Derbyshire chemicals firm staff step back in time to ‘reveal’ historic canal by fairy tale cottage
Employees from a Derbyshire company swapped the lab for the scythe and pickaxe when they spent the day outdoors working to reveal an historic canal unused since the 1930s, situated next to one of Derbyshire’s prettiest old cottages.
Staff from science company Lubrizol, based at Hazelwood near Belper, joined Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s (DWT) regular volunteers working to restore the beautiful Aqueduct Cottage by the Cromford Canal, tucked into a corner of Derbyshire once owned by the family of Florence Nightingale.
The team from Lubrizol got stuck in with outdoors tools to reveal the original stonework at the entrance of the Leawood arm of the Cromford Canal, also known as the “Nightingale cut”, which has for many years been entirely hidden from view by thick undergrowth.
Along with the picture-postcard perfect Aqueduct Cottage, the ‘cut’ of the Cromford Canal was built by Florence Nightingale’s great-great uncle Peter to serve his factories in the area.
The canal stonework at the entrance to the arm is being revealed as part of a three-year project to restore the adjoining Aqueduct Cottage with the aim of opening up the historically important area to the public for the first time later this year.
Tom Grazier, technology deployment manager for Lubrizol – which has also given financial support to the restoration of Aqueduct Cottage through its Charities and Communities Committee – said: “We had a lot of fun getting away from the office for the day to take part in this volunteering session at Aqueduct Cottage and the Leawood Cut of the canal.
“It’s good to get out there and help out in your local environment and community. Our Charities and Communities Committee usually get involved with financial donations but it’s a different kind of giving to help out physically from time to time. Sometimes the gift of time, not to mention swinging a pickaxe, is just as important as money!”
The volunteer day was organised by Lubrizol as part of its ‘Building Global Bonds’ initiative which started life over in the USA and encourages giving back to the local community.
Ron Common, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s volunteer project manager who has led the project to restore Aqueduct Cottage over the past three years, said the whole team is very much looking forward to opening to the public the 19th century building set in an idyllic spot next to the Cromford Canal.
The cottage is part of the 74-acre Lea Wood which was bought by the local community in 1997 to save it from development. It was then gifted to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in 2012. A team of DWT volunteers have met twice weekly since 2019 and carried out a huge amount of restoration work, including building dry stone walls and clearing many tonnes of rubbish from what was once a dilapidated building unlived in since the 1970s. As the cottage is inaccessible by road, all debris had to be carted from the site in wheelbarrows.
When it is open to visitors, the cottage will serve as a “gateway” to the Lea Wood Nature Reserve to help connect people to nature and promote a more bio-diverse Lower Derwent Valley. Interpretation boards inside the cottage will also explain its history including the connections to the Nightingale family, and why water was such an important resource at a time when barges would have been regularly travelling up and down the Cromford Canal. The cottage’s upper floor will be available to be hired for activity days too.
Ron said: “I’m very excited about the final stretch in this project to get Aqueduct Cottage ready for visitors. Our target is to open it up to the public during Autumn 2022.
“It has been great to have lots of extra pairs of hands from Lubrizol helping us restore the entrance of the Leawood arm. The original lock gate which was situated here is the reason Aqueduct Cottage was built, to be a home for the lock keeper who was needed to operate the lock. This section of the Cromford Canal and the cottage is an important part of the story of water and the industrialisation of the valley in the 18th and 19th centuries. Situated within the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site, the cottage will be a fascinating new visitor attraction that will delight visitors for many years to come.”
Fundraising is still ongoing to pay for the restoration work at Aqueduct Cottage. The team is currently hoping to raise funds as part of its ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign to restore the old privy next to the cottage. To contribute, call Derbyshire Wildlife Trust on 01773 881188 or visit the cottage website at www.aqueduct-cottage.com