Erewash Canal

Erewash Canal History

The Erewash Canal was planned to serve the collieries along the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire border. It was to be built from a junction with the River Trent very close to the confluence of the River Soar. Just a couple of miles west of the junction was the start of the Trent and Mersey Canal which, at this stage, was very close to being fully opened.

The Erewash Canal obtained its Act of Parliament on October 30th. John Varley was appointed engineer and the Pinkertons were the main contractors on the project. The canal was to travel almost directly north for 11¾ miles, following closely to the line of the small River Erewash. It was to pass through Long Eaton, Sandiacre and Ilkeston to a terminus near Langley Mill. There were no great structural features to be built though there were 15 locks. The canal was to be built broad to take boats off the River Trent and River Soar. The Trent and Mersey Canal was also broad up to Burton.

The Erewash Canal was fully opened and was an instant success allowing easy and cheap transportation of coal (and other goods) from the Erewash Valley to places like Nottingham and Leicester.

Due to it's instant success, an extension to the Erewash Canal was soon called for by many people.

In particular the mine owners around Pinxton were eager to have a navigable waterway as they claimed there were numerous unworked seams which were being left untouched due to lack of suitable transport.

Eventually it was agreed to extend the Erewash Canal as far as Pinxton. However, before any work could be done, other businessmen further to the north of the Erewash Canal also began to show interest in a waterway which could serve their towns and villages. In

1788 it was decided to build a route from Cromford on the edge of the Peak District to the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill. The new canal's Bill went to Parliament in 1789 but the Erewash Canal company were not happy. Despite the very large advantage of having a canal joining their route which was totally dependent on them for easy passage to the outside world, the Erewash Canal feared water supply problems because up till this time it had enjoyed exclusive rights to the River Erewash. Despite the Erewash company's objection, the Cromford Canal was authorised and work began.

Another canal company entered the scene when it was decided that the Nottingham Canal should be constructed from Nottingham to Langley Mill where it would join the Erewash and Cromford routes. In fact, the planned route was to run almost parallel to the Erewash Canal for over 3 miles from near Ilkeston to Langley Mill. When completed, this new route would be more of an advantage to the Cromford Canal than the Erewash Canal because it would provide an alternative route to Nottingham bypassing the River Trent.

In February the first 4 miles of the Cromford Canal were opened, to the southern portal of Butterley Tunnel. This had an immediate effect on the volume of traffic using the Erewash Canal.

Another new line, the Derby Canal was begun. This, like the Cromford Canal and Nottingham Canal, would provide some competition for the Erewash Canal but more importantly, like the Nottingham Canal, it would also provide better routes for through traffic, allowing shorter, quicker and cheaper access to certain areas.

The whole of the Cromford Canal opened from Cromford to Langley Mill. With it came more trade for the Erewash Canal including cargoes of cotton from Richard Arkwright's mills.

The Derby Canal was opened from its junction on the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre to the centre of Derby, giving canal access to that city for the first time.

The whole of the Derby Canal was opened, creating a link from the Erewash Canal to the Trent and Mersey Canal and River Trent at Swarkestone. This allowed boats from the Erewash Canal, which were heading west, to avoid the often troublesome stretches of the River Trent. The Nottingham Canal also opened providing a "cross country" link from Nottingham to Derby with the Erewash Canal providing the link between the two new canals.

A third canal also opened during this year. The Nutbrook Canal was a much shorter route than the others and did not provide a through-route to anywhere in particular but it did bring coal to the Erewash Canal and in later years it also carried iron from the Stanton Ironworks.Its junction with the Erewash Canal was to the south of Ilkeston.

Negotiations were held between local colliery owners, the Erewash company and other major linking canals to discuss the increasing competition for coal trade in the Leicester area.

The Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire mines had supplied the area via the canals and River Soar but increasing competition coming from the Staffordshire coal fields on the Trent & Mersey Canal was making itself felt. A new railway from Burton to Leicester brought matters to a head and the colliery owners around the Erewash Valley felt the trade was being lost because of the monopolising tolls forced on them by the canal companies. The canals felt it was up to the collieries to lower their prices and not the canals who should lower their tolls. The collieries were very unhappy and threatened to build a railway line of their own, this did the trick and the canals quickly agreed that tolls for coal carriage (to Leicester only) should be lowered to help the declining trade. However, in the end, the toll concessions proved to make little difference to trade so they were soon dropped.

