New year, New Roof

Against the odds, the restoration project made some exciting progress over the winter and, after decades without a roof, the cottage is starting to look like a proper building again.
Faced with lockdown restrictions, supply chain problems, one of the coldest, wettest Januarys ever and problems with the building, the restoration team had more than its fair share of challenges to deal with over the last 3 months. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way and despite everything, its been one of the most productive periods on the project so far.
It began on that brilliant day, last October, when we witnessed Birdswood transporting the roof timbers from the Cromford Wharf to Lea Wood Pump House…

A few days later, on the 1st November, the wall plates and first rafters were fitted and the intention was to get the roof frame completed by Christmas. 

However, that plan was quickly revised when it became clear that modifications were needed to the wall heads and the front wall needed supporting before the heavy roof structure was built.  

On 18th November, a decision was made to install the first floor (ahead of the roof frame) since it would provide additional support to the walls. The joists are attached to the front and rear walls using stainless steel bolts, so the whole floor becomes a structural member. Also, two steel beams  connect the original central wall to the front wall, providing further support.

Originally, the central wall supported the front of the cottage, but it partially collapsed years ago and is not being replaced. Instead, a central timber truss will span the building to support the roof.

Installing the first floor provided a useful working platform for the construction of the roof frame, which had to be cut and assembled on site, piece by piece.

On 1st December, 2020, we were delighted to receive support from Ilkeston Ply and DIY which provided all the timber for the first floor as a gift to the project. 

The company had been following the restoration on the Friends of Aqueduct Cottage Facebook page and made the offer over a year ago. Despite the months of delay caused by the pandemic, they stuck to their original commitment and delivered the timber within a couple of days of a follow-up call. How brilliant!

On 8th December (4th birthday of the FoAC) the first joists were fitted by our volunteers. It was an exciting moment to see the first new timber being fitted as part of the replacement of the first floor (missing for 40 years).

By Christmas, the steel RSJ’s were installed and the first room of joists fitted. Outside, the large crack in the north gable end was repaired and the roof ridge-board installed.  Our volunteers also finished rebuilding the dry-stone wall around the north-end garden.

Tinsel still adorned the scaffolding in the New Year when, on 4th January, activity had to be scaled down following the lockdown announcement. Thankfully, our builder, Andrew Churchman was able to continue working and by 13th January, all the first-floor joists were in and the floor was boarded.

The installation of the first floor transformed the look of the cottage. Not only did it create “rooms” downstairs, but we had an “upstairs” too and this enabled the project to move onto the most exciting stage of all – the building of the new roof!

On 25th January, work started on the construction of the timber roof frame by P T Joinery Services, which generously volunteered their services to the project (another amazing gesture of kindness). 

The design (consisting of a central truss and 4 purlins) was conceived by Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust architect, James Boon, to meet the needs of DWT’ for an open-plan activity room on the first floor.  James was assisted by GCA Structural Engineers Ltd, Derby, which provided the loading calculations.

Due to weight of the stone tiles (4.5 tonnes), the roof frame is a substantial structure which makes an impressive visual statement in the newly-created activity room.

Each of the 4 purlins consists of 3 large beams bolted together.  The individual beams are almost 5 metres long and weigh around 70 kilos each. The “composite” design was a practical solution to enable the heavier sections of the roof frame to be cut and assembled on site.

Phil Twigg, our joiner, led the constuction process, assisted by Andrew Churchman and volunteers, as required, over a 3 week period, the results of which were outstanding.

Construction of the roof frame was obviously an exciting moment and once complete, the large bolted structure created a dramatic visual impact. The news was soon picked up by the local media and it even appeared on ITV’s Central News.

By 29th January, the long-awaited repair to the north gable end was completed and the main timbers were installed.  Over the next few days, the rafters were added and by 11th February, the timber frame was complete.

At the time of writing, our volunteers, assisted by DCC, have transferred the tonnes of roof tiles to the cottage and construction of the two chimneys is underway using reclaimed bricks which match the originals.


Laying of the roof tiles will start once the chimneys are built. Stone tiles will be fitted to the front and blue slate to the rear. For additional light, 4 Velux roof lights will be fitted to the rear. The process is expected to take 4-6 weeks.

