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Posted by: mike on Jun 1, 2013

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Cromford Canal Bull Bridge Aqueduct (1967)

Bull Bridge Aqueduct, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire (1967)

My journeys to school in the early 1960s were punctuated by a pause on the road through Bull Bridge, near Ambergate in Derbyshire, for the traffic lights that controlled the tight gothic arch of Bull Bridge Aqueduct on the Cromford Canal.

The canal had not been used since before the Second World War and the arch was impossible for any vehicle larger than a single-deck bus.

The A610 road was already a significant link in the 1960s, and would become more important when the Ripley by-pass was opened in 1977.

It was inevitable, therefore, that Jessop and Outram’s tiny road-arch had to go.  It was demolished in 1968 – shortly followed by the adjacent iron-trough aqueduct that had been inserted into the canal when George Stephenson drove the North Midland Railway through in 1839.

Images of the canal at Bull Bridge can be found at http://www.cromfordcanal.info/archives/bullbutt.htm.

In the 1960s no-one in their wildest dreams would have expected the Cromford Canal to be restored, but the Friends of the Cromford Canal plan to return the whole canal to navigation, however long it takes, and so one day an elegant new aqueduct will span the road and the railway, rather like the New Semington Aqueduct (2004) on the Kennet and Avon Canal:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Semington_Aqueduct.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 18, 2012

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakVictorian architectureTransports of delightTaking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Buxton LNWR Station

At one time, you had a choice of rail routes to travel between Buxton and Manchester.

As a result of farcical Victorian competition, there were two Buxton stations, served by two companies, running between Buxton and Manchester by completely different routes.

The London & North Western service, which survives, took a reasonably obvious way over the hills to Whaley Bridge and Hazel Grove, where it joined the main line through Stockport to Manchester.

The Midland route, which was a by-product of that company’s desperate dash to find an independent route from Derby to Manchester, dived through deep Derbyshire limestone dales and a lengthy, 1½-mile long tunnel at Dove Holes, to link with the Cheshire Lines into Manchester Central.

Though the Midland line passenger service closed in 1967, almost all of the track is still in place for use by mineral trains.  Only the approach tracks into Buxton and the Midland station have gone, replaced by the town’s inner relief road.

Present-day trains run into the North Western platforms, and though the train-shed roof has been demolished, the distinctive gable with its Crystal Palace fanlight window remains.  The adjacent Midland station was a mirror-image of this.

The shape of the window hints at the involvement of Sir Joseph Paxton, the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s head gardener and a Midland Railway director.  It seems that the Duke, as principal landowner, insisted that the two stations should sit harmoniously side-by-side, and Paxton was instructed to advise the architect, John Smith.

Indeed, when the two companies opened on May 30th 1863 it seems that the inaugural dinners were scheduled to begin an hour apart.  Presumably, Paxton turned up to both, and got two starters and only one pudding.

A full and well-illustrated account of the Buxton Midland station can be found at http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/b/buxton/index.shtml.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 4, 2012

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delight

Cromford Canal Ironville Locks (1978)

Cromford Canal Ironville Locks (1978)

My blog-article about the Cromford Canal [Slow boat to Cromford] caught the attention of Hugh Potter, the Archivist of the Friends of the Cromford Canal, partly because of the 1963 image of the west portal of the Butterley Tunnel, which is no longer recognisable because of the construction of the A61 Ripley by-pass.

Hugh asked what other images I had from that period, and very kindly rescanned them for me to a higher resolution than my scanner can achieve.  They’re now displayed on the Friends’ website at http://www.cromfordcanal.info/archives/mharchive/mh1.htm.

The Friends exists to work towards the entire restoration of the Cromford Canal, including its Pinxton and Lea Wood branches.  This is clearly the work of a generation, at least.

When I pottered around the canal in the 1960s it was virtually intact.  In the time it took me to go through secondary school and university, a great bite was taken out of it at Ambergate to build a gas-processing plant, and other stretches were lost to road improvements and opencast coal working.  The current state of the entire line can be seen at http://www.cromfordcanal.info/images/map_large.jpg.

