Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Middleton Top Engine House and The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway

The Cromford & High Peak Railway was built in 1831 / 2 to connect the canal basin at Whaley Bridge on the Peak Foest Canal with Cromford Basin on the Cromford Canal. Its route is over the high Peak District of Derbyshire so quite a bit of climbing and descending is required. It was originally proposed as a canal, but difficulty in finding water sources for the High Peak section several hundred feet above sea level, meant it was instead built as a railway.

Nonethless as was common with early railways it was built in the manner of a canal, with long level stretches of line equating to the 'pounds' of a canal with wagons originally horse-drawn, linked by inclined planes equating to flights of locks. Almost all of these inclined planes used stationary steam engines hauling the wagons up the incline originally using chains. When wire ropes became reliable and of sufficient strength they were used in place of chains. The first incline from Cromford was at Middleton, and its engine and engine house still exist.

Malc and I decided to ride over to Middleton on our 650cc single cyclinder Suzuki Freewind motorcycles to take a look, and then to move on a mile or so into the valley to see the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The bikes at the engine house, after a ride up the Cat & Fiddle, then through Harpur Hill and Newhaven 

Middleton Top Engine House. The trackbed of the C&HPR is now a cycleway, the High Peak Trail, which can be seen to the right of the railway wagon. The external iron support frame on the chimney has been added to help support the structure as it ages.

The gradient indicator board shows the one-in-eight-and-a-quarter gradient of the inclined plane 

The view down the inclined plane from the engine house 

This device, now relocated to the top of the incline, used to be at the bottom and was the communication 'telegraph' device between the bottom of the incline and the engine house at the top. 'G' was for 'Go', 'S' was for 'stop', and 'B' was presumably 'back'
Inside the engine house. Twin 20hp double acting condensing beam engines built by the Butterley company, drove the single central flywheel visible in the picture. This was geared to the winding drum around which the wire rope was fed to haul wagons up the incline, at least partially balanced by descending wagons although for a period the incline was single track so this wasn't possible. 

The two beams of the engines can be seen, together with the single central flywheel. Malc chats to the guide. 

Looking down from the gallery at the rotatative end of one of the beams, showing the connecting rod and crank driving the flywheel. Note the communication 'telegraph' on the wall similar to one outside to communicate with the men at the bottom of the incline.

Two Cornish boilers replaced the originals in 1868. They were installed by the London & North Western railway (by then the C&HPR owners) and were doubtless built at Crewe using plate of their own manufacture. The boilers are long past any use, but the engine is occasionally run these days using compressed air rather than steam.

The bikes outside the boilerhouse. The building over the stoking area is long gone, leaving the boiler faces exposed to the weather.

Some original C&HP rail, with stone block 'sleepers'

We moved a couple of miles down the road to the Ecclesbourne Valley railway, eight miles long, between Wirksworth and Duffield where there is an acoss-platform connection with the main line

It's an interesting railway, but unfortunately it almost exclusively runs diesel passenger trains, mostly DMUs like these two

Malc tries the drivers cab for size. Bit simpler than the Boeing 747s he used to drive!

On the far side of Wirksworth station a line heads off up the hill in the opposite direction to line to Duffield. This is, we were told, occasionally used by the line's 0-4-0 steam shunting locos to take trains up to the old stone quarry.

A super ride home through the Peak via Newhaven, Pilsbury, Crowdecote, Longnor, Gradbach and Bosley saw us at the Bird in Hand at Knolls Green, a couple of miles from home, for a post-ride out pint. Sam Smiths bitter at £1.80.... excellent beer, excellent price!



  1. This is really interesting, You're a very skilled blogger. I've joined your rss feed and look
    forward to seeking more of your magnificent post. Also, I have shared
    your site in my social networks!

    My page; how to grow taller

  2. Thank you for the kind comments. The stats tell me the blog gets widely read so I'm not wasting my time producing it, but it's good to know from feedback like this that folk are not just reading it, but enjoying reading it. Makes it worthwhile!