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Peak Forest Canal
Bugsworth Basin in Buxworth, Derbyshire, to Portland Basin, Ashton Canal, Manchester, UK
associated engineer
Benjamin Outram
date  1795 - November 1805
era  Georgian  |  category  Canal/Navigation works  |  reference  SK019820
ICE reference number  HEW 1800
The Peak Forest Canal is a narrow waterway that runs north west from Bugsworth Basin in Derbyshire the terminus of the Peak Forest Tramway to the Portland Basin on the Ashton Canal in Greater Manchester. There is also a short branch to Whaley Bridge, once the terminus of the Cromford & High Peak Railway. The main canal consists of two long level stretches linked by a flight of locks at Marple.
Although work began on the construction of the lower, or northerly, stretch first, this was the last to be completed (1800). The upper stretch, from Bugsworth Basin to Marple opened on 31st August 1796. However, the flight of 16 locks at Marple that were to connect the two stretches was not to be completed until 1805. The nearby Marple Aqueduct that carries the canal over the River Goyt, was completed at the end of 1799.
The whole of the Peak Forest Canal is some 24km long, plus the 800m of the Whaley Bridge branch. It was constructed for the transport of limestone from quarries in the Peak District. There is a well-preserved canal/tramway interchange at Bugsworth where the gravity-operated tramway ran between the canal and the quarries. The tramway also opened on 31st August 1796. There were originally three short tunnels along the canal's length. One was subsequently made into a cutting.
The lower or northerly stretch (pound) is 11.1km long and 94.2m above sea level. It is carried over the River Goyt by the Marple Aqueduct, just before the locks at Marple. The upper stretch is 157.9m above sea level and is half-way up the sides of the valleys on its route. It is the second highest canal pound in Britain. The maximum dimensions of narrow boats that can use the canal are 21.3m long, 2.1m wide and 900mm in draft.
The whole canal opened to traffic before the Marple Locks were completed (Locks 13-16 on 13th October 1804 and Locks 1-12 in November 1805), so the two pounds were connected by a temporary railway (1798-1807). Cargo was transhipped between barges and wagons in iron containers.
Traffic along the canal increased with the opening of two new travel routes in 1831. The Macclesfield Canal linked the top of the Marple Locks to the Trent & Mersey Canal. The Cromford & High Peak Railway ran between Whaley Bridge and the Cromford Canal. The railway was originally horse drawn.
However, trade on the canals declined with the coming of steam-powered trains and the railway network. The quarry tramway closed in 1925 and by 1962 the canal had become difficult to navigate through lack of maintenance.
The lower section and Marple Locks were restored by the Peak Forest Canal Society and re-opened on 13th May 1974. Bugsworth Basin opened again briefly in 1999 but closed for further repairs after leakage continued. It re-opened in 2005.
The lower pound now forms part of the Cheshire Ring circle of canals for leisure use. The village of Bugsworth was renamed Buxworth in the Victorian era.
Surveyor and resident engineer: Thomas Brown
"A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Greater Manchester"
by Robina McNeil and Michael Nevell
Association for Industrial Archaeology, 2000
Research: PD

Peak Forest Canal