The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 2 - May 1989

The Canal And Lenton

Casting his mind back to the inter-war years, Les Berry recalls how the canals in and around Lenton looked, during his childhood and early working life.

Let me start out by the Crown Hotel across at the beginning of Western Boulevard. There is now hardly anything there to suggest that the Nottingham canal once ran nearby; that is except for the pedestrian subway running beneath the Wollaton Road. Created when the canal bed was filled in, the subway is a later-day use for the bridge, which previously had carried the road over the canal. Once under the road the canal then passed alongside the edge of Wollaton Park, the boundary wall of that could, I think, still be found standing east of the Orston Drive properties, at least until the second world war. Lock No.5 lay midway between the Derby and Wollaton Roads, with a second set of locks next to Lenton Lodge, the imposing gatehouse on Derby Road. The stretch of canal between these two locks was always a favourite swimming place with local youngsters. Even when I started working at the Players factory, if it had been a particularly hot summer's day, I and a couple of fellow workers liked nothing better on finishing work than to walk across to this section of the canal, strip off and enjoy a quick dip. At that time our homes didn't run to a bathroom, so it was a convenient way of cooling down.

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Looking northwards with the lockgates beside Lenton Lodge in the
foreground. No date. Photograph courtesy of Nottinghamshire
County Library Service.

Passing under the Derby Road the canal followed the course which the river Leen now takes until just beyond Abbey Street it turned left towards Nottingham with the Beeston Cut going off to the right and across to the Trent at Beeston. On Hillside were a set of terraced houses, behind which were allotments and the sandpit belonging to Thomas Suffolk. On the other side of the canal was Bayley's tannery; access to this factory and the rest of Leengate being via a wooden bridge. Between Leen Gate and Abbey Street there were footpaths on both sides of the canal but the towpath proper was on the 'Dunkirk' side. Part way along this section of the towpath was an overflow from the canal which pedestrians crossed by means of a raised wooden platform. Excess water from the canal flowed down this overflow into a dyke which wended its way across the fields and alongside the far section of Dunkirk Road whereupon the waters eventually re-entered the Beeston Cut near to where the railway line crossed over the canal. If one chose to walk along the other footpath to Abbey Street you passed by the field in which tannery workers laid out cured skins to dry. Then just before the Abbey Street bridge there was Cloister Square. This consisted of a group of houses and also the tripe works of Thomas Sanderson & Sons. Almost always there was a pile of cows' hooves dumped in the factory yard waiting to be processed into 'cow-heel'. You usually got a strong whiff from these hooves if the wind was in the wrong direction, which caused you to hurry past. Also situated just before the bridge was the No.3 lock.

After going under Abbey Street, on the right hand side of the canal were the boundary walls and backs of the houses on Cloister Street, after which you came to the iron foundry belonging to Messrs. Davis & Sons. On the other side of the canal was the Johnson Arms public house followed by the large gardens fronting on Nazareth House. In those days a row of poplar trees lined the edge of the canal making these gardens quite secluded. You could, however, peer between the trees and catch a glimpse of the orphan girls as they played in the garden and also of the nuns as they sat watching them.

Where the Beeston Cut joined the Nottingham Canal a narrow iron bridge was positioned to allow those on foot to cross over and gain access to the next section of towpath on the far side of the canal-cut. The junction of the two canals was a popular spot with fishermen, possibly because of the wider stretch of water created at this point or perhaps it was simply that somewhat larger than average fish congregated here. Also to be found at this junction was the house at which the bargees stopped to pay their tolls. These were handed over to its occupant, a one armed man, whose name I have irritatingly forgotten. By this time there weren't all that many boats using the canals. Anything coming down from Wollaton and beyond was usually laden down with coal; though the traffic on the Beeston Cut carried a more varied cargo, as it headed to and from Nottingham. More often than not the boats belonged to the Fellows, Morton & Clayton Co., whose local offices and warehouse have now been converted into the Nottingham Canal Museum.

If the canal froze over, which happened to some extent most winters, it was usually the stretch from Wollaton to the junction with the Beeston Cut where the ice was most likely to be thick enough to permit 'skating'. The movement of water flowing from the Trent along the Beeston Cut and back into the Trent usually meant that it never iced up to the same extent. The last time I actively enjoyed the experience of skating or at least walking on the canal was in the winter of 1947. On that occasion I pushed a perambulator, complete with baby, from Leengate to the locks at Abbey Street.

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Lenton Junction and Lenton Chain bridge as they looked in the 1950s.
Photograph courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Services

Standing on the little iron bridge and looking towards Beeston there would be no Industrial Estate or embankment of Clifton Boulevard to block the view in those days. Instead it was one long stretch of fields interspersed with the occasional group of allotments. As you began to walk towards Beeston, across on the other side of the canal were the end houses of Cloister and Warwick Streets. These were essentially streets of terraced housing but at the end of Warwick Street was a decidedly superior detached property known as Warwick House. It even had its own boathouse. The people who lived there were equally superior and had little or nothing to do with their fellow residents of Warwick Street. Why they should choose to live here, isolated from their own social class was always something of a puzzle to the local inhabitants.

