Category Archives: Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands

Nottingham London Road Low Level

Former Great Northern Railway: Nottingham London Road Low Level Station

Former Great Northern Railway: Nottingham London Road Low Level Station

Britain’s railways are notoriously ill-organised, thanks to the Major government’s privatisation process of 1994-97, in which operating companies hired trains from rolling-stock companies and ran them on track owned by a nationalised entity.  (Sir John Major himself suggested simply reviving the “Big Four” grouping of 1922, which on reflection doesn’t seem such a bad idea compared with what we’re now stuck with.)

The early railway builders quickly dismissed the idea of having independent operators running on railway lines, like the eighteenth-century turnpikes, and Gladstone’s Railway Regulation Act of 1844 provided for the possibility of nationalising the railway system even as it was being built.

But the Victorians put their faith in competition, and Britain’s railways grew willy-nilly, leading to a confusion as profound as the 21st-century British rail system.

This is evident in Nottingham, where throughout the nineteenth century two competing railway companies, the Midland and the Great Northern, ran from separate stations a short distance away from each other, on Station Street and London Road respectively.

In 1879, under the auspices of the ponderously named Great Northern & London & North Western Joint Railway, a third company, the London & North Western Railway, began running passenger services into London Road Station and delivering goods to a purpose-built station at Sneinton.

Then in 1900, a fourth company, the Great Central, built the magnificent Victoria Station, which it shared with the Great Northern, in a cutting in the centre of town.

The Great Northern built a duplicate London Road station, which they named High Level, to distinguish it from their original station, latterly Low Level, which the L&NWR continued to use for their services to Market Harborough via Saxondale Junction, Bottesford and Melton Mowbray.

This absurdity continued until 1944, when the former L&NWR trains were diverted into Nottingham Midland and the Low Level station became a goods depot.

Much of this has since been swept away.  There is now only one station in Nottingham, the former Midland, though it serves trains run by three separate modern operating companies.  The lines into Low Level were taken up in the 1970s, and after a fire in 1996 Thomas Chambers Hine’s imposing 1857 building was restored and refurbished as a health club.

But it’s a mistake to think that the way we run British railways in the 21st century is any more bizarre than the travellers’ chaos that the Victorians created.

The East to West

Former Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway: Fledborough Viaduct

Former Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway: Fledborough Viaduct

Of all the grandiose railway schemes proposed in Britain in the nineteenth century, few match the audacity of the Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway.

Its original Act of 1891 authorised a 170-mile line from Warrington in Lancashire to Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire, together with extensive docks at each terminus, crossing the paths of every major main line to the North in the hope of carrying substantial traffic east and west from new collieries opening on the concealed coalfield in east Nottinghamshire.

In fact, only the section between Chesterfield and Lincoln was built.  It opened in 1897, along with a branch to Sheffield in 1900.  It was sold to the Great Central Railway in 1907 without ever paying a dividend.

Driven by Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coal-owners’ desire to exploit their untapped mineral resources, it would have involved audacious engineering over the Peak District, including a three-hundred-foot viaduct topping the existing sixty-three-foot viaduct at Monsal Dale.

Most of what was built has disappeared – the main station at Chesterfield Market Place, the sixty-three-foot high viaduct at Horn’s Bridge on the outskirts of Chesterfield, which crossed two rivers, two roads and two railway lines within a couple of hundred yards, and the notoriously unstable 2,642-yard Bolsover Tunnel.

The line west of Langwith Junction closed in 1951 when Bolsover Tunnel became impassable, and passenger services on the remaining section ended in 1955.  Freight traffic over parts of the route continued until 2015.

The only part of the line still in use is now Network Rail’s High Marnham Test Track, reopened in 2009 between Thoresby Colliery Junction and Dukeries Junction.  Beyond that, almost all the way to the end of the LD&ECR at Pyewipe Junction, the trackbed is now part of the National Cycle Network.

