Caldon Canal – Short on length, big on history!

It’s easy to underestimate the impact canals had on the early part of the Industrial Revolution. Today, if they are not drained of water or choked by vegetation, they’re mostly used for leisure purposes only. It is hard to believe that, 200 years ago, they were central to the industrial miracle that transformed society beyond all recognition.

Smart, colourful barges show that the canal is now used for recreational purposes. But hidden amongst the trees to the far left of this shot are remains of limekilns, a legacy from the canal’s industrial past.

The Caldon Canal is a mere 18 miles (29km) long, and runs from Froghall in Staffordshire to Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent, where it joins the much larger Trent and Mersey Canal. Completed in 1779 it was built primarily to transport limestone, so it comes as no surprise that abandoned limekilns can still be found along its route.

Closer view of the remains of limekilns at Consall Forge

The kilns at Consall Forge, which stand 10m high and 50m long, are now clothed in vegetation. Back in the day, however, the view would have been very different. Raw limestone, quarried nearby, would be loaded at the top of the limekilns. Furnaces heated the rock and converted it into quicklime, an essential resource in the steelmaking process. The quicklime would then be removed at the bottom of the kiln and loaded onto barges for onward transportation to where it would be used.

“Bridge #50” across the Caldon Canal at Consall Forge, in the picturesque Churnet Valley. Built c1779.

The remains of more limekilns can still be seen at Froghall Wharf, and here too the serene surroundings make it difficult to fully appreciate how the place must have bustled with activity in its heyday. Froghall also boasts a handsome 19th century warehouse. This has been tastefully repurposed as a café catering for 21st century visitors who like nothing more than to replenish the calories they’ve burned off during their canal-side strolls with a hot drink and an enormous slab of cake!

Former canal-side warehouse at Froghall Wharf, now serving coffee and cake!

One of the undoubted highlights of the Caldon Canal, and perhaps more unexpected, is the Cheddleton Flint Mill Museum. There was a watermill on the site in 1253, and by the 1500s there were two, one to wash woollen cloth in a process known as fulling, and one to mill corn. When the canal was driven past the mills in late 18th century it opened up the possibility of new uses.

Limekilns at Froghall Wharf

The Caldon Canal passes through Etruria, which was – from 1769 – the home of Josiah Wedgwood’s ground-breaking pottery business. One of his highly successful products was “creamware”, which used ground, calcined flint to help achieve its distinctive light-coloured appearance. The mills at Cheddleton were converted to grind the flint Wedgwood needed, and the canal enabled its easy transportation to the potter’s Etruria factory.

Canal view next to Cheddleton Flint Mill

Now owned and run by the Cheddleton Flint Mill Preservation Trust, the site offers fascinating insights into a flint milling process that I was completely unaware of before our visit. It also preserves the miller’s cottage, which dates from the 1800s, shining light on a lifestyle so very different from our own.

Cheddleton Flint Mill

The cottage is dressed as a piece of living history. Recently washed laundry (sparkling white!) hangs drying in front of the range, which serves both as the cottage’s source of heat and a stove for cooking meals. Along the walls two dressers display cherished pieces of tableware, and the table in the middle of the room is laid ready for tea. The exhibit is totally convincing, and it’s easy to believe that the miller and his wife have just popped put for a few minutes, and will soon be back to carry on with their lives.

The miller’s cottage at Cheddleton Flint Mill

Cheddleton Flint Mill is just one of many fascinating points of interest along the 18 miles of the Caldon Canal which, although clearly short on length, is undoubtedly big on history. A visit (or two, or maybe even three) can be strongly recommended if you’re ever in the area!

