The Caldon Canal (or more properly, the Caldon Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal), opened in 1779, runs 18 miles from Etruria, in Stoke-on-Trent where it leaves the Trent and Mersey Canal at the summit level, to Froghall, Staffordshire. The canal has 17 locks and the 69 metre long Froghall Tunnel.
The first plans by the proprietors of the Trent & Mersey Canal Company to construct a canal from the summit level to Leek were considered in January 1773. This would have been a tub-boat canal, as the boats were designed to carry just 5 tons, and rather than using locks, inclined planes were to be used at points where the level of the canal needed to change. Two more plans were considered, and the third included extra reservoirs which would supply the summit level of the existing main line.
At a similar time, an independent company was planning a link to Leek, but the Trent & Mersey managed to block this. Having secured contracts with several owners of limestone quarries in the Caldon Low area, the company sought an Act of Parliament to authorise construction of the new works, which it obtained in May 1776.
The canal commences at Etruria, immediately adjacent to the top lock of the Stoke flight on the Trent & Mersey canal. A statue of James Brindley, the engineer for the Trent & Mersey main line, stands near the junction. Following the course of the infant River Trent, the waterway climbs to a summit level at Stockton Brook, which carries it over the watershed between the Trent and Churnet Valleys. Thereafter the canal descends through locks at Hazelhurst and then Cheddleton, into an initially broad flood plain.
At about a mile above Consall Forge, at Oak Meadow Ford Lock, the canal locks down into The River Churnet for about a mile; the reason for this is that The Valley at this point is too narrow to accommodate both canal and river. High river levels can prevent vessels from using this section. At Consall Forge, river and canal part company again, and the canal, which is now only wide enough for a single boat, continues its rural journey to Froghall. The final section, built after the main construction was finished, includes the 76 yards (69 m) Froghall Tunnel, which has limited headroom, immediately followed by Froghall Basin.
Leek - The canal has one branch, the Leek Branch, which runs for 3 miles (4.8 km) and includes the 130-yard (120 m) Leek Tunnel. The Leek Branch, opened in 1800/01, meets the main line at Hazelhurst Junction, after crossing the main line on Hazelhurst Aqueduct grid reference SJ954536. Currently the branch ends disappointingly some way off Leek town centre.
The original length of the canal, extending to a basin on the south side of Leek Railway Station, was filled in in the late 1950's / early 1960's to allow for the building of the Barnfields Road Industrial Estate. (When it appeared that Harecastle tunnel, on the Trent and Mersey Canal, might have to close permanently because of mining subsidence, a bypassing connection between the Leek Branch and the Macclesfield Canal at Bosley was mooted; fortunately Harecastle tunnel remains open to navigation.)
A survey has been commissioned to investigate the possibility of extending the branch back into Leek. In November 2009 a breach occurred just beyond the northern portal of Leek Tunnel. This resulted in the end section being closed for eight months while repairs were carried out. The cause of the problem was thought to be an old culvert. While the canal was drained, several other sections of embankment were re-inforced, and the repaired canal was reopened on 5 July 2010.
Uttoxeter Canal - Originally, the canal also had a further 13 mile branch, which opened in 1811. Sometimes referred to as the Uttoxeter Canal, it ran from Froghall as far south as Uttoxeter in Staffordshire and had 17 locks. The Canal was never a commercial success and in 1849 much of it was filled in by the North Staffordshire Railway Company and converted into the NSR Churnet Valley line from Leekbrook to Uttoxeter (which itself was finally closed for goods traffic in 1988). This line is still open as far south as Oakamoor, as a preserved railway, the Churnet Valley Railway. Further south, at Denstone, several buildings including a church have been built on the line of the canal.
Incidentally this branch line had the first automatic, train-operated level-crossing in the UK, at Spath, just outside Uttoxeter. A few bridges from the Uttoxeter branch remain, with the occasional 'milepost', and Uttoxeter still has an area called "The Wharf". The Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust has put forward plans to re-open the Uttoxeter Branch. However, part of the old Canal bed has been lost forever underneath the huge JCB factory at Rocester so the proposed route diverges from the original canal.
Foxley - Another much shorter branch of the Caldon main line, the Foxley, ran from Milton in the north east of Stoke-on-Trent through Sneyd Green to Ford Green near Smallthorne. What little remains of the Foxley can be found in the Holden Lane Pools nature reserve, as well as alongside the footpath from the reserve to the Elizabethan Ford Green Hall. The position of the former junction is marked, on a sharp bend in the canal, at a pub called 'The Foxley' in Milton.