Saturday, 6 February 2010

A Tale of Two Ironworks


Located in the Amber Valley between Cromford View and Butterley Hill in the Ripley area, Butterley Iron Works was built in 1790 and had a colourful history history including the manufacture of armaments for the Napoleonic Wars and an incident during the 1817 Pentrich revolution when a gathering of around 300 men demanded access to weapons manufactured on the site (in the event, the gates were locked against them and the men  eventually dispersed).

In the 20th century, The Butterley Company (originally Benjamin Outram and Company) diversified to become Butterley Engineering, building bridges and structural steelworks. According to Wikipedia, Butterley Engineering  went into administration during 2009, but presumably a buyer was found as there is still a website for that company, with a postal address in Ripley, which seems to be current. Certainly, however, the Butterley site is not in use.  

The history of the site is very much tied up with the history of Britain`s waterways. Originally, raw materials were delivered to the site by narrowboats using an underground wharf and transported from there to the foundry itself. Finished products were lowered down a shaft and  transported  along canals all over the UK.

Recently, the Friends of Cromford Canal, part of the recently-formed Cromford Canal Partnership, protested that site owners, London-based developer Coast, were carrying out demolition work on a historic wharf forming part of the site. Amber Valley Brough Council, also part of the CCP, responded that Coast were within their rights to demolish the less historic buildings and that all appeared to be in order. However, the future of the site remains uncertain and local sensitivites continue to be an issue. Noting "increasing concern for the fate of the Butterley Company site and the undoubted historic value of some of its buildings", a representative of the FCC called on the Borough Council "to give clear direction" to demolition contractors Cawarden "as to what remains have to be preserved or inspected by archaeologists".

Subsequently, the AVBC announced that as a result of these remarks, council officers would be working with representatives of English Heritage to establish which parts of the site should be preserved.

With proposals being floated for the re-opening of the full length of the Cromford Canal as part of a plan to regenerate the area, the future of the Butterley site remains a key local issue.


In nearby Erewash, developments at Stanton Iron Works have also proved controversial. Iron work has very much part of the history of Erewash since Roman times and the remains of medieval furnaces have been found in the area. Located by the Erewash Canal,  The Stanton Iron Works was established by a family named  Crompton around 1870. At the time,  their existing site on Amber Valley`s Nutbrook Canal  was not able to cope with an increase in demand arising from the Franco-Prussian War, and new premises were needed. The works produced munitions for both World Wars, but appears to have had a troubled existence after World War Two, being nationalised, privatised and the re-nationalised. Hardky a recipe for stable growth ! During the 1980s, it was bought by a French company, Pont A Mouson, which was apparently acquired by another French group, current owners  Saint Gobain. Saint Gobain laid off a number of staff in 2006, but  continued to run the business until it`s eventual closure in 2007.

Now Saint Gobain and developer Spring propose to build houses on the redundant Stanton site. The site is large - currently the UK`s largest brownfield site, I understand - and something in the region of 4,000 - 7,000 houses are proposed, which seems rather vague, but there you are. Independent local campaign group Greensqueeze oppose the plans as currently formulated on a number of grounds.

The most contentious issue is the proposed new road cutting straight through the heart of the Derbyshire countryside. Greensqueeze argue against this on environmental grounds and also on the purely practical basis that it would be poorly located to serve residents in the new development and would not be used by them as much as the planners anticipate. Greensqueeze have put forward their own planned access route and I believe now four possible routes are under consideration.  

 Secondly, the proposed new development is made up disproportionately of housing and rather less provision for commercial units, meaning that residents will largely travel to other areas to work, with the pollution and social costs that entails. It might be added that the Erewash area has greater need for jobs than it does housing. Greensqueeze argue for a sustainable balance between jobs and housing to address this.

Towards the end of last year pictures appeared on the Greensqueeze site showing how wildlife moved in to Stanton as industry moved out. It will be interesting to see if campaigners become split between those who say "yes to development, no to inappropriate development" and others who may simply oppose development. Given the size of the site, I would have thought a mix of commercial and residential properties with a small nature reserve and perhaps a public park or similar would be quite easily achievable. It is worth acknowledging that some species, including some which are rare, gravitate to brownfield sites because they favour an arid environment. There are various ways in which developers can cater for these, particularly by the provision of `green roofs` as advocated by the Wildlife Trusts network. 

Lastly, there are also concerns that proposed access points to the development cross green belt land.

Two very similar sites facing broadly similar issues and an uncertain future. On the positive side, the concerns raised have engaged the interest of the local population, causing public participation in the planning process, which can only be a good thing.


There are Wikipedia entries for the Butterley Company this blog already provides links to the Greensqueeze and the Friends of Cromford Canal sites. Stanton Iron works has it`s own local history site run by a former employee - - an example of living history as a number of former Stanton workers contribute to it`s forum.

A handy source for more information , though the standard or reporting isn`t always great, is

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