Even with the loss of some coal trade the Erewash Canal was still one of the most successful canals in the country at this time. While some waterways struggled to pay out a single 1% dividend, the Erewash company were able to pay shareholders dividends of just under 50%.

However, one important point which is often lost in canal books, who's authors have rose tinted glasses, is that the canals often held a mighty monopoly over its users - many of whom were very dissatisfied.It is because of this that many colliery owners and other businessmen speeded up the arrival of the railway era. It was not always (if ever) a simple case of "poor canal put out of business by nasty, dirty, hissing engines" but more a case of "businessmen demanding more say and cheaper tolls"!

The neighbouring Cromford Canal Company was one of the first to conclude that it was pointless to try and fight the on-coming railway invasion. The Erewash Valley Line was under construction and another line was planned to run from Cheadle to Ambergate.

The Cromford Canal company decided to sell out to the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midlands Junction Railway Company. A deal was agreed upon though it was 5 more years before the canal changed hands. Soon after taking control, the new owners of the Cromford Canal leased it out in a joint agreement with two other railways. As soon as the railways took control of the waterway it saw an immediate decline in traffic which in turn greatly effected the Erewash Canal's trade and traffic.

Another neighbour of the Erewash Canal, the Nottingham Canal, also sold out to a local railway, the Ambergate Railway Company. Presumably the Erewash company were also pressured at some point to do the same but the canal was only ever owned by people who's number one interest was in the waterway itself.

The Erewash Canal suffered a sudden income and traffic loss when Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal was closed due to rock fall. It took several years to repair the tunnel and the Erewash Canal never regained the trade lost due to the tunnel's closure.

The Grand Junction Canal bought out the waterways linking their canal to Leicester. Their hope was clearly to run the whole coal route between the East Midlands and London and this was helped when the Erewash Canal (along with the companies running the River Soar Navigation) made an agreement with the Grand Junction company whereby tolls would be lowered on the promise of a guarantee from the Grand Junction Canal if profit levels were not maintained. The scheme worked initially but it did not work to its full potential due to the sorry state of the Cromford Canal.

The top 3 miles of the privately owned Nutbrook Canal were closed. This also dented the plans of the Grand Junction Canal who ended up having to pay out on the guarantees it had promised. The first mile of the Nutbrook Canal was kept open and served the Stanton Ironworks well into the 1900's.

Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal had to be closed for a second time when again a rock fall blocked the passage. The canal's owners refused to repair the tunnel and the (already) small amount of trade which came to the Erewash Canal from Cromford was now completely lost.

The Erewash company supported efforts by traders on the Cromford Canal to force its owners to repair Butterley Tunnel. Eventually the government made an independent survey but reported that the tunnel was unsafe and not fit for repair. Trade (which had already been low) was switched to the railway and from then on only traffic using the southern section of the Cromford Canal could reach the Erewash Canal - and this was now a very small amount indeed.

After years of decline the Derby Canal company attempted to officially close their line. Objections from ICI, who needed the water supply, prevented the canal's closure however and it stayed open for another 30 years. During this time hardly a single boat used the route - railways and roads had completely taken over in the Derby area. By now the canal no longer provided an attractive alternative for boats heading for the Trent and Mersey Canal as the previously troublesome River Trent had long since been upgraded.

The Grand Union Canal Company took over the running of the Erewash Canal. This now gave the new owners full control of the main route from London to Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. More importantly, it secured the future of the Erewash Canal while other canal's were closing down at an alarming rate.

On March 13th the (railway) owners of the Cromford Canal announced their intention to close down the whole of their canal. This raised a few objections, not enough to change the plans of the owners but enough to persuade them to offer the line to the Grand Union Canal. However, it would appear that the Grand Union Company were not interested and there was no take-over.

During this same year, the Nottingham Canal was officially abandoned by its (railway) owners.

WW2 proved to be the end for the Cromford Canal and it the whole canal was closed apart from the first ½ mile to the north of its junction with the Erewash Canal.

The British Transport Commission took over the Erewash Canal during the Labour Government's nationalisation scheme.

The last commercial narrow boat to use the Erewash Canal unloaded for the final time.

The BTC closed down the top section of the Erewash Canal from Langley Mill to Gallows Inn. They also closed the southern most section of the Cromford Canal, filling in the lock which took the Erewash Canal up into Langley Mill Basin.

