All Things Local April 2017 : A Thirsty Giant

From the founding of the Butterley Company in 1790, ironstone, coal and limestone were regarded as the ‘food’ of the iron smelting process. Water however was certainly its ‘life blood’ as without it nothing could function. Much of the water came from the Cromford Canal which opened in 1793. The canal’s water was partly supplied by three strategically placed reservoirs on the canal’s summit at Butterley, Butterley Park (Golden Valley) and Codnor Park. The Butterley Park reservoir was drained in the 1930’s but the other two still exist today.

A 1936 photo of the works showing the fishpond and empty dam.

Butterley Works mainly took its water from Butterley reservoir, pumped up to the ‘fish pond’ situated near the northern end of Carr Wood. After closure of the blast furnace engine houses early in the 1900’s, much water was still required for other steam engines and for the bank of six huge boilers installed in 1911 supplying steam to the electricity  generators when the Works were first electrified. In later years, the fish pond supplied cooling water to the air compressors, running back via culverts into the reservoir.

Until rail transport began to develop in the 1840’s, the Company depended upon the Cromford Canal for movement of raw materials and finished products as well as its main source of water. However, Codnor Park Forge was equally if not more dependent upon the canal than the Butterley Works for its water supply for a very much longer period of time, approximately 155 years from 1810 up to the Forge’s closure in 1965.

Whilst the canal was in operation and water flowed along its complete length with the boat traffic, the situation was acceptable. When through traffic finished after the tunnel completely collapsed in 1904, the canal owners had the obligation to supply water to Codnor Park and so work had to be undertaken to install pipes through the blocked sections to maintain the west to east flow through the tunnel primarily supplied from Butterley reservoir.

Prior to this, in 1897, with tunnel’s structural problems increasing, the situation became of concern to the Butterley Directors and on June 30th Fitzherbert Wright sent a letter to the Forge Manager, Mr Joseph Cook enquiring how much water was used.  His reply indicated a usage of 6,541,681 gallons (or 294,375,645 litres) annually, indicating the size of Codnor Park’s operations and their total dependence upon water. The situation must have further deteriorated by 1907 when another report was issued about the water usage for the whole of the Codnor Park Works including the brick works and wagon shops amounting to 11,434 gallons per hour !

The demand for water declined in the early 20th century as steam driven machinery became obsolete and the use of electricity quickly developed. Demand dropped dramatically with the closure of the Forge in 1965, the Wagon Works in 1975, the Foundry in 1986 and the final closure of the Works in 2009. The days of the ‘thirsty giant’ were forever over.