THE LITTLE EATON GANGWAY
In 1792 Benjamin Outram prepared plans for a broad canal from Swarkestone to Smithy Houses, near Denby, with a branch at Derby to the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre, which he estimated would cost £60,000. The use of a tramway as an alternative was first proposed by William Jessop on 3 November 1792. The Derby Canal Act of 1793 authorized a rail connection between the Derby Canal at Little Eaton and the collieries to the north. The purpose of this 5-mile long tramway was to carry coal from Kilburn and Denby down to the canal at Little Eaton and general goods including stone, pottery and "clogs of wood".
Construction & Operation
Outram's original plan was for a conventional waggonway with wooden sleepers and oak rails reinforced with cast iron plates. Accordingly, an advertisement appeared in the Lincoln & Stamford Mercury for 16 August 1793 for oak sleepers 4 feet 6 inches long squared at each end for a length of 9 inches.
However by the time the railway was approved, Outram had decided to use the flanged ‘L’ section rails (plates) with which his name has become associated. In this he may have been influenced by Jessop, also by Joseph Butler of Wingerworth near Chesterfield, who had constructed a similar line in 1788. Butler is believed to have been the first to do so, and supplied the rails, rather than Outram's own works. Outram preferred stone blocks to sleepers and used them in this case (Dimns approx 1.75ft x 1.5ft x 1ft deep with 2.5inch hole 4 to 6 inches deep). The gritstone blocks were drilled with a hole into which an oak plug was fitted. The rails where 3ft long x 4 inch wide with a flange of 4 inches in the centre tapering down to 2 inches at the ends. They were attached by means of spikes driven into a countersunk semi circular cast hole at the end of the plates. The problem with the original plates was that the plates could move as the holes wore or were incorrectly spiked, this lead to derailments so to remedy this holes were incorporated 2 inches in from the ends of newer/replacement plates and the additional holes drilled in the blocks (3 hole blocks have been found as have blocks were the impression of the rail end has worn into it due to movement). The line is said by some to have been originally 3 ft 6 in gauge, being increased later to 4 ft 6 in at an unknown date, but evidence suggests the line was almost certainly 4 ft 6 in from new.
The wagons were built at Outram's Butterley works consisted of containers (aka body, box) mounted loosely onto a tram (aka chassis, undercarriage) with four cast iron wheels which floated on the axle. The trams were of timber construction with 2 ft 4 in wheels in diameter, 1.5 in wide. The coal containers were approx 5ft 9 in x 3 ft 7.5 in x 2 ft deep, they often had further raised boarding around the top adding another 1 ft 5 in. Capacity was over 46-48cwt of coal per container. Other containers were used of similar construction dependent on the goods being carried.
The typical working over the line was 4 horses pulling 8 wagons lead by a ‘carter’ or ‘gangleader’.
The tramway ran four miles from the canal wharf to Smithy Houses climbing approx 100ft, and another mile further to Denby Hall Colliery. Further short branches served Salterwood North and Henmoor Collieries, Belper Potteries (via incline to Openwoodgate) as well as the Denby Pottery.
Containers would be lifted off at Little Eaton and loaded complete into narrowboats by fixed cranes using 4 point chain slings or transferred to two-wheeled carts for carriage by road. The canal from Little Eaton led to Gandy's Wharf in Derby for onward distribution through the canal network or by road. This is probably the first instance of containerisation in the world.
The gangway and the canal opened in 1795, the first load of coal from Denby being distributed to the poor of Derby. The type of coal being carried was large lumps not the nutty slack we think of today which was just thrown away as waste in the 18th and early 19th century as it could not be easily transhipped by hand.
Closure and Remains
When the Midland Railway built its branch line to Ripley in 1856 the gangway lost most of its trade, finally closing in 1908.
The trackbed was used as the base of the new A61, which bypassed the old road through Coxbench.
The only remaining traces are the Clock house wharf building at Little Eaton (SK362410) and the route parallel to the railway through the village, the easternmost arch of Jack O' Darley bridge in the village (SK364420), and another two arch bridge over the Bottle Brook (SK363413) and some in situ stone blocks and route of the incline up to Openwood gate at Belper just below the A38 over bridge (SK377473). The Henmoor colliery route (branch) can also be traced at (SK376476) as far as the A38 where it is cut. A few of the stone blocks can be found in some walls near to the route of the line.
A wagon from the gangway survives in the National Mining Museum at Lound Hall.
GRID REF QUOTED IS FOR SMITHY HOUSE END OF GANGWAY, LITTLE EATON END IS AT SK362410