At the moment, only six hundred yards of the Cromford Canal are accessible from the inland-waterways system:  above the first lock at Langley Mill, a stretch exists as moorings for boats that have travelled up the Erewash Canal.

Beyond that, the course of the canal was obliterated by opencast mining in the 1960s:  six locks and 2½ miles of waterway must be completely rebuilt to connect with the surviving flight of locks to Ironville.

Here, well-intentioned but over-enthusiastic flood prevention works have wrecked the top locks which were, until 1985, virtually intact, though the gates had been removed and concrete cills installed to carry overflow.

What would have been a restoration will now become a major rebuilding.  Now is not the time to expect enormous financial support from outside bodies, but the Friends quietly beaver away reversing the decay and encroachments of nature:  http://www.cromfordcanal.info/restoration/eastern.htm.

It’s the work of volunteers and their determination, for which ‘heroic’ is not too strong an adjective, that kickstarts the recovery of amenities which shouldn’t have been squandered in the first place.

One day, boats will sail again up to Ironville and to Pinxton, and in time through the Butterley Tunnel and on to Cromford.

It worked on the Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow Canals, and it's happening on the Chesterfield.

It’s only a matter of time – and timing.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 14, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Monsal Dale Viaduct & Headstones Tunnel

Monsal Dale Viaduct & Headstones Tunnel, Midland Railway Rowsley & Buxton Extension (1970)

My friend Richard is a serious walker.  He doesn't think twice about twenty-five miles in a day, and goes walking with people who'll tackle the West Highland Way (94 miles) carrying their own rucksacks.

So a walk along the Derbyshire Monsal Trail [see Changing trains in the middle of nowhere: Miller's Dale Station] counts as a gentle stroll.  This is the former railway line between Derby and Manchester that has so many tunnels the railwaymen called it "the flute".

Richard told me that as he walked across Monsal Dale Viaduct on a hot day in a T-shirt recently he was suddenly confronted with a blast of cold air.

This turned out to be the draught from Headstones Tunnel, which for years has been bricked up with a locked steel door for inspection parties.  Now the tunnel mouth is open again, and work proceeds to make it accessible to walkers, complete with lighting.

This welcome development is flagged on the Peak District National Park website:  http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/index/visiting/cycle.htm.

One might ask, what happened to the proposal to reinstate the railway line from Matlock to Buxton, which at present stops at the PeakRail terminus at Rowsley [see Rails across the Peak].  The most probable answer is not that there's a bridge missing across the A6 road at Rowsley, but that there's a problem a little further west.

UPDATE:  Richard told me (riding through another railway tunnel on a train, on our way to a Friday night at Anoki [see Cosy Curry]) that the Monsal Trail tunnels are now open:  http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/index/news/news-display-page.htm?id=24902.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 18, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Totley Tunnel west portal

Even if they're not the slightest bit interested in trains, few visitors to the Grindleford Station café [see No mushrooms – ever] can resist peering down from the station bridge at the western portal of Totley Tunnel and reading from the signs that it's 6,230 yards long and was built in 1893.  It was in fact the second longest railway tunnel in the UK until the construction of High Speed 1.

Even if you go down to the station platform and walk to the end, it's not possible to see light at the other end of the tunnel.

This is because not only is there a slight curve at the Grindleford end, but there's also a summit in the middle.  In the days of steam and loose-coupled freight trains this presented a considerable challenge.  Running a heavy coal-train north from Derbyshire, up the Hope Valley towards Manchester with controllable brakes only on the locomotive and the rear brake-van required skill and nerve.

When I first taught adult-education classes in transport history in the 1970s they repeatedly attracted retired locomen who explained the practicalities of train-driving with old technology.

The risk bringing the train down the grade in Bradway Tunnel from Chesterfield was that the loose-coupled loaded coal wagons would simply push the locomotive faster.  At the north end of Bradway Tunnel is a tight curve, with another short tunnel, that cannot be taken at speed.

Once past the curve and through Dore & Totley West Junction, the approach to Totley Tunnel is a sudden steep uphill gradient, and the weight of the wagons dragged the locomotive as it charged forwards at gradients of 1 in 100, 1 in 176 and then 1 in 150 – significantly steep for steam power.

