Monthly Archives: January 2023

Aqueduct Cottage

Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire (1977)
Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire (2010)
Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire (2020)
Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire (2022)

Among the wealth of industrial archaeology structures at the north end of the Cromford Canal, one of the most photographed is the picturesque little lock-keeper’s cottage at the end of the Wigwell Aqueduct, guarding the junction with the private Lea Wood branch.

This branch canal was constructed in 1802 by Peter Nightingale (great-uncle of Florence) to his mills at Lea Bridge 2½ furlongs away.  In 1819, as a result of a dispute over water rights, the branch was reduced to half its length and the wharf resited.

The lock at the junction was required to maintain the water-level in the branch at twelve inches higher than the main line, so that there was no risk of the canal losing water to the branch or vice versa.  An 1811 map shows that only half the existing building is original, extended sometime in the nineteenth century to make two dwellings, each with its own front door, and later combined to make a single house with the second doorway converted to a window.

Maintaining a household in this remote spot must always have been arduous.  Anne Eaton, who lived with her husband Josiah in the two-bedroomed cottage in the 1890s, raised eight children there.  She was on social terms with Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), whose family continued to own the surrounding land after selling the mills to the Smedley family in 1893.

The canal branch was last used in 1936, and traffic ceased on the main line from Hartshay to Cromford two years later.  The then owner, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, formally abandoned the canal in 1944.

The local writer Alison Uttley (1884-1976) called Aqueduct Cottage “a Hans Anderson dwelling”, but she didn’t have to live in it.

By the time Lea Wood was sold to a private owner, Mr Bowmer, in 1951 the lack of amenities at the cottage was daunting.  The last occupant, Mr Bowler, lived there alone without piped water, sanitation, gas or electricity, until circa 1970.

The Derwent Valley section of the Cromford Canal was taken into guardianship by Derbyshire County Council in 1974 and most of it declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1981, but when Lea Wood was sold to the Leawood Trust for the benefit of the community there seemed no practical way to make the cottage usable, let alone habitable.

After the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site was established in 2001 the County Council produced a Conservation Management Plan which identified Aqueduct Cottage as a significant heritage asset.

In 2012 the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust took over Lea Wood, the canal branch and the cottage, and a volunteer group set about returning Aqueduct Cottage to its nineteenth-century condition as a visitor centre which, despite the interruption of the pandemic, is well on its way to completion [], proving what can be done for a building on the brink with inspiration, energy and the know-how to find funding.

The Leawood Pump

Leawood Pump, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire

There are two reasons why the Cromford Canal terminates at Cromford:  Sir Richard Arkwright was prepared to invest in the waterway in order to secure cheap, easy transportation for his cotton mills, and he had built his water-powered factories at Cromford to take advantage of two reliable sources of water – the Bonsall Brook and the Cromford Moor Sough, a lead-mine adit draining the ore-field below Wirksworth.  Its water emerged at a constant year-round temperature of 52°F so that the upper section of the canal hardly ever froze in winter. 

Sir Richard Arkwright would have preferred the canal to take water from the River Derwent above Masson Mill, presumably to protect the supply to his mills at Cromford.  Instead, after the sough-water had powered the mills it entered the canal through a culvert at Cromford Wharf, later supplemented by an open channel to a second basin.

Soon after the opening of the Cromford Canal, reservoirs were constructed at the watershed between the Amber and Erewash Valleys, at Butterley, Butterley Park (drained in the late 1930s) and Codnor Park, to supply the Nottingham Canal by way of the flight of locks from Codnor Park to Langley Bridge.

The lead miners ultimately needed to extract ore from below the level of the Cromford Moor Sough and in 1772 began to dig the Meerbrook Sough, a lead-mine adit which drains into the River Derwent just north of Whatstandwell.

When the Meerbrook Sough opened circa 1836 it deprived the Cromford Canal of the dependable supply of thermal water from the older Cromford Moor Sough, and obliged the Canal Company to construct the Leawood Pump

Designed by Graham & Co of Elsecar, South Yorkshire and completed in 1849, the pump is a Cornish-type engine located beside the aqueduct over the River Derwent, lifting water thirty feet from the river during the weekend hours when the water-mills downstream were closed. 

The stone chimney, 95 feet high, has a cast-iron crown with a Venturi device to improve the draught. 

The existing locomotive-type boilers were manufactured by the Midland Railway and installed in a specially built extension to the engine house in 1904. 

After years of neglect the engine was restored to working order in 1979.

The pump house is open to visitors from Easter to October:

A short walk through the history of canal engineering

Wigwell Aqueduct, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire
Leawood Aqueduct, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire (2010)

Two silver threads run down the Derbyshire Derwent Valley between Matlock and Derby, the River Derwent and the Cromford Canal.

The valley bristles with monuments of industrial history, and the stretch of canal south from its terminus in Cromford is particularly rich in structures that typify and explain the archaeology of Britain’s inland waterways.

One of the most impressive – though difficult to see and photograph except in winter – is the Wigwell Aqueduct, designed by William Jessop to cross the River Derwent on a wide arch that carries the date 1793.

In its progress up the Amber and Derwent valleys the canal crossed both rivers by masonry-arch aqueducts – low arches in a long embankment over the Amber at Bull Bridge, now demolished, and a much higher, elegant single span across the Derwent at Lea Wood.  Both of these structures failed during construction and each had to be partly rebuilt at Jessop’s voluntary expense:  his famous comment on the injudicious economy of using Crich lime in the masonry of the Leawood aqueduct was,–

…Painful as it is to me to lose the good opinion of my Friends I would rather receive their censure for the faults of my head than of my heart.

