From the 31 August 1796, when the Peak Forest Tramway and Upper Peak Forest Canal opened for trade, until the 1860s when main-line railways began to arrive in the High Peak, the tramway and canal was the only effective means of transporting limestone and lime. This was supplemented on the 6 June 1831 when the northern section of the Cromford and High Peak Railway opened between Hurdlow and the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge.
By the 1880s, main-line railways were having an impact on trade. The transhipment point between the tramway and canal was at Bugsworth, where a significant lime burning industry had become established over the years. Here, a steady decline in lime burning was underway and the tramway was carrying less limestone. The decline in trade through Bugsworth can be ascribed to three key events:
The Peak Forest Canal Company originally owned the Peak Forest Tramway and Canal but on the 25 March 1846 this was leased to the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway Company, which merged with others on the 1 January 1847 to become the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company (MS&LR Co). Subsequently, the MS&aLR Co developed a commercial interest in the limestone extractive industry and it opened the New Line Quarry in the 1860s. By the 1890s, the MS&LR Co were transporting large quantities of limestone and lime by main-line railway and it must be emphasised that this could only have been done by carrying on a competitor's line by coming to some agreement. Thus, the MS&LR Co was increasingly by-passing the Peak Forest Canal and Tramway, which it owned.
Following the foundation of BLF in 1891, BLF, MS&LR Co, Samuel Bibbington, Gaskell, Deacon & Company and Newton Chambers were then operating the quarries in the High Peak. The only other independent company was S Taylor Frith & Company that was founded in 1905. This company became the sole user of the Peak Forest Tramway and it is understood that it carried the last gang of waggons of limestone from the quarries to Bugsworth in 1922.
On the 2 August 1863, ownership of the Peak Forest Canal Company passed to the MS&LR Co and on the 2 August 1883 the Peak Forest Canal Company was dissolved and the tramway and canal were vested in the MS&LR Co. On the 1 August 1897, the MS&LR Co changed its name to the Great Central Railway Co (GCR Co). On the 1 January 1923 the GCR Co merged with others to form the London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER Co).
On the 25 July 1925, the LNER Co was granted a private Act of Parliament and a special clause in this Act allowed the company to legally abandon the Peak Forest Tramway. In the late 1920s, T W Ward Ltd, scrap merchants of Sheffield, dismantled the tramway. The scrap was then taken by boat to Prince's Dock on the Ashton Canal and from there it was taken by rail to Edgar Allen & Company Ltd, steel manufacturers of Sheffield, for melting down.
Afterwards the track bed of the Peak Forest Tramway was sold off in small parcels to an unknown number of landowners.
Stodhart Tunnel on the Peak Forest Tramway dates from 1796 and it is considered by English Heritage to be the oldest surviving railway tunnel in the world. It is listed as Grade II* but due to its poor condition it is on the Buildings at Risk Register of English Heritage.
For Picture Gallery of remains of original limestone quarries click here
To bring main-line railways into the High Peak was not without its engineering challenges, in particular the construction of Dove Holes and Cowburn Tunnels and the magnificent diverging viaduct across the Black Brook valley at Chapel Milton. Coming up from the south, the older viaduct curves to the west while the younger one curves to the east and both of them connect the line from the south to the line between Manchester and Sheffield.
Dove Holes Tunnel is 2,984 yards long and work on its construction commenced in 1860 and it took five years to complete. During construction the works experienced severe flooding and at one point an underground river was encountered. Six pumping stations were required to keep the workings clear of water.
Cowburn Tunnel is 3,702 yards long and it opened in 1891. An unusual feature of this tunnel is that it was not dug on a constant level and it has a summit, which is about a quarter way in from the eastern portal.