MEMORY LANE: The many incarnations of Peak’s waterway jewel

Bugsworth Basin.
Bugsworth Basin.

It is one of the country’s most important waterway treasures, offering a poignant reminder of the High Peak’s rich industrial heritage.

Built in 1796 by canal and tramway engineer Benjamin Outram, Bugsworth Basin is part of the 14-mile long Peak Forest Canal network running between Dukinfield and Buxworth.

Repairing a leak at Bugsworth Basin, 1986. Photo courtesy of the Inland Waterways Protection Society.

Repairing a leak at Bugsworth Basin, 1986. Photo courtesy of the Inland Waterways Protection Society.

The Scheduled Ancient Monument was once the largest and busiest inland port on Britain’s narrow canal system, and today it is the only example of its type to survive intact.

Its interchange with the horse-and-gravity-powered Peak Forest Tramway, also constructed by the industrialist Outram, provided an important transportation link with Derbyshire’s quarries, ferrying wagons loaded with limestone, gritstone and other goods to the terminus.

Bugsworth developed into a thriving industrial hub with its kilns and sheds, and for 100 years was a centre for burnt lime production. At its height, the basin is thought to have handled more than 600 tons of limestone per day.

However, the age of steam and rapid rise of the railways led to the gradual decline of the canal network, and Bugsworth Basin was eventually closed and abandoned in the 1920s.

Bugsworth Basin, 1980. Photo courtesy of the Inland Waterways Protection Society.

Bugsworth Basin, 1980. Photo courtesy of the Inland Waterways Protection Society.

By the 1960s, the site was a dry, overgrown pit, used as an outdoor playground by local children.

It was around this time that a major voluntary restoration effort, led by the Inland Waterways Protection Society (IWPS), now the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust, aimed to return the derelict basin to its former glory.

Over the next 30 years, a multi-million pound restoration project was completed, but the basin’s eventual re-opening in 1999 was to be short-lived as extensive leaks forced it to be closed a few months later.

Following a further repair programme by British Waterways and the IWPS, at a cost of over £1 million, the basin officially reopened to boat traffic in 2005.

Speaking at that launch, IWPS chairman Ian Edgar MBE said: “This opening is the successful conclusion to many years of committed voluntary effort in co-operation with many organisations that saw volunteers as a way of getting things done.”

Nine years on, and following completion of recent repairs on a 150 metre length of wharf wall, the Canal & River Trust in planning to assemble a unique archive of oral, written and pictorial memories of life at the basin.

Interviews and information collected will be professionally archived for posterity by the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum and Derbyshire County Council, and the trust hopes in future it will go on display at the site.

The professional archivist leading the project is Heather Roberts, a member of the Canal & River Trust charity which has been entrusted with the care of 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales.

“What we want to preserve are people’s anecdotes, opinions and motives,” she explained. We want to hear from anyone involved in the restoration projects about what they did and why they did it.

“We’ve already had some wonderful stories from people who used to play on the derelict site as children in the 1940s and 50s.

“People apparently kept chickens here and youngsters used to tease adults by running over bent reeds which would only take the weight of a child.”

She added: “Bugsworth Basin has had several incarnations. From its creation as a busy, industrial port and tram gateway to Derbyshire’s stone quarries, it then became a community wilderness and more recently a managed heritage leisure destination for boaters and walkers.

“Everyone has their own unique way of interacting with this wonderful place and we want to preserve these important personal memories for future generations to enjoy.”

• If you have an interesting story or memory you would like to share, contact Heather on 0797 289 3656 or email heather.roberts@canalrivertrust.org.uk.