Canals became the favoured mode for moving heavy goods during the eighteenth century and railways captured most of this traffic during the nineteenth century. There was a transition period during which primitive railways were built as feeders to canals and sometimes as a means of linking them together.

This transition was very important in Derbyshire. In 1839 the first public steam railway to serve the county was opened between Derby and Nottingham, but before then the Cromford and High Peak Railway provided a north/south transport route right across Derbyshire by linking canals. This combined transport system greatly extended the catchment area of inland waterways and also provided a “test bed” for the development of railway technology.

The Cromford Canal was already linked to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire by means of the Mansfield and Pinxton Railway and it also had around 30 railway branches linking it to coal mines, quarries, ironworks, etc.  Traction on all of these early railways was provided by horses, gravity or by means of stationary steam engines via ropes or cables. One of these railway branches was the Crich Gangroad ;  it was also referred to as the Crich Railway and later as the Butterley Gangroad, shown in red on the illustration below.

At the same time the canal was constructed, Benjamin Outram & Co. were building furnaces, for the manufacture of iron products, on the Butterley site at Ripley. The planned route of the canal to link up with the Erewash canal at Langley Mill required a tunnel, 2966 yards (2712m) long, to be driven between Hammersmith and Golden Valley. To enable the Butterley works to have direct access to the canal, two 100 foot shafts were sunk to an underground wharf, known as the Wide Hole, inside the tunnel. This enabled boxes/frames to be lowered and raised to and from the level of the canal.

At Bullbridge the Amber Wharf was served by a narrow cut from the canal. The plan of the land being leased to Edward Banks in 1805 shows four semi-circular shapes that may have been the tops of the chutes down which limestone was tipped into canal boats from wagons brought down from the quarry at Crich on the gangroad.By the time the canal was opened and the Crich gangroad had been constructed (1793) Outram & Co clearly had the means to transport their limestone from the quarry at Crich to the furnaces at the Butterley works.

The canals provided the main transport arteries for shipping products outside the local area in these early years. However the railways and the new turnpike roads soon took over and the decline in the use of the canals commenced.

Transport - Cromford Canal railways
Cromford canal and railway branches
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