The Nutbrook Canal and Tramroads
The Act for drawing up the Nutbrook Canal, Derbyshire (Act, 33 Geo. III cap III) was sealed 3rd June 1793 - Stipulating that construction work must commence from the newly opened Erewash Canal at Stanton. Canal locks must be completed here before any construction work could take place along the new canals proposed route. Ensuring that disruption to the working practices of the Erewash Canal would be minimal. Earl Stanhope had planned a canal link from this point to his newly erected Dale blast furnace. This allowed him to open up the market for selling his foundry products. This resulted in building Lock 1 (Back Saddle Lock), Lock 2 (Stanton Lock), and Lock 3 (Furnace Lock). Additional work included the construction of a Private Cut leading into the Ironworks. This became known as Stanhope’s Arm, allowing his boats to be moored here without obstructing the main workings of the new waterway. From this point tramways were laid to Furnace Pond and the Ironworks. The Dale works produced and supplied Iron Rails for the rapid expanding tramway network. The Canal route progressed in a North Westerly direction into the Parishes of West Hallam and Shipley. This resulted in the expansion of Ironstone and Coal mines, bringing wealth to the Land owners.
Building the Canal and Associated Tramways
Benjamin Outram (1764-1805)
The Blue-Fly (Single Track) Tramway West Hallam
Benjamin Outram and William Jessop undertook the Nutbrook project using surveys earlier produced by John Nuttall in 1791/1792 were responsible for supervising the building of the Nutbrook Canal and its associated tramways.
Like many tramways once mining operations had finished the rails were lifted for scrap and the stone sleeper blocks used as a valuable building material. This is a story of this almost forgotten Outram tramway.
In March 1973 a local farmer driving a tractor with plough attached, unearthed a stone sleeper block. On further investigation a second block was found some distance beside this. Both blocks had a single 1½” diameter hole drilled into their top surface. The disturbed sleeper was returned into its original seating, and the “hole” to “hole” centres recorded.
This finding resulted in several years of searching for any remnants of the tramway which might still be hidden from view. In 1980 two lengths of the original track were found lying in a hedgerow. These fish-bellied rails were measured and using the previous measurement, the track gauge was calculated to be 50” between rail flanges.
Each rail weighing 30lbs, measured 36” (3ft) (1yard) in length, and cast with a 5/8” x 5/8” slotted hole at each end. The rails were fastened to the stone blocks with a wrought iron spike driven into a pre-drilled hole fitted with an oak plug. Each spike securing the two rail ends butted together. This method of fastening the rails proved to be unsatisfactory at times due to the occasional rail springing out from this fastening point. To overcome this, later designs of rail had a full drilled hole at each end and the sleeper blocks were supplied with two holes. This method of fastening improved this basic design.
It is often overlooked how precise the blocks had to be at the laying stage. They had to be level and pitched out accurately to the 36” and 53½” longitudinal and traverse hole centre distances. This was done using set-out strings, plumb levels, squares and pin gauges. Each mile of rail required 3,520 blocks. (1,760 yards per mile x 2).
Each block weighed between 150lbs – 200lbs, dressed flat on their top and bottom faces. This allowed for a firm seating of the block on the ground, and gave a level surface to sit the rail upon. Blocks were pre-drilled at the quarry with a 1½” diameter x 5” deep hole. Once secured in position a 4” long Oak plug was driven into the block, flush to the top surface. This 1” difference in plug length allowed for an expansion gap.
Embankments, cuttings, drainage and bridge building, was all part of this civil engineering project ensuring that once construction had been completed the tramway would require little maintenance.
Waggons were built to the Outram container style. Once loaded, goods could be taken to the canal wharf; here the body of the wagon was lifted from its frame by crane. This prevented the time consuming activity of unloading and loading goods. A frame would then be fitted with a new body ready for its next load.
Six full waggons of coal from the pit could be pulled by 4 horses down to the canal wharf. A remarkable fete considering that these waggons were not fitted with any type of brake mechanism. To prevent the horses from pulling the full waggons when the driver wanted them to remain stationary, heavy spikes were placed through the spokes of the wheels to prevent any movement.
Horses were stabled at Park Farm, Park Hall Lane, Mapperley overnight and harnessed ready for a full day’s work, early the next morning.
The Nutbrook Canal was opened in 1796. This gave the opportunity to sell the coal deposits owned by three leading estate owners to a much wider market. Edward Miller Mundy (Shipley Estate), Henry Hunloke (West Hallam Estate) and Earl Stanhope (Dale Estate) all financed its building.
The Canal was built by direct labour under the supervision of Benjamin Outram of Butterley. His partner William Jessop the Canal Engineer, had considerable experience in canal building having just overseen the construction of the newly built Cromford Canal (1793).
Following the opening of the Nutbrook Canal it allowed the rapid expansion of the coal fields. Due mainly to this greatly improved transport system. Getting the coal from the pit head to the canal wharf was achieved by laying down “Outrams” horse drawn tramways. One such, later being called the “Blue Fly” tramway was laid from the extreme western boundary of West Hallam running in an easterly direction to the canal wharf. It was built alongside the boundary line, between West Hallam (Hallam Brook) and Mapperley (Mapperley Brook) for a length of 1⅟2 miles. Even after 200 years of laying the first rails much evidence can still be seen today.