Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Nutbrook Canal's outlying Reservoirs

Coppice Lake, Osborne's Pond and Mapperley Reservoir
Outlying Reservoirs of the Nutbrook Canal
May 2016

Before we leave the review of the Nutbrook Canal with all its water challenges it seemed appropriate to take a look at the additional reservoirs built to supplement and feed into the "Old Reservoir" at Shipley. 

Shipley used to be long and thin but has widened and shortened with the mining subsidence and reduced water levels behind the ancient earth dam, so its hard to say if its capacity is more or less than it used to be. A bit less I suspect, but not much.

Reservoir 2 - Coppice Lake

To add capacity to Shipley the canal builders looked upstream along the course of the Nut, building what is now Coppice Lake behind another high earth dam and creating a very attractive lake fringed by woodland. The attractiveness of the area attracted the wealthy who built big houses here, now used as a school and a business head office. Its all private land so I could only snatch a single image from the driveway.

Next up the valley there is the larger, but probably shallower, Osborne's Pond with a road across the Dam and fishing stages built around its periphery. 


Reservoir 3 - Osborne's Pond

There are a few smaller ponds dotted about the place but effectively we are almost up to the watershed here, so the catchment area to feed the lakes is very modest. When full they hold a lot of water but I suspect that they take a long time to replenish from empty.

Lastly I drove around the edge of the watershed to access Mapperley Reservoir, the second largest water source for the canal, built in a valley to the west. This reservoir was built on Mundy's land in 1821 but was not an immediate success. No sooner was it filled than it was drained to add six yards of solid earth along its length to add strength and re-puddled to improve water retention. If left to its own devices the water would drain down to join the canal above Lock 12, but due to its altitude it was possible to divert its course around the hillside and feed it directly into Paul's Arm and so provide water to the head of navigation.

 Mapperley Reservoir

Mapperley Reservoir dam

Taken together these two main reservoirs contained enough water for 3,600 locks supplemented by a further 900 locks in the colliery ponds. Due to the extensive mining in the water sources suffered from significant leakage reducing the volumes available for navigation.

The canal soldiered on in the face of increasing railway competition and improved assess to the Erewash Canal the other side of the hill and was finally closed to traffic in 1895, expect for the last few locks at Stanton.

Is this a candidate for restoration?


When I returned from this expedition my brother in law asked if it was a canal ripe for restoration (he is a town planner so interested in these things) and my immediate response was "no, its a dead duck. Its got little water, goes nowhere in particular, has three dropped road bridges and is terminally blocked by the old Stanton Ironworks". 

But as I have been writing up this account I have reconsidered this position. The closure of the Stanton Ironworks offers a window of opportunity to install a canal across the site and with the original plan for 5,000 houses reduced to 1,900 why not install a liner water park across its centre? The track is there and a ready water supply exists to the north.

Then there is the small problem of the dropped bridges. There are are only three roads crossing the valley and the frequency of the locks mean it would be relatively simple to deepen a preceding pound to provide headroom with the reconstructed lock moved upstream in each case. As it happens the locks immediately downstream from the crossings are all lost or in ruins so reconstruction would be needed in any case.

And then there is the opencast area above Lock 9. This area contained four wide locks which were each about 6ft deep. There are no obstacles to creating a new channel over the open land, most of which is completely abandoned and building a terminus in the area beside Paul's Arm and the park Visitor Centre would be simple. As funds would no doubt be tight this last section beyond Mapperley Brook (above Lock 9) could be build to narrow dimensions with the climb achieved via two deep (12ft) locks.

So if the engineering is practical why would we want to do it? Well, the Nutbrook Valley has taken a beating over the last 250 years and is only now settling back into a more natural state. The theme park experiment failed and the area is now fast becoming popular with cyslists, runners and walkers all supported by a good network of paths built by Derbyshire County Council. I get the feeling that the Council is trying to release the potential of the valley both for housing and recreation. The problem is trying to make it all hang together as a cohesive whole.

The future of the area is almost undoubtedly in the recreational sector and what better way of joining it all up than to reinstate the silvery ribbon of water at its core. The towpath can successfully double up as a cycle way, extending what is already available in the area and offering a route from the new development area at its foot to the recreational area at its head, four miles to the north.

Water could potentially be an issue but I wouldn't expect huge volumes of boat traffic on what is a heavily locked route (13 locks in 4.5 miles). But there would be little activity in the winter months and during the summer how many boats navigate the adjoining Erewash?.  In addition the canal is now lined with lakes left by opencast mining which represent a massive additional watersource. The real benefit would be for the people beside the canal, with a smattering of boats would just offer added character and interest. I can see the valley evolving into a very pleasant public open space and a tourist attraction in its own understated way.

So I leave the much derided Nutbrook Valley all misty eyed and sentimental. Its a pleasant is somewhat bruised corner of the country which deserves a new, greener, lease of life. Whilst challenging to navigate boaters would find it both pretty and remote, with a truly massive country park and lake as a destination at the far end.

Given the Derbyshire County Council involvement in the valley any redevelopment would have to be led / supported by them but in the meantime, who is going to Chair the NCRS?

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