The little village of Buxworth, just to the north of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, is a highly significant historic site. Here the wagons of the Peak Forest Tramroad, which was completed in 1800 and still in use after the First World War, tipped their limestone into kilns and narrow boats for transportation down the Peak Forest Canal to Manchester and beyond.
The tramroad is an example of the principle that “if it works, don’t fix it”: it used flanged rails rather than flanged wheels, with loaded wagons descending by gravity and empties returned by horse-power, and a braking system that consisted of sticking a metal pole into the spokes of the wheels. When the iron rails wore out in the 1860s, the railway company that owned it simply fabricated new steel rails to an eighteenth-century design.
The tramroad was ripped up in the 1920s, though the stone blocks that supported the rails are still found in great numbers. The canal went out of use, leaked and silted up, so that when I first went to Buxworth in the early 1970s the basin was a barely recognisable jungle.
The proposal to build a Whaley Bridge and Buxworth by-pass would have ploughed straight through the middle of it, until the Inland Waterways Protection Society [IWPS – http://www.brocross.com/iwps] successfully argued for it to be designated an Ancient Monument in 1977 and the by-pass alignment was moved to the south where it was eventually built.
The basin is intact and now beautifully preserved, entirely because the volunteers of the IWPS contributed time, physical labour and expertise, and begged, borrowed and salvaged materials to reveal and restore the complex, intriguing layout of a location that was a busy, dirty, money-making industrial site until a little more than a hundred years ago.
Now it offers peaceful, attractive moorings for canal boats, and on the day the Manager of the site, Ian Edgar, took my Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak group round, schoolkids were learning to canoe in one of the basins.
At the head of the basin is the Navigation Inn [http://www.navigationinn.co.uk/index.php?option=home], once run by Pat Phoenix, the actress who played Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street, and now operated by Jan & Roger, who provide excellent beer and anything from a fried breakfast to an à la carte meal in congenial pub surroundings. Jan tells me that she’s rearranging the canal memorabilia that came with the pub, so that you can read the walls coherently, one room after another.
Buxworth Basin is well worth a look, and if you talk to Ian Edgar, call it Bugsworth, as they did in the eighteenth century. If you talk to your sat-nav, it’s Buxworth.