Listening to the past

It was a buzzing hub of the Industrial Revolution, then a derelict play pit for local kids, and is now a honeypot for boaters and walkers. In this unique project we have recorded memories of local residents and restorers with an attachment to Bugsworth Basin.

“It just became our play area,” says Buxworth resident Mark Lomas, “We'd push the reeds down and eventually the canal became a sort of walkway for children, but not for adults! They’d just sink in! It was like walking on a giant mattress.”

It's memories like these, not clinical, official records, that are at the true heart of historic places such as Bugsworth Basin. Built in 1796 by canal and tramway engineer Benjamin Outram, Bugsworth Basin was once the largest and busiest inland port on Britain's narrow canal system and was the gateway to Derbyshire's stone quarries. Today it is the only example of its type to survive intact.

Unique archive

The Basin closed in the 1920s and by the 1960s was a dry, overgrown pit, used as a playground by local children. This year we appealed for memories of the site between its closure in the ‘20s to when it opened to the public in 2005, and have assembled a unique archive of life at the basin.

Heather Roberts, from the Canal & River Trust, is the archivist leading the oral history project: “Through this project we've tried to build a picture of what the canal was like and how it was used during its closure. We've recorded memories from people who worked on the restoration, lived near the canal and even one or two who can recall parts of it still in use."

The recordings will be held at the Waterways Archive in the National Waterways Museum and Derbyshire Record Office for future generations to enjoy. We are also making a short film of memories and images of the basin, which will be posted on our website in the coming weeks.


In the meantime, let us whet your appetite with some of the memories collated from locals who played at the basin as children and the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust team who helped restore it to its former glory.

"In winter we walked on the canal with hobnail boots on. You could skate on them, you see, and we managed to get all way to Marple so it must have been frozen solid! Sometimes though, you'd hear it crack." Bernice Peers, local resident of Buxworth.

"We used to cycle up there, 11 or 12 miles. I'd have a spade, a fork and a bucket along the cross bar and panniers with waders and food balanced on them. I'd cycle up the A6, do six hours shovelling then back home on the bike, almost crawling – but at least it was downhill." William Martin Whalley, volunteer with the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust.

"It looked like a tip – the remains of a past industry. There seemed to be no pattern to it until you got to know it. Over the years I've seen it become a very attractive place. Now it's more like a park." Don Baines, member of the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust.

Words: Abigail Whyte

Last date edited: 22 October 2014

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