And on that stretch is the only surviving substantial engineering monument of this bravura piece of railway building – Fledborough Viaduct, 59 brick arches and four girder spans, in total just over half a mile long, crossing the River Trent and its wide flood plain at no great height.

There had to be a viaduct at this point because of the Trent’s propensity to flood.  An embankment would have acted as a dam and caused serious flooding upstream.

On the west bank of the Trent High Marnham Power Station opened in 1962 and the railway supplied it with coal until a derailment in 1980 led to a temporary closure that became permanent.

The power station in turn closed in 2003 and was finally demolished in 2012.

The cycle trail is the best way to appreciate the scale of Fledborough Viaduct, which is difficult to see from any public road.

The best view of the Viaduct is from the river path at High Marnham, where the Brownlow Arms [https://www.thebrownlowarms.co.uk] marks the existence of a now-vanished ferry.

Waterways to West Stockwith

Chesterfield Canal: West Stockwith

Chesterfield Canal: West Stockwith

Nottinghamshire is a surprisingly large county.  It’s difficult to imagine, strolling in the East Midlands countryside that surrounds the city of Nottingham in the south, that the north-eastern corner is fenland, and feels like Lincolnshire.

The eastern boundary with Lincolnshire is the River Trent, always an important transport artery and notoriously unreliable in drought and flood.

Up to the late eighteenth century the hinterland of western Nottinghamshire, south Yorkshire and Derbyshire was badly served by roads and waterways.  Sheffield’s cutlery had to be carted by road as far as the River Don at Rotherham from 1740 and at Tinsley from 1751.  Chesterfield’s trade, including coal, iron and Derbyshire lead, had to be taken by road to Bawtry to join the nominally navigable River Idle, which joins the Trent at West Stockwith.

When a canal was proposed from Chesterfield to the Trent in the late 1760s, there were alternative proposed routes – to the Idle at Bawtry, to the Trent at Gainsborough or via Retford entering the Trent downstream of Gainsborough at West Stockwith.

The cheapest alternative – a 46-mile canal from Chesterfield to West Stockwith, recommended by James Brindley, was built.

Bawtry was cut out of the waterway traffic, but continued to prosper as a staging post on the Great North Road.  The River Idle practically ceased to be a commercial waterway, though navigation remained technically possible.

Retford gained greater importance because it was situated on both the Chesterfield Canal and the Great North Road.

West Stockwith is a quiet little place, out of the way for road-travellers, but still significant if you travel by boat.  It’s possible to walk in less than ten minutes between the canal and the River Idle, which has long been unnavigable, its tendency to flood moderated by a huge floodgate.

The canal wharf is now a marina and the original tollhouse of 1789 still overlooks the lock that leads down to the tidal Trent.

Of the eleven pubs that served this once thriving little port only two now operate.  One, the warm and welcoming White Hart [http://www.whiws.co.uk], has its own brewery:  http://www.theidlebrewery.co.uk.

Georgian transport hub

White Swan Hotel, Drakeholes, Nottinghamshire (2018)

White Swan Hotel, Drakeholes, Nottinghamshire (2018)

Chesterfield Canal: Drakeholes Tunnel

Chesterfield Canal: Drakeholes Tunnel

When my navigator Richard directed me to Drakeholes to photograph the tunnel on the Chesterfield Canal the first thing we saw was not the canal but a very large, very Gothick, very derelict building which turned out to be the former White Swan Hotel.

This marks a major transport interchange from the days when everything that moved along roads and canals was propelled by muscle power.

It sits where the junction of four roads, where the old Roman road between Bawtry and the Trent ferry at Littleborough crosses the road from Blyth to Gainsborough.  Here it coincides with the canal, which burrows under the road in a 154-yard-long tunnel as it turns north on its way to its terminus at West Stockwith.

Almost opposite the White Swan is a pair of lodges, beautifully restored after years of dereliction, flanking what used to be the gateway to Wiseton Hall.  The pair was in fact a single dwelling, one lodge for living, the other for sleeping.