Fingers crossed, by the end of March 2021 we will be attaching a piece of yew to the top of the roof in a “topping out” ceremony.

Now that will be something to celebrate!

History repeating itslef


Once in a while, something unexpected and rather special happens on the Aqueduct Cottage restoration project. Thursday 22nd October, was such a day.

Having suffered months of delay on the cottage restoration, due to the Covid pandemic, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) project team was looking forward to re-starting work on site, almost exactly 12 months since its volunteers started clearing the cottage in October 2019.

There was added excitement because we were expecting delivery of the main timbers for the new roof. The cottage has been without a roof for decades, so the sight of new timbers being erected is a significant and exciting new chapter in the 4-year restoration story.

However, the excitement was soon tempered when, the day before delivery, Howarth Timber and Building Suppliers called to say that their delivery lorry was too wide for the lane to the Wharf Shed (our normal drop off point for materials for the cottage).

The next suitable drop-off point was Cromford Wharf car park, but this presented another problem because the wharf is over a mile away from the cottage, and we had no means of carrying the long heavy beams that distance.

With no road access to the cottage, the only practical solution was to transport the timber by boat. So, that morning, I called Hugh Potter of the Friends of Cromford Canal, to enquire if there was any chance we could use their boat, Birdswood.

Within a couple of hours, Mike Kelly of the FCC replied to confirm that they would like to help. By happy co-incidence, the boat was in need of a run to check its new motor.

The plan was to load the timber onto Birdswood’s roof and undertake a couple of trips to the Lea Wood Pump House where it would be off-loaded by DWT volunteers and carried the short distance to the cottage.

In a few short hours, we went from having a logistical headache to real excitement at the thought of creating a little bit of history.

The significance of what we were about to embark on quickly translated into frantic activity, among both DWT and FCC volunteer teams, checking who was available, co-ordinating with suppliers, and raising awareness of the event with our respective followers. News of the event was also circulated on social media and with BBC Radio Derby and TV.


At 7.45am the following morning, Howarth’s lorry arrived at the Cromford Wharf car park and, shortly after, craned the timber onto the wharf ready for loading onto the boat.

Birdswood was brought alongside and, under the supervision of the boat crew, DWT’s volunteers loaded the timbers.

It was a great sight, helped by some glorious morning sunshine. There was certainly an air of nostalgia as thoughts went back to over a century ago, when the canal was last used for the transporting of commercial goods.

It was also heartening to witness the number of visitors who got up early to see Birdswood playing its part in the restoration of the historic cottage.

Having decided to carry the full load in one trip, Birdwood set off, with Mike Kelly at the helm, to make the familiar mile and a half journey to the Lea Wood Pump House. From here, DWT’s volunteer team unloaded the timbers and carried them to the cottage.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, because there were some concerns about the engine by the time the cargo reached High Peak Junction. At this point, Birdswood had attracted quite a crowd. So, the DWT volunteers grabbed the horse rope and towed her the final stretch to the Lea Wood Pump House. 

It’s remarkable to think that the last time such an event happened was in 1802, when Peter Nightingale originally built Aqueduct Cottage.
Whilst the stone used in its construction was most likely quarried from Lea Wood, the seasoned oak timbers are thought to have been brought by canal from the mills at Whatstandwell.

With the timber delivered, the construction of the roof “frame” is expected to be completed by December 2020, which will be a very pleasant way to end an otherwise challenging year.

A huge “thankyou” to the Friends of Cromford Canal, its team of volunteers, and Birdswood, for helping create a special memory in the history of our much-loved Aqueduct Cottage.



Amid the doom and gloom of these strange and unprecedented times, it makes a nice change to report some good news. Despite the lockdown, announced by Boris Johnson on 23rd March, the restoration of Aqueduct Cottage has continued to make progress, albeit at a reduced pace and with some management changes.