However, the closed stretch of the Erewash Canal had to be fully maintained as it provided the main water supply (from Moorgreen Reservoir) to the still open sections of the canal below Gallows Inn. The water supply was also used by numerous industries in the area and, because of this, boats could still (with prior permission from the BTC) use the upper section long after its "closure".

Although commercial carrying had ended a decade earlier, by now the canal was being visited by increasing numbers of pleasure craft from the River Trent and because the route was regularly used, it was kept in good order and was well maintained.

The Derby Canal (which mysteriously seems to have avoided nationalisation) was finally closed by its owners after being forced to stay open for over 30 years, mainly as a water supply for ICI. The company spent the next decade selling off its line, most of the canal being filled in and some of it built on. The company was finally wound up in 1974. It seems very short sighted of the company not to have recognised the leisure potential of their canal, especially when the adjoining River Trent and Erewash Canals were seeing growing amounts of holidaymakers every year.

The Erewash Canal was now seeing more boats per week than it had for many decades so it caused great dismay to the local canal enthusiasts when they learned that the route (now run by BWB) was to be classified as a "remainder" waterway in the new Transport Act. This meant it was not to be maintained and would be left to decay. A public meeting was organised and the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association was created. The Association represented all those with an interest in the waterway including local residents, walkers, fishermen and (of course) boat users.

The canal continued to be used by a small amount of pleasure craft along the whole route though it was under constant threat of being filled in at its top end. BWB had sold land around the last winding hole making it impossible for full sized narrow boats to turn round. Pressure from the ECPDA was constantly put on local authorities to recognise the canal as an important leisure amenity.

This began to pay off when Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire county councils agreed to join forces in developing the canal for leisure purposes. The first "development" was the restoration of the lock into Langley Mill Basin and a full dredging of the basin itself. Once this was done boats could turn around and moor at the top of the canal.

In spring the first ever issue of "Waterways World" magazine reported that a boat had entered Langley Lock for the first time in over 10 years. However, the boat (Mai-Arde) had not been able to actually use the lock because there were no gates or paddle gear at this stage. Money was still being raised but it was only a matter of time before boats were using the lock and using Langley Mill Basin to turn around and moor.

The ECPDA's hard work was rewarded when the Erewash Canal was promoted to "cruiseway" status. The ECPDA then turned their attention on the Derby Canal, safe in the knowledge that the Erewash Canal was here to stay.

Back to Top

Erewash Canal Route

The Erewash Canal is now a well used pleasure route which begins at a very popular junction, travels through both urban and rural areas and ends at a basin now used as a marina.

The junction with the River Trent is often busy with boats andis very popular even among non-boating people as the large landscaped area around the junction (known as Trent Lock) includes two pubs, a number of small businesses and a small "farm yard" zoo. There is only one road to Trent Lock - and its a dead end - but it is a well used road by canoeists, sailing club members and dozens of fishermen who all use the River Trent beside the junction.

To the north of Trent Lock junction is the Erewash Canal, immediatelypasses through Trent Lock with one of the two pubs standing right at the lock side. The canal heads north towards Long Eaton, passing a number of residential boats as it does so. Within ½ a mile of Trent Lock the canal passes under 2 railway bridges.

The second of these has a concealed junction on its far side, on the east bank of the canal. This leads into Sheetstores Basin which was once a busy canal/rail transhipment basin and later became a British Rail depot. It gets its unusual name from the days when it was the place where tarpaulin sheets (used to cover goods on trains) were made. Nowadays the basin is full of moored pleasure boats.

About ½ a mile past Sheetstores Basin the B6540 crosses the route, the canal swerves through an S-bend as it goes under the road bridge. The road then runs parallel to the east of the canal as both approach Long Eaton town centre. The road and canal are tree-lined creating a pretty avenue. Terraced houses line the far side of the road and there is a park on the west bank of the canal.

In the town centre the canal swings away from the road, passes through Long Eaton Lock and under the A6005 as it continues north towards Sandiacre. I have visited the Erewash Canal 4 times on foot. I have only ever seen one boat on the move on the canal and that was viewed from the A6005 bridge in the centre of Long Eaton. My 3 previous visits to the canal had been on lovely hot sunny days but this was a cold day with rain lashing down.Above and below the bridge are huge old mills with tall, slim chimneys. The grey day and the grim surroundings seemed to fit the scene perfectly!

