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Monument record MDR4964 - Butterley Tunnel, Cromford Canal, Ripley

Type and Period (1)

Protected Status/Designation

Full Description

SK 393517 Cromford Canal, Tunnel. Disused and closed Cromford Canal tunnel below Ripley. The present western end of the Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal (opened 1793) dates from circa 1890 when the tunnel was lengthened to allow a branch of the Midland Railway from Ripley to Pentrich Junction to pass over it. The tunnel was closed as the result of damage by mining subsidence in 1900 (after several earlier collapses) and the canal was officially abandoned in 1944. The tunnel portal is completely plain and built in ashlar millstone grit, with an entrance designed to accommodate narrow boats with a nominal beam of 7 feet. (1, 2) Construction of the Butterley tunnel commenced in 1787. It was driven simultaneously from both ends through the various coal measures lying beneath the estates above. The tunnel was lined throughout with brick and, until subsidence caused problems in the late 19th century, it remained unsupported by any other means. Along its length a total of 33 shafts were sunk to assist in the drivage; however following the tunnel's completion only four airshafts were kept open. As well as the airshafts, two loading shafts were sunk directly from the Butterley Works to a wharf inside the tunnel, thereby creating a direct access to the canal. As the tunnel was narrow, with no towpath for horses, the only method of navigating was by 'legging' whereby two men lay sideways on the boat and walked the walls of the tunnel. A collapse closed the tunnel between 1889 and 1893. Its reopening was short-lived, however, with a serious fall taking place in June 1900. Repairs continued where possible into the 1920s in order to maintain water levels, with the canal continuing to be used by local traffic until its final abandonment. (3) The Cromford Canal ran beneath the Butterley Estate and Ironworks through a tunnel 2966 yards long. A 200ft vertical shaft directly linked the canal tunnel with the Ironworks above. A crane at the Ironworks lowered and raised materials through this shaft, allowing them to be transferred from the canal directly to the Ironworks' internal railway system. Later construction of the Midland Counties Railway required the extension of the tunnel to 3063 yards in length. Cromford Canal tunnel was closed in 1900. In March 1907 Sir Francis Fox and the Butterley Company's chief engineer explored the tunnel and found that sections of the roof and a number of shafts had collapsed. (4) A watching brief was carried out in 2007 during the capping of two former loading shafts. Their width and the evidence of putlogs confirmed that they were indeed loading shafts and not merely for ventilation. These vertical shafts had linked the Butterley Works with the canal tunnel below, in an area of the tunnel known as the 'Wide Hole' or Butterley Wharf. Goods in containers were transported vertically between canal boats and tram wagons that were transported to the Butterley Works on top of the hill. The lifting system initially used a water bucket counterbalance system and later used steam engines. An extensive survey of the Butterley tunnel was conducted in 1979 which demonstrated that most of the tunnel was still safe and intact. (5) A stretch of the tunnel c. 210m in length, considered to be a representative sample of the whole tunnel, was scheduled in February 2013. The underground wharf was also included in the scheduling. (6)

Sources/Archives (5)

  • <1> Index: Council for British Archaeology (CBA). CBA Industrial Archaeology Report Card. Canal tunnel, Ripley.
  • <2> Article in serial: Fowkes, D & Riden, P. 1972. 'The Ripley-Swanwick-Alfreton Bypass (A61)', Derbyshire Miscellany. Vol. 6 (4), pp 125-129.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: Greenwood, D. 2003. Portal to Portal. A Short History of the Butterley Tunnel..
  • <5> Unpublished document: Greg Farnworth-Jones (ULAS). 2007. An Archaeological Watching Brief at Butterley Works, Butterley Hill, Ripley. SMR Doc. No.1005.
  • <6> Scheduling record: English Heritage. 2013. Scheduling Notification: Butterley Works blast furnaces, canal tunnel and underground wharf. List entry no. 1404832.



Grid reference Centred SK 394 516 (2759m by 409m) Centre

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (1)

  • EDR2369

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Record last edited

Jun 14 2022 9:24AM

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