Inside the tunnel, you can't see.  But there comes a point where the track levels and then dips downhill at 1 in 1,000.  You knew that was happening because the wagons would begin to bash together on their chain couplings pushing the loco as it headed towards the curve at the Grindleford end and, all too suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel would appear.

This isn't such a problem with modern traction, so I'm told.  A nudge of a control handle activates the brakes on every wheel of the train.  It's all too easy to be nostalgic about the age of steam.

Posted by: mike on Mar 16, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Cromford Canal Butterley Tunnel west portal (1963)

Cromford Canal, Butterley Tunnel west portal (1963)

The history of inland waterways in Britain has gained a fresh chapter within the past generation.  When the author Tom Rolt (1910-1974) struggled to navigate silted and derelict waterways before and after the Second World War in his narrow boat Cressy it seemed inevitable that water transport had at best a minimal place in the future economy.

Not least through the campaigning energy of Rolt and his quarrelsome colleagues who founded the Inland Waterways Association, political momentum built up, first to save barely navigable waterways from destruction and ultimately to resuscitate canals that were thought irretrievably lost – among them, the Rochdale, the Huddersfield Narrow, the Chesterfield, the Hereford & Worcester, the Lancaster, the Manchester, Bolton & Bury and the Montgomery.  Now canals that were proposed over two centuries ago and never built – such as the link between the Sheffield and Chesterfield Canals – are seriously discussed – http://www.waterways.org.uk/waterways/waterway_restoration/north_east___yorkshire/other_restoration_campaigns/other_restoration_campaigns.

There is clearly much more to this than air-headed enthusiasm.  The growth of leisure boating (of which Tom Rolt was a famous pioneer), the real-estate possibilities of waterside property and the recognition that waterways are an amenity not an eyesore have led to an environmental revolution.

My first personal experience of inland waterways was exploring the Cromford Canal in Derbyshire in the early 1960s, just as its course was repeatedly broken up by mining subsidence, opencasting, road upgrading and industrial development.

Fifty years later, the upper five miles from Ambergate to Cromford is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] while the bottom three miles from Ironville to Langley Mill has been completely obliterated by opencast mining.  In between, the obstructions include industrial installations, at least one bungalow and a major trunk road.

Repeated collapses within the Butterley Tunnel put paid to through traffic as far back as 1900 and provided easy justification for abandoning this particularly scenic waterway.  In fact, now that coal mining has ceased in the area, the tunnel appears to be stable, and an intrepid canoeist, Robin Witter, surveyed a substantial length of it in 1979.  His images are available at http://www.cromfordcanal.org.uk/vcanal/tunnel.htm.  The Wikipedia entry on the Butterley Tunnel indicates that a further exploration by Tina Cordon took place in 2006 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterley_Tunnel].

It's no longer facile to suggest the restoration of long-vanished canals.  There are now sufficient examples of resurrected waterways to provide economic and amenity arguments for schemes that in Rolt's time seemed utterly impractical.

In each case, it won't happen quickly, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

For more information see the website of the Waterway Recovery Group – http://www.waterways.org.uk/wrg.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Sep 6, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakVictorian architectureLife-enhancing experiences

Derby Brunswick Inn

The other rite-of-passage at the age of sixty, after the bus pass, is the Senior Railcard.  It has to be after the bus pass because there is a cost and it's not worth having until the first time you use it:  if you buy it the first day you need it, you have more days to use it at the other end (assuming you live that long).

We chose to launch my mate Richard's railcard by taking the train from Sheffield to Derby, a mere forty minutes, to visit the Brunswick Inn in the Railway Village, three minutes' walk from the station:  http://www.brunswickderby.co.uk

Take a close look at the Railway Village houses and it's obvious that this is polite architecture, not speculative artisan housing – actually by Francis Thompson, company architect of the North Midland Railway – built very early in the railway age, 1840-2.

The pub, occupying the apex of the triangular street-pattern, is distinctly elegant:  apparently it was originally the Brunswick Railway & Commercial Inn – catering for commercial travellers by offering storage for sample-cases, telegram facilities and generous opening hours.

