The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 4 - June 1990

The Campus - Facing up to it's past

Puzzled by two cliff faces on the University campus, Frank Barnes seeks out his quarry and tracks down the answer to Dunkirk. Mystified? Then read on!

Readers may be aware that the cliff on the northwest side of the Queen's Medical Centre is the final working face of Thomas Suffolk's moulding sand quarry; extraction finally ceasing in the 1940s. Across on the other side of Clifton Boulevard is another impressive, though shorter, cliff face north of the Physics-Mathematics building on the University campus. You might suppose this second cliff was the result of an earlier quarrying for moulding sand. You would, however, be incorrect. The rock may look similar to that exposed alongside the Q.M.C. but its physical characteristics are different, sufficiently different to rule out its use at iron foundries.

James Shipman, who contributed the chapter on Geology in J.T. Godfrey's History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton (1884), described the boundary of the Trent flood plain in the present University area, pointing out that 'the line of the escarpment takes a sudden bend to the north for three or four hundred yards and sweeps round so as to form a small bay, ending at the back in a low cliff'. This is the cliff under present consideration. Shipman went onto suppose that the bay and its accompanying cliff face had been formed by the Trent at a time when the river flowed at a slightly higher level. Though a competent geologist, Shipman was wrong. To the geomorphologist's eye it is clear that a river as large as the Trent could not directly cut a cliff like that in such a sharply restricted embayment. We must, therefore, return to the idea that it is man-made.

The cliff face by the Physics-Mathematics building

There used to be a second cliff face in front of Lenton Firs Farm (originally called Lenton Hall Farm) evident in the painting, by A.E. Schofield, used on the cover of Issue 34 of The Lenton Listener. Both the farm and the cliff face have gone now, the latter as a result of a major in-filling operation carried out by the University in 1959-60. Where the edge of that cliff would have been coincides approximately with the path that now runs below the Hugh Stewart Hall extension and along the north west side of the Social Science building car park.
I’ve long been interested in trying to determine how the landscape of the campus came to be as it is and quickly recognised that quarrying must have taken place at these two sites. With no reason to suppose extraction for moulding sand I was initially somewhat puzzled as to why such a very large quantity of sand and sandstone had been removed and carried away from a location that was rather off the beaten track. Eventually I came across Robert Mellors' little booklet Lenton Then and Now (1912) in which he states the exposure of the rock in the fields east of the (Lenton) Hall was occasioned by excavations for the Midland Railway. Since it is hardly conceivable that this could mean prospecting for a line of construction for the Derby to Nottingham track that runs along the flood plain, I assumed Mellors meant that the Lenton sandstone outcrop was used as a source for ballast or for embankment construction along the railway at Dunkirk. Later I was to come across other evidence which confirmed this assumption.

The first railway between Nottingham and Derby was conceived at a meeting of coal owners at the Sun Inn, Eastwood on 16th August 1832 and the first three and largest subscribers for the Midland Railway Company were Messrs. Barber and Walker, John Wright of Lenton Hall, and his son and heir Francis Wright, who also lived at Lenton Hall. In 1830 at the age of 24, Francis Wright had become a director of the Butterley Company (of which his father was one of the founders)and he was to become the inspiration and effectively the sole proprietor and director in a reign of 43 years. The rapid growth of railways was beginning to provide the company with an alternative to road or canal as a means of transporting their products and was also presenting pioneering opportunities for Butterley's heavy engineering interests. All these factors would surely have helped predispose the Wright family to offer material from their nearby park for the construction of the three mile long embankment carrying the railway track into Nottingham.

Photo courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library ServiceSee in Lightbox

Etching used as the frontispiece to 'Original Rhymes' by Lucy Joynes (1844)
showing a train approaching along the embankment to Nottingham. On the left
are the factories of New Lenton and next to them The Park.
(Nottinghamshire County Library Service)

