The Caldon Canal: Changes Around Hazelhurst

Most canal enthusuiasts know about the story of the changes in the route of the Caldon Canal at the junction with the Leek Branch at Hazelhurst. What has been lost in the mists of time though is exactly where the oldest route passed through this narrow valley and how this relates to the present situation. This web page is an attempt to clarify this.

The following two diagrams are reproduced from The Canals of the West Midlands by Charles Hadfield (1969, 2nd Ed, p199, David & Charles, Newton Abbott UK)
1776 Act

The early locks at Park Lane were replaced by a three lock staircase at Denford, when the Leek branch was built about 1800.

About 1841 the Denford aqueduct was built, part of the original line was reopened and three new single locks were built as a replacement for the staircase. Hadfield notes that the early locks had been 'well spaced' - implying that the present locks are closer together than the originals.

After 1863 Finally, part of the original line was built on by the railway.

The double lines indicate sections which were abandoned. The right hand set of these indicate the former staircase locks - part of which are currently used as a boat mooring (ref 11).

The whole area may be seen viewed from the air in the image below. This is a composite of several smaller images taken in 2000 and supplied by www.getmapping.com
Endon Summit
A second copy of this image appears below with all the relevant items indicated.
Endon Summit annotated

The relevant maps of the 1st edition Ordnance Survey maps are shown below.
Endon Summit old map
Image produced from the www.old-maps.co.uk service with permission of Landmark Information Group Ltd. and Ordnance Survey
Copyright and/or Database Right Landmark Information Group and Ordnance Survey Crown Copyright and/or Database Right 2002. All rights reserved.

Careful comparison of the old and new shows many unchanged features. The stream that runs through the valley has obviously been somewhat straightened and additional buildings have appeared - but apart from these factors the valley looks very much now as it would have done 120 years ago.

So what may be seen of the old line now and where did the locks go?

Winding hole When I first went and looked at the site with this purpose (and prior to examing the OS and aerial maps above), I assumed that what appeared to be a huge winding hole (ref 5 on map) between Park Lane and the current locks would be a good candidate for the site of the top lock (see right - looking east). However, later evidence convinced me that this was no more than a winding hole put there probably for the benefit of boats using the stone quarries (ref 8) immediately east of the next bridge and at Hazelhurst. Its unusual large size is due to a conveniently sited stream which enters at its apex (and whose silt has reduced its size considerably) and the associated lie of the land.
I had approached this point by walking from Park Lane wharf (ref 1). As I had passed the first bridge I had a noticed a reed filled depression in the field to the north next to the railway (ref 3). Initially I though this looked an ideal candidate for an old stretch of canal. There was even an ancient bit of hedge which could have been in the right place for a towpath hedge! However, closer investigation revealed this depression as of much more recent origin - probably dug by the farmer to improve drainage. After taking a few more photographs, I drove to Hazelhurst and approached from the Denford direction.

Line of feeder After walking under the aqueduct, and approaching the bottom lock (ref 10), I was struck by a level hedge which ran away into the distance towards a point level with the site of the top lock (adjacent to ref 9). This hedge can just be seen in the accompanying photograph - but is much clearer on the ground. This hedge - or rather its remains and a fence - are on the top of a bank which contains a feeder stream, which enters the canal just below the bottom lock. This is the same feeder, following the same route, which can be seen on the old OS map above and is marked in orange on the aerial map. If you have ever walked any canal feeders, you will know how minimal their banks are. This one is not it is big enough to take a towpath - and I am convinced that this section of the feeder is in fact the original route of the canal which has then had the most recent line of locks built within it. I had often noticed previously how 'built up' these locks are, compared with the surrounding ground, and re-using the original line in this way would of course minimise land purchase costs.
So, how far did this feeder go? Well the old OS map shows it passing under the railway and westward toward Park Lane, just below tha large '&' on the map. It is not clear from the map what the source of this water is. However it does interconnect with numerous streams and so it seems reasonable to assume that the original canal was also fed somewhere below its bottom lock in a similar manner to the present route today. So, where were the original locks?

I believe the original bottom lock was sited under the present railway line at a point (ref 4) directly to the north of the word 'Trent', the middle lock was where I found the reeds and the new excavation (ref 3) and the original top lock was to the north east of Park Lane (ref 2).

old Line - east My reasoning is as follows. The following two photographs are taken from the railway bridge adjacent to the first canal bridge west from Hazelhurst Junction (ref 7; ie just east of the word 'Canal'). The first looks east and the second looks west.

Just to the left of the railway in the first photo, and extending into the distance, is a flat area with two large trees on its edge (ref 9). I believe this is part of the original infilled canal line. It is at the same ground level as the feeder and, I am reasonably confident, at the same level as the canal bank level at Denford. The flood water in the valley was static and was therefore very useful to confirm these levels.
old Line - west Looking west, in the mid distance, to the right of the railway is a similar flat area demarked by two lines of trees and fences (ref 6). This is also at the same level. As with the previous photos all this is a lot clearer on the ground! However, do not take my word for it, look again at the old OS map, and then at the aerial image and you will see that both these areas curve out from, and back toward, the railway line.

Does this remind you of anything? It should. Look again at the second Hadfield diagram above. He shows the railway wiggling back and forth across the line of the old canal. This cannot be right. The railway plainly does not 'wiggle' - and could not because railway curves need to be smooth. However the canal could wiggle, and so if we take Hadfields diagram as diagrammatical then what he suggests is what there is still a suggestion of on the ground - that the canal wiggled to the north of the railway at two points.

So, let us assume that the feeder originally entered the canal at, or near, this railway bridge, that the bottom lock was under the present railway, then where were the canal remains and the middle lock? I decided to look again at that reedy depression I had previously discounted south of the railway half way toward Park Lane. It looked like a canal, it even had a short bit of bank betweeen it and the railway with a straggely bit of hedge. Surely this had to be it? But what about the new excavation? Then suddenly it hit me, the excavation didn't go anywhere, but some relatively newly laid hardcore lead a farm track across a field. What I believe has happened here is that the farmer, finding some old brickwork in his field has 'robbed it' (in the archaeological sense) to resurface his track. This old brickwork was the lock remains and the new excavation was the original lock site. The levels were about right for the middle lock, so it all fitted!

So what about the top lock? I believe this was immediately to the north east (ie downstream of Park Lane bridge at, or near, the site of the current long weir (ref 2). It would make sense for the canal company to use an existing water route for this overflow

I have heard it suggested that the old lock was the other side of the bridge and to the north side of the lock house. I don't go for this at all for the following reasons.

  1. There is no evidence for it on the ground and it would leave no room for Park Lane wharf - which undoubtedly would have appeared at the same time as the canal was built. I just don't see that the house is the wrong way round as has also been suggested.
  2. Whereas on most canals it is unusual for the lock to be downstream of a bridge, on the Caldon canal it was almost the norm! The same situation exists at the other end of the summit at Stockton Brook, at Cheddleton and at Flint Mill lock - all at locks at the end of longish pounds.
  3. There is no evidence to suggest that Park Lane bridge is anything other than part of the original line.
Obviously some digging (literal and metaphorical) might be required to investigate all this further......

Chris Deuchar: Wednesday, January 22, 2003