The houses and the pub were scheduled for demolition in 1970, and were rescued by the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust.  The Brunswick reopened in 1987, and a microbrewery was added in 1991:  the place collects awards, including UK Beer Pub of the Year, 2001.

From the Brunswick, we walked round to London Road, where there is a superlative Indian restaurant called Anoki [http://www.anoki.co.uk/locations.php?loc=Derby].  Anoki's chief claims to fame are its superb food – £30 buys a multi-course banquet that leaves you full but not bursting – and its assiduously attentive staff.  The male waiters, who are in a majority, wear the sort of elaborate uniforms I associate with Indian border guards – hats with fans and shoes with curly toes.  The place is high camp:  the immaculate gents is liberally provided with fluffy white towels, the floor scattered with rose-petals.

Its historical claim to fame is that the building is the former Cosy Cinema, built in 1913, and later renamed the Forum (1939) and finally the Cameo (1950).  As the Cameo it featured an adventurous and unsuccessful line in French avant garde films;  better business was done by placing an advertisement at the exit to Derby Midland Station to attract long-distance passing trade.  Occasionally, when the house-lights went up, patrons would be found wearing dressing-gowns and pyjamas, refugees from the Infirmary across the road.

After the cinema closed in 1959 it became a furniture showroom:  installing display windows wrecked the ornate baroque façade.  The restaurant occupies the balcony level, built across to the former proscenium.  The barrel ceiling and caryatides are beautifully decorated and, where the original screen would have been, an endless loop of Bollywood clips is projected.

The place has impeccable style.

Posted by: mike on Aug 26, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

C&HPR water tender

One of the peculiar attributes of the Cromford & High Peak Railway was that it provided water-supply, not only for its own engines but also for adjacent farms and quarries on the high limestone hills that it traversed.

The water was carried along the line in trains of reused locomotive tenders which were filled from a spring at High Peak Wharf.  One of these tenders was rescued when the line closed in 1967 and ultimately ended up in the reserve collection of the National Railway Museum.

This fascinating but unspectacular piece of railway archaeology would hardly attract attention in the main museum at York, and has been loaned to the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway [http://www.e-v-r.com] in Derbyshire, where it's locally relevant.  There it stands, in a siding, labelled "Cromford" as you'd expect.

Apparently, this is incorrect.  Someone at the Middleton Top Visitor Centre [http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/countryside/countryside_sites/visitor_centres/middleton_top/default.asp], which is beside the actual trackbed of the C&HPR, has interviewed the last surviving engine-driver, who is adamant the tender at Wirksworth couldn't possibly have got up the cable-hauled Middleton Incline.

It has six wheels.  All the tenders based at Cromford had four wheels:  indeed, the six-wheeled versions had their middle wheels removed precisely so they could breast the top of the inclines.

The tender now at Wirksworth must have come from the other end of the line.  Perhaps it should say "Parsley Hay" on the side.

Does this matter?  Certainly not to 99.9% of the EVR's visitors.  But it shows that to make historical and archaeological facts as accurate as possible, it's important to listen to living witnesses.  Oral history matters, even if it's as prone to misinterpretation as written or moving-image evidence.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 24, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Heritage Shunters Trust

Wandering round the Peak Rail site at Rowsley South in Derbyshire, I came across a gentleman in a shed surrounded by more 1960s and 1970s heavy diesel shunting locomotives than you could shake a stick at.

Peak Rail provides a home and facilities for a number of specialist rail-preservation societies, and I was intrigued by the work of the Heritage Shunters Trust [http://www.heritageshunters.co.uk], who conserve and commemorate an extraordinary episode in the non-development of British Railways.

When the Attlee government nationalised the railways in 1948, the initial policy was to run the railways on steam and coal-fired electricity to make best use of the British coal industry.  Only later did the cheapness of imported oil become economically irresistible.

After British Railways decided in 1955 to phase out steam (having built over 3,500 locomotives since 1948, 999 of them to brand-new designs) there was a rush to obtain sufficient diesel locomotives on a one-for-one replacement basis.  In particular, small, heavy-duty steam shunters were replaced by a great variety of diesel equivalents, some to designs which had not been fully tried and tested.

