Derwentside Side Weir - A Report from the WRG Summer Camps

Friends of the Cromford Canal - 11th October 2012

Below is reproduced the report on the WRG summer camps written for Portal 43. Photos can be seen on the gallery (uploaded 12th January 2013)

***Update 12 January 2013****

The weir is now finished, having been completed by Derbyshire County Council at the end of 2012. For more pictures, see the last page of the gallery, but for a sneak peek:


WRG: ‘Weir Replacement Geniuses’?

Ok, so if you have ever read any edition of any waterways magazine (including this one), you will know that WRG does not, in fact, stand for Weir Replacement Geniuses – but the Waterway Recovery Group could proudly rebrand itself after their marvellous achievements on the Cromford Canal this summer. I have oft been guilty of underestimating the shear tenacity and effort of the average WRG volunteer, and on this project they once again proved their capabilities to be in excess of my expectations. This is the story of how the weir was (re)born…

I was first involved with the project to rebuild the Derwentside weir (which lies between the Leawood arm and Gregory’s tunnel) back in 2010. At that point, we were looking at possible projects for the WRG camp planned in 2011. Past editions of Portal have detailed the goings on since then, so I won’t go into detail, but it is safe to say that not all went to plan. As such, the project was delayed until this summer – and another fortnight of WRG camps.

The aim was to use the fortnight to remove the existing structure, dig a large hole, fill it with a new, much larger structure, cap it with a substantial new concrete deck and then make the whole site look like we’d never been there. If that sounds rather ambitious, that is because it was – and that is before we consider the logistical headache of getting all materials, equipment and labour down nearly a mile of narrow towpath, and the myriad of other jobs that go into the simple list above! So let’s see how WRG got on…

I’m actually going to start the story in the week running up to the camps. At the time I was working on the Lancaster Canal, splitting my time between wading in knee deep puddle clay and finalising the details for the camp. The first bit of bad news came on the Wednesday, when I was informed that the tractor had broken down – the alternator having given up. It would be fixed on Friday. This meant that whilst it would be ready for the WRG volunteers to start work on the Sunday, it wasn’t available for the scaffolders to put up the platform needed (unsurprisingly the scaffolders didn’t much want to carry all their poles themselves). The next opportunity would thus be ‘early the following week’. Secondly, the excavator would only be arriving on Monday, and all the reinforcing steel would be ‘middle of the week’. Passing this news to the week 1 leaders was not going to be easy, all of a sudden they had 18 volunteers with very little to do.

So Saturday 4th August arrived. My father and I had an early start to go over to Speedy Hire in Ashbourne to collect the power tools we required (Speedy Hire having very generously agreed to loan them to us free of charge), and then to get back to Crich Scout Hut in time to meet the caretaker and the first of the WRG volunteers, who was leaving his car with us whilst he got on a train to Telford to collect the WRG kit that was in transit from the Lancaster Camp I had vacated two days earlier. I then had a rather long wait in the Scout Hut for the leaders to arrive. Traffic delays up north and some rather keen volunteers from more southerly climes meant I was left greeting the first volunteers and even doing station runs, but in the end the camp was assembled.

Whilst the cook was settling in and preparing the evening meal, the rest of us were then off to do a site visit. It was a bit worrying to see no sign of all the timber, but that would be a problem for the following day.

With all the delays, Sunday ended up being a rather slow day. Firstly, we had to find the tractor driver – though at least when we did he was able to tell us where our timber was! Not being able to work on removing the existing structure until the scaffolding was in place, we instead concentrated on site preparation; clearing vegetation from the material storage and welfare areas. As the welfare area sat down the slope, some of the newbies also got stuck into constructing a flight of steps, whilst at the Wharf Shed (the nearest road access, so where all the materials were located) other members of the team were filling the 400 sand bags we needed to dam around the site. These were then loaded onto the tractor and trundled down to site, where they were being built up in a semicircle around the existing weir inlet.

