Volunteers' labour of love to restore historic fairytale cottage in Derbyshire for summer opening to public

An historic fairytale cottage on the banks of Cromford Canal will open to the public this summer following a major restoration project by volunteers.

By Gay Bolton
Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 1:41 pm

Aqueduct Cottage was built in 1802 by Florence Nightingale’s uncle to provide lock-keeper’s accommodation. Peter Nightingale was a financial partner of famous mill owner Richard Arkwright and created the new canal section to service his factories in the area.

Florence was likely to have called at the waterside cottage when she visited homes in the area to conduct the research needed for her theories on the importance of nursing.

The Grade II listed gritstone property, which is hidden and inaccessible by road, has no electricity or water supply and has been unlived in since the 1970s when it was deemed unfit for habitation.

Aqueduct Cottage as it looks today.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust took on the dilapidated cottage, which sits at the entrance to the Lea Wood Nature Reserve, as part of a gift of land from local residents and a project to restore it began six years ago.

Trust volunteer Ron Common, who spearheaded the restoration, said: “I fell in love with Aqueduct Cottage as soon as I saw it. In addition to its important historical roots, there are some wonderful old photos going back 120 years where it really looks like a fairytale cottage.

"There is a strong local affection for the cottage and over the past five years, it has been amazing how much the local community has got behind the work.”

Ron, who lives in Derby and is a former employee of Bombadier, said: “Work began on the site in October 2019 and since then there have been between 40 and 50 volunteers involved, often working in all weathers. The first job was to clear out 25 tons of debris from the cottage and barrow it 300 yards along the towpath to a skip.”

Aqueduct Cottage in its heyday (photo: Friends of Aqueduct Cottage)

Around £90,000 has been raised so far to cover external restorations, including a new roof and windows.

Now an undisclosed sum of money from Lubrizol, based near Belper, is helping towards the cost of the interior restoration works, including interpretation panels for visitors to bring the history of the building alive.

Claire Hollingshurst, quality systems manager from Lubrizol, said: “We’re delighted to support this fabulous project to restore Aqueduct Cottage for future generations to enjoy. The cottage is very near our site in Hazelwood and many of our employees enjoy walking along the canal, where you can enjoy a perfect view of the cottage. It seemed only fitting that we should contribute to this project to see it restored and welcoming visitors again.”

The Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust is partnering the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in the restoration which is due to be completed by August.

Aqueduct Cottage was declared unfit for habitation in the 1970s.

Ron, who received a Conservation Champion award from the historic buildings trust in 2021, said: “It’s probably the most exciting and enjoyable project I’ve done in my life!”

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Ron Common at work on restoring Aqueduct Cottage.
Ron Common said that the restoration of Aqueduct Cottage has been the best project of his life.