It forms only part of the work of Jonathan Acklom, local landowner and the instigator of the Wiseton Enclosure in 1763, who marked the “surrounding eminences” with elegant farms, such as Pusto Hill Farm and Blaco Hill Farm, described by the late-eighteenth historian John Throsby as “ornaments to the domain,…highly creditable to the taste of the owner”.

At the time that Jonathan Acklom rebuilt his family seat at Wiseton Hall in 1771 the Chesterfield Canal was under construction.  He stipulated that it should not approach his estate nearer than two hundred yards.

He built the White Swan to serve traffic coming along the roads to reach the canal company’s wharf at the southern end of the short tunnel, which opened in 1776.

Drakeholes was the Georgian equivalent of a modern transport interchange, and it was all created within a decade.

Though the Hall has gone, replaced by a smaller neo-Georgian house in 1962, its stables survive opposite the old gateway, along with the newer avenue which crosses the canal by the ornate Lady’s Bridge, otherwise known from its decayed carving as Man’s Face Bridge.

The modern Wiseton Hall is strictly private.

For background information on the Georgian Wiseton Hall see http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/Jacks1881/wiseton.htm and http://landedfamilies.blogspot.com/2013/03/14-acklom-of-wiseton-hall.html.

Nottingham’s missing underground railway

Mansfield Road Tunnel, south portal, former Nottingham Victoria Station (1984)

My Nottingham friend Stewart alerted me to a BBC News item about “Nottingham’s ‘secret’ railway tunnel”:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-nottinghamshire-45902996/inside-nottingham-s-secret-railway-tunnel.

The “secret” tunnel is accessible – if you have the key to the right door – from the basement of Nottingham’s Victoria Centre, which is built on the site of the old Victoria Station, opened in 1900, closed in 1967 and quickly demolished.

This was Weekday Cross Tunnel (418 yards), stretching from the south end of the former Victoria Station towards Weekday Cross Junction, where nowadays the NET tram leaves its viaduct to run along the street towards the Lace Market.  The tunnel was used to carry pipework for the Victoria Centre’s heating system, and the track-bed to the south was later blocked by the Centre for Contemporary Art Nottingham art gallery, now Nottingham Contemporary (opened 2009).

In fact, the BBC’s “secret” tunnel isn’t even half of the story.

Beyond the Victoria Station site, the railway line headed northwards into Mansfield Road Tunnel (1,189 yards) which runs almost directly beneath Mansfield Road, emerging eventually just past the road-junction with Gregory Boulevard:  https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/mansfield-road-tunnel-nottingham-may13.80919.

Here in an open cutting stood Carrington Station [http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/c/carrington/index.shtml], opened in 1899 and closed as early as 1928, a commuter station that stood no chance against the competition of Nottingham’s trams.

Carrington Station cutting has been completely filled in and built over as part of an Open University campus, and the street-level building, for years occupied by Alldogs Poodle Parlour, has gone.

North of Carrington Station the railway ran into Sherwood Rise Tunnel (665 yards) [https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2388076] which is blocked by further landfill at the north portal.

Until the mid-1960s these three tunnels, all of which remain intact, were a practical direct route under Nottingham city-centre.

When Victoria Station was demolished there was apparently talk of leaving a right of way beneath the shopping centre, but in the event the basement car-park was built the full width of the station’s footprint.  (It was not unknown for 1960s/1970s shopping centres to include provision for underground rail transport [http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=2274]).

The blocking of the railway track-bed at three locations, successively in the 1960s, late 1980s and late 2000s, means that a direct route, wide and high enough for a double-track railway and therefore feasible as a light railway if not a roadway, lies utterly unusable beneath the congested streets.

At the time of the Beeching cuts, planners and railway managers clearly believed that the Victorian infrastructure they inherited would never be needed again.

It’s a matter of opinion whether this amounted to naivety, stupidity or arrogance.

They left future generations a legacy across Britain of miles of derelict strips of land that could have been adapted to transport uses undreamed of in the 1960s, if snippets hadn’t been handed over for buildings that could easily have been located elsewhere.

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.