Monday came with the news that the scaffolding ‘early in the week’ meant Tuesday, so the amount of demolition that could happen was minimal (though the arrival of the machine did mean that some of the hole was dug). Meanwhile, construction of the large amount of wooden formwork (wooden panels that hold the wet concrete in place until it sets) required for the job began at the Wharf Shed. All the while, the tractor was trundling up and down the towpath building up the stocks of materials at the site – making it increasingly more difficult to turn around in the process!

Tuesday finally saw the arrival of the scaffolding, though as it took most of the day to erect the amount of wall then removed was minimal – especially as we found the wall was bound together not by lime mortar, as one would have expected, but by some of the hardest concrete any of us had ever known! However, at last it seemed like we would be able to really kick on with the main job. This was tempered with news that the steel ‘mid-week’ delivery meant Thursday morning, which would not allow us to pour any concrete until Thursday afternoon at the earliest – compared to the original schedule of pouring today! The lost time had been well spent though, with the sandbag dam completed and leak-proofed (almost) and the formwork well advanced.

Wednesday was, personally, the turning point. The removal of the wall was continuing, the concrete occasionally proving problematic for the Kango hammer (although the main barrier to that actually turned out to be the generator, from which we could only run the pump or Kango at any one time). I spent much of the day driving about Derbyshire in search of additional nails and a suitable sprayer for applying concrete retardant to the formwork, but I returned to a large hole almost ready to accept the ‘toe’ – a large block of concrete that anchors all of the structure into place, and the first concrete pour scheduled to take place. In a late finish, the team poured a layer of blinding concrete in the bottom of the hole to make it easier to work on and ready to set the formwork the following day.

Thursday. Thursday has another name in WRG, one that is probably not repeatable in print, but it is safe to say that things have a habit of going wrong. This week was no exception – we had been assured that all the steel would be arriving at 9am, but at 8.30 I got the call that it would not be arriving until lunchtime. Before the concrete could be poured into the toe, the formwork had to be placed and the steel tied into a large cage to reinforce it. Without the steel, the whole pour was going to be delayed – though this didn’t stop the crew working as hard as they could on the formwork to ensure all was ready to go. When the steel did arrive, it was promptly transported to site and the cage was started, but it was very apparent that no concrete was going to be poured that day. In the end, most of the group went home a bit earlier than normal, whilst the leaders, me and one of the volunteers stayed behind to continue tying the cage together – at least this way we could complete the concrete pour on the Friday. At 9.30pm, we decided that we were struggling to see what we were doing and left, but there was not much left to do before pouring commenced…

So Friday finally saw the first true element of construction happen. The steel cage was lowered in and then something in the region of 1.8 cubic metres of concrete was mixed and poured (which weighs over 4 tonnes and kept the mixing team busy for over 4 hours). Meanwhile, at the Wharf Shed the formwork crew started building the next sections ready for the following week – in fact at the end of the day they all took a walk down to the main site as a few of them hadn’t seen it since the beginning!

And with that ended week 1 – the end of camp barbecue kindly hosted by my parents rounding off what was a rather busy, hectic week. For some of us though, that was only half way through…

Saturday was thus changeover day. Half of the group left to be replaced by a new team (the other half staying on for a second week of torture). A couple of us went down to site a bit earlier than the rest in order to track the excavator back to the site (it being a 45 minute journey when moving only slightly faster than 1 mph…).

Work restarted with a vengeance on the Sunday. I set the leaders an ambitious target for the day – finish excavating the main hole, put a layer of hardcore in, tie a steel mesh, erect formwork and pour the concrete wall footings. Doing this would allow brickwork to start the following day. The excavator driver and I started the day early to complete the removal of material, and so by the time the main group arrived the bulk of the digging was complete (though finishing it would still take much of the morning). The group split into breaking up the removed concrete into rubble and also cleaning the stone ready for eventually rebuilding the wall. By the time the hole was starting to look even close to having concrete poured, it was getting on for 5pm – but that didn’t stop the WRGies! A group of 7 of us stayed on to finish tying the steel and erecting the formwork, with the concrete being poured on one side whilst the prep work was being finished on the other. Eventually, at well past 9pm, the foundations were poured.

