1776 saw an act passed authorising the construction of a navigation from the junction of the rivers Soar and Trent to Loughborough. This prompted a group of landowners and businessmen from Derbyshire to explore the possibilities of a canal linking the Derbyshire coalfields to the river Trent.
This proposed canal would then link Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to other Midlands counties and on to London. John Smith (formerly apprenticed to William Wyatt) surveyed the area from the river Trent to Langley Mill. The proposed canal would run through this area to a point opposite the river Soar.
This was to be the Erewash Canal and its junction with the Trent is now Trent lock
The canal obtained its act of parliament in 1777. John Varley (later sacked for miscalculating water levels) was appointed as engineer with John and James Pinkerton as the main contractors. The canal was completed in 1779. It is 11.75 miles long with a rise of around 110 feet and has 14 locks. It was a commercial success from the start, mainly transporting coal.
From Langley Mill (where it has a junction with the Cromford and Nottingham canals) to Long Eaton it runs roughly parallel to the river Erewash. It also passes through or nearby, Eastwood, Ilkeston, Awsworth, Cossall, Trowell, Stapleford and Sandiacre.
At Sandiacre is the junction with the Derby Canal which was finally closed after several years of decline in 1964.
The Erewash continued successfully transporting coal, quarry stone, bricks and metal goods until the railways began to take over around the mid 19th century. Through traffic via the Cromford and Nottingham canals had collapsed and the only significant operations remaining was in goods from Stanton iron works and coal.
In 1932 the canal was bought by the Grand Union, it was still a going concern and had a short revival transporting coal. During World War 2 it was used to carry bombshells from Stanton Iron Works and it was due to the iron works that the canal remained viable for so long. Nationalisation came in 1947, by then the loss of trade due to competition from other forms of transport was having a great effect and the last commercial narrowboat operation was in 1952.
In 1962 the British Transport Commission closed the top section of the canal, however it was kept in water to supply the lower half, the water being needed for Stanton Iron Works and it remained navigable. In 1963 control of the canal was transferred from the British Transport Commission to the British Waterways Board.
The Transport Minister's White paper entitled 'British Waterways: Recreation and Amenity' published in September 1967 defined the Erewash Canal as a Remainder waterway, potentially closing it to navigation.
Below are copies of some of the correspondence raised at that time including the following local newspaper article printed in the Long Eaton Advertiser on Friday 22 September 1967.
"The proposal made is a Government White Paper not to include most of the length of the Erewash canal in the list of waterways to be kept open has provoked strong comment from one Long Eaton canal user. Mr. D. J. Alsop. of 2. Sandown-road. Toton who is owner of the pleasure cruiser "Erewash Princess" which makes trips between Sandiacre and Long Eaton along the canal says that this will result in the formation of a "stagnant pool of water which inside a year will fill with rubbish, and weeds. "It will be no worse than a town tip". Mr Alsop uses the canal every week and be said that even now it gets full of old bicycles and scrap. Mr. Alsop said that in the stretch of canal between Dockholme dock and Long Eaton, especially behind the houses along Bennett Street, the results of this would be particularly bad and unhealthy for inhabitants. If approved. he adds, the closure will probably come into operation during the spring or early summer of next year. "We must act now to get anything done" said Mr. Alsop.
The canal has been used many years for boats travelling as far as Ilkeston, and although the stretch between Ilkeston and Langley Mill is officially unnavigable, smaller craft have been using it. If the canal is closed, it will be completely filled in at Tamworth-road, and other parts will be blocked by removing lock gates and replacing them with wooden planks, also reducing the water level."
Source British Newspaper Archives
Letter 1 - 27 October 1967
Letter 2 - page 1
Letter 2 - page 2