Beyond Long Eaton the canal runs alongside housing estates where many of the gardens have been opened up right down to the water's edge. About a mile past Long Eaton town centre the canal reaches its 4th lock (Sandiacre). Immediately after the lock is the junction with the Derby Canal. Over the junction is a bridge carrying a small lane but beyond the bridge the Derby Canal is filled in. In 1998 the route was under restoration further along the line.

At Sandiacre Junction is the Erewash Canal's only surviving lock cottage, it became the home base for the ECPDA. The toll house here was shared by the Erewash and Derby canal companies until 1832 when the Derby company built its own near to the junction on the Derby Canal. As well as the lock cottage there are other buildings near the junction, mostly on the lane which crosses the Derby Canal.

Among these buildings are some relatively new bungalows which have pretty gardens coming down to the waters edge. Access to this area is gained via the housing estate to the south of the A52 dual carriageway which crosses the Erewash Canal on a new concrete bridge. However there is no access on or off this road at this point.

In Sandiacre the canal comes alongside the B6002 and under the B5010 near the junction where the two roads meet. Past here the land around the canal is more open and the suitably named Pasture Lock is past near Stanton Gate. The M1 crosses the canal near Trowell with Stanton Lock and Hallam Fields lock in the ¾ of a mile stretch between the motorway and the A609 at Ilkeston. Near Stanton Lock is the site of the junction where the Nutbrook Canal left the Erewash Canal. It ran for 4½ miles to the north west but was closed to navigation in 1895.In 1962 the section which ran through Stanton Ironworks was filled in but sections further north are still in water.

Beside the A609 road bridge, situated to the east of Ilkeston on a right hand bend on the Erewash Canal, is Gallows Inn which was designated the official head of navigation by the BTC in 1962.However, to the north the rest of the route was always maintained and is still completely intact. Just ¼ of a mile to the east of Gallows Inn - though never quite in full view - the disused Nottingham Canal swings north to run parallel to the Erewash Canal from here to Langley Mill.

The final 4 miles of the Erewash Canal, from Ilkeston to Langley Mill, are uneventful but peaceful and fairly pretty. The last built-up area is Cotmanhay, the lock here is crossed by a bridge which is well used by cars though its on a tight bend and is very narrow.

Further north is Shipley Lock. About a mile west of the lock is the American Adventure theme park. Closer to the lock is a pub and a few houses. Just down the lane is the River Erewash with an old mill (now a house) alongside. When I was here on a hot summer evening in 1997 there were children diving and swimming in the lock.

The area appears to be a nice quiet countryside setting but it has not always been this way. In its commercial days the area just above the lock was one of the busiest wharves in the country. This was situated opposite the towpath above the lock though the site is now just a field. It was known as Dukes Wharf, coal was loaded here bound for Nottingham, Grantham, Leicester and even London. Just past the wharf the canal crosses the River Erewash on a small aqueduct and about 400 yards further on is Eastwood Lock. Less than 200 yards east of this point the dry Nottingham Canal runs parallel on a slightly higher level.

About 800 yards before the end of the Erewash Canal is a chalet park and a boat yard. Two cottages stand opposite and beyond the bridge which crosses the waterway is a house set back off the canal with a large front garden. I have no evidence to back up my guess that this was once a pub but it certainly looks like one and would probably be popular if it was again. If it wasn't a pub it surely must have a wharf or basin. Up the lane from the bridge the Nottingham Canal is now just 50 yards away.

The walk of 800 yards from here to Langley Mill is not a pretty one as a factory lines the canal on the towpath side. At Langley Mill the canal passes under the very busy A608 and immediately enters Langley Lock. Above the lock is Langley Mill Basin (also named Great Northern Basin after its former railway owners).

The junction of the Nottingham Canal is on the right and the start of the Cromford Canal is straight ahead to the north. Both of these canals are disused and are likely to remain so. The Nottingham Canal has subsidence problems while the Cromford Canal has been filled in at this southern end. (I have recently, early 1998, heard that a plan to restore the Cromford Canal is being put together).

For many years Great Northern Basin was unnavigable, mainly due to coal silt carried in by the feeder from Moorgreen Reservoir, 2 miles east of the basin. The ECPDA restored the basin and it is now used as a marina. There is a pub, The Great Northern, alongside the basin.

Back to top

Canal Routes Home