It goes un-noticed….. well its only a bridge


Handyside Bridge, Darley, Derby, Derbyshire

Its is walked and cycled over everyday by hundreds of people…. those out for recreation, as it now forms part of a Walking Trail and Long Distance Cycle Route….. and by many on the daily commute to work. Not particularly glamorous with a solid utilitarian look.  But a clue is in its width….once a twin track railway line ran across this bridge.

The design style may well be familiar, being featured on a great many railway, road and canal bridges…. but this was the very first.

Designed by Richard Johnson the Chief Engineer of the Great Norther Railway it was built by Andrew Handyside and his Engineering Company in 1878.  Hence the name Handyside Bridge and it spans the River Derwent on the norther outskirts of Derby.


So what makes Handyside Bridge special.  Well it was the first underslung Bow Shaped Rivetted Girder Bridge.  It spans 145ft, supported on either side of the river on stone plinths.  There is no central plinth and that together with its height above the river was designed to allow river navigation.

As the construction was unproven Handyside had to establish that the bridge could carry heavy railway traffic.  So once the bridge was in place, and with a high degree of flair and showmanship, Handyside arranged for 6 heavy steam locomotives, a weight of over 432 tons, to sit on the bridge at the same time….now that must have been something worth seeing.


The bridge was in use till 1968 but like much of our rail network it fell under the Beeching Axe…..cuts, of which many have been much regretted.

So Handyside Bridge really lives up to its name and proves very ‘handy’ for walkers and cyclist everyday of the week.

13th February

(C) David Oakes 2020





A Fantastic September morning… just right for a Canal side walk


Cromford Canal, Leawoods Pump House, Derbyshire

Friday was just a perfect September day…. not quite the heatwave as promised, though perhaps a better temperature for a canal side walk.  The canal selected was the Cromford Canal…. one of my favourites for a walk.  The only disappointment is that it is no longer navigable by narrowboats.  None the less there is much to see and much to remind you of the importance to our industrial heritage that this small part of Derbyshire played.  Now part of the UNESCO Derwent Valley World Heritage Site.

The canal was opened in 1794 primarily to serve  Arkwright’s  and  Smedley  Mills amongst others at Cromford and the Lea Valley.  At the time Cromford Canal linked up to the Erewash Canal, ultimately the River Trent and then the greater English canal network.

At Cromford where the canal begins its journey south are two of the original warehouses. Like all the buildings we pass along this canal, they are rather fine architectural buildings, much finer than todays utilitarian industrial buildings.



Progress came fast in the 18th/19th century industrial revolution. The canal was soon to be joined by one of the very first railways, the Cromford & High Peak Railway. Opened in 1849 it provided a faster link across the Derbyshire Peak District northwards. The task being to create a reliable link to Manchester and the Port of Liverpool.

This walk takes you past many of the old railway buildings, engineering sheds, warehouses and wharfs…..


 I have to admit to once again pausing and taking a peak inside the railways workshops at High Peak Junction.


The highlight though is the famous Leawoods Pump House built by the Lea Aqueduct.  It is a steam lift pump that was used to ‘lift’ water from the River Derwent to keep the canal ‘top up’.


The best part of the legacy left by the canal is the towpath… a peaceful walk through woodland and some expansive Derbyshire views.  At this time of the year, before autumn sets in, is the rich foliage along the bank side that is the star. Tall grasses wafting in the lightest of breezes mixing with wildflowers and herbs, banks so full that they hide the elusive Water Vole and provide hidey-holes for Dab Chicks.  Today the bright low sun is making the greens glow, glow much more like spring than autumn.


All in all….not half bad for a once hectic industrial landscape.

14th September

(C) David Oakes 2019

Dark Satanic Mills…..

The Mill

Whilst this mill* has recently been spruced up you can still understand why,  in the industrial areas of the UK,  these mills became known as the “dark satanic mills”.

They were noisy, polluted, dark and dangerous places to work. Employment conditions for many were poor and had no respect of age… children to elderly grandparents were the labour force.

The legacy they leave are buildings, that with a degree of skill and imagination,  have in many locations, been turned into luxury apartments, art and design studios, gyms and high grade offices.

Whilst I appreciate the saving of these buildings, buildings that are an important part of our industrial heritage, I often think they look rather ‘prison’ like.  Maybe those early mill workers felt the same way about their place of employment.

* This Mill is at Darley Abbey Complex, Derby.  It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Derwent Valley.

6th August

(C) David Oakes 2019

Discovering a little bit of Derbyshire Industrial Heritage


Middleton Top Engine House, Derbyshire

In a rather unprepossessing building with a tall smoke stack can be found this wonderful piece of Derbyshire Railway Heritage and one of the very earliest Railway Enterprises in the UK.


It is all part of the Cromford & High Peak Railway built in the early 1800’s to link Derbyshire (and the Cromford Canal) with Manchester and ultimately Liverpool. But the task was daunting as the rail link had to cross the high peaks of Derbyshire at heights approaching  1000ft.  Railways, as we know even today, baulk at steep inclines.

So one solution was created here at Middleton.  A static Twin Beam Steam Engine  was used to haul a line of carriages 708 yards up the 1in8 incline by means of a chain pully system. Once at the top horses were used to power the train until 1841 when steam trains arrived.  The Engine house is in itself a major engineering achievement.  Completed in 1829 and used till 1963 it stands testament to its engineers and designers.  Even water to power the mammoth steam boilers had to be lifted up the incline…the engine house being located high on the limestone ridge precluded any local water supply.

The Engine House has been lovingly restored and can be seen in operation a many Sundays over the summer months. Today it is powered by compressed air but that takes nothing away from the thrill of watching the mighty pistons driving up and down to turn the giant wheels that used to pull those chains.

A walk down the incline brings you to the Cromford Canal and its link to the railway at High Peak Junction. A museum is open most days in the old engine shed.



One other point of interest is that the rail lines on which the carriage ran were initially know as ‘fishbelly rails’, short lengths joint together on top of plates on stone sleepers


Laying that track was certainly a tough job over tough terrain….but it worked

27th July

(C) David Oakes 2019