Some Early Lines
Early Tramroads and Plateways.
In the same part of the country as the Cromford and High Peak Railway was another, even older, line built with much the same idea in mind: that of making a link over the High Peak hills from Manchester eastwards, in this cast to north Derbyshire and the Sheffield area. It was originally planned as a canal, and the first section of it was actually built as such. However, from Bugsworth, an important inland canal basin around the turn of the eighteenth century, the terrain was considered unsuitable for a canal and so the Peak Forest Tramway came into being, running in a south-easterly direction to the extensive lime quarries around Dove Holes. It was opened in 1799, and was one of the earliest through tramroads, or plateways, using cast iron rails, in the country. (The cast iron edge rail is thought to have been first introduced in 1789 at Loughborough.)
During its 128 years of existence it never employed any motive power other than horses. The general contour of the line was a gradually ascending one, with an inclined plane 512 yards long in the centre section. As the gradient was in favour of the descending loaded wagons this could be rope-worked, with a controlling brake drum at the top. The line, which was 6½ miles long, rose some 625 feet in all, with a summit 1,158 feet above sea level. It was last used in 1926 and the track lifted, but the course of the line can still be followed in places. The line was at one time leased to the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway, coming into that company’s full control in 1863 and passing in time to the Great Central and the LNER.
Another very early plateway, near Derby itself, was a line from Little Eaton to Kilburn and Denby, built in 1795 (the later Midland Railway Ripley branch followed more or less the same course) and in use until 1908. It was known as the Little Eaton Gangway.
A little further south is Ashby-de-la-Zouch where the Ashby Canal had thirty miles of lock-free waterway with twenty miles of connecting tramways radiating into the Leicester coalfields. The canal was sold in 1846 to the Midland Railway and some of the beds were subsequently used for railway construction. One of the branches was the Ticknall Tramroad, with the unusual gauge of 4ft 2 in, and after the Ashby to Melbourne line was opened it ran to Ticknall with a branch to Dinsdale Quarry, a distance of 4½ miles. The last trip was on 20 May, 1913.