A Walk through an Industrial Heritage

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Monsal Viaduct, Derbyshire

Looking down upon the twin valleys of Monsal Dale and Upper Dale at one of Derbyshire best known beauty spots you pause to take in the tranquil surroundings.  The River Wye winds its way through the dales only disturbed by Ducks and Fly Fishermen. Then of course there is the Railway Viaduct….once a vital link from Manchester down through the Peak and East Midlands and on down to London.  The railway is long gone and now a walking and cycling  trail with spectacular views. Whilst the railway does provide some clues that perhaps its location here was not just an accident of design it is the River that provides more clues to the areas Industrial past…

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The River Wye with its clear waters flows for the most part silently and smoothly through the Dales but occasionally its path is diverted over many man made ‘improvements’.  Some odd buildings, then there are weirs, falls and deep channels cut to temporarily divert  the flow through mill sluices to power various mills both big and small, mills that ground cereals or bones  whilst the larger mills this power was used in textile production.

But that is all in the distant past and today it is a wildlife and walkers haven, a walk where the sound of water is never out of earshot, passing places with names like Cressbrook, Riversdale and Water -cum-Jolly, it is here where you can see how the waters have cut these dales from the limestone….

At the head of Upper Dale, at Cressbrook, stands a massive Mill complex.  Built originally by Richard Arkwright it was by all accounts a successful enterprise, past through various owner but eventually failed in the 1960’s. After a long period of neglect and decay the building was once again brought back to life and is now an modern Apartment complex…. and rather fittingly has its own water powered electric supply.

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There is an similar mill about half a mile up stream on the Wye at Litton which has a much murkier past.  History recounts that it took advantage of the then Child Apprentices Schemes, transporting children from the large cities, even as far away as London. They were then subject to very harsh working and poor living conditions.  Local legends suggest that many lost their lives there.

Today that is all just historical memories and hard to visualise.

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Indeed it is hard to imagine gazing at this green and tranquil landscape, that after it had been carved out by the receding ice age, that it was once a relatively populated area. Farming of course was one development, but mining for Lead and other minerals was also an important industry, followed by Quarrying for stone extraction and cutting. No doubt the smaller mills sprung up as part of the local economy followed by the larger Textile Mill complexes and of course the railways….. all now gone, now just added interest to a great spring walk in the Dales.

21st May

(C) David Oakes 2019

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A Waterways Walk…

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Shardlow Locks on the Trent & Mersey Canal, Derbyshire

A walk along one of England’s canals is to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors.   Today we walked a length of the Trent & Mersey Canal.  In its time is was just as an important transport links as any of todays Motorways or Railways.  Built in 1777 by the engineer James Brindley the canal was constructed to link the River Trent in the Midlands to the Bridgewater Canal and ultimately Liverpool in the North West.  Passing from the Industrial Midlands , past the Brewing capital and on through the Potteries, carrying everything from Lace and Silk, to Engineering fittings, to Beer and Pottery, plus of course Agricultural crops, Coal and minerals and Timber. Likewise the return journey carried raw materials and other imports from across the world.  Walk along side the Canal here at Shardlow and you can see signs of this past activity. Large buildings, once warehouses now either luxury waterside houses or multi storey apartments. You still have some canal side workshops and of course the occasional Inn.

Canals arrived and with them the start of the real industrial revolution.

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 In many ways, and reflecting on todays environmental issues, the canal transport system was perhaps the most environmentally friendly bulk transport system. For a great many years the barges that carried the goods were horse drawn (hence the name for the pathways that run alongside a canal – a Tow Path). Progress in the form of the Railways soon reduced the value of the Canal network. Despite that canals still carried cargo up to and through the WW2.
Today the Trent & Mersey is a waterway for recreational traffic

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16th May

(C) David Oakes 2019

March…. nearly the end of another Month

High Peak Junction Wharf

Cromford Canal at High Peak Junction, Cromford

March has really marched along at a pace….and whilst it has thrown some pretty awful weather our way overall it has been rather a nice way into Spring.

Early morning, the trees along the canal side are starting to green-up and vegetation breaking out of the cold ground and with the promise of a day of sunshine and no wind the canal is still and mirror like.

Not a bad day for a walk along a stretch of Englands Industrial past here in Derbyshire’s, World Heritage Site.

28th March

(C) David Oakes 2019

Spring along the Canal…..

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Cromford Canal,  Whatstandwell,  Derbyshire

Yesterday was a day full of promise, nor did it disappoint. It started with fog lifting to mist, but it was mid morning before the sun broke through.  By that time the sun was high in the sky, so didn’t produce any magical mists so loved by photographers.

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 At the beginning of the walk, along the towpath beside Cromford Canal, one of the oldest in the country, was engulfed in long shadows.  This part of the Canal passes beneath   Leawoods, now a Nature Reserve with some magnificent trees.

As mentioned the day had a misty start but once the sun came out to play the Canal side and woodlands came to life. Signs of new spring vegetation both alongside and in the water, rather early but also encouraging. With the trees bare of leaves it does allow the sun to reach the canal, despite long shadows from a low sun,  giving a different perspective to this stretch to that in the summer.

 The tall Chimney above is at Leawoods Pump House.  It is a steam powered pump that was used to pump water up to the canal from the River Derwent that flows beneath this aqueduct.  Leawood Pump House does have ‘Steam’ weekends when you can see this Victorian engineering feat in action. At the moment the roof is covered with scaffolding and the building undergoing restoration work.

Just beyond the Pump House you find much more of our Industrial Heritage. Whilst Cromford Canal is one of the earliest in a network of canals that covered the country it is also the location of one of the very first Railway networks…. Why here, well Arkwright had selected Cromford and the Derwent Valley to establish his Factories or Mills as they were known and is where the industrial revolution started. First the canal, then the new fangled steam railways were used to transport materials in and good out from his Cromford Mills.  Middleton Junction was were the railway started, but whilst the canal went south the railway was built to go north to eventually link Arkwright’s Mills to Manchester, Liverpool and the seas and the World beyond.

This chapter in English Industrial history will be preserved for ever as the Derwent Valley from Matlock down to Derby, including numerous Mills along the river was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

23rd February

(C) David Oakes 2019