When the lockdown was first announced, the project was immediately put on hold. Then, once the Government restrictions were clarified, our builder, Andrew Churchman, kindly agreed to continue working. Social distancing rules meant that his team could no longer be on site, but Andrew was allowed to work alone, with certain measures in place. Since all work is undertaken within a fenced compound, there is no risk of contact with members of the public. Also, all materials are on site and the nature of the work means that much of it can be done single-handed. For added safety, given the remoteness of the site, regular check-in calls are made to Andrew by his team.

Sadly, the restrictions did not allow our volunteer team to continue on site, so the working parties were put on hold on 16th March. At the time of writing, despite some easing of restrictions, we are still waiting for a date when our volunteers can resume . Also, since most of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust staff are furloughed, the day to day management of the project is being temporarily led by DWT’s architect, James Boon, and myself in liaison with the skeleton staff still working at DWT.

The good news is that the repairs to the structure of the cottage have made great progress in recent weeks. I reported in the Spring issue that the first major repair, to underpin the front LH corner of the building had been completed. Since then, further structural repairs have been made – the rear RH corner of the cottage, (which had a tree growing through it !) has been completely rebuilt, the large hole in the front wall (inside face) has been filled, the north gable-end has been rebuilt with replacement stone, and new oak window lintels and a cross-beam installed.

In addition, the front and rear wall heads have been repaired, the raking out of the old mortar is well advanced (the stone facings get a clean-up during this process), and the south gable-end (which had a large settlement crack in it) has been dismantled ready for reconstruction.

Its been fascinating watching our master craftsman at work, thanks to the regular supply of photos and videos on Andrew’s Twitter feed. He’s enjoyed some great weather and with the benefit of his elevated working platform, his recordings have provided a rare glimpse of the beauty and tranquillity of the Cromford Canal where, thanks to an almost complete absence of traffic on the A6, the only sound you hear is the birds.

Andrew commented, several times, on the stunning location and how the unusual circumstances helped him appreciate the natural wonder of the landscape. He said he felt privileged to witness it. I couldn’t help feel a sense of envy.

With the stonework repairs nearing completion, the next step is the most eagerly awaited – the rebuilding of the roof. The first stage of this is rather interesting. The restoration plans include creating an open plan first floor which will better utilise the space (intended to be rented out to generate income for the cottage’s upkeep). To make this possible, instead of rebuilding the central wall, which has partially collapsed, the roof will be supported by a large wooden truss spanning the centre of the building. Once the design is signed off by the structural engineer, the individual sections of the truss will be made by a local carpenter, Phil Twigg, who has kindly volunteered his services to the project.

Installation of the truss and the construction of the rest of the roof is expected to take place during the summer. It will feature re-claimed stone tiles at the front and slate tiles at the rear to replicate the original design of the cottage.

Prior to being stood down, our fabulous restoration volunteers also made some impressive progress on the cottage grounds, including restoring the stone recess of one of the stop-locks and discovering inlaid ironwork which was part of a gate anchor strap.

Over the years, a tree root had grown between the stones causing them to be dislodged. It took a concerted effort by several volunteers working together to remove the root, but once out, they were able to re-set the stones back to their original position. Through removing the soil, they also uncovered the anchor strap. An exciting find!

This prompted an on-site discussion with Hugh Potter, Patrick Morris and Ian Hooker about the position of the second stop-lock. Based on a diagram produced by Hugh, and the visible evidence which shows part of the recess of the second stop-lock a few feet away, it was concluded that part of this recess (and possibly another anchor strap) was buried under the concrete footbridge.

The planning application for the cottage restoration includes the possibility of re-introducing a replica stop-lock sometime in the future, although Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has not committed to this and there would be all kinds of hoops to jump through to obtain the necessary permissions.

However, where there’s a will, there’s usually a way and it would be so exciting to see this opportunity come to fruition. It’s a matter of historical fact that the requirement for the stop-lock was the reason Peter Nightingale built Aqueduct Cottage in the first place. It therefore sets the context for the cottage. The recreation of at least one of the lock gates would improve the visitor experience by providing a physical example of how disputes over water were resolved in the valley 200 years ago. What a fitting and worthy addition to our World Heritage Site that would be.

Funding Continues to Grow

The second Crowdfunder “Buy a Brick” campaign was another resounding success.

