, 1796, three further waterways, the Derby Canal, the short Nutbrook Canal and the Nottingham Canal, which made Langley Mill a three-way junction providing the Cromford Canal with a shorter, competing route for traffic heading downstream on the Trent.

Erewash Canal shares were worth having:  when the first railways appeared in the area in 1839-40, its dividends slumped from 64% to 45% in 1841, and remained above 21% for the following fifteen years.  Indeed, the canal remained independent until it was nationalised after the Second World War.  While the other local canals declined and closed, the Erewash Canal had the advantage that its direct connection to London by the Grand Junction and the Old Grand Union canals remained free of railway ownership.

Barge traffic eventually ceased in 1952 and British Waterways nominally closed the top section of the Erewash Canal in 1962, but had to maintain it in order to supply water from the Nottingham Canal’s Moorgreen Reservoir for navigation in the lower section and to supply Stanton Ironworks.

Members of the Inland Waterways Association, having lost the battle to keep the Derby Canal open, formed the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association (ECP&DA), leased the threatened lock cottages at Sandiacre and organised working parties to keep the waterway navigable.

In 1971-1973 the Association reclaimed the derelict terminal basin at Langley Mill, reinstating the connections with the moribund Cromford and Nottingham canals.

The importance of this restoration work cannot be overstated.  Apart from keeping the Erewash Canal open to pleasure craft, the Association’s work makes possible the ultimate restoration of the Cromford and Derby Canals, however many decades each might take.

But for the foresight of less than a dozen individuals in the late 1960s, the canals of the Erewash valley would have been quite literally gone and forgotten.

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour includes  visits to the Great Northern Basin and the Sandiacre Lock Cottages.  For further details please click here.

Stitching a canal back together

Chesterfield Canal:  Hollingwood Hub

Chesterfield Canal: Hollingwood Hub

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour will visit the Hollingwood Hub centre to hear about the forty-year restoration programme that has returned all but nine miles of the Chesterfield Canal to navigation.

I remember the wrecked state of this canal in the 1970s, and I’ve marvelled at the inspiring work of the Chesterfield Canal Trust in bringing water and boats back to long-abandoned stretches of waterway.

The first practical preservation project was the restoration of Tapton Lock on the outskirts of Chesterfield, completed by the Chesterfield Canal Society in 1990.  This led to the restoration of Hollingwood Lock, near Staveley, in 1993.  By 1997, when the Society became the Chesterfield Canal Trust, further locks had been restored, and the visitor centre at Tapton Lock opened.

The section between Worksop and Shireoaks reopened in 1998, and the entire length from Worksop to the east portal of Norwood Tunnel, including twenty-two listed but dismantled locks, was restored to navigation by 2003.

Major landmarks in the restoration campaign were celebrated – the opening of the Shireoaks Marina by HRH the Duke of Gloucester in 2000, the completion of navigation between Chesterfield and Staveley in 2002, the opening of the Hollingwood Hub centre in 2011 and the opening of Staveley Town Basin the following year.

Several obstacles stand in the way of connecting the two restored navigable sections of the canal – a 1970s housing development at Killamarsh, the M1 motorway and the collapsed Norwood Tunnel.  The Chesterfield Canal Partnership, a consortium of local authorities working with the Trust and others, has developed feasible plans to deal with each of these difficulties over the nine remaining miles of abandoned waterway.

Restoring navigation north of Staveley, where an 1892 mineral railway bridge left insufficient headroom for canal traffic, necessitated constructing a dropped pound between two new locks, Staveley Town Lock, no 5a, and Railway Lock, no 5b.

The intention is to restore the surviving eastern section of Norwood Tunnel, leading to three ponds, created in the landscaping of the former Kiveton Park Colliery, capable of being developed as a marina.

Beyond a 400-metre intact length, the Norwood Tunnel is irretrievable because of subsidence, infilling by the National Coal Board and the construction of the M1 motorway in the 1960s.  Instead, a new surface channel is proposed, using an existing farm-road underpass to cross beneath the motorway, with a cutting and locks to reach the level of the existing tunnel and the summit pound at Kiveton Park.

Some aspects of the restoration plans were compromised by the announcement in 2012 of the preferred route for the HS2 railway line.  Four-and-a-half years of campaigning by the Trust, strongly supported by members of the public, contributed to the decision to reroute HS2 to an alignment to the east.

Forty years of hard work have demonstrated the practicability of restoring a completely abandoned waterway, yet there is still much work to do.  Other restorations, such as the Kennet & Avon, Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale Canals, have led the way;  other mutilated waterways in the Trent Valley – the Cromford, Derby, and Grantham Canals – will return to navigation, even if they take decades to accomplish.

Hollingwood Hub is owned by Derbyshire County Council and operated by the Chesterfield Canal Trust as a resource for members of the public to use:  http://www.chesterfield-canal-trust.org.uk/restoration/hollingwood-hub.

The coffee shop is open from Wednesday to Sunday and on Bank Holidays.

The Chesterfield Canal features in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.