This policy ignored the fact that single-wagon loads of freight were diminishing, as road transport became more efficient and cost-effective.  By the mid-1960s increasing amounts of rail freight were moving in train-loads not wagon-loads and there was less and less need for shunting locomotives.

This huge, diverse fleet proved to have been a waste of money, and not all of them were capable of doing the job they were intended for.  As pieces of engineering history, however, the different designs are fascinating.

There are over twenty of these engines at Rowsley, some fully restored, others awaiting attention.  I asked my guide what the display policy was – is it an art gallery of locomotive design, or do the workable engines have a practical function?  There is, after all, not much more shunting to do at Rowsley than there was on British Railways after the 1960s.

The major annual jamboree when the working shunters get an outing is the Shunter Hunter weekend – this year on October 23rd-24th – when the Trust takes over the Peak Rail line and works all the passenger services.  This puts up to ten shunting locomotives on the line.

If it raises funds to help volunteers preserve the engineering heritage it's a worthwhile enterprise.  And it's entertaining into the bargain.  Details of the Shunter Hunter weekend are at http://www.peakrail.co.uk/ShunterWeekend.html.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 16, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Middleton Top Engine House

Middleton Top Engine House

The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway runs an excellent 'Rails and Quarries' tour from their Wirksworth station, using their diesel railcar to run up the steepest section of line in use in the UK – 1 in 27 – to Ravenstor, the foot of a slightly mysterious incline that connected with the Cromford & High Peak Railway at Middleton Bottom.

The day I visited, the guide was Vince Morris – informative, professional and endlessly patient with people who struggle with stiles.  His itinerary involved a steep climb through the National Stone Centre [http://www.nationalstonecentre.org.uk] to the High Peak Trail [http://www.derbyshire-peakdistrict.co.uk/thehighpeaktrail.htm] , which follows the trackbed of the Cromford & High Peak Railway, up the 1 in 8½ incline to Middleton Top Engine House and then over the fields and through the derelict moonscape of Middle Peak Quarry and back through the centre of Wirksworth.

Middleton Top Winding Engine [http://www.middleton-leawood.org.uk] is an interesting survival, the only remaining example of eight built by the Butterley Company to haul trains up and down the inclines which in 1825 were judged the most effective and economical method of running a railway over the Peak massif.  William Jessop II was a director of both the Butterley Company and the C&HPR:  his younger brother, Josias, had engineered the railway though he died during the construction period.  The total cost of the railway, when it was completed in 1831, was £149,206 16s 8d.  Of this the eight winding engines cost £20,000.

More significantly, the largest single item of expenditure was for cast-iron rails, provided by the Butterley Company for £61,950.  The Butterley Ironworks was incapable at that time of manufacturing wrought-iron rails, so that when the railway wanted to replace horses with locomotives (as Josias Jessop had suggested in his initial specification), the track couldn't stand the weight and had to be re-laid in wrought iron from end to end.

As the Americans say, do the math.

This unique railway, which was technologically sound when it was promoted in 1825 and an anachronism almost as soon as it opened in 1831, continued to work with periodic modifications on the principle that if it works, don't fix it.  Middleton Top stopped winding in 1963, but at the Sheep Pasture Incline further down the line a steam engine built in 1883 was replaced with an electric winder in 1965.  The entire line finally closed in 1967.

As the French say, C'est la vie.

Events on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway can be found at http://www.e-v-r.com/ticketing/events10.htm.

The stretch of the Cromford & High Peak Railway between Whaley Bridge and Hindlow, some of which was abandoned as far back as 1892, can be explored from the comfort of an armchair thanks to http://picasaweb.google.com/montyburns56/CromfordHighPeakRailway.  I'm grateful to Paul Jones for this link.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 14, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Ecclesbourne Valley Railway

There's a sleepy little branch line up the Ecclesbourne valley in Derbyshire, from the former Midland main line at Duffield to the market town of Wirksworth.  Since 2002 a group of volunteers have been reviving it for tourist traffic.  Its survival is unusual, but nothing like as unusual as its origin.

