Sunday, 20 April 2014

Nowhere in particular: In search of the abandoned Nottingham Canal Part 1

On Good Friday I left Susan at home finishing off seven weeks work creating a new version of the Nottinghamshire Local History Association website whilst I took myself off in search of the abandoned section of the Nottingham Canal between Wollaton Vale and Trowell. The map above shows where I walked (the section from Trowell to Langley Mill will be another walk).

1. I went to Wollaton Vale on a Nottingham City Transport 35 bus from Lenton and got off at the Grangewood Road stop. You can just see the 35 disappearing in the distance. The stop is over a pedestrian tunnel which follows the line of what use to be the Nottingham Canal if my 1954 Nottingham street map is correct. Then, all this was open farmland.

2. This is the footpath beside Grangewood Road viewed from photograph/location 1. It is following the line of what was once the Nottingham Canal.

3. In a couple of places along Grangewood Road there is what I can only describe as 'street sculpture'. It all very attractive in its way. If I had my way I would have a lot more public sculpture in our streets and parks.

4. Where Grangewood Road meets Latimer Drive you can look across and see this sign. It is the eastern entrance Nottingham Canal Local Nature Reserve and is right on the border between Nottingham City Council and Broxtowe Borough Council.

5. As you can see there is an excellent footpath which follows the line of the abandoned canal through what is now woodland.

6. The footpath follows the line of the canal and this is the first point where there was any water to be seen. Here it passed under the railway line which runs between the Trowell and Radford junctions. In the late-1988s the then British Railways proposed closing the line. Susan and me were part of a successful campaign by Transport  2000 (now the Better Transport campaign) to save the line.
7. At the western side of the Nature Reserve you have to cross Coventry Lane to continue following the line of the abandoned canal.

8. One of a number of Erewash Valley Trail information boards there are along the walk.
9. For a short distance sections of the old Nottingham Canal have water in them. Most of the walk though, the old canal in no more than a depression beside the footpath.

10. In places the footpath is slowly becoming a tunnel of greenery.

11. This was the first sitting place I came across. I rather like how stone blocks from the canal have been used to create more seating.

12. The first of two old canal bridges still in situ.  It may have once led to a farm marked on a old map as Swancar Farm.
13. The canal bridge is no longer in use and offers  views of the surrounding countryside.

14. The branch railway I mentioned under photograph 6 runs to the south of the footpath and just one train trundled by as I walk along. I caught this glimpse of it.

15. The first people I met were Millie the dog walking her friend. She had dropped her ball down the bank and I caught them as they struggled back onto the footpath after a unsuccessful search.
16. The footpath has to divert around the Trowell Garden Centre, an ugly collection of sheds, but it does have a loo and a café, so I am not going to say anything other than that its signage was its most attractive feature. After this point the walk, sadly, becomes unsuitable for wheelchair users and buggy pushers.
17. Just by the sign in photograph 16 above, there is this gate to the footpath which wraps around the garden centre.
18. On the far side of the garden centre, you come to a footpath crossroads with just two signs, although there are four routes.
19. In fact, there appears to be only three paths at this point, this being the third footpath. It is another old canal bridge. Immediately to the left, before you go over the bridge, there is a slope leading down to a grass footpath beside what remains of the Nottingham Canal at this point.
20. Not far along the footpath there is this sign. 
21. A few yards further on you come to this pool (or is it a pond?). It is the largest expanse of water you will see on the walk and there is a bench overlooking the pool, which I was sitting on when I took this photograph.
22. At this point the footpath had just dipped so that it could pass under the M1 Motorway alongside the Nottingham Road. I took this photograph looking back and you can just make out the Motorway bridge through the trees. The number 'TWO' Trent-Barton bus stops right beside the bridge and the name of the stop is 'Motorway Bridge'. It is here that wheelchairs and buggy pushers can rejoin the walk.
23. This section of the footpath runs in a shallow loop between two points on the Nottingham Road and is probably the longest stretch where a clear imprint of the old Nottingham Canal remains.

