The Derby Canal ran 14 miles from the Trent and Mersey Canal at Swarkestone to Derby and Little Eaton, and to the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre, in Derbyshire, England. The canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1793 and was fully completed in 1796. It featured a level crossing of the River Derwent in the centre of Derby. An early tramroad, known as the Little Eaton Gangway, linked Little Eaton to coal mines at Denby. The canal's main cargo was coal, and it was relatively successful until the arrival of the railways in 1840. It gradually declined, with the gangway closing in 1908 and the Little Eaton Branch in 1935. Early attempts at restoration were thwarted by the closure of the whole canal in 1964. Since 1994, there has been an active campaign for restoration spearheaded by the Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust and Society. Loss of the Derwent crossing due to development has resulted in an innovative engineering solution called the Derby Arm being proposed, as a way of transferring boats across the river.
Although the River Derwent had been used for transport from the Trent since ancient times, it was winding and shallow in many places, silting frequently. The right to use it for navigation was conferred upon the citizens of Derby by King John in 1204. The engineer George Sorocold was involved with plans for improvements, although it is uncertain whether he was involved in the actual work. Plans had been first proposed in 1664, and bills had been presented to Parliament in 1696 and 1698. In 1703, Sorocold attended Parliament to give evidence for a scheme which involved four new cuts, with weirs and locks, on a 10-mile stretch of the river. The bill failed, but the map for a similar scheme presented in 1717 was said to be drawn by Sorocold. This became the Derwent Navigation Act in 1720, and the work enabled boats to reach Derby in January 1721, but it was still difficult to navigate in periods of flood or dry weather. Indeed the Trent itself was little better.
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