The canal company had many troubles. The canal opened from Ashby Woulds as far as Market Bosworth in March 1798, but by this time, the company was concerned because the coal proprietors, including Lord Moira, Colonel Hastings and Wilkes of Measham, had not yet opened their new collieries. They were urged to hurry up and prospect for more coal, otherwise it looked as if the canal would not have very much to carry for some time to come. It was at this point that the canal company finally decided to build tramroads to Ticknall and Cloud Hill instead of canals and sought the advice of Benjamin Outram of the Butterley Ironworks. Outram recommended tramroads from Ticknall and Breedon, which were to meet at a point known as Ashby Old Parks and then run slightly downhill through the town of Ashby to the canal at Willesley. The cost of these, including a short branch at Ashby, was likely to be about £30,000, and if the rates it was proposed to charge on the canal also applied to the tramroads, the traders were likely to save about one shilling per ton. Outram suggested that the tramroads should be single lines and early in 1799, he was told to begin work by marking out the course of the lines.
Perhaps it is worth mentioning that some writers have stated that these were called tramroads because they took their name from Outram. In fact, this is a coincidence and the word ‘tram’ comes from an old Scandinavian word meaning a beam of wood, which was the earliest form of rail. The tramroad was, in fact, to be laid with cast iron rails, each one yard in length, and they were to rest on stone blocks, each one weighing about three-quarters of a hundredweight and each to be firmly embedded. It was recommended that the gauge, that is the distance between the rails, should be 4 ft. 2 ins. This is rather less than the gauge subsequently used in making what became main line railways but we are, of course, speaking of a time 25 years before George Stephenson built the Stockton Darlington Railway – which goes to show what a remarkable piece of work these early tramroads were and why Ticknall should be widely known for its place in transport history.
It would take quite a long time to go into all the difficulties Outram had to face, particularly as money was short and payments to him by the company were heavily in arrears. In 1801 he had to threaten to stop work if he was not paid and delays were enough to prevent the tramroad opening on 1st. May 1802, which had been promised. So transport by road was begun and the contractors were paid 12 shillings per boatload of lime and allowed to use the tramroad as far as it had been completed, with three horses drawing two wagons. It is not recorded when, exactly, the tramroads were brought into use, but it was evidently before October 1802, and presumably the arch carrying the tramroad across the road at Ticknall dates from that time. The fact that the Ashby Canal Company was responsible for it explains why it has the appearance of a canal bridge rather than a modern railway bridge.
In March 1803, the canal company brought in two engineers to make an inspection of the line and they were most critical in their report, which did not reflect much credit on Outram, even after allowing for the hand-to-mouth conditions under which he had worked, owing to lack of funds. The track was sometimes out of gauge -rather too wide or too narrow. The cuttings and archway where it passed under Sir Henry Harpur’s drive were said to be incomplete and to require additional walling. They recommended closing the tramroad for a month to remedy the defects.
The repairs were carried out and the company engaged Christopher Staveley, a surveyor from Leicester, to examine them. From the reports on the line, it is possible to say exactly how much of it there was,
From the Canal at Willesley to Ashby Old Parks, nearly 4 miles, double track
Old Parks to Cloud Hill, over 4 miles, single track
Old Parks to Ticknall, ditto
Branch at Ticknall to Burdett’s, 3/8 mile
Branch to Marget’s Close, 1/4 mile
Length of passing loops on single lines, 1/4 mile
so that the whole route mileage amounted to rather more than 12 3/4 miles and the distance from Ticknall to the canal at Willesley was nearly 8 miles. At Ashby Old Parks, where the lines from Ticknall and Cloud Hill came together, there was a tunnel slightly over a quarter of a mile long which pierced a ridge to the east of Ashby and there were two shorter tunnels approaching Ticknall – the first about 50 yards long and the second, under the drive in Calke Park, 138 yards long. This second tunnel is only just below the ground level of the drive and has ventilators. Presumably, its purpose was to preserve the amenities of the estate. Beyond this tunnel, the line divides the main section across the Arch to the quarries beyond and the other running downhill for about 300 yards to other quarries and to the lime kilns.