23 extra. Peeping out from among the brambles, across from the footpath, is this warning!

24. Then you dip down under the Nottingham Road on the edge of Trowell. The top of the bridge at road level appears original and may have been constructed using reclaimed stone, but the path its self is new and what remained of the canal filled in and concreted over.

25. A rather grubby sign marks the beginning of this section of the footpath on the north side of the Nottingham Road.

26. This sign close by is altogether cleaner, although there is evidence to suggest that at least one bird has had a close look.

27. This section of the footpath gently curves for about half-a-mile until it reaches Grange Wood on the eastern side of the footpath. It did make me wonder if the 1960s road off Wollaton Vale where this walk began had any link to this wood.

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28. It is here I had already decided to end my walk along the line of the old Nottingham Canal. I will come back here before too long and finish following the footpath to Langley Mill, where the canal used to meet with the Cromford and Erewash Canals.

I love the fact that the sign simply says 'Shortcut', but not to where!

I should also say that this is not a good place for wheelchair users or buggy pushers to end their walk...
29. The stepped 'Shortcut' footpath to and from the line of the canal and Grange Wood is a bit too steep for cyclists, who have worn a groove over the years pushing their bikes up.

30. The 'Shortcut' footpath leads to a lane, with this railway footbridge opposite.

31. As you walk over the footbridge you get this view of the railway heading north towards Chesterfield and Sheffield from Long Eaton to the south. It is a kind of historic railway 'bypass' of sorts, as the main passenger line between these points runs via Derby to the west.
31 extra. The footbridge brings you out onto the Ilkeston Road, a few hundred yards away from where the walk ends and, by chance, a Trent-Barton TWO heading towards Wollaton and Nottingham's Victoria Centre Bus Station was coming towards me. Trent-Barton 'brand' many of their bus routes instead of using numbers, although the other two buses I could catch back to Lenton and Nottingham from here both have numbers — the 20 on Sunday and 21 Monday–Saturday (both hourly).
32. A couple of hundred yards on the River Erewash is where the Ilkeston Road becomes the Nottingham Road (and vice-versa). The Erewash through Trowell also marks the county boundary between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
33. My walk ended with a real canal — the Erewash Canal. With the amount of debris just visible in the lock it is obvious the gates have not been opened for some time. It is only in recent years that I have walked (and blogged) about this wonderful canal. A forgotten historic gem, at the heart of our industrial past.

I suspect that this is the perfect ending for any walk — a good old fashion English pub with real people and real ales. In other places this scene would be full of folk enjoying a chat and a pint in the sunshine, but not this Good Friday afternoon.

There are walks and places which appear to the unknowing passer-by to be 'nowhere in particular' and this walk could be described as one of those walks. Walking the Erewash Canal is another, but they are my England, the one I love.

Good English local history is like a British postage stamp. I remember asking as a kid why our postage stamps do not bear the name of our country, like other nations' postage stamps? The answers I got was a retort of sorts. "You know who you are don't you? It is an inborn confidence which comes from knowing who and what you are.

On this walk I met one dog and her companion, exchanged greetings with two unknown cyclists and saw a man taking photographs of his daughter in her buggy near Coventry Lane. Otherwise I was in my own world, one full of clues as to what once was and, at times, these feelings were palpable. No walker can ask for more.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

An Aspley walk with TravelRight

On Saturday 12 April, I took myself off to Aspley on the north-west side of Nottingham to go on a local history walk organised by TravelRight and led by local historian Chris Matthews. The map below shows the route we followed.

My photographs come with minimal information because TravelRight have published an excellent leaflet about Aspley, Broxtowe and Cinderhill called Garden City by Chris, which he has also written about on his own blog page, which you can download here.

There is another leaflet about Beechdale, Bilborough and Strelley, called A New World, also by Chris, which you can link to here.

