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Also known as the Derby & Sandiacre Canal, both descriptions are the same.
The Derby Canal ran 14 miles (23 km) from the Trent and Mersey Canal at Swarkestone to Derby and Little Eaton, and to the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre, Derbyshire, England.
The canal gained its Act of Parliament in 1793 and was fully completed in 1796.
The canal's main cargo was coal.
Although the River Derwent had been used for transport from the Trent since ancient times, it was winding and shallow in many places, silting frequently. In 1790, George Sorocold had done much to improve it, but it was still unusable for long periods of flood or dry weather. Indeed the Trent itself was little better. In 1770, James Brindley had brought the Trent and Mersey Canal to the Trent near Shardlow. He had planned to link it to Derby, but was prevented by vested interests and the matter was not raised again until 1791. In 1792, Benjamin Outram was asked to prepare plans for a broad canal from Swarkestone to Smithy Houses, near Denby, with a branch at Derby to the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre, which he estimated would cost £60,000. The costs of the length from Derby to Denby would account for a third of this, and the plan included an aqueduct across the River Derwent at Derby. Initially Outram suggested a narrow canal as an alternative. William Jessop was asked to give his opinion and he suggested a tramway from Little Eaton to Denby. This, the Derby Canal Railway, but known locally, as the Little Eaton Gangway, was therefore one of the first to be publicly subscribed, and would save the construction of six locks. Outram also proposed to save some £4000 by dispensing with the aqueduct and, instead, building a weir to raise the river level to form a basin adjacent to the Morledge, with locks connecting it to each branch of the canal. A small aqueduct would still be needed to cross the mill race on the west side of the Holmes.
The Bill was passed by Parliament in 1793 by a narrow majority in the face of strong opposition from the Trent & Mersey and the Erewash Canal owners who had a scheme of their own. Work commenced with the Little Eaton branch and the gangway, followed by the Sandiacre line. This began with a small basin under what is now St. Alkmund's Way, proceeding eastwards following a line south of the Nottingham Road. A short branch from the basin led via a lock to the river above a weir at St. Michaels Bridge, which gave access to the Darley Abbey mills.
The Sandiacre line followed the course of the old Nottingham Road with two locks near Borrowash, through Draycott and Breaston, now the A6005, a distance of nine miles. The Little Eaton line branched northwards at the boundary of the racecourse, passing to the east of Chester Green, parallel to and east of the present day railway. These were completed in 1795, the first load of coal from Denby being distributed to the poor of Derby. Work then began on the crossing of the Derwent, followed by the line out to Swarkestone. From the small weir mentioned above a canal led through what is now Darwin Place to the Derwent Basin above the weir in the river which still exists behind the Council House, downstream of the Exeter Bridge. A timber causeway was built on trestles for use as the towpath. The weir also contained a culvert which transferred water between two branches, a distance of about a quarter of a mile. From the basin the canal fell into a lock before crossing the mill race (which still runs beside Bass's Recreation Gound) by way of the cast-iron aqueduct arriving at Gandy's Wharf roughly where the Cockpit island is now. It followed the line of the mill race before passing behind what became the Locomotive Works (now Pride Park), before turning sharply southwards towards Chellaston via the two Shelton locks. It joined the Trent and Mersey Canal at Swarkestone Bridge, a distance from Derby of five and a half miles. A short extension led on to the River Trent and all was complete by early 1796.
The Holmes Aqueduct proved to be extremely troublesome. Aqueducts up to that time had been made of stone, but several short arches would have been necessary, causing obstruction to the flow of the stream. The 44ft-long single span cast iron structure that Outram devised, and completed in 1796, was the first of its kind, it was completed earlier in the year 1796 than the structure by Thomas Telford at Longdon upon Tern on the Shrewsbury Canal.
In 1817 the link to the Trent and Mersey canal was closed due to its lack of financial success. The reason for this failure was that the Trent and Mersey canal had been charging tolls at extortionate rates on boats using the link. By the mid 19th century the canal was in trouble. Competition from the railways had resulted in several neighbouring canals being sold off which had in turn reduced the level of through traffic. However the canal company did continue. In 1908 the Little Eaton Branch closed. In 1964 the canal company gained permission to close the rest of the canal. Over the next three decades, areas of the canal were built on while others were allowed to decay.
The Holmes Aqueduct was demolished in 1971. The weir built across the river to form the Derwent Basin still exists behind the Council House, downstream of the Exeter Bridge, and the timber causeway on trestles, which was used as the towpath, remained until the mid-Twentieth Century. Although traces of the canal through Derby remained until well into the twentieth century (the ice factory on what is now the Cockpit island drew its water from the canal), it has all been covered by development, mostly the new inner ring road. The route of the Swarkestone branch can roughly be traced as far as Harvey Road through an area of the city still known as Shelton Lock. The Sandiacre line can be traced to Spondon. The Little Eaton line and the gangway have also disappeared, apart from the Wharf Building at Little Eaton, in the present day trading estate, and a couple of bridges.
In 1994 the Derby and Sandiacre Canal Society was set up. Restoration began in earnest the following year and is now well underway.