A Visit to Middleton Top

This week I made a visit to the Countryside Centre at Middleton Top to talk to colleagues about Collections in the Landscape. Having tested our pilot projects, we’re now in the process of learning from the experience. We’re also considering where future projects might be aimed if we’re successful with our Stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Middleton Top, and with it the route of the Cromford & High Peak Railway, is an important part of the story we want to tell as part of Collections in the Landscape. Our current gallery, The Wonders of the Peak, doesn’t effectively explore the story of the Peak District in the 19th and 20th century, something we want to change.

The engine house at Middletop Top. Image by shirokazan. Creative Commons, CC BY.

The engine house at Middletop Top. Image by shirokazan. Creative Commons, CC BY.

The Cromford & High Peak Railway was a significant change to the landscape of the Peak District and its construction represents a considerable feat of engineering. The line was 33 miles long, connecting the Cromford Canal in the south to the Peak Forest Canal in the north. To make this connection, the railway had to climb around 1000 feet from Cromford to its summit at Ladmanlow, near Buxton.

The railway was built between 1825 and 1830 on canal principles. It had flat sections following the contours of the landscape connected by a series of inclined planes. Stationary steam engines were used to transport carts up and down these planes, from one level to the next. At first, the flat sections were powered by horses until the improvement of steam locomotives.

Today, the route of the railway survives as the High Peak Trail and is a popular haunt for walkers and cyclists. The heritage of the route is also preserved at places like Middleton Top, where the engine and winding house are still preserved at the top of the Cromford Incline. At the bottom of this incline you can also find Leawood Pump House, built in 1849 to supply water to the Cromford Canal.

Interpreting this important feature of our landscape will be a challenge due to its length and complexity. However, by working with our partners and using the right technology, we’d like to help tell visitors about this important aspect of the Peak’s past.

Both Middleton Top and Leawood Pump House can be seen in operation several times per year. As a closet steam nut, I’ve already made room in diary! You can find out more information about the area on the County’s website.

Middleton Top Countryside Centre


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