Chris Mathews also has a wonderful website at:

It is amazing how many times localhistoryandart crosses over my own interests, from CLASP architecture, something I wrote about in The Nottinghamshire Historian in 2010 and 2011. I then buy a copy of collection of essays about Ian Nairn, published by Five Leaves, only to find that it was designed by Chris. Without doubt, he is the most innovative local historian I know.

The walk began and ended at Aspley Library, at the junction of the Melbourne and Nuthall roads. Inside there is this wonderful roof-light. I took this photograph by laying on the floor. 

Aspley Library opened in 1937 and reflects a style I love. I see it as 'democratic', insomuch that it was intended for everyone. Nottingham City Council was saying to the world 'Nothing is too good for our people. We will build them new homes and places of learning and leisure to match'. That is what Aspley Library and countless others said. And can say so again, given vision and leadership.

The walkers gather. I am in there somewhere, as a young man called Andy kindly took this photograph.

Chris Matthews shows us where we will be walking.

Looking at the route he plotted with a blue felt pen, it did seem a little ambitious. Chris is one of the best local history walk leaders I know and back in 2008 (that long ago!) I wrote a two page lead news story in The Nottinghamshire Historian (No.81 Autumn/Winter 2008) headed  'The first of a new breed of Nottinghamshire local historians?' He brings to everything he does a great deal of research and scholarship. I have watched him enthrall young audiences coming new to local history, hanging onto every word.

Looking around the group, I suspected that a good few would be bringing their own knowledge and reminiscences to the walk and that this would slow the pace down considerably. This was going to be very much a learning walk for everyone and so it turned out to be.

Here is the TravelRight Walking Group, getting ready for the off.
We got no further than the bottom of the steps, before we were looking at Aspley Library's foundation stone. I intend to add a photograph of this next week. After any walk, you realise there are opportunities you missed in terms of taking photographs or making notes.

At the time, I was thinking about how vandals and authority collude against the rest of us. This fact is captured perfectly in this photograph. No doubt the truly awful 'artful' metal security grills over the window (and others) have been installed as protection against vandalism. The equally awful green signage, on the other hand, does not have to be there. The fine stonework above the entrance could have been cleaned far more cheaply and says, in large letters, 'BRANCH LIBRARY', so why, oh why, the awful green signage? 

It also tells you a great deal about the mindset of those who manage and make decisions on our behalf. They have to 'brand' everything. They are no different to those who have to spray their 'tags' on every wall.

Melbourne Road from the side of Aspley Library. Remarkably quiet and free of traffic for a Saturday afternoon.

The Walking Group crossed over to lefthand side, as the entrance to Melbourne Park is on the left side of the road.

To the side of the house you can see on the righthand side of Melbourne Road and the righthand edge of the above photograph is this cut-through, a public footpath following the course of what was once a mineral railway.

Several of the older walkers said the railway was still being used at least once a week in the 1960s to deliver coal to coal merchants.

Looking south across Melbourne Park to St Margaret's Church on Aspley Lane.

The Park pavilion is still used by footballers and there were several matches being played as we walked though the park.

Again, it is depressing to see a fine public building like this surrounded by a high metal fence and all the windows boarded up.

On the east side of Melbourne Park are two rows of tall trees. I love how they have been shaped by the prevailing wind. How they all bend to the east.

The same trees again. The gap between them and the fences of the back gardens on Newlyn Drive is where the mineral railway to used to run, when it was the park's north and eastern boundary.

We walked out on to Newlyn Drive and turned left and followed the road to the Ring Road and its junction with Nuthall Road, which then walked along until we reached Aspley Library again*. To it's right, we turned off the Nuthall Road, with TravelRight's own David bringing up the rear, making sure that no once got lost or left behind.

NOTE:* On the map this section is not shown.

Then we were back on the line of the old mineral railway again, away from the noise of Nuthall Road.

Not far away in the grounds Christ Church, Cinderhill, I came across Bluebells and a good few of them. I will be going to Oldmoor Wood in the next week or two to see a display of Bluebells as good as any and I will be getting there on a 35 bus!

