Abraham Wheatcroft (1747-1812) lived in Crich Carr, where he may have had a farm, and was recorded as an inn keeper at Crich and a trustee of the Methodist Chapel– an interesting combination! Anticipating the commercial possibilities of the arrival of the Cromford Canal, by the time of its opening he had acquired at least five boats.
His son German (1773-1841) worked for the Peak Forest Canal Co from 1794 to 1809. Some disagreement caused him to leave that canal and to go into partnership with his younger brother Nathaniel (1777-1862). Nathaniel had probably been running boats on the Cromford Canal with his father from when the canal opened and later took over the business, turning from bulk carriage of coal, limestone etc towards general goods, something akin to the local postal and courier services of today. One of the boats that he used was built by his father at Whatstandwell. By 1809 he was operating regular services to Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham.
Another brother, Samuel, also set up as a boatbuilder at Whatstandwell. Over the next 40 years he built 30 boats for his brothers, and his sons Abraham and George became boatbuilders there. By 1851 Abraham had taken over another boatyard at Bullbridge where he repaired boats.
When German joined Nathaniel’s business they began trading as N&G Wheatcroft and by 1822 there were 15 boats (out of around 35) on general goods deliveries including two boats a week to London via Leicester, taking only 6 days for the round trip.
Wheatcrofts expanded their business to include places not served by water by transferring goods to wagons at their Buckland Hollow depot where two major turnpike roads crossed.
In 1823 the brothers dissolved their partnership so that they could each take their sons into partnership and then traded as Nathaniel Wheatcroft & Son (NW&S) and German Wheatcroft & Sons (GW&S). Whilst Nathaniel concentrated on the carriage of bulk goods, Nathaniel developed the long-distance services for general goods, both having warehouses at Cromford and Buckland Hollow.
By 1838 nearly half the boats recorded passing through Langley Mill were owned by Wheatcrofts; 53 per week were GW&S, 5 per week NW&S. Family members ran the depots at Birmingham, Nottingham and London.
Wheatcrofts also used the railways from an early date, including the Mansfield & Pinxton (opened 1819) and the Cromford & High Peak (opened 1831), which also involved considerable traffic on the Peak Forest Canal.
Clearly the businesses proved profitable for the family. Nathaniel built himself a substantial house at what is now 16 Chapel Hill, Cromford, where he lived for the rest of his life, plus five adjoining houses. He was a regular Methodist preacher and was involved with several other local businesses.
German built or purchased Ladybank House, which now forms a part of the Excavator pub at Buckland Hollow, where he established his offices. Around 1828 he bought the 350-acre Wingfield Park estate where he lived for the rest of his life.
Trade was hit by the main line railways in the 1840s and in 1847 German’s son David sold the canal carrying business to the Grand Junction Canal Co’s carrying subsidiary. Still trading under the GW&S name, David traded in stone and marble and established the factory beside the canal at Sawmills.
NW&S continued bulk carriage by canal and indeed launched a new boat – Victoria – onto the canal in 1898, the first Wheatcroft boat to be registered for over 50 years. Although there was no Wheatcroft family involvement in the later years, NW&S traded locally as until after the Second World War, and that is the origin of the (replica) sign above the door of the Weighbridge Office. It was originally located above the door of the small office that is now the cheese shop, as can be seen in contemporary photographs.
This information is taken almost exclusively from an article by Grahame Boyes in the Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society’s for November 2009.