Category Archives: Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands

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:

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.

Great Northern Goods Warehouse, Derby

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Friargate, Derby (1977)

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Friargate, Derby (1977)

The largest building in Derby has stood derelict for over fifty years, and figures in the Victorian Society’s 2017 Top 10 Endangered Buildings list:

When the Great Northern Railway extended its line from Nottingham through the middle of Derby in 1878, it made two grand statements of its arrival in the headquarters town of its competitor, the Midland Railway.  The most visible invasion was the elaborate pair of bridges across Friargate itself, slicing across a Georgian street.

The passenger station itself, built on the viaduct alongside the bridge, was undistinguished, but the vast goods warehouse, visible from the passenger platforms, was given a dignified architectural presence by the architects Kirk and Randall.

The rectangular footprint of the warehouse is extended by a triangular extension housing railway offices and a residence for the goods manager.

When I first explored it in 1977 – before security fencing prevailed – it was empty and derelict but largely intact.

The Derbyshire Historic Building Trust reports a site-visit in September 2016 – – and there are recent urban-explorer reports showing the current condition of the building at, and, and a more comprehensive survey at

Though the Great Northern Warehouse is inaccessible, the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour includes other sites on the former GNR Derby Friargate line – the Friargate Bridge and Bennerley Viaduct.  For further details please click here.

Friargate Bridge

Friargate Bridge, Derby (1977)

Friargate Bridge, Derby (1977)

The magnificent cast-iron railway bridge across Friargate, north of Derby city-centre, made a grand statement proclaiming the arrival of the Great Northern Railway in the home town of its rival the Midland Railway in 1878.

The Midland’s monopoly of the East Midlands coal trade had been a grievance of local businesses and the new railway was welcomed, to the detriment of the local environment:  the bridge cuts across Derby’s grandest Georgian street, Friargate, authorised in 1768 as a speculation by the notoriously unscrupulous banker-brothers, John and Christopher Heath.

Many important personalities in late-eighteenth-century Derby had residences on Friargate, including the architect Joseph Pickford (1734-1782), whose house at 40-41 Friargate is now a museum.

Though it’s commonly referred to as Friargate Bridge, there are in fact two bridges side by side accommodating pairs of tracks fanning out to the station platforms immediately beyond. 

To mitigate – or perhaps to pay back – for the intrusion, the GNR engineer, Richard Johnson, provided a particularly dignified design with elaborate decorative spandrels cast by the Derby ironmasters Andrew Handyside & Co, featuring the buck within the palings of a park that appears in the coat of arms of the borough, now the city, of Derby.

The gesture did not go down well with some residents, one of whom described it as “meretricious decoration, which only emphasised the insult”.

Passenger services between Derby and Nottingham closed in 1964 and goods services finally ceased four years later.

Little remains of Friargate Station itself, which stood on a brick viaduct west of the bridge, except for the enormous goods station, now ruinous.

Bud Flanagan told a BBC interviewer that seeing homeless men sleeping under the railway viaduct at Friargate gave him the idea for the 1932 song ‘Underneath the Arches’, which he co-wrote with Reg Connelly) while Bud and Chesney Allen were playing at the nearby Hippodrome Theatre.

It’s ironic that the bridge, like the viaduct at Monsal Dale, has become a conservation issue.  Derby City Council, which bought it from British Railways for £1, has been vexed for years finding a practical solution to safeguard its future.

It was listed Grade II in 1974, oddly suggesting a lesser value than the other surviving structure on the line, Bennerley Viaduct (Grade II*).

At present a species of hairnet protects the cast ironwork from pigeons, and also creates difficulties for photographers.

Beside the line of the former railway viaduct on the north side of Friargate remains one of the oddest survivals of Derby’s transport history, the 4ft-guage rails and setts of the horse-tram depot of the Derby Tramways Co, which were in use from 1890 until the route was electrified in 1907.

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

Bennerley Viaduct

Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire (1973)

Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire (1973)

The River Erewash is not widely known (and often wrongly pronounced – three syllables, “Er-e-wash”).  Indeed, it’s an unremarkable river, meandering between its wide, low-lying valley sides, bordering Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  It gives its name to the Erewash Canal and is the location for many of D H Lawrence’s stories, including much of the novel The Rainbow (1915).

Eastwood, the town of Lawrence’s birth, claims to be the “birthplace of the Midland Railway”, on the strength of a meeting at the Sun Inn, which led to the formation of the Midland Counties Railway in 1832.

In fact the railway didn’t reach the valley until the late 1840s, after which the local mine-owners deserted the canals to send their coal by rail to Leicestershire and London.

