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Butterley Tunnel

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Butterley Tunnel is a one and three quarter mile long canal tunnel on the Cromford Canal below Ripley, in Derbyshire, England, opened to traffic in 1794.

The tunnel was 2,966 yard long, 9 ft wide at water level, and 8 ft from water to soffit (depending on the water level).

Thirty-three shafts were sunk during construction with the workings de-watered using a Woodhouse steam engine. Water was provided for the Cromford Canal from the 50-acre Butterley Reservoir situated on the hill above the tunnel.

The Butterley Reservoir is itself crossed by a stone railway embankment currently used by the locomotives of the Midland Railway - Butterley's preserved steam railway. Water flowed from the reservoir directly into the tunnel via an adit 600 yards along the tunnel from the Western Portal.

Above the Eastern portal the Butterley Park Reservoir once provided water to the canal. This Reservoir was filled in during 1935. Both the tunnel and reservoirs were constructed by the Butterley Co.

There is no towpath within the tunnel, which was for the most part only 9 feet wide, therefore narrow boats were propelled through the tunnel by Legging.

About 880 yards from the tunnel's Western Portal there is an underground wharf about 60 yards long with the tunnel here widened to about 16 feet. One of the horizontal tunnels departing from the tunnel at this point used to run to the Butterley Company's Butterley Carr Pit which opened in 1812 and loaded its coal directly into narrow boats at the underground wharf.

There were also vertical shafts from the wharf which allowed goods in tram boxes to be lowered directly from and lifted up to the Butterley Company's works (on the hill above the tunnel) to and from the underground wharf. These tram boxes were used by Benjamin Outram on the Little Eaton Tramway. The box could be lifted from the tram chassis and loaded directly into narrow boats or barges on the Derby Canal. Similar designs were used in other undertakings in which Benjamin Outram had an interest. Initially the boxes were lowered with the aid of a large water bucket descending or ascending a parallel shaft to act as a counter balance. This system was later replaced by a steam engine winding the boxes up and down the shafts.

In the mid 1980s, demolition of the Butterley Company's old foundry buildings exposed the original blast furnace, dating to 1790. In front of the furnace is at least one vertical shaft, now capped off, which leads down to a short tunnel which connects with the canal tunnel close to the wharf area. Additionally, a number of deep drains below these buildings probably link to the canal tunnel. The site is now occupied by Butterley Engineering, one of the successors to the Butterley Company, and noted for its involvement in the construction of the Falkirk Wheel.

In 1889 subsidence caused the tunnel to be closed for a period of four years with the tunnel reopening after repairs in 1893. This closure resulted in the permanent loss of some of the canal's customers to competing railway companies.

A partial collapse of the Butterley Tunnel in 1900 due to mining related subsidence split the Cromford Canal into two. The tunnel has not yet been repaired.

Rudolph de Salis undertook a government funded survey of the tunnel in 1904 but his report was not favourable. Rudolph de Salis was a director of Fellows Morton and Clayton, a prominent canal freight company. A third tunnel collapse in 1907 and a government report by Sir William Matthews KCMG in June 1907 ended hopes of repairing the tunnel at this time and the tunnel was pronounced beyond economical repair in 1909.

Commercial traffic on the canal ceased in 1944.

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Sources of Information