Erewash Canal History

  • Erewash Canal

    Erewash Canal

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The Erewash Canal 1776 - 1968

1776 saw an act passed authorising the construction of a navigation from the junction of the rivers Soar and Trent to Loughborough. This prompted a group of landowners and businessmen from Derbyshire to explore the possibilities of a canal linking the Derbyshire coalfields to the river Trent.

This proposed canal would link Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to other Midlands counties and on to London. John Smith (formerly apprenticed to William Wyatt) surveyed the area from the river Trent to Langley Mill. The canal would run from here and emerge opposite the river Soar at a junction now known as Trent lock

April 1777  the building of the Erewash Canal  was authorised by an Act of Parliament. John Varley was appointed as engineer with John and James Pinkerton as the main contractors. 

John Varley was later sacked for miscalculating water levels.

April 1779 the canal was navigable from Trent Lock to Ilkeston Common.

December 1779 the canal was completed..

It is 11.75 miles long with a rise of around 110 feet and has 14 locks. The 14 locks from Trent Junction to Langley Mill were named as::

  • Trent lock
  • Long Eaton lock
  • Dockholme lock
  • Sandiacre lock
  • Pasture lock
  • *Whitehouse Junction lock - renamed Stanton lock
  • Hallam Fields lock
  • Gallows Inn lock
  • *Sough lock - renamed Green's lock
  • *Ilkeston Mill lock - renamed Potter's lock
  • *Ilkeston Common Bottom lock - renamed Barker's lock
  • *Ilkeston Common Top lock - renamed Stenson's lock
  • Shipley lock
  • Eastwood lock

* denotes a change of name during the 20th century.

At Langley Mill it has a junction with the Cromford and Nottingham canals. From here to Long Eaton it runs roughly parallel to the river Erewash. It also passes through or nearby, Eastwood, Ilkeston, Awsworth, Cossall, Trowell, Stapleford and Sandiacre.

The canal connected coal mines around the Erewash Valley to the Loughborough Navigation and then by road to Leicester and elsewhere. Other products carried included pottery, textiles and iron.

The Erewash Canal was joined along its length by several other canals: the Cromford (1794), and the Nottingham (1796), the Nutbrook (1795) and the Derby (1796). 

1797 a toll house was built adjoining the Sandiacre lengthman’s cottage to serve both the Erewash and Derby canals.

The Erewash Canal was a commercial success from the start, mainly transporting coal.

1855  decline of the canal set in around the middle of the 19th century when its neighbouring canals, the Cromford canal and Nottingham canal sold out to the railways.

1889 saw a further sudden loss of income when the Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal was closed due to a rock fall. It was closed for several years and the lost trade never returned.

The Grand Junction Canal bought out the waterways linking their canal to Leicester. Their plan was to run the whole coal route between the East Midlands and London. The Erewash Canal (along with the companies running the River Soar Navigation) made an agreement with the Grand Junction company that tolls would be lowered on the promise of a guarantee from the Grand Junction Canal if profit levels were not maintained. 

The top 3 miles of the privately owned Nutbrook Canal were closed and the Grand Junction Canal ended up having to pay out on the guarantees it had promised. The first mile of the Nutbrook Canal was kept open and served the Stanton Ironworks well into the 1900’s.

Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal had to be closed for a second time when another rock fall blocked the tunnel. The canal’s owners refused to repair the tunnel and the (already) small amount of trade which came to the Erewash Canal from Cromford was now completely lost.

The Erewash company supported efforts by traders on the Cromford Canal to force its owners to repair Butterley Tunnel. Eventually the government made an independent survey but reported that the tunnel was unsafe and not fit for repair. 

1932 the Erewash Canal was purchased by the Grand Union Canal Company.

1947 the Erewash Canal was nationalised.​​​​​​

1952 commercial traffic on the canal ceased.

1962 five miles of the canal between the Gallows Inn at Ilkeston and Langley Mill were abandoned under a Commission Act.

1967 a Government White Paper proposes that most of the Erewash Canal should be closed.

1968 the Erewash Canal Action Committee was formed to combat the threatened closure of the Erewash Canal.