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.