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Company of Proprietors of the Peak Forest Canal


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Peak Forest Canal: certificate of share transfer 1824 and plan of Todds Brook Reservoir 1837.



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Administrative /​ Biographical history

Samuel Oldknow was the man behind the Peak Forest Canal. A cotton mill owner and eventually an investor and committeeman for the canal, he worked hard to see it become a reality. Many of the shareholders were also involved in the Ashton Canal, as the Peak Forest was originally going to be a branch of that canal, though they ended up as separate endeavours. When the Act passed in March 1794, it was for a canal and tramroad to serve the limestone quarries. The original plans were later altered so that the navigation terminated at Buxworth (then Bugsworth), about 2 ½ miles shorter than the Act allowed for. Benjamin Outram was engaged as the engineer until 1801, with Thomas Brown as resident engineer. The company was already concerned about its financial situation, having already suspended work in March 1797 through lack of money. Instead of building sixteen locks at Marple, in 1798 it accepted Benjamin Outram's suggestion for a tramroad to be constructed instead. The tramroad was 6 ½ miles long from Buxworth and was so heavily used by limestone traffic that in 1801 the track was doubled. The whole canal was opened in 1800, when the 100-feet high masonry aqueduct at Marple began to be used. The canal was 14 ¾ miles long with three tunnels: Rosehill, Woodley and Hyde Bank, 100 yards, 167 yards and 308 yards long respectively. A short, half-mile branch near Buxworth went to Whaley Bridge. Water was supplied by the Toddbrook and Coombs reservoirs. The sixteen Maple locks were, in fact, constructed. Thomas Brown was the engineer in charge. The locks opened in October 1804. This decision to build them was due to the inconvenience of transhipping and the congestion on the tracks. Within three years, the tramroad was disused. Many of the quarries in the surrounding area were on land owned or leased by the canal company, and they employed many of the labourers working the quarries. Traffic was heavy and was further increased in 1831 when the Macclesfield Canal and the Cromford and High Peak Railway were constructed. Dividends were good in the 1820s and increased throughout the 1830s. A packet boat service and summertime excursion trips were set up in the 1840s. The services ran for about forty years. Railway competition became a problem in the late 1830s. The Peak Forest was one of the first canal companies to respond and tried to organise other canal companies to put up a united resistance. It cuts it own tolls and wharfage costs and increased drawbacks, but by 1843 the company faced a lot of pressure from the railways. Toll reductions had indeed increased traffic, but also had the effect of reducing the dividend by a significant amount. After being approached in 1845, the company sold the canal in March the following year and it became part of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. The canal company itself was dissolved in 1883. It proved a profitable purchase. Tonnages carried actually rose in the 1850s, although price-cutting had reduced the revenue. In the early years of the twentieth century, it was in decline, although in much better state than many other canals. Subsidence was beginning to cause problems. In 1925 the Buxworth tramroad was abandoned, having carried no traffic for three years, which soon caused the upper canal to become disused. Most of the traffic on the lower part of the canal came from the Macclesfield and Ashton canals, but that was dwindling and finally ceased by 1960. The locks began to deteriorate and frost caused a breach in the aqueduct in 1962. The neglect did not last long, however, as in 1974 the Peak Forest Canal became part of the 'Cheshire Ring' popular with pleasure cruisers and is thus kept maintained and in navigable condition. For further information on the Peak Forest Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield and Gordon Biddle's 'The Canals of North West England Volume 2'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has therefore been arranged in chronological order.