Ticknall Tramway

With the railway complete and in reasonable order, arrangements for its use were tightened up. The working of traffic was prohibited between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise. In 1806 the transit of any wagon weighing more than two tons was prohibited, and in 1808 the speed was restricted to walking pace.

The Ashby Canal continued beyond Willesley for another three miles to Moira and it seems rather remarkable that, having taken the trouble to make tramroads to Ticknall and Cloud Hill, the company did nothing at that time to make a tramroad at Moira to collieries and potteries in the neighbourhood of Swadlincote and Gresley. Nevertheless, nothing seems to have been done in this matter until 1823, when Ticknall had been served by tramroad for some twenty years. It was decided to make a three mile long tramroad to Swadlincote in 1826 and when it was opened in July 1827, it was an occasion for all kinds of festivities. The tramroad joined up with others owned privately by colliery companies. About this time, soft water was found in the Moira pits which was thought to be valuable medicinally. Baths were built at the Bath Hotel near the pits and were well patronised until the Royal Hotel was built in Ashby, and the town began to gain some reputation as a spa. The Moira water was conveyed to Ashby in tanks and visitors to Ashby are said to have travelled by boat on the canal or, of course, by coach.

Ticknall Tramway and nearby transport links. Click to enlarge.

In 1828, Earl Ferrers required a tramroad to be made to his lime-works near Staunton Harold and a route was marked out from Dimminsdale, running for most of the way alongside the Melbourne to Smisby road, south of Calke Abbey. It joined the tramroad from Ticknall at a point where it crossed this road at South Wood. This additional branch to the tramroad system opened in September 1830. The Ashby canal and its tramroads then seem to have operated uneventfully until 1845, by which time the traffic was beginning to decline. Also by this time, main line railways were being built all over the country and the Midland Railway Company, with its headquarters in Derby, was anxious to keep other companies away from the coalfields in this area. It planned to make a railway from Burton to Nuneaton, which would have been roughly parallel to the Ashby canal and would obviously be detrimental to it, so it purchased the canal with its tramroads for £110,000 although it did not immediately build the proposed railway. In this way, the Midland Railway became the owner of the canal with its tramroads.

Rail routes through Ashby de la Zouch. Click to enlarge.

In 1849, Mr C. Abney Hastings, who owned the land on which part of the tramroad between Willesley and Ashby had been built, gave notice that he required possession of it, and on consulting the lawyers, the Midland Railway discovered that, as successors to the canal company, they were tenants and not owners of the land. They therefore decided to close this section on 1st. June 1850, and informed the traders accordingly. The rails were removed and the traffic transferred to the newly opened railway which the company had made from Leicester to Burton. This closure left the tramroads from Ashby to Ticknall, Dimminsdale and Cloud Hill isolated from the canal system and their traffic was transferred to the railway at Ashby instead.

The Midland Railway next approached the district from another direction, opening its branch line from Derby to Melbourne in September 1868. Eventually, the company decided to turn the section of tramroad between Breedon and Ashby into a standard gauge railway. A passenger service between Ashby and Derby via Melbourne began on 1st January 1874. In Ashby, the trains started from a branch platform at some little distance from the older station buildings (demolished c. 1968). The line portrayed its tramway origin in the way it curved sharply northwards through the town, running along narrow passages between garden walls and crossing streets on the level. Some of the old route was too erratic for a railway to follow and some deviations were necessary – one section of the old route was kept as a factory branch and crossed the Derby road, known here as The Callis, by a stone bridge with curved abutments similar to canal bridges in the area and not unlike the Ticknall bridge. No doubt several of you remember it as, although I do not know when it was demolished, I feel sure it was still there thirty years ago. On the south side, it was built of a warm, yellow stone, but the north side had been refaced in brick.

Plate rail diagram. Click to enlarge.

Old Parks tunnel was enlarged to take full-sized trains and it was also shortened. At the northern end there was a low wharf which served as a point for exchanging traffic with the standard gauge railway, as lime continued to be brought down the Ticknall line, together with some farm produce. Here there was a house, known as Tunnel House, the residence of the man in charge of the tram-road, and there was also a weighbridge at one time. At this point, the standard gauge railway left the course of the old tramroad and passed through Lount Woods and the colliery sidings and onto Worthington and Breedon. All that now remained of the tramroad was the line to Ticknall and its branch to Dimminsdale (Staunton Harold). The Dimminsdale branch continued in use until March 1891, and the last trip over the Ticknall line is believed to have been opened on 20th. May 1913, by which time the tramroad had been at work for something like 110 years. It was not ‘officially’ closed until September 1915, and it is believed that a wagon drawn by a horse passed over the line occasionally up to that time, to preserve the Midland Company’s right of way.

Bryan Smith
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Bryan Smith

Bryan is the editor of Ticknall Life community magazine. (For over 20 years.)