Early Years

The 1790s saw a rapid expansion in industrial investment across the area. The Cromford Canal was built, linking the Derwent Valley with industrial centres in the east, and enabling Benjamin Outram to develop iron making plant at Butterley. Iron making requires iron ore, coal/coke and limestone, which Outram began sourcing from the Warner Quarry, south-east of Crich. He built the Gang Road, a one-mile railway, to link the quarry to the canal at Bullbridge. Lime kilns were built at Bullbridge, and a wharf installed, so that by the end of 1793 limestone, extracted at the quarry was being both burnt there and transported to the Butterley works.

The details on the earliest form of the Gang Road are not available, but the next major railway that Outram was associated with, i.e. the Derby Canal Railway (Little Eaton Gangway), originally had rails supplied by Joseph Butler of Wingerworth. The Butler and Curr plateways built prior to the Crich Gang Road had all used wooden sleepers. It therefore seems unlikely that the Crich Gang Road would have been any different. The earliest record of “Gang Rails” being supplied to Crich by Benjamin Outram and Co. show them mostly being delivered between April 1796 and January 1797. The rails would not have been sufficient to lay the full length of the line without any sidings and may therefore have been part of a wholesale replacement exercise. It is possible that the original line was built relatively quickly using Butler “technology” and may have even had a narrower gauge as was the case with earlier Butler railways, since it started out of a mine.

The plateway was eventually built to a gauge of 3ft 6in (1067mm) between the backs of the upright rail flanges. Each rail was 3ft (914mm) long and fastened down to each stone block by means of an iron spike set into an oak plug in a hole drilled into it.The rails had circular cut outs at each end so one spike held down the ends of two rails. This arrangement was prone to failure. There is evidence that the Gang Road overcame this by later using “overlapping” plate rails with holes in each end so they could be spiked through these into the single hole in the existing blocks. On later plateways holes were made in each rail, not overlapping, and each stone block had two holes to take them. The original plateway did not use ballast and the stone sleeper blocks were laid directly onto the stony natural surface. This also indicates the original line may have been built in a hurry as Outram later recommended the use of gravel ballast for railways.

By 1801 the railway, mine and limeworks were being operated by Robert Tipping of Crich. In the period 1802/3 he was paid for work he had carried out, “new railway and tunnel, bottoming, opening and levelling the quarry and making drains.” This is a reference to the opening out of the mine into a quarry beyond, so that the mine became a tunnel about 100 yards long.

Around 1800, a factory was in operation alongside the line north of Fritchley, producing hats, but the business was failing, for reasons unknown, and in 1810 the Butterley Company bought the Hat Factory, and converted it into accommodation for its workforce.

Operation of the Gang Road in the early years relied on horses to propel loaded wagons from the quarry to the limeworks, and back up the substantial 3.3% gradient to the quarry.  In 1813, though, William Brunton, a Scottish engineer, employed at the Butterley works, applied to the company to use their facilities to construct a “mechanical horse” for this task. This was some 15 years before the construction of Stephenson’s Rocket and the Rainhill Trials of 1829. Click here for more information.

Conventional locomotives transmit their driving force directly by friction between the driving wheels and the rails, but early cast iron rails were prone to cracking under this load. In 1812 the Middleton Railway, near Leeds, used Blenkinsop’s rack and pinion system to overcome this problem but Brunton’s solution, if successful, would avoid having to relay the track at Crich. Brunton’s machine used a boiler to generate steam powering pistons which operated an ingenious “ski-stick” transmission, pushing the locomotive using feet in contact with the ground itself between the rails.

The device seems to have done useful service for a couple of years and inspired by this success he went on to build a second similar locomotive on a larger scale for use at a colliery in the north-east. Unfortunately the boiler exploded due to a combination of factors,not due to Brunton himself, and that was an end to Brunton’s experiments.

Until the installation of better quality rails, as late as the 1840s, mechanical propulsion seems not to have been used until the purchase of a steam locomotive for the line in 1869, making the Brunton experiment a piece of real innovation, although ultimately leading up a blind alley.

History EY - Map
Map of Crich Gangroad as built
History EY - Platerail
Plate rail from another early Outram line
Home - Sleeper blocks
Stone sleeper blocks
Home - Brunton GIF
William Brunton's walking train
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