24 comments

  1. T Ibara Photo · May 11

    Hello Mr P,
    I never fail to be amazed how centuries of history remain alongside “the modern age” in your beautiful country. It must be quite an experience, to walk right along history and imagine how the days were back then. I can imagine that I too am right there – thanks to your words and images.
    Thank you for sharing and our best to you and Mrs P.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · May 11

      You are absolutely right that history is all around us here, but I suspect that many of my fellow citizens are unaware of the “backstory” that has helped shape what they see around them. Mrs P and I both studied history at university (several decades ago!) so we have a particular interest in – and perhaps a heightened sensitivity to – the historical context of our surroundings. Thank you for your continued interest in my blog and your kind comment, Takami – I shall be sure to check the spam pile regularly to make sure that other comments have not been misdirected into it! Best wishes to you and your family.

      Liked by 1 person

      • T Ibara Photo · May 11

        Ah how lovely it is, that both you and Mrs P studied history and you can share a mutual appreciation for the back story and context of your surroundings! 🙂

        Thank you for kindly rescuing my comment from the spam pile. I don’t know why, but I have noticed comments being sent their automatically. The mystery never ceases…

        It’s a real pleasure to follow your blog, and learn something new each time. Many thanks again 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Paddy Tobin · May 11

    There are limekilns on my neighbour’s farm, two bays, but here it was to produce lime for agricutural use, to treat grassland. There is also a particularly large kiln a few miles along the river.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · May 11

      I don’t think you have many (any?) coal deposits in Ireland, so would your limekilns have used peat as their source of energy?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paddy Tobin · May 11

        We have/had anthracite deposits in Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, north of us.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · May 12

        Didn’t know that (my school geography lessons have let me down yet again!). Anthracite burns very hot, I think, so would do a good job in a limekiln.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not too knowledgeable on the subject, but I think that canals were crucial for industrial development in the USA too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · May 11

      Sounds very likely in states east of the Rockies. Can you imagine all the hard work needed to dig them out in the days before mechanical diggers? My back’s aching just thinking about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. shazza · May 11

    I do love a canal walk, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · May 11

      I’ve only really discovered canal walks since retiring – peaceful, scenic, and delightfully easy on my aching, arthritic limbs on account of being dead flat 🙂.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Coffee and cake at Froghill Wharf looks delightful. I’m in!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. June’s Travels · May 12

    The canal walks sounds delightful! The colorful boats are lovely. I would go to the cafe too! As a tea drinker, I love pretty British tea sets and can’t resist the delicious scones👏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · May 12

      We drink mostly tea, and just the occasional coffee or mocha. We also like a scone (or two!). There’s a big debate here about how to pronounce the word “scone”. Some people, including Mrs P and I, pronounce it to rhyme with “bone”. Others insist (wrongly!) that the word should rhyme with “don” / “con”. It sounds trivial, but the argument gets very heated!

      Liked by 1 person

      • June’s Travels · May 12

        Very interesting about the pronunciation of scone! English is a beautiful language. The more I read and listen to it, the more I love it😻

        Liked by 1 person

  7. tanjabrittonwriter · May 12

    Count me among those who enjoyed the ramble along Caldon Canal with you. I would love to experience it on a barge as well. And wouldn’t want to miss a cup of coffee and the aforementioned large slab of cake, of course. 😊🍰

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · May 12

      I’ve never been on a canal barge trip. Mrs P – who used to do this every year in her youth! – tells me it’s very restful and enjoyable. However the prospect of me “driving” a boat many metres long would strike fear into any clear-thinking citizen, so I’ll probably give it a miss 🙂.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · May 12

        I envy Mrs. P’s experience–it sounds absolutely lovely. I didn’t necessarily mean that you should be driving the boat yourself. Rather, I imagined that there would be piloted tours one could book, even if only for a few hours. That might be a relaxing way to experience the canal.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · May 13

        Agreed. I think it’s something we may do one day. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · May 16

        I look forward to reading about it. 😊

        Like

  8. I very much enjoyed this virtual stroll along the Caldon Canal. I’m grateful to learn about the industrial history (and the process of creating lime!). The details about Wedgwood are interesting too, I look forward to your future explorations!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · May 12

      It was my pleasure to share this account. Many more explorations to follow in the coming months!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Delights: May 13 to May 19 – Fashioned For Joy

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