The River Derwent flows close to Belper, but unless we walk in the River Gardens we can easily forget it’s there. Only when it floods are we reminded of its existence because our journeys are disrupted.
Now the spectacle of lights flowing down the river, the Derwent Pulse, may help to bring the river back into focus. I wondered if the River Derwent had ever been considered suitable for navigation.
For hundreds of years entrepreneurs eyed up the possibilities of bringing boats from the Trent to Derby.
It was a well-used waterway and it would be logical to consider extending navigation to industries in the valley.
In 1313 venison was transported from Belper’s deer park to Castle Donington and Melbourne and historians believe the river would have been used, as road conditions were poor in medieval times..
Apart from this I haven’t found any evidence of interest in using the Derwent to transport goods until the seventeenth century when King Charles 1 got involved.
In 1633 the King granted a lease of passage by water to “Gentlemen, Bailyffes and Burgesses of the towne of Derbie” on condition that the river was made navigable “from ye Trent to Derby and thence to Crumford”.
Obstacles were corn mills, fords and bridges along the route and the engineers inevitably encountered problems.
The King recommended that the City of Derby should seek advice from Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, famous for his work on draining East Anglian fens and Derbyshire lead mines.
As we know, King Charles 1 had other things on his mind around this time and ultimately lost his head after a disruptive and violent civil war, so it’s easy to understand why this project foundered.
In the eighteenth century after the success of the Cromford Canal, a proposal to build a branch www