The Cromford Canal ran 23.3 kilometres from Cromford to the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill. The 10.5 kilometres of canal between Cromford and Ambergate which lie within the nominated World Heritage Site was constructed in the early 1790s under the direction of William Jessop assisted by Benjamin Outram. The canal was intended as part of a through route to Manchester but it was not until the Cromford and High Peak Railway was constructed between 1824 and 1830 that this vision became a reality.
The Cromford Canal promoters sought to unlock Derbyshire’s immense mineral wealth, especially its limestone. Apart from the obvious advantages to Sir Richard Arkwright for his mills, he too saw the opportunity presented by exporting lime and sought a monopoly in this trade on the canal in return for which he was prepared to lend his name to the promoters of the canal project. Only when he was finally persuaded that such a monopoly would be against the law did he agree to give the canal scheme his energetic attention. He also agreed to sell most of his garden to the Canal Company to construct the Cromford Wharf. With his assistance the Canal Bill was steered through Parliament in the face of considerable opposition.
The canal had a profound influence on the economic growth of central Derbyshire achieving a substantial outreach by means of its many wharves and linking tramroads. Thus Belper, apparently bypassed by the canal, derived huge economic benefits from it.
The canal terminus abuts Mill Lane opposite Cromford Mill. Cromford Wharf incorporates two warehouses, an office or counting house and two cottages. Once enclosed entirely by a stone perimeter wall, the wharf was home to a range of other facilities; these buildings have not survived.
- The Cromford Canal Wharf
- Canal Warehouse
- The Counting House
- Cromford Canal Wharf Cottages
- The Cromford Canal: features south of Cromford Wharf
- Accommodation Bridge
- High Peak Junction
- The Leawood Pumphouse
- The Pumphouse Chimney
- The Wigwell Aqueduct
- Lengthman’s Cottage
- The Canal Aqueduct over the Railway
- Canal Tunnel
- The Meerbrook Sough Portal
1794 - Listed Grade II
The warehouse was built soon after the canal opened for Nathaniel Wheatcroft, who was to become the principal canal carrier.
It is built of coursed, squared and dressed sand-stone with two storeys and half basement and is roofed in graduated Welsh slate. The elevation visible from Willersley Castle has an embattled parapet and this feature has led to the structure being known locally as ‘the gothic warehouse’. It was used to receive goods brought in by the canal boats and awaiting onward transport. The lean-to shed over the canal was added in 1814. The building has been restored by the Arkwright Society.
c.1824 - Listed Grade II
A two-storey, three-bay, warehouse in coursed dressed sandstone, with a slate-hung cantilevered projection overhanging the feeder arm of the canal. It was built soon after the feeder arm was added. It was used to store goods awaiting transport by boat which, thanks to the overhanging section of the building, could be loaded under cover. The warehouse was equipped with a crane, now replaced by a modern replica. The building has been out of use for many years and is awaiting restoration by the Arkwright Society.
Part c.1794: part late 19th century - Listed Grade II
A two-storey polygonal structure in coursed dressed sandstone with a Welsh slate roof. Its unusual shape is explained by its proximity to the culvert which brought water to the canal from the Cromford Mill basin and by the limited space between this and the canal wharf gates, of which the two massive stone posts have survived.
The building was restored by the Arkwright Society, which uses it as an office.
1796 - Listed Grade II
Two canal cottages built for the Cromford Canal Company soon after the canal opened and later extended to accommodate company administrative staff. One of the cottages has been carefully restored and has regained its original appearance.
c.1792 - Unlisted
South of Cromford Wharf the coursed stone accommodation bridge with a string course and parapet, believed to have been built c.1792. There are others of similar design along the line of the canal. A notable feature of this bridge is the evidence in the stonework of wear caused by the canal boat tow ropes.
The Cromford and High Peak Railway which opened in 1830, completed the link to the Manchester area the canal promoters had intended to provide. It crossed the high ground between Cromford and Whaley Bridge by means of a series of inclines and stationary steam engines. These were linked by level sections on which the wagons were hauled by horses. The junction was created to provide a link for trans-shipping goods between the Cromford and High Peak Railway and the canal. A later link connected the junction to the railway between Ambergate and Matlock.
