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The Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway initially served neither Manchester nor the Midlands, since its connection with the North Midland Railway at Ambergate Junction was in a northerly direction. The Act for a line from just south of Stockport to Ambergate was passed in 1846.
The initial plan was to build a line from Ambergate to Stockport as a joint venture between Manchester and Birmingham Railway and the Midland Railway, using the former's line to allow the latter to gain access to Manchester. However, almost immediately the Manchester and Birmingham became part of the LNWR, which was averse to the Midland entering Manchester.
The line opened as far as Rowsley in 1849, but went no further, giving its promoters something of a problem. In order to derive some income from it, they developed Matlock Bath as a tourist town.
In 1853, a junction was made by the Cromford and High Peak Railway now LNWR-owned. Meanwhile, with LNWR's support, the Stockport, Disley and Whaley Bridge Railway connected Manchester to the north end of the C&HPR, and in 1863 extended to Buxton, which blocked the Midland's plans. However, undaunted, the Midland extended from Rowsley to Buxton, at almost the same time.
The section between Rowsley and Ambergate was still jointly leased with the LNWR. For many years, the town of Wirksworth had been campaigning for a branch line from Duffield. The C&HPR was interested, but had insufficient funds. The Midland was initially unenthusiastic, but then realised that the branch could be extended to Rowsley, avoiding the section to Ambergate, being unsure about what might occur when joint lease expired in 1871.
If the LNWR gained control, it would cause considerable problems. However, the LNWR gave up its share of the lease on a line that was isolated from the rest of its system when it expired, and the Midland was relieved of the necessity of extending from Wirksworth over a very difficult piece of terrain.but the LNWR did not pursue its obstruction of the Midlands use of the original line. The branch opened to Wirksworth in 1867 but was not carried further.
Meanwhile the Midland had joined with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (another competitor to the LNWR) to extend from Millers Dale to New Mills to meet the MS&LR's line into Manchester London Road. This became known as the Sheffield and Midland Railway Companies' Committee and provided the route the Midland had been looking for. The whole line had been extremely costly to build, with many tunnels and earthworks. With its bends and gradients, it proved a challenge to footplate crews.
The Midland thus had a path from London to Manchester London Road (now Piccadilly), and later constructed a more direct line from New Mills into Manchester Central station. In LMS days it featured named expresses, such as the Palatine and the Peaks.
The line from Matlock to Buxton was closed in 1968. Continuing support is being given by a heritage group Peak Rail who have restored the section from Matlock to Rowsley. The line from Matlock to Ambergate, plus the section of the Midland Main Line to Derby are now referred to as the Derwent Valley Line. Meanwhile, the Wirksworth branch still exists and is currently being restored as the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.