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Butterley Works blast furnaces, canal tunnel and underground wharf

A Scheduled Monument in Ripley, Derbyshire

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Latitude: 53.0601 / 53°3'36"N

Longitude: -1.4018 / 1°24'6"W

OS Eastings: 440188.837238

OS Northings: 351591.574422

OS Grid: SK401515

Mapcode National: GBR 7DR.0G1

Mapcode Global: WHDG8.FBQX

Entry Name: Butterley Works blast furnaces, canal tunnel and underground wharf

Scheduled Date: 14 February 2013

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1404832

County: Derbyshire

Civil Parish: Ripley

Built-Up Area: Ripley

Traditional County: Derbyshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Derbyshire

Church of England Parish: Ripley All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Derby


C19 blast furnaces, late C18 canal tunnel, underground wharf and related mineral extraction works.

Source: Historic England


Butterley engineering site is situated on the north edge of Ripley in the Amber Valley, Derbyshire. The line of the Cromford Canal passes directly underneath the site on an east to west alignment through the Butterley Tunnel. The tunnel itself measures 2.8km in total but only a c210m stretch, considered to be a representative sample, has been included in this scheduling. Part way along the tunnel, some 0.83km east of its western portal, the canal passes directly under the iron works, and at this point the waterway widens to allow for an underground wharf, known as a wide hole, where boats could be directly loaded and unloaded with coal, ironstone and limestone for transportation, or for smelting in the company's furnaces.

An internal investigation has not been possible for the purpose of this assessment and much of the description has been dependant on the records made during the most recent exploration of the tunnel by Witter (1979) and Cordon (2006). This and other research on the site has recently been consolidated during a desk-based assessment of the ironworks and underground canal wharf carried out by English Heritage (Pullen, 2010). The resulting publication has informed the description of the structures below, and there is little reason to believe the condition of the remains has altered since these records were made.

The remains of blast furnaces, the canal tunnel, underground wharf and the associated features at Butterley survive variously as standing structures and buried deposits. With the exception of the entrance building and the adjacent office block (both listed at Grade II), most of the above ground structures relating to the engineering works have been demolished in advance of proposed development. One further exception is a substantial sandstone retaining wall running approximately north to south down the centre of the former ironworks. The structure stands to c14m high and forms a furnace bank incorporating the remains of two C19 blast furnaces, the southern of which has been largely demolished.

The Butterley tunnel was driven simultaneously from both ends through various coal measures lying beneath the Butterley estate. The tunnel is brick-lined throughout and remained unsupported by other means until problems of instability and partial collapse began in the late C19. In an inspection account by the Inland Waterways Protection Society from 1959 (Watson 2009, 23) it is recorded that the tunnel had permanent support of the brick vault through the use of planks supported on curved railway-line sections built into the tunnel sides, attesting to early attempts to repair damage. In total 33 vertical shafts were sunk to aid construction of the tunnel, although only four were kept open as airshafts following its completion. Two loading shafts were also sunk directly from the Butterley Works to the underground wharf. The canal was of a narrow gauge with only 2.4m clearance above the water level, and because of this boats on the Cromford Canal were smaller than average.

Most recent exploration of the tunnel has been by Witter (1979) and Cordon (2006), who recorded the condition of the tunnel: much of which is lined with a mixed lime and ironstone flow-stone, and the water heavily silted. The distance along the tunnel is marked by iron plaques labelled with the number of 'chains' travelled from the eastern portal. Many sections have been strengthened with wooden shoring, horizontal iron roof braces or iron hoops; the latter probably being the survival of the support features recorded in 1959 (Watson 2009). Beyond the east end of the portal the tunnel was partially filled with limestone rubble and water during repairs in 1909, and much of this remains in place between the 43 and 50 chain marks (Witter, 1979). Around the 55 chains marker, east of the eastern end of the underground wharf, a short section of the tunnel has collapsed, so access to the 'wide hole' is only possible from entering the tunnel at the western portal.

