Cromford Canal towpath is a well-trodden route for visitors to our area. High Peak Junction and Cromford Wharf are regular destinations, but a less well-known spot is set to become an increasingly popular attraction. Aqueduct Cottage, situated a short walk from High Peak Junction in the direction of Whatstandwell, is to be restored and developed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as part of the DerwentWISE projects, working with the Derbyshire Historic Building Trust, among others
The cottage is said to be one of the most photographed buildings on the Cromford Canal. Exploring images, both past and present, it’s not hard to see why. A passage in Alison Uttley’s Our Village goes some way to capturing the magic of the place: ‘We passed the canal cottage, a Hans Anderson dwelling, whose little walls were reflected in the water, whose garden ran parallel to the canal. A small swing-bridge crossed the canal at this point, where the waters divided part of the stream going to the lead wharf in the village. The cottage was the dividing place between work and play, between fairy tale and reality, and we were bound for fairy tale.’
This is a house of many names. It’s been known as Lengthmans and Lock-keepers, Wigwell and Wayfarers. Formally as Aqueduct, colloquially as Ackerdock and simply as Lea Wood Cottage. And it has lived many lives – from a true rural idyll of times gone by to a shell of its former self angled in thick vegetation and nestled in self-seeded trees via a wayfarer’s rest for walkers. This cottage has been many things to many people. It’s the stories of those people that really breathe life into the place.
This is a house of many names and it has been many things to many people. It is the stories of those people that really breathe life into the place.
The inhabitants have been a long line of colourful characters. Ann Eaton, a late-19th century matriarch of the cottage, was a friend of Florence Nightingale. Although unqualified, she shared Nightingale’s nursing instinct, being called on to attend to the sick and those in childbirth in nearby villages. Her granddaughter, Ivy Tuberville, is featured in one of the most idyllic ‘chocolate box’ images of the cottage, as a child in the 1920s.
In a 2001 interview, Ivy provides us with rich detail about her life, and those of others, at the cottage during the 20th century. Fay Bark’s beautiful hand-drawn diagrams of the cottage and gardens in the 1950s also give fascinating insights into how things were. The last resident of the cottage was Mr Bowmer, who lived there until 1970. The cottage remained determinedly off-grid and fetching pails of water from High Peak Junction in his old age must have been backbreaking work.
The most recent character in the story of Aqueduct Cottage is Ron Common, heritage volunteer for the DerwentWISE team of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Ron’s passion and enthusiasm for the place is infectious. It both reflects and feeds the love of this building, which is apparent when visiting the Friends of Aqueduct Cottage Facebook group. Ron’s drive and determination to see this project come to fruition has been instrumental in moving things forward to the stage it has reached at the time of writing: the brink of restoration!
The aim is to restore the cottage to its original 1800s specifications. The downstairs is to operate as a visitor centre, providing fascinating information about the history of the building and an introduction to Lea Woods and the nature reserve that opens up beyond the cottage. Sympathetic, limited signage will be displayed outside the building and there are ambitious ideas for generating off-grid energy to support the needs of the centre. Ideally, this would be by using a micro-hydro generator, as a nod to the history of the locality. Plan B is for ‘solar tiles’ situated on an outbuilding. Plans for the work were submitted to Amber Valley Borough Council in March and a crowd-funding ‘buy a brick’ scheme launched soon after. It is hoped the lime mortaring of stonework will be undertaken before the autumn of 2019, with May 2020 being the target completion date.
Whether the path to new life runs smoothly remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the 200+ year history of this once-hidden gem is far from over. It will be capturing the hearts and imaginations of those who are lucky enough to encounter it for many years to come.