Cromford Canal, Golden Valley – gone, but not forgotten!

By: shortfinals

Sep 17 2011

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Category: animals, British Isles, canals, Derbyshire, England, Great Britain, Plants

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I have already mentioned the Newlands Inn, Butterley Tunnel and other features in and around the little hamlet of Golden Valley, Derbyshire. The local ‘industrial giant’ was Butterley Company, with iron foundries, forges and coal mines. Another major player in the development of the industrial base was Sir Richard Arkwright, the man who perfected a system for spinning cotton into cheap yarn, then weaving it into mass-produced cloth, in the world’s first textile factory complex at Cromford. What the Butterley Company needed was an easy way to transport coal and other products to the markets of the growing cities of the Midlands, and Sir Richard Arkwright wanted to move his finished cotton goods from the mills at Cromford to those same cities and beyond. Hence, the scheme for the Cromford Canal, from Cromford to a junction beyond Ironville with the existing Erewash Canal (and the extension of the Cromford Canal to the coal mines at Pinxton).

The provision of water, to keep the canal filled and canal boats and the goods moving, was always a problem; coal was carried to the west, and cotton goods, limestone and lead eastwards. The water problem was solved, in part, on the western arm from Cromford to Butterley, by the Leawood Pumping Station (built in 1849) which pumped water from the River Derwent into the canal. At the same time that the enormously long Butterley Tunnel was built (1794) – from Butterley to Golden Valley, a distance of 2,966 yards – a small reservoir (known locally as the ‘Top Reservoir’) was constructed at Golden Valley, alongside what is now the track of the Golden Valley Light Railway. Also, a much more substantial reservoir was built about half a mile from the tunnel portal to act as a main water source for the new canal, known as Codnor Park Reservoir; it is still in existence, and is now owned by the Canal & River Trust. Here we see a section of the now shallow, heavily weeded and over-grown Cromford Canal, just to the east of the portal of the Butterley Tunnel at Golden Valley (closed in 1900). The Cromford Canal was effectively owned by the Midland Railway Company from 1870, and they began a long, slow process of taking freight from the canal onto their railway system. Along with the collapse of a middle section of the Butterley Tunnel, this spelt the end for the canal. My great-grandfather had been a ‘legger’ in the tunnel (helping to propel barges along, by ‘walking’ along the tunnel walls) before working on a barge, so this meant a great change for the family. The London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company – the successor to the Midland Railway – took over what was left of the canal in 1923, and it was finally closed during the Second World War, in 1944.

The whole canal is designated a SSSI – a Site of Special Scientific Interest – due to its over 160 plant species including the Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa) and the Goat or Pussy Willow (Salix caprea), and the threatened European Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius) and the Grass Snake (Natix natrix). Just out of shot is Bridge 35, a small iron bridge which crosses the canal and used to give access from the rear gardens of the hamlet of Golden Valley to the Coach Road, heading towards Ironville. It was almost opposite the steeply sloping vegetable plot of my grandfather and I used it regularly. I could not do so now, as it has been closed for many years; the deck is in disrepair (and no-one seems to know whose responsibility it is).

I remember borrowing some fishing tackle from one of my uncles and making my very first attempt to catch a fish from the canal tow-path. After a number of hours, I was lucky enough to catch a very small Tench (Tinca tinca), using a small worm as bait. The memory of its olive-green skin and bright red eye, as I slipped it back into the green, algae-stained waters of the canal, will always stay with me.

I would heartily commend to all the work of the Friends of the Cromford Canal. Their membership is passionate about this historic waterway and is working, slowly but steadily, towards its restoration!

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