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Froghall Canal Basin

A major complex of canal-side wharves and lime kilns fed, since 1778, by a series of railways from the Cauldon Low limestone quarries

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About Froghall Canal Basin

Text from Wikipedia:

At Froghall Wharf, limestone was loaded onto canal narrow boats or burnt in lime kilns and then transported to the Potteries or further afield. The limestone was mined in the huge quarries at Cauldon Low and then loaded onto an inclined tramway to Froghall. Four tramways were built and parts of them are still tracable in the landscape including various bridges and inclines. The final tramway, built by James Trubshaw was the most significant and involved the most engineering. Trubshaw's tunnel near Windy Harbour is an excellent relic of this fourth route.

The canal basin at Froghall Wharf is now a pleasant spot for pleasure craft and walkers,with the huge dormant lime kilns dominating the area. It is hard to imagine the scene 100 years ago when loaded dusty wagons came speeding down the incline, with the noise from the crushing plant and the furnaces deafening and dust from the stone and smoke from the furnaces polluting the atmosphere.

The Cauldon Canal played a large part in the development of industry around Froghall. The basin at Froghall Wharf was originally the terminus of the Cauldon Canal, and a separate branch then ran to Uttoxeter. The Uttoxeter Canal was opened to traffic in 1811 and after years of heavy losses was closed in 1849. The branch was then mostly filled in and a railway was built over most of the canal bed.


The following historical notes were used in Gerald Leach's presentation and site tour during the Red Wheel plaque unveiling ceremony at Froghall Wharf - 20th March 2018 (reproduced here with Gerald's permission - greatfully acknowldeged)

Froghall Wharf and associated narrow gauge railways

The site at Froghall was for over 170 years a major complex of canal-side wharves and lime kilns fed by a number of early narrow gauge rail ways or tram roads that were built to transport limestone rock from the Cauldon Low quarries, which are situated three miles east of Froghall at an altitude of around 700ft above sea level feet. Here at Froghall the altitude is just over 400 ft above sea level.

Froghall Basin & Cauldon Quarries

The history of Froghall Basin has its origins in the Trent and Mersey canal, which opened in 1777 and its branch the Caldon Canal opened year later in 1778. At that time the Canal Company had secured contracts with several owners of limestone quarries in the Caldon Low area, the company sought an Act of Parliament to authorize construction of the new works, which it had obtained in May 1776. The Act enabled the proprietors to raise money to fund the construction of the canal, which was completed in December 1778. Initially, there were 16 locks, eight rising from Etruria to the start of the summit at Stockton, and eight falling from the end of the summit to Froghall.

The First Tram Road - 1778

The Act also included permission to build a horse drawn tram road to the quarries. The first one ran from Froghall across Shirley Common towards the quarries. It was opened in December 1778 at time as the Caldon canal. For the track it used wooden rails topped with iron which were fixed to wooden sleepers. Its route ran from Froghall Old Wharf by a steep and uneven course which, other than one or two bridges, seems to have had little engineering other than the shallowest of embankments. It has to be regarded as a railway in the modern sense, in that it used flanged wheels on a smooth rail. In operation, however, it was rather primitive, like a single-track road with passing places. The wagons were pulled along the line singly by horses and when another was met coming the other way, they looked for a passing place, presumably with loaded wagons heading downward taking priority. Steepness was its biggest downfall, with some sections being almost impassable in winter. The brittle cast-iron rails were also a problem; Each rail had two holes for fixing to the wood beneath and a triangular tongue at one end which fitted into a notch in the following rail. Despite being wider around the holes, the rails would frequently snap at these points and the triangular tongues were liable to break off.

Output from the quarries was increasing and there was a need to improve the transport situation. In addition to the problems with the tram road the location and size of the wharf was totally inadequate. This situation led to the building of a second tram road.

The Second Tram Road – 1785

A second Act of Parliament, obtained in 1783 gave authorization for a new tramway, and to extend the canal by 530 yards, which included the Froghall tunnel. The tramway was 3.1 miles long. The second tram road addressed the most serious problem of its predecessor by being better engineered. John Gilbert, who was involved with the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal at Worsley was probably involved in the building of this tram road   To begin with, the canal was extended via the new Froghall Tunnel to its current terminus at Froghall Wharf, where a new transshipment basin was dug. This allowed a less severe incline to be cut out of the valley side and with low embankments also helped to even out the route. The tram road railway itself, however, employed the same technology and operating practices as its predecessor (i.e. flanged wheels and entirely horse drawn throughout) and it suffered from the same problems. Even the improved inclines were still difficult in bad weather. A change of technology was needed.