Beside Warwick House the canal became very narrow, only wide enough for one boat to pass. I think floodgates had once been positioned here, but my guess is they proved ineffective and were removed. Certainly almost every year the river Trent used to cover the fields up to Lenton with floodwater, so that in a bad year those floodgates would have been little use.

Apart from fishing and messing about on the canal bank, come the warmer weather of summer, I along with other youths used the Beeston Cut near Warwick Street as a swimming pool. Where the canal narrowed as it passed Warwick Street we called the 'Coffin Locks' and only the best swimmers ventured in this area because it was so deep. Less proficient swimmers walked on to a spot beyond where a profusion of elderberry bushes grew alongside the towpath. Known as 'Elderberry' the water here was relatively shallow and favoured by those still learning to swim. It was here at the age of eight or nine that I finally managed to get both feet off the bottom.

Although in later years my friends and I took to wearing swimming trunks, at this age we swam in our birthday suits. If anyone came along the towpath, those out of the water would usually rush into the hedge to conceal themselves; those already in the water simply stayed there.

If 'Elderberry' was considered too tame there was always the 'Kessy' beside the railway bridge which crossed the canal, where the water was a little deeper. Beyond the 'Kessy' was the stone humped back bridge leading to Chain Lane. Referred to as Cheyney Bridge, this was a very popular swimming spot - the very brave or simply foolhardy even used the top of the bridge as a diving board.

See in Lightbox
A view of the Gregory Street bridge. The photograph is
undated but through the bridge can be seen the buildings of
New Lenton, so it was taken before Abbey Bridge was
built in 1926. Photo courtesy of Nottinghamshire County
Library Service.

If one walked on further, once you were beyond the houses on Gibbons Street there was nothing but fields until Beeston. About a mile and a quarter on from Cheyney Bridge was a narrow foot bridge known as 'Black Bridge' which you could use to cross the canal and walk up to the farm belonging to Mr Woolley. You could then either retrace your steps or return to Dunkirk via Harriman's Lane. (The farm was to be found more or less where the present boiler house serving the Boots industrial Complex is now situated). Alongside the towpath, a few yards from Black Bridge was a stile which gave access to a footpath. This took you across the fields and came out on what was then known as Trent Lane, but is now Lenton Lane, or at least the truncated section beside the Trent at Clifton Bridge.

About half a mile from Beeston Lock, a set of concrete steps had been laid at the side of the canal and some wooden huts erected at the top of them. Referred to as the Beeston Open Air Baths, the huts were used as changing cubicles for those wishing to swim in the canal. Presumably the arrangement had been put on some sort of official basis with the permission of the Trent Navigation Company who then owned this section of the canal. I cannot say any more for the simple reason that I never chose to swim there.

Back at the iron bridge at Lenton, if one began to walk along the towpath towards Nottingham, on the left, once you had passed the grounds of Nazareth House, you came upon the boat yard of Mr Trevethick. This was a very busy area even in winter when the pleasure boats used on the Trent were brought here to undergo their annual overhaul in preparation for the coming season. Between Trevethick's boat yard and the Gregory Street bridge, were a coal yard and a charabanc depot. At the turn of the century the area was known as Clayton's wharf and some of the narrow boats bringing coal from the Wollaton and Trowell area unloaded their cargoes here. In the 1920s the coal yard was taken over by a Mr Robinson. He delivered coal to your door or alternatively you could collect it yourself, in which case you took it away in one of the many wheelbarrows provided for the purpose. Mr Robinson also ran a fleet of charabancs. These were a type of bus, where the seats were in rows and access to each row was via a door on the outside of the vehicle.

There was a canvas top to pull over if there was inclement weather but otherwise you were open to the elements.

The Gregory Street bridge in those days was of the humped back variety. (The present-day bridge is a replacement). It was also referred to as Clayton's Bridge. Beside it on the right was 'The Poplars', a large house occupied by a Mr Froggatt. I never knew very much about this elderly gentleman but recall he was always very well dressed, usually in plus fours and sported a goatee beard.

From the Poplars you walked along the towpath and under the bridge which carried the railway over the canal. These days you would see the marina complex but then it was just fields with the Nottingham to Derby railway line in the distance. Beyond the railway tracks was the large engineering works of Cammell-Laird Carriage, Wagon & Finance Co. This company manufactured railway carriages, many of them for export. At one time most of the carriages belonging to the Indian State Railway were said to have been made here in Nottingham. Later the factory was sold to the Royal Ordnance.

The river Leen, that used to run close by the canal for much of its course across Old Lenton, was actually directed into the canal at a point just before the railway bridge. The waters of Leen, having mixed with those of the canal, eventually left via the overflow up near the No.2 Lock, situated just above Wilford Road Bridge. The waters then crossed the Meadows in the Tinker's Leen and flowed out into the river Trent near Trent Bridge.

Beyond the railway bridge on the opposite side to the towpath were the various streets of terraced housing leading off Castle Boulevard, with the large factory belonging to Debenhams in their midst. After this the canal ran on, as it does to this day, alongside Castle Boulevard and on into Nottingham. But at this point I shall stop, having related much of what I can recall of the canals of my youth.


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