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MacEwen 2024 shortlist: Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, Derbyshire

‘The profound influence a united community can have on preserving our past while shaping a better future’

Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects.
Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects. Credit: Ron Common

Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal near Lea Bridge, Derbyshire
James Boon Architects for Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust
Contract cost: £90,000 
GIFA: 80m2

In the heart of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, Aqueduct Cottage is a testament to the power of community collaboration, historical preservation and environmental stewardship. The transformation from a derelict ruin to a busy visitor centre for Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is nothing short of remarkable.

The dedication of the community volunteers and support from local businesses, coupled with the positive impact on education, nature conservation and the local economy, means its exceptional restoration journey deserves credit. It reminds us of the profound influence that a united community can have on preserving our past while shaping a better future.

Aqueduct Cottage was built in 1802 as a lock keeper’s cottage at a junction on the Cromford Canal, part of the rise of industry in the area and the transformation of the surrounding landscape. Abandoned in 1974, it fell into near-total disrepair.

In 1997, locals formed the Lea Wood Trust to purchase the woodland (including the cottage) saving it from developers. In turn they generously gifted the 30-hectare estate to Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in 2012.

  • Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects.
    Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects. Credit: Ron Common
  • Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects.
    Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects. Credit: Ron Common
  • Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects.
    Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects. Credit: Ron Common
  • Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects.
    Aqueduct Cottage, Cromford Canal, by James Boon Architects. Credit: Ron Common
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In partnership with Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, work on the ruined cottage began in 2019. A Facebook page attracted thousands of followers from 40 countries. This encouraged over £30,000 of donations, recruiting over 50 volunteers giving over 8000 hours towards the restoration. Free materials and services were donated by local businesses and free or reduced rate time given by various professionals, some of whom also provided training for volunteers.

Without significant grant funding being available, the project was completed using volunteer input and donated materials. The cottage opened to the public in March 2023 and is now a much-admired visitor attraction.

The MacEwen Award panel was intrigued. ‘Something about this got me from the first page,’ said last year’s MacEwen winner and judge Alex Scott-Whitby. ‘You can tell there is a really strong relationship between all these different groups…there is a generosity in this project which is really powerful.’

See more on MacEwen shortlisted projects and architecture for the common good 

 

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