Shardlow is one of the best-preserved inland canal ports in the country. It is a fascinating place to explore, still busy with boats, now used for leisure and not for commerce. The boats range from traditional narrow boats with brightly painted liveries, in summer frequently be-decked with pretty boxes filled with flowers, to pleasure craft of all shapes and sizes.
All this activity is good news for the canal side pubs, which swarm with customers in the summer and at the weekend. A walk along the canal towpath brings you into contact with many of the old buildings of the Canal Age. Mostly now used for different purposes, but still largely intact: the massive warehouses that once stored ale, cheese, coal, cotton, iron, lead, malt, pottery and salt; and the wharves where goods were loaded and unloaded. This is where the skilled craftsmen worked; the boat builders and repairers, the chandlers, rope-makers and blacksmiths.
Waterway traffic has always been important to the village and in the second half of the 17th century, Wilden Ferry, near Shardlow had become the head of the Trent navigation. This part of the Trent was leased from the Cokes of Melbourne Hall by the Forsbrooke family. They tried to monopolise river traffic between the ferry and Nottingham and were so successful that Shardlow Hall was built out of the profits. In 1760 the ferry was replaced by Cavendish Bridge, on the Derbyshire side of which is a toll board listing charges, ranging from two shillings and six pence for coaches to a half penny for soldiers.
The use of river transport goes back much further than the days of the Wilden Ferry. In 1999, a twelve-foot long oak boat was exposed by spring floods at Shardlow quarry, in the bed of a former side channel of the River Trent. The boat, probably dating from the middle Bronze Age, about 1300 BC, was still carrying some of its cargo of quarried stone. Archaeologists examining the find described its discovery as ‘spectacular’. A small remnant and other details of this discovery are available for inspection at the Heritage Centre.
The rapid growth of industry in the second part of the 18th century required an improved and inexpensive transportation system if it was to be sustained. Much of the development was inland so the coastal route was usually out of the question. Rivers often obstructed by weirs and fish pools, rarely could be used for long distance haulage. Roads had been improved by the growth of turnpikes, but were not suitable for moving large volumes of goods. Packhorses were still relied on in Derbyshire to transport goods -- slowly and laboriously. The time was ripe for a new form of effective transportation of heavy goods.
A solution to the transportation problem came when James Brindley from Derbyshire, who could not read or write properly, but had a brilliant brain. He astounded other engineers who laughed at as his ultimately successful proposal -- to find an economical way of transporting coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s estate at Worsley to Manchester.
He did this by building an aqueduct over the River Irwell. It stood on three great stone arches, 17 feet up, with a towpath alongside the canal for the horses to pull the boats the 900 yards to the other side of the river. Brindley’s inventions continued and his most celebrated enterprise was the Trent and Mersey Canal, known as the Grand Trunk. It connected canal systems throughout the country. After it opened Shardlow became an important inland port.
The coming of the railways in the mid 1800s brought a decline in Shardlow’s prosperity. No longer was the canal busy with long distance haulage. The warehouses were put to other uses and the area began to decay. A limited amount of canal trade continued until the 1950s, when the last delivery of grain was made. The growth of the leisure boat industry in recent years has once again returned Shardlow to its former vibrancy, with the splendid new marina and boat builders yard completed in 1975 always busy with boats.
Industrial buildings are now recognised as a fundamental part of our heritage and Derbyshire is fortunate to have such an important survivor of the Canal Age within its boundaries. The Clock Warehouse, combining a pub and restaurant, is a spectacular restoration from its original use as a transfer - place from river barges to canal boats. The canal lock and boats make the area full of interest.
For more information, when open, try the Heritage Centre, situated in what was a farrier’s shop. On the main A6, The Navigation Inn once served river traffic. Broughton House belonged to one of the rich merchant’s, John Sutton, although he never lived there. It is said that he had it built to spoil the view of his business rivals, the Soresby family, who lived at The Lady in Grey, formerly known as The Lodge.
An attractive feature along the canal bank, are the restored iron mileposts that mark every mile to Preston Brook near Runcorn, the northern end of the canal. The New Inn and The Malt Shovel, once the house of the manager of the attached malt warehouse, are popular canal side pubs. By the village green is a row of interesting old canal workers’ cottages.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Shardlow Heritage Centre (Tel. 01332 793368/792334) housed in the old Salt Warehouse, the centre features displays of canal and village life of this historic inland port. Telephone for more information.
Elvaston Castle Country Park (Tel. 01332 571342) the first Country Park to be opened in Britain. Set in 200 acres of parkland with an ornamental lake, extensive gardens, stony grottoes, rock archways and many other interesting features. Open daily.
The Donington Grand Prix Collection (Tel. 01332 811027) the world’s largest collection of Grand Prix racing cars. Exhibits from 1900 to the present day detailing the history of motor racing. Open daily.
The Malt Shovel (Tel. 01332 799763) this cosy little pub with its open fire and old world atmosphere is open all day. Meals are served every day at lunchtime except for Sundays. Seating is available outside overlooking the canal.
Canal Bank Tearooms (Tel. 01332 799115) situated on the ground floor of the Old Salt Warehouse by the canal towpath. Light refreshments are served throughout the year on Saturdays and Sundays only. Please telephone for details.
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Shardlow may not have the hills and splendid views to be found in other parts of Derbyshire, but for anyone interested in heritage and who enjoys walking by water it should not be missed.
In summer and at the weekends the canal is alive with brightly painted long boats, moored beside the towpath or moving quietly along the canal.
Shardlow Marina is a colourful sight with boats of all sorts and sizes waiting to be sold. The walk concludes with a fascinating tour of this famous old canal port.
For more information on this lovely walk click the link the link below.
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