The Caldon Canal was built between Etruria and Froghall in 1776 at a cost of £23,560 and was intended to carry limestone from the quarries at Cauldon Low to Stoke on Trent. A tramway, included in the cost, was built from the quarries to the canal. In 1801 a branch was constructed to Leek and the canal extended from Froghall to Uttoxeter. At the same time Rudyard Lake was constructed. By the 1950s traffic had virtually ceased and in 1960 a closure notice was displayed at Etruria. Following representations to British Waterways Board the Caldon Canal was classed as a remainder waterway in 1968. This meant that British Waterways were not bound to maintain the canal to a navigable standard but it would not be closed. In 1968 an agreement was reached between Stafford County Council, Stoke on Trent City Council and British Waterways Board to restore the canal. Thus in 1974 the Caldon Canal was reopened at a cost of £100,000.
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Perfect for a canal barge holiday the Caldon Canal is widely seen as one of them most interesting waterways in the country. It is very much a canal of contrasts, beginning in the centre of the Potteries but also passing through remote countryside on the summit level and the Churnet Valley.
This now idyllic waterway begins at Marston Junction and drifts gently through countryside barely touching a village – never mind Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the town after which the canal is named. Hedgerows and reeds give an unmistakable feeling of timelessness and provide ideal habitats for the many species of wildlife.
In the latter half of the 18th Century, there was an increasing need for a transport infrastructure to facilitate the exploitation of the coal reserves at Ashby Wolds plus the lime from the quarries north of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. However, it was not until 1794 that Robert Whitworth and William Jessop proposed a new canal to join the Coventry Canal near Nuneaton.
Parliament confirmed the application that same year though Jessop withdrew and Whitworth carried on together with his son. However, it became clear within a short time that the project was way under-budgeted. Coupled with shareholders not fulfilling pledges and a national financial
crisis, construction work was all but halted.
In 1798, the engineer Thomas Newton took over from Whitworth and after further delays, regular financial crises and a sense that the project may never be completed, the new canal finally opened in 1804. However, in keeping with its turbulent genesis, it took many years before the company turned a profit and no dividend was paid until 1828. In 1846 it was bought and taken over by the Midland Railway company. The railway firm paid a mere £110,000, this representing a considerable loss for the original owners who had paid £184,000 in construction costs alone.
Despite the low price paid, the new railway owners failed to invest sufficient funds into the canal to maintain it properly. Perhaps understandably, they preferred to see traffic being carried on the railway. Therefore, the condition of the canal gradually deteriorated. In 1918, a major breach caused by mining subsidence led to the last few miles of the canal near Ashby to be completely abandoned. In fact, the canal was nearly closed completely though survived only as a result of the strategic importance of the coal supplies during the Great War. Then, in 1944, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) which by then owned the canal, took the decision to close down several more miles of the Ashby at its northern end. Then mainly as result of mining subsidence, further closures followed in 1966.
Now that mining in the area has disappeared, there are plans being realised that will see the re-opening of the canal right up to the National Forest visitor centre at Moira. This is only about one mile short of the canal’s original terminus at Spring Cottage. Between 1999 and 2005, a stretch of the canal near Moira was restored and re-filled with water. The waterway now passes the historic Moira Furnace. This is a 19th Century blast furnace that has been converted to provide visitor facilities that include a museum, craft centre and cafe. The restored stretch is some 1.5 miles long, and includes a new lock built to overcome the problems caused by mining subsidence. Beyond the currently restored section, the way forward has been blocked by the A42’s construction, a main road built across the canal's formation. In October 2005, the local authority, Leicestershire County Council, obtained a Transport and Works Order to enable the purchase of the land and the construction of a further 2.5 miles of canal from Snarestone to Measham. Initially, this section will follow the original route though will diverge near Measham cleverly and somewhat ironically using the track of a redundant railway. The canal will then pass through Measham Station and cross the High Street via an aqueduct. It now seems only a matter of time until complete restoration will become a reality.
The British Parliament introduced in 1992 the Transport and Works Act Order. This was created as a method to simplify the legal processes for expanding and developing railway and canal projects.. Although a number of railway projects had previously been facilitated using this legislation, the Ashby Canal Order obtained by Leicestershire County Council was the first time that construction of a canal or section of canal had been advanced in this way... Purchase of the land between Snarestone and Measham is completed .The first 100 yards of the in-filled section began on 26th February 2009, underpinned by a grant from the East Midlands Development Agency. The £0.5 million project involved the provision of stop gates, a new slipway, an improved winding hole and a wetland nature reserve, running parallel to the canal and connected to it. Planning a canal barge holiday in and around Ashby? Click here to check for barge availability