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The Little Eaton Gangway, or, to give it its official title, the Derby Canal Railway, was a narrow gauge industrial wagonway serving the Derby Canalmarker at Little Eatonmarker in Derbyshiremarker.

The Derby Canal

In 1792, Benjamin Outram was asked to prepare plans for a broad canal from Swarkestonemarker to Smithy Houses, near Denbymarker, with a branch at Derby to the Erewash Canal at Sandiacremarker, which he estimated would cost £60,000. The use of a wagonway as an alternative was first proposed by William Jessop on 3 November 1792. The Derby Canal Act of 1793 authorized a rail connection between the Derby Canalmarker at Little Eatonmarker and the collieries to the north. The wagonway ran four miles (6 km) from the canal wharf to Smithy Houses and another mile further to Denby Hall Colliery. Further short branches served Salterwood North and Henmoor Collieries as well as the Denby Pottery.

The purpose of this long plateway was to carry coal from Kilburn and Denbymarker down to the canal at Little Eaton and general goods including stone, pottery and "clogs of wood".


Outram's original plan was for a conventional waggonway with wooden sleepers and oak rails reinforced with cast iron plates. Accordingly, an advertisement appeared in the Lincoln & Stamford Mercury for 16 August 1793 for oak sleepers long squared at each end for a length of .

However by the time the railway was approved, Outram had decided to use the flanged rails with which his name has become associated. In this he may have been influenced by Jessop, whose father had worked for Thomas Telford on the construction of the Eddystone Lighthousemarker, also by Joseph Butler of Wingerworthmarker near Chesterfieldmarker, who had constructed a similar line in 1788. Butler is believed to have been the first to do so, and supplied the rails, rather than Outram's own works. Both Outram and Jessop preferred stone blocks to sleepers. These were drilled with a six inch (150 mm) hole into which an oak plug was fitted. The rails, approximately three feet long and of L-shaped cross-section, were attached by means of spikes. The line was originally gauge, being increased later to at an unknown date.

The waggons, built at Outram's Butterley works consisted of containers mounted loosely on a chassis, or tram, with four cast iron wheels. The container would be lifted off at Little Eaton and loaded complete into narrowboats or transferred to two-wheeled carts for carriage by road. The canal line from Little Eaton led to Gandy's Wharf in Derby for onward distribution through the canal network or by road. Probably the first instance of containerisation in the world.

The gangway and the Little Eaton line of the canal opened in 1795, the first load of coal from Denby being distributed to the poor of Derby.


Replica Wagon at the Midland Railway Trust
When the Midland Railway built its branch line to Ripleymarker in 1856, it lost most of its trade, finally closing in 1908.

The trackbed was used for a new road, the A61, bypassing the old road through Coxbenchmarker. This, in turn, was superseded at the end of the twentieth century by the A38 trunk road, demoting it to the B6179. Thus there are three generations of highway side-by-side, plus the remains of the railway.

The only remaining trace is the Wharf building seen in the photo above, the easternmost arch of Jack O' Darley bridge, and another two arch bridge over the Bottle Brook, with a few of the sleeper stones that have been used in nearby walls. A wagon from this period of the gangway's history was preserved in the National Mining Museum at Lound Hall and is now in the National Railway Museummarker.

A replica Little Eaton Gangway wagon is on display at the Midland Railway Trust near Ripley.


  1. NRM | Collections | Carriages and Wagons

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