Another Little Bit of (Industrial) History

Mention the word History in the UK and you first think of our often turbulent Royal History….

But our Industrial History is equally interesting and at time just as turbulent.


Leawoods Pump House

A large smoke stack stands alone in the Derbyshire countryside.  Alongside it runs the Cromford Canal and just a few yards to the right runs the Derwent Aqueduct that carries the Canal over the River Derwent. We are in the Derwent Valley where the industrial revolution took root and mechanisation and efficient transport would be the key to industrial  success.

But back to the Pump House. Canals are artificial waterways and rely on a supply of water being available. Many canals are built with reservoirs along the route to provide that head of water.  But canals are engineered to follow the contour lines to keep to ‘a level’ and when a change of level is unavoidable a lock is provided to allow the drop or rise from level to level. Most canals link  or finish at a river or coastal estuary so loss of water is inevitable hence the need of a reservoir of water.

Here on the Cromford Canal waterways traffic built to a staggering 300,000 tons in the 1840 and the amount of traffic required much more water to maintain levels than originally anticipated.

The solution was a Steam Lift Pump Engine built here  at Leawoods some 50 years after the canal was opened. This giant steam engine could lift in one stroke of its pump over 4 tons of water from the River Derwent some 30ft below…in fact so efficient was the pump that restrictions had to be placed upon the hours of working to avoid to much extraction from the Derwent.

But why was the Cromford Canal so important?  Simply the Canal was built to allow Raw Materials and finished Goods to be transported to and from Richard Arkwright’s Cromford Mill the first ever (1771)  Industrial Mechanised Factory using waterpower from Derbyshire abundant natural water supplies.

Canals and their Barges were only just the start of the transport revolution.  The 1800’s heralded the arrival of Steam Powered Railways.  Again here on the Cromford Canal another little bit of engineering and another historical achievement was created.

At High Peak Junction a line was opened to cross the Peak District to handle faster transport of materials and goods to and from Cromford north toward Buxton and onto Manchester.

High Peak Junction

The significance of High Peak Junction is that it is here that a steep incline was required to reach the relative more lever plateau of the Peak District…..  over 1000ft in a mile had to be climbed, a climb no Railway engine could achieve. So the incline was built with static steam engines and winches strategically placed to pull the carriages to the top by chains. Once at the top a more usual Steam engine was attached for the onward journey.

A Railway line was also built to run south  and join the new Rail network that was starting to cross the country.

This once busy hub of industrial activity originally spurred by the actions of Sir Richard Arkwright that inspired many other industrial achievements is now a legacy of Canals, Woodlands, Railway buildings and trails….important enough to be designated a World Heritage Site….but for me just a great place to explore and a place here nature has also recaptured its habitat…

I hope this conveys a flavour of Leawoods and Cromford…now so peaceful and on a superb Spring Day like yesterday a great place to be….hard to conceive just how noisy and busy it once was.

14th April
(C) David Oakes 2016

P.S. For any Steam enthusiasts there are a number of “In Steam” weekend dates at Leawoods Pump House.. the dates can be found on this link:-