The Wigwell Aqueduct (sometimes called the Leawood Aqueduct) has since stood the test of time, and it’s an outstanding example of the masonry-arch construction that James Brindley had pioneered at the Barton Aqueduct (1761) taking his Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell west of Manchester.

A short walk further south along the canal stands an example of the successor to the masonry arch – the iron-trough aqueduct that Thomas Telford developed to span the wide Dee Valley at Pontcysyllte, east of Llangollen in North Wales. 

Telford showed that it was possible to carry a waterway in an iron trough at far greater height than was possible with masonry.  On the Cromford Canal, the iron-trough technique proved useful in other ways.

Twice in a decade, railway engineers needed to burrow a way under the canal for double-track railways.  In the late 1830s the North Midland Railway at Bull Bridge pierced the canal embankment to take its main line north towards Rotherham, and within ten years the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midland Junction Railway needed to tunnel through Lea Wood, where the canal main line and a private branch to Lea Mills had hugged the hillside.

In each case, iron troughs in segments were fabricated at Butterley Works near Ripley and floated down the canal.  Dropping them into place and making the join watertight was accomplished in a matter of hours over Saturday night, when canal traffic could be paused, and then the embankment below was excavated and railway track laid.

The iron-trough rail arch and the original gothic road-arch at Bull Bridge were demolished in 1968.  Of the two aqueducts at Lea Wood, the one over the main line survives, and stopping trains to Matlock pass by.  The corresponding aqueduct on the Leawood branch was demolished sometime soon after the Second World War and has been replaced by a footbridge. 

Anyone seeking to understand the difference between the two types of aqueduct found on British canals need only park at the High Peak Junction car park and walk down the canal.

A short distance beyond the Leawood Aqueduct is a bijou example of the other major civil-engineering achievement of the Canal Age, the 42-yard Gregory Tunnel.

The towpath continues south as far as Ambergate, where the line of the canal was lost to a natural gas processing plant in the 1960s.

The hourly Derby-Matlock train service provides opportunities to explore the canal from Cromford, (rather than High Peak Junction), returning from Whatstandwell or Ambergate stations.

Highfield Cocoa and Coffee House

Former Highfield Cocoa & Coffee House, London Road, Sheffield

Some significant historic buildings hide in plain sight, unnoticed and at risk of disappearing without much warning.

It’s a recurring theme in my Demolished Sheffield book that a great many attractive and noteworthy structures are off the radar of listing and conservation planning policies, and need the vigilance of local people to ensure they survive.

I’m grateful, therefore, to Robin Hughes for alerting me to the former Highfield Cocoa and Coffee House on London Road, which is subject to a planning application for its demolition and replacement by an incongruous five-storey structure that intrudes on the surrounding streetscape.

I must have driven past the building thousands of times without even noticing it.  It’s attractive, dignified but reticent, and its historical significance is invisible.

It was built in 1877 to the designs of one of Sheffield’s foremost architectural practices, M E Hadfield & Son, for one of its most generous philanthropists, Frederick Thorpe Mappin (1821-1910), to provide workmen with a safe, comfortable environment to eat, drink and relax before and after their work.

The cocoa houses were in essence pubs with no alcohol, based on the upper-class gentlemen’s clubs that had grown from the coffee houses of the eighteenth century.

The Highfield Cocoa and Coffee House provided food starting with hot breakfasts from 5.00am, non-intoxicating drinks including a pint mug of coffee for one old penny, “the best tobacco and cigars…at the cheapest rate”, and offered billiards, draughts, dominoes, chess and skittles.  Alcohol and gambling were alike strictly prohibited.

The ground floor was occupied by a coffee room, a reading room, a bar and a kitchen.  Above, accessible by a “spacious staircase”, was a second reading room “well supplied with papers”, linking by folding doors to the billiard room with three tables.

The Highfield Cocoa House was the first such establishment in Sheffield when it opened on Monday April 9th 1877 in the presence of almost all the major leaders of Sheffield’s public life, including both Sheffield MPs, John Arthur Roebuck (1802-1879) and A J Mundella (1825-1897), and the MP for Scarborough, Sir Harcourt Johnstone (1829-1916), the Mayor of Sheffield, George Bassett (1818-1886), the Master Cutler, Edward Tozer (c1820-1890), and a whole posse of aldermen, clergy and other gentlemen. 

Mr Roebuck in his speech remarked that “you will not put down intemperance by being intemperate in trying to force upon the people teetotalism”. 

Frederick Thorpe Mappin, before he declared the building open, explained how he and the vicar of St Mary’s Parish Church, Bramall Lane, Rev C E Lamb, had investigated the flourishing cocoa-house movement in Liverpool, Oldham and London to determine the most appropriate model for their scheme.

Within two years the Sheffield Cocoa and Coffee House Company had opened six more cocoa houses with a seventh under construction.

The initial popularity of the Highfield house waned, and it closed on Saturday June 27th 1908.  An illustrated cutting, apparently from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, remarked,–

At the outset the place was a very popular centre – cafés in those days were in the nature of a rarity – but for a long time past the place has worn a somewhat melancholy appearance…

The building was taken over by a confectioner and a shopfitter and remained in use until at least 2008.  The Tramway pub next door was demolished in 2015.

The Hallamshire Historic Buildings’ detailed, informative comment on the 2022-23 planning application to demolish the Cocoa House is here. Nick Roscoe’s illustrated article is here.

Update, April 4th 2023: Vigilant steps by conservation-minded councillors have secured a six-month reprieve for the coffee house: Mappin Coffee House Sheffield: Historic building ‘saved’ from demolition for six months after notice served | The Star. This will safeguard the building – barring accidents – while alternatives to demolition are debated.

However, accidents can happen: Bringing the house down | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times.