The Third Tram Road – 1803/1804

The third tram road designed by the accomplished Scottish engineer, John Rennie, was opened in 1804. It was a major change in approach. The new route was divided into five heavily-engineered inclines and the remainder was on level sections of double track rails. The flat sections were horse-drawn, as before, but with two tracks; one for up and one for down and with wagons marshalled into trains, rather than hauled individually. The inclines were "self-acting", i.e. they were powered by gravity. Wagons descending the incline loaded with limestone were connected to empties at the bottom via chains and pulley wheels so that the heavier loaded wagons would pull the empties up. In operation, some of these "empties" were loaded with coal for, amongst others, the copper smelter at Whiston. The line itself was a plate way, in which, in contrast to a railway, a smooth wheel runs on a flanged rail or "plate". The plates were mounted on stone sets, rather than sleepers, to allow easy passage for horses in between.

The plates had a notch at each end. An iron spike, fitting the notch, was driven into a wooden plug, itself driven into a hole in the stone, thus securing the plates in position. Although it was a huge improvement on its predecessors, the plate way had its problems. In particular, the cast-iron plates were brittle and liable to snap under heavy loads. Over time, the stone sleepers also became deeply worn and, by the 1840's, it was time for a replacement.

North Staffordshire Railway acquires the Trent & Mersey/Caldon Canal and its tram roads

In 1846 the North Staffordshire Railway purchased and acquired Trent and Mersey canal including the Caldon Canal, the handling and processing facilities at Froghall and the Caldon Low tramways.

North Staffordshire Railway Froghall Branch

The NSR built a short branch from the Churnet Valley main line to Froghall Basin. This branch long and terminated in a sidings that was built over the first lock and junction of the Uttoxeter Canal, which by 1849 had been used by the NSR to build their new Churnet Valley Railway.

The Fourth Tram Road - 1849

By 1847 the demand for limestone was such that a tramway with four times the carrying capacity of the 1803 tramway was planned, and opened in 1849. (This did not require parliamentary approval because all landowners agreed to sell the land to the NSR) The fourth tram road was designed by local engineer, James Trubshaw, was the most heavily engineered of them all, consisting of a series of self-acting inclines leading all the way from Froghall Wharf to the quarries. The horse-drawn flat sections of Rennie's plate way were dispensed with. Where necessary, substantial embankments and cuttings were constructed to keep the incline more-or-less constant and the final section, leading to the quarries, included a tunnel. The technology used this time was that of a modern-style railway but using a three-rail system, in which the centre rail was shared by the up and down lines. Trains of climbing and descending wagons were linked by a continuous cable which ran on a series of rollers and guides along the centre of the tracks. At the top of each incline the cable passed through a braking system, which controlled the speed of the trains. In the middle of each incline, the centre rail divided into a conventional double track layout, so that the trains could pass. This tramway had the capacity to carry 1,000 tons of limestone to the wharf daily, in wagons carrying only 6 tons each. The stone then being loaded by hand, into canal barges with a capacity of approx. 25 tons each, for onward transportation. The majority of the limestone was supplied to Brunner-Mond (later to become ICI). In 1920 they acquired Tunstead quarry at Buxton which in March 1920 caused the tramway and wharf to become redundant. The North Staffs Railway’s Caldon Low rail system closed in 1920 and limestone to be carried by canal was, instead, loaded from standard-gauge wagons at a new basin near Endon. Deliveries to the limekilns at Froghall continued by road into the late 1930s.

Lower Froghall Plane

The short inclined plane leading into Froghall Wharf was used by both the third (1802/04) and fourth (1849) lines. The system used was different from the other inclines but worked on similar principles. Two cables were wrapped opposite ways round a horizontal brake drum. A full wagon was let down on one cable which would unwind from the drum. Meanwhile, the other cable would be winding on to the drum and pulling an empty wagon upwards. The rate of travel would be controlled by a man operating a braking mechanism. The incline was relatively shallow by the standards of the 1804 line but was steep by the standards of the 1849 replacement. This proved awkward in operation but proposals to modify it were never carried out. All that remains today are the stone foundations for the drum and we shall see the remains during the site walk.