This was the heartland of the Midland Railway, until its rival the Great Northern Railway, egged on by local businessmen anxious to break the Midland’s monopoly, chose to compete by building a line west from Nottingham across the southern edge of the coalfield and on to Derby and beyond.

This Derbyshire & Staffordshire Extension, authorised by Parliament in 1872, spawned numerous branches to local collieries, and was intended also connect with the North Staffordshire Railway to take some of the Midland’s Burton beer traffic.

Little survives of the route, which closed in the 1960s, except for the remarkable Bennerley Viaduct, which strides across the Erewash flood-plain east of Ilkeston, opened in 1878.

The wrought-iron lattice construction, designed by the GNR engineer, Richard Johnson, was necessary because the floor of the Erewash valley was already riddled with coal workings.  A brick-arch viaduct would have been vulnerable to subsidence;  iron legs could be jacked up if necessary.

The structure survives because wrought iron cannot be cut by an oxy-acetylene torch, and dismantling it piece-by-piece proved unduly expensive.

It’s a unique survivor, now listed Grade II*:  two taller and more spectacular viaducts, at Crumlin on the Taff Vale Railway near Caerphilly (1857, 200 feet high) and Belah near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria (1860, 196 feet high) were demolished in 1965 and 1962 respectively.

Belah Viaduct, designed by Thomas Bouch who went on to build the first Tay Bridge, had the same lattice construction as Bennerley;  Crumlin, like the surviving Meldon Viaduct near Okehampton, Devon, had distinctive Warren Trusses.

Bennerley Viaduct belongs to Sustrans, and may one day form part of the National Cycle Network.  For the present, it’s remarkably difficult to approach or see.  Indeed, the best view is from passing trains (on the left-hand side heading south) between Langley Mill and Nottingham.

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

Puffing Billy

Midland Railway Butterley, Derbyshire:  46203 Princess Margaret Rose

Midland Railway Butterley, Derbyshire: 46203 Princess Margaret Rose

Billy Butlin (1899-1980) was as sharp as a tack.

South African-born, raised in Canada, he came to England with £5, of which he invested £4 in a stall at his uncle’s fair.  From this humble start as a showman he built his empire of holiday camps.

He was astute.  Fred Pontin once told him, “You’ve taught me everything I know about holiday camps.”  To which Butlin responded, “Maybe, but not everything I know.”

He had a pragmatic attitude to the finer things of life.  To furnish the chapels that he installed in each of his camps, he instructed his staff to source paintings – “religious, big, and not more than fifty quid”.

When British Railways were scrapping steam locomotives in the early 1960s, Billy Butlin bought eight as ornaments for his camps at Ayr, Minehead, Pwllheli and Skegness.

He saved four tank-engines (three LB&SCR Terriers and an L&SWR dock-tank) and four magnificent express locomotives from the LM&SR – all of which are now in serious preservation – purely so that kids could climb on them and be photographed in front of them.

Thanks to Billy Butlin we can still enjoy 6100 Royal Scot, 6203 Princess Margaret Rose and two of the huge ‘Princess Coronation’ class – 6229 Duchess of Hamilton, now in the National Railway Museum restored to its original streamlined shape, and 6233 Duchess of Sutherland, currently earning its keep pulling charter specials on the main lines.

6203 Princess Margaret Rose is one of the jewels in the crown of the Midland Railway Butterley [], where the Princess Royal Class Trust [] has its base.

Occasionally, when tour itineraries require it, Princess Margaret Rose is visited by its sister engine 6201 Princess Elizabeth, named after the present Queen.

Then it is possible for the Trust to wheel out its two 21-inch-guage replicas of the two locomotives, which were also built for Butlin’s Camps, alongside.

Two locomotives, in two sizes – all side by side.  Unique, as far as I know.  All thanks to Billy Butlin.

A visit to the Midland Railway Butterley is included in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  Though there is no guarantee that Princess Margaret Rose will be “at home”, there is always plenty to see at Butterley.  For further details please click here.

Utterly Butterley

Swanwick Junction, Midland Railway Butterley, Derbyshire

Swanwick Junction, Midland Railway Butterley, Derbyshire

First-time visitors to the Midland Railway Butterley, Derbyshire, the biggest and most comprehensive attempt to commemorate one of Britain’s finest pre-Grouping railway companies, might initially be underwhelmed by the presentation of the place.

Riding in a rag-tag collection of railway carriages with slow speeds, limited mileage and much standing in stations may not impress at first.

The full length of the line is 3½ miles, and you can’t get off at either end, but the main site at Swanwick Junction is extensive.

There are meticulously reconstructed station buildings in the classic Midland design at Butterley and Swanwick Junction, four Midland-pattern signal boxes and other structures including the tin church of St Saviour from Westhouses, Derbyshire.