Launched only 7 months after the first Crowdfunder ( May 2019), we were uncertain what the response was going to be. We needn’t have worried. It raised over £11,000.

The first raised over £15,000 meaning the combined total was over £26,000. That’s a lot of bricks sold!

However, the December Crowdfunder total was also boosted by a very generous grant from our closest neighbours…

…The Friends of Cromford Canal, in collaboration with the Derbyshire County Council, awarded a £6000 grant towards the restoration fund, which was a wonderful surprise and pefectly timed.

The grant, the largest donation received by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, outside corporate funding, meant that the funding target to complete the re-building works (of the main building at least) , was achieved by mid February.

This was a very important milestone to reach since it was the final piece of the jigsaw on the 3 year mission to secure the restoration .

The other good news is that Andrew Churchman, our builder,  started work on site at the end of January. Andrew and his team will spend 4-6 months repairing the masonry and re-instating the roof.

With the funding secured, it means that work can continue unimpeded (subject to the weather) until the project is complete, which is targeted for July /August 2020.

DWT has agreed to include information on the history of the canal in the cottage’s interpretation, in recognition of the FoCC’s contribution.

It will inform visitors of the importance of the canal and why the cottage was built, and this will help raise awareness of the vision to regenerate the canal.

The cottage restoration is turning out to be a fantastic community collaboration project and it is important for the FoCC and the Derbyshire County Council to be stakeholders, along with local businesses and volunteers, to ensure the project is a success.

Volunteers have been on site since October 2019. They have a regular working group on Tuesdays and almost every week a new discovery is made. From a John Else “Purity” lemonade bottle, (made in the old Hatter’s factory), to the iron bracket of (what appears to be) the original stock lock.



They’ve also removed over 20 tons of debris from inside the cottage and , more recently, they have been concentrating of rebuilding dry stone walls around the garden areas and rebuilding the steps into Lea Wood.

On the building side, the first major structural repair was completed in February, which involved removing a large tree root from under the corner of the cottage and under-pinning.

There are a number of structural problems to be resolved during the restoration process,  but Andrew Chuchman is highly experienced in these kind of buildings an relishes the challenge.

So, although there’s a long way to go, the restoration is now well and truly underway. By coming together as a community, we are proving  that the seemingly impossible can achieved, and the vision can be realised. It takes patience and a lot of determination, but the end goal is worth the effort. This is a Derbyshire “good news” story that we can be all proud of.

Ron Common
17th Feb 2020


November 2019 will go down as one of the defining months in the mission to save the cottage.

– Our newly formed restoration volunteers group did an amazing job clearing the cottage ready for the construction phase. Over 6 days, the team cleared all the debris that had accumulated inside the cottage over the past 30 years. 20 tons was shovelled, bagged and removed from site. The original floor has now been uncovered and the building is ready for scaffolding . It was bloomin hard work, but very satisfying, and great for the soul…Here’s a few photos of the fun we had…(spot the 1950’s boot polish lid found in the debris!) 

– Thanks to all this activity, there’s been a significant increase in public awareness of the project. The photos of the volunteers at work, posted on the Friends of Aqueduct Cottage FB page, triggered loads of interest and membership has rocketed. As we approach the 3rd year anniversary of the FB page on 8th December, there are now over 1150 members. At the beginning of the year, there were 300!  

– A positive meeting was held with the Case Officer at Amber Valley Council earlier in the month and a response was sent to satisfy the conditions attached to the planning consent. We expect to receive formal discharge of conditions early-mid December. 

– By far the most exciting news for the project  – The Pilgrim Trust confirmed its award to Derbyshire Wildlfe Trust of a £35,000 grant towards the restoration of the cottage. This was a fantastic boost to the project and means there are now sufficient funds to restore the building.  

– Thanks to this generous grant, we are now within touching distance of the funding target of £70,000. So, DWT launched a Crowfunder page to help raise the balance of funding required to complete the project.

– Good news triggers more good news and during the month, several local businesses offered to help the project. The free services and materials include a footings survey , PR assistance, free building materials, and an amazing stump grinder to remove awkward tree roots! 

