Our Village's Own Railway


Coal mining at Furness Clough had started in the 18th Century, although only on a very small scale. Even at the height of production this was a small mine; in 1928,  30 men were working underground..  Early ownership of the mine is not recorded although by the mid 19th Century both the mine and a local limekiln were owned by Mr Boothman of Bothams Hall.  By the 1860's Mr West was the owner followed by Levi and Elijah Hall.  Two seams of coal were mined known as the White Ash and the Red Ash. The former also contained large quantities of fireclay and in 1890 it was decided to exploit this by establishing the Furness Vale Brick and Tile Works.  ( The Ordnance Survey map of 1899 shows an earlier brickworks further along Buxton Road; opposite the track leading to Carr Farm).  Both the colliery and brickworks were purchased by Richard Knowles in 1905.  From that time, coal was usually produced only for firing the kilns, most of the output being clay.  The colliery suffered increasing problems with water and eventually the quality of the clay was diminishing. The mine finally closed in July 1963.

In common with most mines, Furness Clough was served by a narrow gauge railway; the flanged tubs being hauled  by pit pony.  The tramway at Furness was to a gauge of 19 inches and reached the surface at a gradient of 1 in 6.  The tracks continued through the clough towards the village and descended steeply alongside Williamson's greengrocer and chip shop in order to tunnel under Buxton Road. The line passed under the small building opposite and which is the present day "chippy".  A bridge carried the Buxton railway line over the tramway and adjoining footpath.  Immediately after the bridge a short spur branched sharply to the left to serve Knowles standard gauge private siding. Here finished products from the brickworks such as fire backs were loaded on to main line wagons.  At times fire clay was brought in, presumably to suppliment the output from the mine. The main route of the tramway continued just a short way further to the canal wharf.  Here it turned to the left to terminate alongside the water.  The dock was spanned by a small stone warehouse which by 1960 had become  derelict and roofless.  The building had at one time been occupied by Mr Fox, boatbuilder and painter of Whaley Bridge. Today a larger boatshed has replaced it and is still used for painting canal boats.

The tramway existed in Furness Clough for over 150 years.

John Farey (1766 - 1826) was a noted geologist and a prolific writer. His book "A general view of the agriculture and minerals of Derbyshire " was published in 1811.  Farey wrote about a railway branch which proceded under the turnpike road, 1 mile to Diglee Colliery.  There were tipplers on the canal wharf for loading carts as well as boats with coal .  There is also reference to Jow-hole old furnace being near to the start of the tramway.

The Peak Forest Canal opened in 1796 and the Turnpike in 1804.  It seems likely therefore, that the tramway was constructed between these dates.

In its later years the tramway was cable hauled. Rod Stevenson describes its working:  

 A hut near the brickworks office housed a ship's winch powered by electricity. This ran the cable which hauled the tramway wagons.

It was a continuous wire  haulage rope which ran on pulleys on the centre of the track and ran round a large pulley on the loading dock at the railway siding and returned on pulleys mounted on wooden carriers above the track back to the capstan. There were two rollers mounted on the tunnel wall which ran under the Buxton line to guide the cable round a sharp curve on to the loading dock. The wooden carriers also supported the electric cable which was the signalling system to either lower the trucks or raise them back up the incline. Hope this all makes sense, it was 70 years ago!! I suppose the nearest equivalent would be the Middleton Top incline on the Cromford and High Peak only in this case single track.


                                                Cable haulage at Middleton Top

 Jim Riddick gave this account in 2012 of his time working at the brickyard office in the 1940s:

 Each miner on going underground would be given a docket.  One of Jim's roles would be to check the dockets at the end of the shift to make sure that all of the men had returned to the surface.  The tramway linked the brickworks with Knowles siding which was on the eastern side of the railway between Furness Station and Carr Bridge. Four tramway trucks at a time, laden with bricks would be sent down the siding.  The cable stopped the trucks from running away down the gradient and would be used to haul them on their return journey. Jim would go down to the siding to fox the goods labels to the main line wagons.  Knowles brickworks generated its' own electricity and it was perhaps this that powered the cable drum. The houses in Charlesworth Avenue, built between the wars were the first houses in the village with electricity which was supplied from Knowles.

The precise date of removal of the tramway is not yet established although it appears to have been around about 1960.

The colliery was entered through an adit in Furness Clough which was enclosed by a stone building and nearby was  an earlier shaft.  The computer reconstruction below illustrates this.  From the mine entrance a path led up to the field below Heatherby on Diglee Road and this is where the ponies were grazed and stabled. Bungalows now stand on the site of this field.

There is very little evidence of the mine today.  The photograph below shows the site of the adit.

                   Above, the view from the brickworks looking towards the mine adit.

The brickworks in 2010 seen from the Clough. The tramway ran to the left of these buildings.

The rear of the Fish and Chip shop at 53 Buxton Road, photographed in 2010. The bricked up lower floor shows where the tramway ran beneath the building.

The route of the tramway viewed from Buxton Road in 2010. The wooden gantry spanned the tracks. The iron bracket beneath the beam carried the haulage cable.

This photograph, courtesy of Chris Simpson shows the canal wharf in 1907. The narrowboat is partly laden, perhaps with coal from Furness Clough. There are three tipplers alongside the boat to facilitate loading from the tramway wagons. The white heap is possibly limestone as there was a lime kiln at the brickyard site. The curved line in front of the limestone is probably the tramway track. 

Ordnance Survey maps below show the route of the tramway c1909.   The extension to the canal wharf was subsequently removed.

                                 Bridge 32, a photograph by Jack Hardman

In latter days at least, bridge 32 shared it's space between tramway and footpath.  There was a corrugated full height partition separating the two.  The footpath runs from the end of Old Road which is a short cul de sac. Before the building of the railway Old Road had continued downhill to join what is now Station Road.

 The London, North Western Railway's official track plan of Knowle's Siding (formerly Hall's).  The tramway is also shown. The map is dated 1918 but refers to a 1908 agreement with R. E. Knowles. The sidings were perhaps installed at some time between those dates.