Lime Kilns, Stone Crusher and Tar Macadam

In addition to the handling and transshipment of limestone at Froghall the site also produced quick lime by burning limestone in kilns and by the process of calcination the stone was converted to quick lime, which could be used as a fertiliser and to make mortar for building purposes. The remains of can be still be seen at two locations at the Froghall site. The site also had a stone crusher and a facility for making tar macadam.

Visiting the site today it is hard to imagine that to the onlooker it would have been a hive of industry, large heaps of stones would have been everywhere, there would have been a cacophony of noise coming from the stone crushing plant and movement of wagon wheels clouds of dust and smoke, a patchwork complex of railway lines and sidings and not sparingly   little or no vegetation.

Caldon Canal Company had Canal – Demise and Preservation

By the late 1950's traffic had virtually ceased on the Caldon Canal and in 1960 a closure notice was issued. Fortunately a number of enthusiasts got together and started to campaign to stop the closure. Initially the Caldon Committee was formed, then it evolved fin to the Caldon Canal Society, which later became Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust). In 1968 the Caldon Canal was classed as a remainder waterway which meant that the then owners, British Waterways were not bound to maintain the canal to a navigable standard but it would not be closed. An agreement was reached between the two local authorities (Staffordshire County Council, Stoke on Trent City Council and British Waterways Board to restore the canal. Thus in 1974 the Caldon Canal was reopened. Following the reopening of the Canal in 1974, the Caldon Society's aim was to have the Caldon upgraded to cruising status. This was finally achieved in 1983. Subsequently over the past forty years Caldon and Uttoxeter Canal Trust and its members have carried out preservation and conservation work along the canal. Their major achievement came in July 2005 when … thanks to efforts of their volunteers, input from IWA and labour provided by Waterways Recovery Group, plus financial support provided by European Regional Development Fund, British Waterways completed a project that involved the restoration of first lock of the former Uttoxeter Canal and constriction of an adjoining basi, which provided with moorings for visiting boats. It is thanks to the initial foresight and efforts of these early pioneer preservationists that so many people, whether they be boaters, anglers, walkers, nature lovers, cyclists, canoeists are all able to spend their leisure time and enjoy this interesting and scenic canal, here at Froghall and through the Churnet Valley.

Gerald Leach 15th March 2018

Illustrations accompanying the talk and guided tour:


Note second tunnel. When the wharf was being constructed there still had to be access to the wharf at the original terminus to load the stone. It is assumed that the original 1778 tram road line came down from the quarry and went through this tunnel. 

Note the edge of the building on the right, Hetty’s tea room. Tar Macadam plant beyond. Note huge piles of stone everywhere.  

Winding drum at top of 1st incline from the wharf. The track to the left would take limestone to the top of the 6 lime-kilns. The track to the right takes limestone to the top of the two lime kilns at the end of the canal. 

Recent picture of winding drum base. View over the wharf now restricted by the trees.

View at top of first incline, after wharf had been closed, stone bases of winding drum. The third tramway came down the incline (black arrow) to the building marked ‘A’The fourth and final tramway (now more strictly a railway) went to the quarries in the direction of arrow ‘B’

Entrance to Uttoxeter canal.  Loading limestone onto barge.


Photogtraphs from  Issue 19 of Archive Magazine, published in September 1998 by Basil Jeuda - with thanks:


Froghall Winding Drum at Wharf Upper level

Froghall upper wharf descending wagon



The historical photos were extracted from Issue 19 of Archive Magazine, published in September 1998.  Issues 19, 20 and 21 of Archive magazine contain a three part article entitled the Limestone Quarries of Caldon Low. The author of the article is Basil Jeuda. Where “author’s collection “ appears as a credit on the photographs it refers to  him. Basil followed up the Archive articles with a book ” The Quarries of Cauldon Lowe” published by Churnet Valley Publications in 2000.


The illustrated presentation and historical notes were compliled by Gerakd Leach in 2018


National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR