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 Butterley Gangroad was constructed in 1793 as a plateway and was built to a gauge of 3ft 6in (1067mm) between the backs of the upright rail flanges. Each rail was 3ft (914mm) long and fastened down to each stone block by means of an iron spike set into an oak plug. The rails had circular cut outs at each end so one spike held down the ends of two rails. Although this arrangement was prone to failure the Butterley Gangroad continued to use the earliest fixing method on its “main line” until it ceased to be a plateway. The original plateway did not use ballast and the stone sleeper blocks were laid directly onto the stony natural surface.
Around 1850 the gangroad was converted from a plateway to a conventional narrow gauge railway and the route from Crich to Bullbridge was re-aligned to remove the curves of the old route to reduce wheel wear and derailment risks. Conventional rails were used on the re-aligned line and the gauge was 3ft 10½in (1181mm) measured in the normal way i.e. between the rails. This allowed wagons with flanged wheels to run both on this new track and on the old plateway, in the latter case by running on the tips of their flanges (see below).
The display shown in the photograph below is sited on the “Drying Ground” at Fritchley adjacent to the south end of the Fritchley embankment. The static display shows how a wagon fitted with flanged wheels could have operated on both types of rail with different “gauges” during the transition from a plateway to a conventional narrow gauge railway. Also located in this area is an interpretation board providing additional information on the gangroad.
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.