On the west side of the canal there are several buildings which served the needs of the railway and most notably the railway workshops. This group of buildings was built, re-built and enlarged between c.1830 and c.1865. In the first instance the workshop served the needs of the inclined plane railway and horse-drawn wagons. Later when steam locomotives were introduced to the line the workshop’s functions were extended. The buildings are of coursed gritstone and brick. Inside the building there are surviving examples of the original fish-bellied cast iron rails used on the Cromford and High Peak Railway. The workshop houses a small museum which is open to the public during the summer months.
c.1850 - Unlisted
The warehouse which stands between the canal and the railway was built c.1850 to replace an earlier canal building. It is now used as a residential study centre. It is built of coursed stone and has a covered canopy under which railway goods would have been loaded to protect them from the weather. It also has a load height gauge for the railway. Adjacent to the warehouse is a larger open shed supported by cast iron columns. Adjacent on the north side are the remains of the base of a crane.
To the south is a building of c.1850 in coursed stone which was used as railway offices. Further south on the canal is a paved spillway over which surplus water was discharged from the canal into the river.
1849 - Listed Grade II* and a Scheduled Ancient Monument
The Leawood pumphouse, engine and chimney, are situated south of High Peak Junction and on the east side of the canal.
These structures were built in 1849 to house a steam pumping engine to increase the supply of water available to the canal. The pedimented pumphouse building is of ashlar gritstone with chamfered quoins. It has a square-headed doorway with pilasters and quoined round-arch windows. The adjacent boiler house has arched doorways. The engine was constructed at the Milton Ironworks by Graham & Co. It is a Boulton and Watt single action beam engine which is maintained in operational condition and is put in steam from time to time.
Watch a video about Leawood Pumphouse
The 29 metres high engine chimney is built of coursed stone and has a cast iron parapet.
1793 - Scheduled Ancient Monument
The Wigwell Aqueduct over the river Derwent was first constructed in the early 1790s. By September 1793 serious cracks had appeared. William Jessop, the engineer who had supervised the building work, accepted liability and offered to re-build it at his own expense. He claimed the fault lay with the Crich lime he had used as mortar which did not set. Iron cramps were used to give the structure greater stability, and following this remedial action there has been no further serious trouble. The structure is 182.9 metres long, 9.1 metres high and supported by three arches. The one which spans the river is nearly 73 metres in length. There are two date stones above this central arch.
At the southern end of the Wigwell Aqueduct the junction with the Leawood Arm of the canal may still be identified. This branch, which was built by Peter Nightingale in 1802, extended the canal to a wharf at Lea Bridge. It serviced the Nightingale leadworks and mills. When the closure of the canal was proposed in 1910 by the canal’s then owners, the Midland Railway, the businesses at Lea Bridge were among the principal objectors, the canal having become an essential link for the import of coal and other raw materials. Their protest was unsuccessful and parliamentary approval was given for the canal’s closure.
c.1830 - Listed Grade II
At the junction of the Leawood Branch with the canal is a lengthman’s cottage, now without a roof. It is proposed that this structure should be conserved as a picturesque ruin.
c.1850 - Scheduled Ancient Monument
The aqueduct which carries the canal over the railway was constructed c.1850 when the line was built. It has a cast iron balustrade on the south side, the upper rail of which is a piece of railway rail.
c.1792 - Unlisted
The canal tunnel is about 73 metres in length and was built of coursed stone. It has coursed stone ramparts and is barrel- vaulted. A raised towpath runs through its entire length.
1772 - Scheduled Ancient Monument
It was the completion of the Meerbrook Sough which, being at a lower level than the Cromford Sough, drained most of its water and so put the Cromford Mills out of business, at least for water-powered uses. The sough tunnel was constructed over a long period from 1772 to c.1841. The portal may well have been constructed in 1772 as the dated keystone suggests. It bears the legend “FH1772” which refers to Francis Hurt who was the sough proprietor at that time.
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