A Brief History

On the 24th of August 1789, the Cromford Canal Company was formed by an act of Parliament. It had, from monies raised (£46,000), to cut the canal and fill it with water, which in those days was a highly prized commodity as it drove the wheels of industry in the Derwent valley. A committee was appointed and Sir Richard Arkwright, the mill owner, was Chairman. Work began on staking out the course of the canal that year.

In 1793, the 14 mile long canal was completed and by May had received tolls totalling £1,054, but a setback occurred in October of that year when the Leawood acqueduct collapsed, allegedly due to the use of Crich lime in the mortar which did not set. The canal's engineer (Mr William Jessop) offered to pay for the repairs himself out of his wages. Meanwhile, a railway was constructed over the acqueduct to keep traffic flowing.

The canal operated successfully for a further 51 years. Water had been supplied to the canal from the Cromford Sough and Bonsall Brook via Sir Richard Arkwright’s mill, but in an 1839 court case, Arkwright lost any rights to the water from the Cromford Sough and in 1841 the Merebrook Sough was opened and the iron doors that had been holding back the water pending the outcome of the court case were removed. This drained water from the lead mines at a level below the canal and as a result the canal suffered a severe lack of water. By the autumn of 1844, the situation was so serious that a pump was hired and installed by the end of November to take water from the River Derwent.

Map showing location of hired pump

The map shown above is taken from the 1845 Ambergate to Rowsley Railway survey. The location of the hired pump is shown ringed. It is approximately mid-way between Cromford wharf and Leawood. The Canal Company eventually purchased this pump.

In January 1845, the Cromford Canal Company decided to have a permanent pump built to prevent a repetition of the events of 1844. Graham and Company at the Milton Iron Works, Elsecar were asked to build a 70 horsepower engine, to cost £1,965, which would be ready for work in July of that year. The Pumphouse was to be built on land owned by a Mr Nightingale, on the opposite side of the river to where it stands today. Unfortunately, Mr Nightingale did not see the light and did not wish to sell his land for such a use. The present site was chosen instead.

The Pump was not installed in July 1845, in fact the manufacturer wrote to the Canal Company in 1848 asking if the engine was to be completed. The reasons for this are not clear, but the temporary engine may have stabilised the situation such that the severe water shortage was not repeated in subsequent years. The Cromford Canal Company was also considering selling out to the Manchester, Matlock & Midland Joint Railway Company and did not wish to spend unnecessarily. The Railway Company did not decide that year whether or not to buy the Cromford Canal but did offer to pay for the engine. In October 1848, they were told that the pump would cost £2,700 to be completed and installed with an additional £200 to clean the engine as it had stood outside for some time. The sum was agreed and as the Canal had to be diverted for the railway and the hired pump removed it appeared a logical solution. (The map above shows the line of the railway on the opposite side of the river to which it was actually built.)

In November 1849, the Canal Company was forced to write to Graham and Company informing them of their dissatisfaction of the slow progress being made and that “The workmen are not devoting their time to the work they would do if they were superintended by an efficient foreman”. By February 1850, all the parts of the engine had been delivered, but in May, the Canal Company had to write again to Graham and Company informing them of their dissatisfaction that the engine had still not been completed.

In late 1850, the Leawood Pumphouse became operational and pumped water from the River Derwent into the Cromford Canal for the first time since its conception in 1844.

In 1905, the engine was hard at work as in response to complaints of boats grounding, a record of the number of hours the engine had worked was produced. This indicated that between July 7th and October 14th, the engine had been operated for a total of 308 hours. The record also showed that the engine was pumping 470,400 gallons per hour. This equates to a speed of over 7½ strokes per minute, which is twice as fast as the engine is operated today!