On the 24th of August 1789, the Cromford Canal Company was formed by an act of Parliament. It had, from monies raised (£46,000), to cut the canal and fill it with water, which in those days was a highly prized commodity as it drove the wheels of industry in the Derwent valley. A committee was appointed and Sir Richard Arkwright, the mill owner, was Chairman. Work began on staking out the course of the canal that year.
In 1793, the 14 mile long canal was completed and by May had received tolls totalling £1,054, but a setback occurred in October of that year when the Leawood acqueduct collapsed, allegedly due to the use of Crich lime in the mortar which did not set. The canal’s engineer (Mr William Jessop) offered to pay for the repairs himself out of his wages. Meanwhile, a railway was constructed over the acqueduct to keep traffic flowing.
The canal operated successfully for a further 51 years. 1844 was a dry year and the canal suffered from a lack of water – the normal supply from the Cromford Sough and Bonsall Brook had been supplying less water, due to the Merebrook Sough removing water from lead mines at a level below the canal. By autumn of that year, the situation was so serious that a pump was hired and installed by the end of November to take water from the river Derwent.
In January 1845, the Cromford Canal Company decided to have a permanent pump built, to prevent a repetition of the events of 1844. Graham & Company of the Milton Iron Works, Elsecar were asked to build a 70 horsepower engine, to cost £1,965 and would be ready for work in July of that year. The Pumphouse was to be built on land owned by a Mr Nightingale on the opposite side of the river to where it stands today. Unfortunately, Mr Nightingale did not see the light and did not wish to sell his land for such a use – the present site was chosen instead.
The pump was not installed in July 1845, in fact the manufaturer wrote to the Canal Company in 1848 asking if the engine was to be completed. The reasons for this are not clear, but 1844 was a particularly dry year and this was not repeated in subsequent years. The Cromford Canal Company was also considering selling out to the Manchester, Matlock and Midland Joint Railway Company and did not wish to spent unnecessarily. The railway company did not decide that year whether or not to buy the Cromford Canal Company, but did offer to pay for the engine. In October 1848, they were told that the pump would cost £2,700 to be completed and installed with an additional £200 to clean the engine as it had stood outside for some time. The sum was agreed and as the canal had to be diverted for the railway and the hired pump removed, it appeared a logical solution.
In late 1849, the Leawood Pumphouse became operational and pumped water from the River Derwent into the Croford Canal for the first time since its conception in 1844.