You are exploring part of the Butterley Gangroad, first built in 1793 to link local quarries with the Cromford Canal. It was one of the first railways in the East Midlands, and maybe the world, where a steam locomotive operated successfully.
The Drying Ground provides a vantage point to see the well-preserved stretch of the stone embankment of the Butterley Gangroad dating back to the 1850s. The gangroad was built in 1793 to transport limestone from Crich to the Amber Wharf on the Cromford Canal at Bullbridge. Here the limestone was either burnt in the lime kilns or was loaded onto barges for onward transportation to the Butterley works at Ripley. The stone embankment seen today was constructed in the 1850s when the gangroad was re-aligned to remove most of the curves on the original route. The east side of the walled embankment was raised at some point with 70 of the original stone sleeper blocks on which the original platerails were laid.
The 1790s saw a rapid expansion in industrial investment across the East Midlands. The Cromford Canal was built, linking the Derwent Valley with industrial centres in the east, and enabling Benjamin Outram to develop iron making plant at Butterley. Iron making requires iron ore, coal/coke and limestone, which Outram began sourcing from the Warner Quarry (originally a mine in 1793) south-east of Crich. He built the Butterley Gangroad, a one-mile plateway (railway) to link the quarry to the canal at Bullbridge.
As built the plateway ran downhill from the mine on a sharply curving but relatively evenly graded route with an average gradient of 1 in 30 (3%). It followed a stream, crossed Dimple Lane at the Hat Factory and then ran down the west side of the valley towards Fritchley village. Here it passed under a road junction by means of a short tunnel about 90 feet long. From Fritchley the line continued down the valley to Amber Wharf at Bullbridge entering the site over a bridge that crossed an old pack horse route.
The modernisation of the line from a plateway to a conventional narrow gauge railway was commenced in the 1840s by re-aligning the route to eliminate the curves of the original route and thereby reduce wheel wear and derailment risks. By 1849 the re-alignment was in use from the Hat Factory down to Fairfield Farm but the old alignment remained in use south of there through Fritchley tunnel. The re-alignment continued into the 1850s by means of the lengthy embankment from the farm to the north portal of the tunnel at Fritchley. The embankment was stone lined throughout and dry-stone walls were provided on either side of the embankment, indicating that the railway was intended for horse traction.
The Butterley Gangroad project was led by the Derbyshire Archaeological Society and was funded by a Heritage Lottery grant and all the above information and photographs has been provided with the permission of the Society.
Further information can be found at www.butterleygangroadproject.co.uk.