Across Bells Lane at its junction with Nuthall Road and on towards Cinderhill Island, the first of two churches. This former Methodist Church now a Age UK centre.

Christ Church, Cinderhill, which sadly has no churchyard of its own. Old gravestones tell their own stories and give a glimpse of a world we can never, truly, know.

This was described by one walker at the old Christ Church Hall, but on the 1954 map at the top of this blog it is marked as a 'school'. I suspect the 1954 map maker picked up a reference to a Sunday school — something which went on in most church halls at one time.

Turn 180° from the Hall above and you are on a footpath leading to Basford Miners' Welfare Club. To the left is this pocket of open space. It just takes one line of trees to deaden the noise of Nuthall Road.

Then we are at the Miners' Welfare Club, once Basford Hall. The core of the original house can be seen and you get an idea of its lovely proportions, despite the protruding extension and smokers' hut. Nearest the camera is a more recent extension dated 1996.

At one time, I knew the Club quite well and was a regular visitor during my days as a councillor for what was then Portland ward. This was where all Party meetings ended — need I say more?

It was during this time I became a regular user of the then newly introduced 35 bus service to Bagnall Road and The Headstocks public house. Two friends lived close by. When I stood down as a councillor in 1985, my use of the 35 became only occasional, but I appreciated it enough even then to know that it was a very special bus route, right up there in the pantheon of English bus routes.

From here we walked through a modern housing development to Bagnall Road and its junction with Cinderhill Road, where we took the path down to the Cinderhill tram stop and the footpath beyond to the Phoenix Business Park, where I snapped a tram as it trundled towards us. It wasn't until I downloaded the image into Photoshop that I noticed the driver waving.

At Phoenix Business Park we stopped to look at this commemorative plaque from 1994.

One of walkers said that in the garden attached of the Miller's Barn restaurant at Phoenix Park was the remains of one of the old mining shafts at Cinderhill Colliery and the manager on duty kindly let us all go in and have a look. To me, it looks more like a folly than actual remains, as if someone has piled stones on top of one another and cemented them together. Inside the restaurant has exposed brickwork made to look like what remains of an old engine house. However, I tend to fall into the writing camp which says 'Never let the facts get in the way of a good story', so I am happy to believe that we did see the remains of an old pit shaft at Cinderhill Colliery. Why not pay them a visit and have a good meal whilst you make up your own mind.                                                                             

Across the Nottingham Road and still in view of Phoenix park is the entrance to Broxtowe Country Park. When we started out, Chris had this down as our mid-way point, but after two hours, members of the group were getting tired, so the decision was made that we would head back to Aspley Library straight down Nuthall Road.

The second part of Chris's walk will probably make a good walk on its own. In the meantime, I will try to find the time to complete it on my own. 

Back at Aspley Library there was a toilet, in this order, food and nice comfy seats to sit and watch old films of Nottingham's 'Garden City', which meant that Rebecca Beinart's innovative reminiscence mapping table got less attention than it deserved, but there were a few interested folk, like Michael and Joy (right).

Those taking an interest wrote their contribution onto a Post-It note and stuck on the map. Even with just four or five people (some did not want to be photographed), every Post-It note sparked a discussion, which demonstrated what I already knew from reminiscence work on my part dating back over thirty years. Something like this needs a day, not the hour it had become because the walk was so successful.

I will end with Hilary pointing out one of the myriad of changes which others had missed or forgotten. My own contribution was a note Rebecca wrote at my suggestion marking the location of the Old Basford High-rise Flats Complex. Close enough to appear on the map, but forgotten until mentioned by me. The whole mapping session was a co-operative effort and I hope it will be repeated, but next time as a day on its own.

Well done to TravelRight. They really are tackling local history in an innovative way in the one part of Nottingham that does not have a local history society to call its own, apart from Basford, Bulwell and Nuthall. If all this ends with a local history society or group being formed for Aspley, Bilborough, Broxtowe and Strelley it will be a result for TravelRight.