For complicated reasons of Victorian railway politics, there was a possibility in the 1860s that the Midland Railway's line from Derby to Manchester might be blocked by its competitor, the London & North Western Railway, when the joint lease on the section between Ambergate and Rowsley ran out in 1871.

In case this happened, or perhaps to prevent the L&NWR making trouble, the Midland built the branch up the Ecclesbourne valley as far as Wirksworth, which is as far as any reasonable railway line would go.  Beyond that, they secured the right to tunnel under the hills, crossing the Via Gellia road on a 280-yard-long viaduct, emerging into daylight above Matlock and dropping down the Derwent Valley to their newly-built line from Rowsley westwards.

If it had been built it would have been even more heavy-duty than the "flute" line through Monsal Dale, Miller's Dale and Chee Dale.  It would have been a stiff challenge to drive expresses and – even more – coal trains up the grade, through a series of lengthy tunnels and round tight curves under the Heights of Abraham.

The Wirksworth-Rowsley extension was never built, and instead trains pottered up and down the Wirksworth branch, carrying limestone, milk and passengers.  The milk and passengers went over to road transport before and during the Second World War, but the huge Middle Peak Quarry kept the railway running until 1989.

Then, when the quarry was mothballed, the railway was left intact but utterly neglected, so that by the time the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway crews had the go-ahead to bring it back to life it was an 8½-mile-long jungle.  Whereas most railway-preservation groups have to lay fresh track, as did the EVR's neighbours at Peak Rail, here the heavy work has been clearing out blocked culverts and replacing rotten sleepers.

The line is open from the existing main line at Duffield so that passengers can connect with East Midlands trains' hourly Derby-Matlock service.

The main-line connection has been severed and, so I'm told, there's only a minimal chance of it being reinstalled.  The EVR can provide a worthwhile passenger service with steam locomotives and diesel railcars, and Wirksworth is a pleasant market town with a fascinating history.  The future looks promising for this once derelict survivor of a time when railway companies would build their lines almost anywhere.

Details of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway services are at http://www.e-v-r.com.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 12, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Cromford Station

The little railway with the long name – the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midland Junction Railway – only reached Rowsley, just short of the Chatsworth estate, before the money ran out and railway politics cut it short.  The original Rowsley station still stands, isolated in the middle of a retail park more depressing (in my view) than the contractor's yard it replaced.  When the line to Manchester was resumed in the 1860s, it turned left and headed up the Wye valley, rather than following the original route.

One of the directors of the MBM&MJR was Joseph Paxton, the protégé of the Bachelor Duke of Devonshire.  He sketched the first design for his Great Exhibition building, the Crystal Palace, on a sheet of MBM&MJR blotting paper during a directors' meeting.

Paxton designed the company's stations at Rowsley and Matlock, and his son-in-law, George Henry Stokes, did the particularly attractive station at Cromford in what is generally described as "French château" style.  The existing main, down-side building is later, but the tiny up-side waiting room and the elaborate stationmaster's house are Stokes'.

Ever since main-line services ceased in the late 1960s, the Cromford station buildings have been neglected, until in recent years the Arkwright Society has renovated the down-side building as a suite of two offices [http://www.arkwrightsociety.org.uk/other/cromford_station_channel/cromford_station] and Ryan Phelps has converted the waiting room opposite into a compact, high-quality holiday let [http://www.cromfordstationwaitingroom.co.uk/] which sleeps two very comfortably, and four at a pinch.

Here you can live in great comfort, with an hourly train-service up and down the Derwent valley between Derby and Matlock.  The first train north comes through at 0605, and the last one south passes at 2249.  Sleep would have been more of a problem when the great coal trains lumbered through twenty-four hours a day.

In a spare twenty minutes I took the guests on the 2010 Waterways & Railways of the Derbyshire Peak tour to take a look at Cromford Station.  One lady, curious to know if a train was due, pressed the "enquiries" button, expecting a recorded announcement, and was fascinated to be put in touch with a man who not only gave her the time, but checked that the driver was ready to leave Matlock on time.  And so fifteen very mature people stood fascinated, waiting for the headlight to appear in the tunnel, and to photograph a very brightly painted diesel railcar.  We're all anoraks really.