We slso owe huge thanks to fellow volunteers at the Cromford Canal and Codnor Park Res group who loaned us their power barrow. It was a great help carrying the bags of debris along the canal towpath to the skip. Another star of the month was Dougie Porter, from Ascent Tree Solutions, who volunteered to remove the huge Ash root that was lodged at the base of the cottage wall. The photos say it all! 

Thanks to everyone who has stepped in to help with the restoration. This is turning out to be a brilliant community project.

Continue reading “WHAT A MONTH!”

Work starts on the restoration

Monday 28th October 2019 was a very special day. A team of community volunteers made a start clearing the ground inside and around the cottage in preparation for the builders scaffolding.

Of course, ground clearing around the cottage has been happening at various times over the last 3 years. But, this is the first time that work has been done inside the ruin.

Tons of debris has accumulated on the ground floor and it all has to be sifted, sorted and removed before the restoration can begin. Its a mixed layer layer (up to 2 feet thick) of soil, fallen masonry, branches, beams and even a couple of old bed frames.

It was an exciting moment to get the first glimpse of the red and black floor tiles in the kitchen, and later, what appears to be an original flagstone under a thin layer of leveling cement. We can’t wait to find out if more of these are revealed as the clearance work continues.

Our fabulous volunteers had a great first day, and everyone enjoyed getting stuck in.

For sure, there’s a long way to go, but it promises to be a really exciting restoration project.



What a fantastic project…
To think, 217 years ago, in 1802, the first stones were being laid to build Aqueduct Cottage – a small but important piece of the industrial development of the Lower Derwent Valley, renowned as the birthplace of the industrial revolution.
Although the railways soon took over from the canals for commercial transport, the cottage remained a workers cottage and family home for the following 170 years, until vacated in 1969.
Decades of decline followed which led to the cottage becoming derelict to the point of collapse.

Then in 2005, local villagers, having set up Lea Wood Trust,  bought the woodland (including Aqueduct Cottage) to prevent it falling into the hands of a private developer.
7 years later, in 2012, the  Trust generously gifted the land to Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to preserve it in perpetuity.
The wood became a Nature Reserve but the question remained, what to do with the cottage?
Thankfully, it was identified as one of 50 landscape improvement projects under the DerwentWISE programme, hosted by DWT and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
A report was commissioned in 2013 into its background and development options, and a business plan for the restoration finally agreed in February 2017.

Which brings us to today, 2 centuries later, with new plans passed, funding to start the re-build, and volunteers now registering their interest in taking part in the restoration – whether its ferrying materials, mixing mortar, a bit of carpentry, organising , recording or simply making the tea. 

Its thanks to this great community spirit  – a true joint effort between organisations and community over the last 3 years, that we are now on the brink of saving this important little building, including all the wonderful history, pictures and people stories that go with it.

All credit to Derbyshire Wildlife Trust for taking on this heritage project, and for their continued efforts to raise the balance of funding needed to finish the build ( £35-£40K). 

When completed, they will not only have an inviting “gateway” to the beautiful Lea Wood Nature Reserve, but will  have rescued an important piece of heritage within the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

We can all feel very proud of this collective endeavour – a  Derbyshire “good news” story that is about to enter its most exciting chapter.

If you would like to take part, please email either myself at: 

or, Alex Morley at




£10,000 Crowdfunder target reached!

WE DID IT!! 👏👏👏👏👏👏
Rebecca Walton from the wonderful Homesford Tea Rooms, has just bought a brick that takes the Crowdfunder total to over £10,000
This is a brilliant result, and with a day to spare!
Huge, huge thanks to EVERYONE who has taken part in the Buy a Brick campaign over the last few weeks and helped make it a resounding success. The response has been absolutely fantastic.
Thanks not just to those of you who have made generous donations, but also to everyone who has helped raise awareness of the campaign from the sharing of posts, etc. The power of social media!
The total amount raised (with a day still to go) is just over £13,400 ( on-line + direct donations). This is 34% more than the £10k target set by DWT at the beginning of the campaign ( and we thought that was ambitious!)
What a wonderful “community” restoration project this has become, which demonstrates the level of affection people have for the cottage and the strong support for it to be saved.
Well done everyone and a MASSIVE thankyou!!