The 'wide hole' allowed boats to lay up for loading at an underground wharf while other canal traffic could continue to pass through the tunnel. Here the tunnel widens to between 5m and 7.5m to allow a boat to pass while another is loading. Greenwood (2003) depicts the wide hole and tunnels and describes how they are linked to Carr Pit. These were located about 15m below the surface west of the furnace bank retaining wall, and nearly 30m below the higher ground to the east. The wharf was connected to the above ground tramways by a crane lift operating through the vertical loading shafts, although no surviving structural remains of the lift are documented. Use of the loading shafts is thought to have ended in the 1860s, and although the tunnel was closed in 1900, maintenance and alterations took place in 1915 to block off several adjoining shafts and passages, and to narrow the eastern end of the wide hole. Both Witter (1979) and Cordon (2006) recorded a significant block of newer brickwork narrowing a portion of the wide hole along the southern tunnel wall and blocking off the base of the loading shafts. Masonry quoins were also noted at the water level on the projecting corner at the 40 chains mark where the tunnel narrows.

One of the company's collieries, Butterley Carr pit, was worked with the assistance of small boats using a short branch tunnel running south from the wide hole. It is understood that Carr Colliery was worked out by 1813 and that the use of boats in this branch tunnel had ceased by at least 1815. Also several inlets carried mine drainage waters away from Butterley Carr Pit into the subterranean canal. A curving passage, carrying water used in cooling the blast-furnace tuyeres (tubes which take air from bellows to the interior of the furnace) away from the furnace and into the tunnel, is described in a tunnel inspection report of 1907 (Pullen, 2010, 24) as a blast receiver tunnel and is photographed in some detail by Cordon (2006). This shows that the base of the vertical shaft under the site of a former furnace still survives, along with some surviving iron fittings in the floor and a very short section of tunnel continuing beyond.

A little further east Witter describes reaching the western end of the wide hole, within the south wall of which are two dry roadway tunnels which Greenwood believes curved around to meet each other (this was later confirmed by Cordon (2006) and that the eastern opening represents an old counterpoise shaft blocked off in 1915 at the same time as the narrowing and strengthening of the wide hole. It was in the western opening that recesses in the brick were recorded possibly capable of supporting some form of platform. Cordon also notes the blocked entrance to a narrow arched gangway leading to the Carr Pitt access wagonway.

In addition to the four open air shafts retained to ventilate the canal tunnel, the Butterley tunnel was also punctured by two vertical loading shafts sunk directly from the Butterley Works down to the underground wharf. Several additional shafts appear to have connected into the canal and its branch tunnels close to the wide hole. As well as ore for the furnace and coal for fuel limestone was also brought by barge from Crich quarries, unloaded at the wharf and hauled up to the works through these shafts to be used as flux in the furnaces. Two vertical shafts connecting the canal tunnel to the ground surface above were exposed during a watching brief carried out by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) but the interpretation of the shafts was inconclusive. In addition to shafts associated with the wide hole Greenwood suggests a further shaft was also sunk from the interior of the old brass foundry close to where the tunnel runs underneath but a description of this is not available.


Modern fences, the modern electricity sub-station within the northernmost blast furnace, as well as all modern concrete and tarmac surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Butterley blast furnaces, originating in 1791 and with early-C19 remains, canal tunnel and underground wharf of 1793-4, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Archaeological potential: the physical and stratigraphic relationships between the above and below ground industrial processes provides a rare opportunity to add significantly to our knowledge and understanding of the site specific industrial processes and the industry as a whole.

* Survival and rarity: The original cold blast furnaces were at the forefront of technology and elements may survive within the 1838 rebuilt furnaces but the later, hot blast furnaces are themselves a rare survival.

* Diversity of features: The relationship and survival of the canal tunnel with the wharf and underground mining and mineral extraction are a rare combination.

* Group Value: for its physical, chronological and functional relationship with the entrance building to Butterley Works and the former office building to the west, both Listed Grade II.

* Documentation: Historical documentation provides details of the development and engineering prowess of Butterley Works. Its achievements were clearly held in high regard both nationally and internationally.

Source: Historic England


Butterley Tunnel – The Illustrated Report. Reproduced for The Friends of the Cromford Canal, accessed 14th October 2015 from
Butterley Tunnel Survey (photographic account, last updated May 2008) , accessed 14th October 2015 from
Canal Inspection: First Stage 12/5/59'., accessed 14th October 2015 from
Farnworth-Jones, G and Boucher, J , An archaeological Watching Brief at Butterley Hill, Ripley, Derbyshire (SK407 517),, 2007,
Pullen, R , Butterley Engineering Site, Butterley Hill, Ripley, Derbyshire. Desk based assessment of the ironworks and underground canal wharf. , 2010,

Source: Historic England

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