Thursday 16 November 2023

The Cromford Canal

The Cromford Canal was built in Derbyshire to connect Cromford with the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill. It originally stretched for over twenty three kilometres though much of the canal is now either lost or unnavigable.

Work began in 1789 after receiving an Act of Parliament. However, the building of the canal did not run smoothly. The contractors walked out in 1790 due to issues with costs. The original engineer William Jessop had underestimated how much the canal would cost to complete.

William Outram took over the project and took it to completion, but the canal proved a complicated and difficult affair involving the building of a number of tunnels and aqueducts. The first parts of the canal (on the Pinxton Arm) opened in 1792 but delays and difficulties with construction elsewhere such as at the Butterley Tunnel meant that the canal didn't reach Cromford until 1794 [1]. The Nightingale (also known as the Leawood) Arm, which was built by Florence's great-uncle, opened in 1802 [2]. The Cromford & High Peak Railway, which opened in 1831, connected to the canal at High Peak Junction giving the canal a boost allowing trade up to Manchester.

In the end, the canal cost twice as much as originally envisaged but it was a financial success. The canal carried limestone, coal, lead and iron ore amongst other cargos. By the 1840s the canal was carrying over 300,000 tons of cargo a year but, as with all of the canals at the time, the coming of the railways eventually eclipsed it and by the late 1880s cargo has dropped to less than 50,000 tons. The canal was bought by the Midland and London North Western Railways and was used for local traffic.

The canal was largely abandoned in the early 20th century with some parts of it being lost due to subsidence such as at Butterley and by road building [3]. The canal was officially abandoned in 1944.

Only a short stub at Langley Mill where it joined the Erewash and Nottingham Canals remained in use. However, restoration efforts began in the 1970s with the towpath restored from Cromford to Ambergate and some navigation possible, though at the moment only the stretch from Cromford to the Leawood Pump House (around two km) is fully watered and navigable. The canal retains some water as far as Ambergate.

[1] Hugh Potter, The Cromford Canal (Tempus, 2003) p. 11
[2] Ibid. p. 106
[3] Ibid. p. 67