There are actually several railways:  apart from the standard-gauge line there’s a narrow-gauge railway, a miniature railway and a garden railway.

In a succession of museum buildings there are locomotives, rolling stock, buses, stationary steam engines and the national collection of historic fork-lift trucks.

A notice in one of the museum buildings apologises for the dust – because “we are a working museum”.

That’s the key.

This is a hugely ambitious project, driven by a consortium of preservation groups, “dedicated to the glory of the Midland Railway”, according to the website strapline:

The scale of the task is measured by the contrast between the finished preservation projects, such as the Midland Railway royal saloon and the only surviving Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway coach, and the desperately decayed relics waiting for attention.

Butterley reminds me of the Sydney Tramway Museum in New South Wales – another grand scheme to recreate a vanished and much celebrated transport system.

The Midland Railway project has been at Butterley now for forty years, and it might take another forty to accomplish the vision.  No doubt an influx of volunteers and repeated injections of cash would help, but the place is busy.

I spoke to a seasoned enthusiast on the train back to Butterley.  “There’s a lot here,” he said.  He thought he’d be on his way home by 2.30 and it was coming up to half past four.

That’s the short-term measure of success – and the encouragement to return.

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


“The most perfect of all station houses”

Wingfield Station, South Wingfield, Derbyshire (1976)

Wingfield Station, South Wingfield, Derbyshire (1976)

The 2012 version of the Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list headlined Wingfield Station, Derbyshire of 1840, by Francis Thompson (1808-1895), one of the very first architects to specialise in designing railway buildings:

The Transport Trust considers that “Francis Thompson’s best work was on the North Midland Railway, between Derby and Leeds”, yet all the others have disappeared, apart from one small isolated structure at Chesterfield and his Railway Village, next to the main station in Derby.

Wingfield Station appeared, transformed into a suburban villa, in a supplement to John Claudius Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture.

As long ago as 1950 Christian Barman, author of the pioneer study An Introduction to Railway Architecture, described it as “the most perfect of all station houses”.

Passenger services ceased in 1967, but trains still thunder past twenty-four hours a day:  the North Midland line remains a major trunk route between Sheffield and London, and between the North East and South West of England.

Soon after the station closed to passengers it was bought as a residence, but the passing trains must have made life intolerable.  For several decades the building has simply been left to rot, and lead thefts have led to extensive water damage.

The Victorian Society commentary unequivocally lays the blame for the dire condition of this beautiful little building on neglect by the private owner and negligence by the local planning authority, Amber Valley Council:  “The building has seen too much time go by to wait any longer. The council needs to take action urgently:  compulsory purchase looks to be the only answer.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the national publicity will lead to a burst of energy from a cash-strapped council.

Even more interesting will be the search for a practical use for an elegant station building with too many trains and no passengers.


“Will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?”

Barrow Hill Roundhouse & Railway Centre, Derbyshire:  USA tank 30075

Barrow Hill Roundhouse & Railway Centre, Derbyshire: USA tank 30075

I don’t know much about railway locomotives, but I thought I could identify a Southern Railway USA-class 0-6-0 tank locomotive when I saw one.


I spotted a locomotive with the unmistakable American outline at the Barrow Hill Roundhouse, but 30075 isn’t what it seems and its story is interesting.

These USA tank locomotives were mass-produced by the United States Army Transportation Corps in 1942, as part of the preparations for what became D-Day.  382 of these punchy little shunters (which the Americans call “switchers”) were stockpiled in Britain, ready to operate the railways of Europe as they came under Allied occupation.

After the Second World War the Southern Railway bought a batch of fifteen to use in and around Southampton Docks, because they could cope with very sharp curves and yet were powerful enough to haul a full-length boat-train if necessary.

Fourteen were actually used, while the fifteenth was broken up for spare parts.  Under British Railways the fourteen were numbered 30061-30074.  Four of them survived into preservation.

30075 is not one of the fourteen, let alone the four.

Other ex-US Army locos were bought by private railways in Britain;  the Chinese bought some, as did the Egyptians, and some ended up in Israel and Iraq.

The Yugoslav State Railways thought they were so good they bought over a hundred, and then built nearly a hundred more themselves.

One of these, number 62-669, dating from 1962, was purchased from a Slovenian steelworks by the Project 62 Group [] in 1990.

They brought it to the UK, converted it as closely as possible to the British specification, and gave it the next number in sequence after the fourteen originals.

In 2006 the Group bought another from a steelworks in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and this will in due course become 30076.

In the 1960s we thought steam locomotives, apart from a few museum pieces, would disappear forever.  Fifty years later, preservation is morphing into reconstruction and, in this case, reconstitution.