Although Parliamentary notices for a Midland Counties Railway were deposited soon after the initial meeting of 1832, the project aroused considerable opposition, and an Act was only obtained in 1836. Delay lent a sense of urgency to the enterprise, and work on the Nottingham to Derby railway began in May 1837, directed by Charles B. Vignoles. At the first Annual General Meeting of the Midland Counties Railway Company at Loughborough on 30th June 1837 Vignoles received his final instructions, and various contracts were let by the end of 1837 - that for the line from Long Eaton to Nottingham to Messrs. Taylor, Johnson and Sharp. A thousand men were working by the beginning of 1838, and the number quickly increased as the work rapidly advanced through the spring to reach 3,500 men and 325 horses. In December 1838 4,035 men and 457 horses were employed, as well as a stationary engine and two locomotives. By the second A.G.M. of the company in June 1838 it was reported that over a quarter of a million cubic yards of earth had been moved, and at least part of the three mile embankment on the approaches to Nottingham was under construction. From 4th June to 29th December 1838 1,462,430 cubic yards of 'earthworks’ was executed at a cost of £197,781, and a substantial part of that must have been the digging of Lenton Sandstone in Lenton Hall park and its transport down to the railway embankment at Dunkirk from the two quarries on the University campus. It may be deduced that the greater part of the work was accomplished in the summer and autumn of 1838. The embankment was to become a local 'sight', and featured in engravings incorporated in several publications soon afterwards.

The line was ready in early 1839, and the inaugural train ran on 30th May 1839. The Midland Counties Railway Companion printed in 1840 only a few months after the opening included the following passage. 'A little further on the towers of the lodge for Wollaton Hall may be distinctly seen: and, situate on the summit of a high hill, is the mansion of John Wright Esq. In front of the house a large portion of the hill has been cut away, and the soil removed to form the embankment for the Railway for several miles, Mr. Wright having disposed of it to the Railway Company for that purpose. The neat country residence of Alfred Lowe Esq. of Highfields may also be seen'. In 1840 the red scars of quarrying must have been very prominent, and though soon masked by vegetation except on near-vertical cliffs the marks of working in the former quarries were still visible on aerial photographs taken before the Science site was developed on the campus north-west of Cut Through Lane.

See in Lightbox

The quarries and roads as they would have appeared in 1838,
with more recent developments included to help orientate the reader

Nothing now remains of the infrastructure required for the transport of the great quantities of sandstone carried from the quarries to the railway, but the route is recorded on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition one inch map of 1839. (*) On the map the track is depicted by a full thin double line, which indicates almost certainly that it was a railway. An unfenced road would have been shown by pecked lines and with Abbey Lane only yards away it is unlikely that a duplicate road would have been constructed. It is of interest to recall that Benjamin Outram and William Jessop, two of John Wright's three original partners in founding the Butterley Company in the 1790s, were railway pioneers. Outram devised special trucks running on wooden rails, keeping the trucks on the track by bolting to the rails metal plates with flanges - the term 'platelayer' still survives. Jessop transferred the flanges from the rails to the wagon wheels. Together Outram and Jessop adopted as the gauge for their 'railways' the traditional width between the wheels of the Derbyshire wagon or 'corve' - still the standard railway gauge of four feet eight and a half inches. The trucks ran down carefully graded inclines by gravity when full, and the empty trucks were pulled back to the workings by horses - a method convenient for 'transporting heavy stuff a short distance' - such as sandstone from the Lenton Hall park quarries to the Dunkirk railway embankment. The line of the track is shown on the accompanying map. Certainly a gentle slope prevails along its entire length of just over half a mile and it is quite feasible to imagine that the method described above was the one employed here.

The track is not shown on Sanderson's map of 1834-35 or on any map surveyed after 1839, so undoubtedly it was a temporary 'tramway' constructed specially to serve the quarry in Sand Hill field and that in Lenton Hall field, though the rail track may not necessarily have extended along Cut Through Lane. It was probably used for less than a year and the lines removed, perhaps for similar use elsewhere. Traces of where the track had once been may have survived up until the 1880s when the development of the Dunkirk housing estate would finally have expunged any remaining evidence.

(*) It will be found that the track is depicted on Sheet 35 in the series of 1st Edition one inch maps republished by Messrs. David and Charles. This modern facsimile was produced from electrotype printings of the 1860s with updated railway information added, but the old quarry line still included. The date of the map, on the lower margin, is given as 1836: but this is misleading, and applies only to the lower half of the sheet, while the quarry railway is on the upper half. The original 'full sheet', then numbered 71, was actually published in the form of four quarter sheets, the two southern sheets on 8th February 1836, but the northern pair not until 1st July 1839 as shown on their lower margins. In putting together the full sheet 35 the lower margin of the northern sheets bearing their dates was necessarily omitted. The 'messy' quality of the engraving of Lenton Hall park suggests that it may have been modified at a late stage to include the '1838 quarries'.

All material on this site not covered by other copyright and not explicitly marked as public domain is © Lenton Times 2010 and must not be used without permission