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.
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. In 1968 the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association was formed in response to a threat by the British Waterways Board to close the canal. In just five years following the formation the ECP&DA not only saved the canal but also restored Langley Bridge lock and the Great Northern basin and swing bridge. This was celebrated by an opening ceremony and their first boat rally at Langley Mill in 1973. In 1983 the Erewash canal was upgraded to Cruising Waterway Standard by British Waterways.
Since then ECP&DA members have been and still are involved in restoration work on many canals all over the country.
Restoration has continued at Langley Mill and projects include:
- The Victorian pump house - built in 1894, buildings and pumps restored
- The Nottingham Canal tollhouse - built in 1795 to collect tolls, used in 2008 as control centre for ECP&DA 40th anniversary rally
- The Cromford Canal extension - on-going work beyond the boundary of Langley Mill Boat Co.
- The Nottingham Canal Swing Bridge - built 1790s now carries traffic over entrance to Great Northern Basin
Awards that recognise the work of the ECP&DA Volunteers
In October 2008 the ECP&DA received an award from British Waterways for ongoing promotion and restoration work on the Erewash canal.
In June 2019 the ECP&DA received the Queen's Award for Voluntary Services - the MBE for volunteer groups.