Wood Anemone The Churnet Valley - The Uttoxeter Canal
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The Uttoxeter Canal was a short-lived commercial flop that owed its existence to politics, rather than economics. Despite this, and after over 150 years of dereliction, there are plans to revive it and open up the beautiful scenery of the lower Churnet Valley. In April 2009, consulting engineers Halcrow Group Limited were appointed to carry out an outline feasibility study for its restoration. The outcome was favourable, from an engineering point of view, but the cost was estimated at around £90,000,000. The full results are on the Caldon and Uttoxeter Canals Trust website.


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Construction


Froghall Lock 1
The Trent and Mersey Canal Company didn't want this canal. The plan to build it came about as a counter to the Commercial Canal: a broad canal proposed in 1796 to run through Uttoxeter and the Potteries. This would have hurt trade on the narrow Trent and Mersey, so its owners and their allies used every trick in the book, including the submission of plans for their own canal, to ensure that it wasn't built. Victory left only one problem: the commitment to build a canal that had no prospect of making money.
Various factors, including foot-dragging by the Trent and Mersey Company, delayed the start of construction until 1807. The project was overseen by John Rennie, who also engineered the 1804 Caldon Low Tramroad. The work proceeded in a leisurely fashion, although it was completed to a high standard, and the canal was opened in stages between 1808 and 1811. A branch to Hanging Bridge, near Ashbourne, which was part of the original proposal, was never built.

Traffic


Limekilns in Oakamoor

Flooded Mine Shaft in Gibridding Wood
Although the canal was, essentially, a white elephant which lost money from the day it opened, it had its users. The main industrial users were the copper works at Oakamoor and Alton and the collieries in Gibridding Wood and around Cheadle, which were connected to the canal by the Woodhead Tramroad. In addition, limestone from Caldon Low fed limekilns at Oakamoor, Alton and Uttoxeter. The rest of the traffic was mostly domestic and agricultural.
Evidence for traffic can be seen at Seventy Bridge, where the boats' towing ropes have cut grooves into the stonework. A wooden plank, bolted to one side of the bridge, that was supposed to protect the stonework from rope damage, is still in place after 160+ years.

Closure


Seventy Bridge on an Abandoned Loop

The Old Canal beside the Railway at Lords Bridge
By the late 1840s, when the North Staffordshire Railway Company took over the Trent and Mersey Company, the canal was still losing money. The railwaymen wanted the route, so the canal had to close; though not, one suspects, before transporting many of the construction materials for its replacement. The official end came on 15th January 1849.
Some sections were filled-in and built over; others were retained as drainage channels or simply abandoned. The only section to escape closure was the first lock and basin at Froghall, which stayed in use until the 1930s.

Uttoxeter Basin - The Restoration Begins


Uttoxeter Basin at Froghall Early in the Restoration

Uttoxeter Basin at Froghall Restored and Ready to Open
By 2003, the only boat in the basin at Froghall was a sunken wreck, possibly of the Boltons copper works' boat 'Beatrice'. However, three organisations: the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust, the Waterway Recovery Group and the Inland Waterways Association had decided between them that it was time for a reversal of fortune. Under the project name 'Destination Froghall', work began in February to clear the basin and dig out the lock. Over the next two years, the basin was reconstructed in concrete, capped with the local pink gritstone, and the lock, which was in good condition, was repaired and refitted. By 21st July 2005, they were ready to receive their first boat, a charity boat also called 'Beatrice'. My pictorial record of the day is on the Destination Froghall Complete page.
Thus, a first section of the canal was reopened to traffic. During the restoration, the cap-stones of Lock 2, at the bottom end of the basin, were exposed, in preparation for taking the canal back down into the valley towards Oakamoor. All that's needed is for someone to come up with the money.

Uttoxeter Basin Dug Out

Uttoxeter Basin Concrete

Froghall Lock 1 Dug Out

Froghall Lock 1 Under Repair

Froghall Lock 2 Cap Stones

Froghall Lock 2 Entrance

Plaque by Lock 1

The Canal Today


Uttoxeter Basin at Froghall In Use


Seventy Bridge After Tree Clearance and Repairs

Crumpwood Weir

The only section of canal accessible by boat is the first lock and basin at Froghall. Elsewhere in the valley, although the railway used the same general route as the canal, it tended to take a more direct line. Isolated sections of canal were, therefore, left intact and are still easily traceable today.

Some of these sections are on private land and are not routinely accessible. The Caldon and Uttoxeter Canals Trust would like to change this by opening up the old towing path as a footpath. This would showcase the canal and demonstrate to visitors what might be achieved with restoration. It would also improve access to this part of the valley, especially between Froghall and Oakamoor. To this end, the Waterways Recovery Group, in cooperation with the Churnet Valley Railway, has cleared the site of Jackson's Wood Lock, as a prelude to reconnecting two loops of the canal, separated by the railway.

Many other sections, including surviving bridges and locks, are accessible already, albeit with varying degrees of difficulty. The easiest is probably around Seventy Bridge and Crumpwood Weir. The towpath approaching the bridge was resurfaced in 2014 as part of a program of works in the area, including tree clearance and the removal of vast amounts of Himalayan Balsam. The bridge, itself, had to be the subject of a compulsory purchase order, because no-one knew who owned it. It was subsequently repaired with new coping stones, a new deck and substantial re-pointing. Clearance around Crumpwood Weir has removed potentially damaging tree growth and exposed the remains of Charrington's Lock.

Harder to reach is the section below Key Wood, where the remains of Morris's Bridge and California Lock await attention, along with an original in-situ milepost.

In another initiative, the Canals Trust, in conjunction with the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership, has created replica canal mileposts which now stand in the approximate positions of the originals but re-sited close to modern paths, where they can be seen by the public.

Winter and early spring are the best times to visit, when the undergrowth is minimal and bare trees let the light in.


Embankment, Jackson Wood

Loop at Ross Bridge

California Lock

Outflow at California Lock

Morris's Bridge

Original Milepost, East Wall

New Milepost at Oakamoor

Bluebells near Oakamoor

New Milepost, Lord's Bridge

New Milepost, Alton Mill

New Milepost, Seventy Bridge

Canal at Seventy Bridge

Grooves, Seventy Bridge

Carringtons or Weir Lock

Crumpwood Cottage

Churnet Flood Lock