Cromford Station House is private, and the Waiting Room is of course let regularly:  if you visit Cromford Station please keep to the public platform.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 30, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Miller's Dale Station (1970)

Miller's Dale Station, Derbyshire (1970)

Miller's Dale Station was one of the sites on the Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour in June 2010.  It's a parking place on the Monsal Trail which utilises the trackbed from just west of Bakewell through to Blackwell Mill, a couple of miles from Buxton town centre.

The whole line is an astonishing piece of engineering, carved through the dales of the River Wye in the 1860s to the fury of John Ruskin, who complained that it destroyed an idyllic landscape so that "every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton".  The rapid succession of viaducts, cuttings and tunnels led the railwaymen to call this line "the flute".

Travellers gaze at the huge expanse of the former station, and wonder why the Midland Railway built a five-platform station on a shelf halfway up a remote cliff-face.  The reason was to provide a connection between the dead-end branch line to Buxton and the fast trains between Derby and Manchester, and – from 1905 – to allow expresses to overtake the heavy goods trains that struggled up the grade from Rowsley.

Ironically, when the line closed in 1968, there was uproar at a plan to demolish the Monsal Dale Viaduct, and in the 1980s the Peak Park Planning Board concluded that it was far cheaper to repaint the magnificent iron and steel Miller's Dale Viaducts than to dismantle them.

This means that it remains possible for PeakRail to bring train services back to Miller's Dale, one day.  When this plan becomes a reality, I suspect there will be an outcry from nature-lovers at the destruction of wildlife on the trail, and once again every fool in Buxton can swap places with every fool in Bakewell if they wish.

There's a detailed account with a collection of images of Miller's Dale Station at ttp://www.disused-stations.org.uk/m/millers_dale/index.shtml, and Graeme Bickerdike provides an informative update on the physical condition of the engineering structures along the line at http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/bridges/monsal.html.

At present, Miller's Dale Station has nothing to offer but public lavatories.  The nearby café, known as the Wriggly Tin, is now a house.  But according to a recent press report, this situation may shortly improve:  http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/localnews/3m-visitor-centres-hopes-for.6349207.jp.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 28, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Peak Rail Rowsley South

Peak Rail is a steam-railway project with a huge future.

The present is relatively modest.  Trains operate along a four-mile stretch of the Derbyshire Derwent valley.  Most of the resident locomotives are diesel, though trains are often steam-hauled.  The catering staff do an excellent line in Sunday lunch, afternoon tea and cream tea.  There is a regular roster of events to bring in special-interest groups.

The next major development will be running trains into the Network Rail station at Matlock.  At present the Peak Rail line terminates at a temporary station, Matlock Riverside, which is within walking distance of the town centre.  Once Peak Rail trains stand on the adjacent track to the railcars from Nottingham and Derby, it'll be easier for passengers to make the use of the line, and a restored direct rail link will enable steam tours from afar to travel up to Rowsley, and for Peak Rail excursions to head south on to the national network.

But the big agenda is the vision that started the whole project in 1975.  When the main line through Matlock to Manchester closed in 1968 the trackbed remained largely intact and much of it eventually passed to the respective local authorities, Derbyshire County Council and the Peak Park Planning Board.  The Peak Railway Association exists to support Peak Rail with proposals to restore train services up the Wye valley west of Rowsley, bringing visitors to Bakewell, Monsal Dale, Miller's Dale and eventually Buxton.

The practical impediments are, apparently, replacement of an overbridge at Rowsley and "difficulties" with Haddon Tunnel.  Otherwise the obstacles are primarily economic.  Repeated examinations of the plan have so far ruled out reinstatement, though the attractions of routing freight by rail across Derbyshire, relieving the heavily-used Hope Valley line from Dore to Chinley, may become more attractive in the years to come.

Details of Peak Rail's services and events are at http://www.peakrail.co.uk/index.htm.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 26, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak

Bugsworth Basin

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.

The 56-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.


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