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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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