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  • Ron Common

History repeating itself

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.

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