Derbyshire chemicals firm staff step back in time to ‘reveal’ historic canal by fairy tale cottage

Left to right: Rachel Ollier, Tom Grazier, Cecily Bell, Claire Hollingshurst, Jessica Finnamore, Simon May, Nigel Britton and Paul Balderson next to the Nightingale cut

Employees from a Derbyshire company swapped the lab for the scythe and pickaxe when they spent the day outdoors working to reveal an historic canal unused since the 1930s, situated next to one of Derbyshire’s prettiest old cottages.

Staff from science company Lubrizol, based at Hazelwood near Belper, joined Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s (DWT) regular volunteers working to restore the beautiful Aqueduct Cottage by the Cromford Canal, tucked into a corner of Derbyshire once owned by the family of Florence Nightingale.

The team got stuck in with outdoors tools to reveal the original stonework at the entrance of the Leawood arm of the Cromford Canal, also known as the “Nightingale cut”, which has for many years been entirely hidden from view by thick undergrowth.

Along with the picture-postcard perfect Aqueduct Cottage, the ‘cut’ of the Cromford Canal was built by Florence Nightingale’s great-great uncle Peter to serve his factories in the area.

The canal stonework at the entrance to the arm is being revealed as part of a three-year project to restore the adjoining Aqueduct Cottage with the aim of opening up the historically important area to the public for the first time later this year.

The volunteer day was organised by Lubrizol as part of its ‘Building Global Bonds’ initiative which started life over in the USA and encourages giving back to the local community.

Ron Common, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s volunteer project manager who has led the project to restore Aqueduct Cottage over the past three years, said the whole team is very much looking forward to opening to the public the 19th century building set in an idyllic spot next to the Cromford Canal.

The cottage is part of the 74-acre Lea Wood which was bought by the local community in 1997 to save it from development. It was then gifted to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in 2012. A team of DWT volunteers have met twice weekly since 2019 and carried out a huge amount of restoration work, including building dry stone walls and clearing many tonnes of rubbish from what was once a dilapidated building unlived in since the 1970s. As the cottage is inaccessible by road, all debris had to be carted from the site in wheelbarrows.

When it is open to visitors, the cottage will serve as a “gateway” to the Lea Wood Nature Reserve to help connect people to nature and promote a more bio-diverse Lower Derwent Valley. Interpretation boards inside the cottage will also explain its history including the connections to the Nightingale family, and why water was such an important resource at a time when barges would have been regularly travelling up and down the Cromford Canal. The cottage’s upper floor will be available to be hired for activity days too.

Fundraising is still ongoing to pay for the restoration work at Aqueduct Cottage. The team is currently hoping to raise funds as part of its ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign to restore the old privy next to the cottage. To contribute, call Derbyshire Wildlife Trust on 01773 881188 or visit the cottage website at