With the sterling work of Sunday, Monday finally saw the commencement of bricklaying, and with it something of a lessening of my intellectual load! We had specifically recruited a few specialist brick layers for the second week, and so once they were told where the walls needed to go all I had to do was sit back and watch (and occasionally provide the odd bit of ‘expert’ advice into how the corners should be bonded together.

Tuesday and Wednesday were very much more of the same, although we did also start on building the next set of formwork (in preparation for the deck concrete pour). John Baylis visited the site and provided us with his expertise (no inverted commas needed this time!), advising us on how to move the sections of railway line that form the main structural component of the deck. We had been hoping that we would pour the sloping invert slab on Wednesday, but rain in the afternoon put this idea to bed and an early finish was instead the order of the day.

On Thursday we poured the concrete invert – another very large concrete pour. All of the main brickwork was completed (with only a small amount to do on the front of the weir) and much of the stonework on the outlet was also finished. With the concrete poured, the weir finally started to look like the finished thing.

And so the last day arrived – WRG spent the day tidying up little jobs and making the site ready for handing back to Derbyshire County Council. The project was not complete (and still isn’t – see later), but WRG had done a fantastic job against the odds. They all deserve a huge thank you.

Now you’d be forgiven for thinking that is the end of the story. However, it is not quite. Work actually continued over the weekend, with a small group from your committee working on the Saturday (where they completed more of the brickwork along the front of the weir, backfilled behind the brick walls with concrete and also started on the puddle clay behind the front wall) and a group of WRG volunteers working on the Sunday (removing the formwork and backfilling behind all of the walls, as well as continuing the brickwork) – they were all volunteers on the Chesterfield Canal Camp that followed the Cromford (and which I was leading…), but the local society was kind enough to lend them to us for the day!

So that is the current state of progress. The deck has still to be installed, and so anyone walking along the section of towpath at the moment will find it scaffolded over awaiting finishing by Derbyshire County Council’s team. Last time I was informed, this was due to happen this side of Christmas, although this was dependent on a number of other factors.

A huge, huge, huge thank you to everyone who was involved in this project – to the WRG volunteers who between them gave just over 2000 hours (I’ve made a point of not mentioning names, but a special mention to the leaders Becky Parr & Tom Rawlings, week 1, and Tom Rawlings & Gemma Bolton, week 2; the cooks Kath Mortimer, week 1, and Andy Ramsay, week 2), to the council team for their support throughout, to the committee of the FCC for all their help when needed, to Speedy Hire for the free tools, to the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association for loan of equipment, to the Chesterfield Canal Trust for lending us some volunteers, to Crich Scout Hut for letting us sleep there, to Ripley Leisure Centre for letting us use their showers, to my parents for hosting the barbecues and to everyone else who supported the project. We could not have done it without every single one of you

'Wollaton Hall' No. 5999 for auction

Friends of the Cromford Canal - 25th August 2012

‘Wollaton Hall’ to be sold to fund Cromford Canal Restoration!


The auction has now taken place and we are very pleased to announce that, after the auctioneers waived their fee and gift aid has been added, the Friends of the Cromford Canal are to receive a little over £8,400. A huge thanks to Peter Stone for his generosity.

Peter (L) hands over a cheque to the FCC Chairman, Pat Morriss (R).
Photo: Hugh Potter

The surprise news is that historic ‘Wollaton Hall’ is to be put up for sale to help pay for the restoration of two 200-year old East Midlands canals – including the Cromford!  Well, not the actual Elizabethan masterpiece on the western edge of Nottingham but the name and number plates from the 1940 Great Western Railway steam locomotive named in its honour.

