Ken Brockway, Footpath Inspector
This article is from Signpost 60, Summer 2019
We are today familiar with free access to walk and often cycle along canal towpaths. British Waterways Board and now Canal and River Trust actively encourage this use but it wasn't too long ago that I held a licence granting permission to cycle the towpaths and I well remember boating through Birmingham feeling very isolated unable to gain access to streets from the numerous bridges.
A book by Hugh Potter The Cromford Canal reminded me of this significant change of attitude. One picture shows two signs, one plainly reads "No Public Right of Way". The other more wordy threatens prosecution to anyone riding or wheeling any bicycle without consent. Another picture offers a sign from the BWB era, it reads "All persons found trespassing on foot or horseback on the banks of the Cromford Canal or leaving horses or cattle to graze thereon or fishing in the canal will be prosecuted under the acts of parliament regulating the said canal ... By Order."
With so much of the Cromford canal destroyed by opencast mining we are, to my mind, incredibly fortunate that the old course is preserved by the inclusion of the towpath as a public footpath. The question is, with so much past effort made to prevent access how did the towpath end up becoming public?
The parish claims for the Definitive Map offer a clue. C.L Soar of 17, Leabrooks Road Somercotes surveyed paths at Pinxton and Pye Bridge. One he describes as starting near the basin (Pinxton), round the basin, through a stile and on to canal side, it continues through to Crimea Cottages. Another is from Crimea Cottages to Main Road, Pye Bridge he states, the path comes alongside the canal. Opposite the Acid Works is a FG (field gate), path then goes another 50 yards and crosses canal at a bridge (canal emptied of water, bridge out of use, path now crosses canal which has been filled up solid at this point). From this point the road is tarmac under Railway Bridge. Road maintained by Midland Acid Co. Ltd. This survey was made in February 1952.
These are the only paths along the canal and most of this is on the none towpath side so it's safe to say that in the Alfreton Urban District which covered Ironville, Riddings and Somercotes they did not claim as footpaths the towpath that is today recorded. It must have been a later addition.
We may never know who carried out the Ripley survey on 13 September 1952. Despite the form demanding the full name and address of persons who carried out the survey, we have only an illegibly scrawled initial. Who ever it was, we should congratulate them because path no 81 reads Cromford Canal Towpath. Start point Hammersmith (Tunnel End) finish point U.D. Boundary Ambergate. All roads and footpaths along it's route have access to it with the exception of Hartshay Hill near the Gate Inn.
The form also asks for grounds for believing path to be public. Here our anonymous supporter adds - There is some doubt as to whether this is a public right of road although the public have used the towpath for as long as can be remembered. The path condition is said to be good and passable in all seasons.
Thos B Thorpe (Senior and Junior) of Leashaw Garage, Holloway together with Thos Walker of Leashaw Holloway and Walter G. Cooper of Chapel Lane Holloway carried out the survey for Dethick, Lea and Holloway parish. Many of the claimed paths link with the canal including the one that passes over Gregory tunnel. Their real claim to fame however is path 40 which became FP39 as it is today, this is described as, canal towpath from Leashaw Farm at parish boundary, through Gregory tunnel, over footbridge near aqueduct cottage to canal terminus at Lea Wood Wharf. They claimed uninterrupted public use of fifty years stating the general condition was good and it was passable in all seasons. The survey was carried out between August 1950 and February 1951.
After the parish had returned the forms to the County Council they would have been inspected, most maps and forms have amendments. There was also a final tribunal stage but we have no records of this for Derbyshire. We should be grateful to the men of Holloway and A.N.Other of Ripley for at the very least setting a ball rolling that resulted in the whole towpath being recorded as public footpath.
Footnote: Leashaw Garage at Holloway is now operated by Norman Thorpe Limited. Mr Thorpe is the great grandson of Thomas.
Photographs reproduced with kind permission of Friends of Cromford Canal Archives. The sign 'No Public Right of Way' is from the period 1948 to 1962 so covers the same period when the path was added to the Definitive Map.
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