It’s an interesting and welcome twist on the conventions of museum preservation, and it’s ironic that while many genuine historic locomotives are preserved in aspic, sitting indoors, beautifully maintained, highly polished like works of art, brand new locomotives like Tornado and nearly-new examples like the USA tanks are coming into service.

If it steams, and it moves, and it brings pleasure, I’m in favour.

A visit to the Barrow Hill Roundhouse is included in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  Though there is no guarantee that 30075 will be on site, there is always plenty to see at Barrow Hill.  For further details please click here.

Keeping the wheels turning

Barrow Hill Roundhouse & Railway Centre, Derbyshire:  D9009 Alycidon

Barrow Hill Roundhouse & Railway Centre, Derbyshire: D9009 Alycidon

Among transport-preservation enterprises, I think the Deltic Preservation Society is particularly admirable.

The Deltics were the first-generation high-powered diesel locomotives that replaced steam on the East Coast expresses between London and Edinburgh in the early 1960s.  In their time they were the most powerful diesel locomotives in the world.

The prototype was named Deltic as an allusion to the marine-pattern Napier engines, which featured a triangular arrangement of cylinders like the Greek letter delta.

Twenty-two production locomotives were built, replacing a roster of 55 express steam locomotives dating back to the 1930s, and ran the East Coast services until the arrival of the High Speed Train in 1978.

They lasted another ten years on other routes, and six of the original twenty-three have been preserved.

They’re much-loved for their size and power, their classic American shape and the distinctive sound of their diesel-electric power units.

Three of these belong to the Deltic Preservation Society [] and are based in a purpose-built depot at Barrow Hill Roundhouse, Derbyshire.

All three locomotives – D9009 Alycidon, D9015 Tulyar (both named, in the old LNER tradition, after racehorses) and 55019 Royal Highland Fusilier – were purchased as long ago as the 1980s, and they have now been in preservation for more years than they were in public service.

Another Deltic, 55022 Royal Scots Grey, recently made news when it was hired as a working locomotive by GP Railfreight to haul bauxite trains:  [].

The Society maintains them in working condition so that they can earn their keep on preserved railways and on main-line excursions.  Alycidon and Royal Highland Fusilier are serviceable, and Tulyar is currently under overhaul.

It’s good to see superannuated locomotives in practical use, rather than as frozen-in-time exhibits in a gallery setting.

I applaud the acumen of groups of enthusiasts who have so successfully combined their own enjoyment of maintaining traditional engineering with a commercial business model that brings pleasure to present-day enthusiasts and guarantees a long-term future for these fine locomotives.

A similarly laudible preservation campaign, but at an earlier stage in the process, is the Deltic Preservation Society’s neighbour at Barrow Hill, the 5-BEL Trust’s project to restore an entire train, the Brighton Belle

A visit to the Barrow Hill Roundhouse is included in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  Though there is no guarantee that Alycidon will be on site, there is always plenty to see at Barrow Hill.  For further details please click here.

Round house on the Old Road

Barrow Hill Roundhouse & Railway Centre, Derbyshire

Barrow Hill Roundhouse & Railway Centre, Derbyshire

To this day, when trains north from Chesterfield turn right towards Barrow Hill and Beighton, rather than take the direct route via Dronfield into Sheffield, railway staff call it the “Old Road”, because it’s the line of the North Midland Railway which opened in 1840.  The newer route was opened thirty years later, so has now been new for nearly 150 years.

At the same time that the Midland Railway opened its direct route north into Sheffield, the Barrow Hill locomotive shed was constructed.  It has survived to become a unique piece of railway archaeology – the only surviving operational roundhouse locomotive depot in the UK.

There are other British roundhouses, of course:  the Roundhouse at Camden Town, in north London is now a celebrated arts venue [], the Derby Roundhouse is a multipurpose conference venue [] and the main hall of the National Railway Museum is built around one of the two turntables of the former York North motive-power depot in Britain.

But only at Barrow Hill can you sense, smell, almost taste the atmosphere of coal and oil and grime that characterised the age of the steam locomotive.

And there, within the roundhouse itself and in the surrounding buildings, the graft of maintaining steam and diesel locomotives continues, thanks to the vision of a group of enthusiasts who realised that when the place closed to operational use by British Rail in 1991 an important piece of railway heritage was in danger.

The Barrow Hill roundhouse is home to a variety of preservation projects, including the Deltic Preservation Society and the Brighton Belle project [].

This is a workaday place.  Visitors are welcome, but there’s a healthy preoccupation with getting jobs done.  Contemplate the hours of graft that bring back the neglected railway heritage;  ask questions and show an interest.  It’s places like Barrow Hill that keep the antique wheels on the modern rails.

Didcot Railway Centre has something of the same atmosphere, but is more fully developed as a tourist site.

For details of opening-times and special events at Barrow Hill, see

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