Peter Stone has treasured the plates since purchasing them from British Railways in 1962, when locomotive number 5999 was withdrawn from service and scrapped.  But transport historian Peter is a Trustee of both the Friends of the Cromford Canal and the Grantham Canal Society and, right now, feels that the societies’ needs are greater than his own.  So the solid brass numberplate and brass and steel nameplate are to be sold at an auction of ‘Railwayana’ taking place at Derbyshire County Cricket Ground on 8th September and all the proceeds split between the two canals.  As the name and number plates from the other side of the engine are owned by the City of Nottingham and displayed at the Hall, this is a unique opportunity for private ownership of such artefacts!
Both canals were built in the 1790s by local engineer William Jessop and played major roles in the growth of trade in the East Midlands.  As FCC members will be aware, the 17-mile Cromford Canal, ran from Cromford and Pinxton to join the national inland waterway network at Langley Mill and was vital to the development of the industrial revolution. 


By contrast, the 33-mile Grantham Canal ran from the then market town of Grantham, through the Vale of Belvoir, to join the River Trent at Nottingham and served an essentially agricultural community. Both canals are now best known for their towpath walks through stunning scenery – but leisure boating is once again possible on 4 miles of the Grantham between the A1 and Woolsthorpe, on the Lincolnshire / Leicestershire border … and the recent purchase of two more maintenance boats and planned restoration of the Woolsthorpe flight of locks will accelerate progress.  Meanwhile, in Derbyshire, the FCC is striving to re-introduce a trip boat service from the historic Cromford Wharf – backed by the ‘Brian Blessed appeal’. 

Peter – who, with his wife Chris, has just re-located to the New Forest - says ‘the restoration of both of these beautiful canals is gathering pace but there’s an enormous amount to be done, requiring much more money.  Each of the charities promoting the conservation and restoration of the canals has exciting plans for extending navigation, implementation of which are currently delayed by lack of funds.  Hopefully, my gesture will help and I hope that many others will also subscribe money or volunteer their time for these outstanding causes.’

FCC members and supporters are urged to spread the word about the

8th September Auction – which will take place at

Derbyshire County Cricket Ground

(at DE21 6DA, just off the Pentagon Island roundabout, where the A52 and A61 meet.  Viewing commences at 7.30 am and the auction at 10.30 am: telephone bidding facilities are available.)

Such events are a fascinating day out and the Cromford Canal will benefit to the tune of 50% of all the proceeds of the ‘Wollaton Hall’ sales + Gift Aid!

Pat Morriss, Chairman of the Friends of the Cromford Canal, Peter Stone and Mike Stone, Chairman of the Grantham Canal Society, admire the locomotive plates in front of historic Wollaton Hall

FCC Publicity, 2012

Friends of the Cromford Canal - 1st January 2012

See below for links to various news items from the outside press relating to the Cromford Canal and the FCC:

'Row over £300,000 bill to dredge Cromford Canal'
This is Derbyshire, 30th January 2012

'Cash boost for Cromford Canal'
Derbyshire Times, 7th February 2012

'Cromford Canal set to open to boats in £300k project'
BBC News, 8th February 2012

'Canal cash boost'
Matlock Mercury, 9th February 2012

'Five-year plan to transform canal into nature attraction'
Derby Telegraph , 18th April 2012

'Five year plan to turn Cromford Canal a nature attraction'
Waterways World, June 2012, pg.43

Patrick Morriss radio interviews, regarding BW becoming CRT

Radio Derby, Peak FM and Radio 5 Morning Report, 12th July 2012

'Canal clearance to see horse-drawn boat trips dredged from the past',
This is Derbyshire, 4th October 2012

'Villagers campaigning to bridge the gap are set for council backing',
This is Derbyshire, 16th October 2012

'Locomotive Plates Raise over £16,000 for canal restoration'
Waterways World, November 2012, pg. 38