From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 50
March - April 1988
The River Leen and Lenton
The river Leen as it passed behind Fanum House,
occupied at that time by the Automobile
Association. Photograph courtesy of Lenton Local
The river Leen rises in the Robin Hood Hills just outside Kirkby in Ashfield. It then flows through the grounds of Newstead Abbey and on through the recently established Bestwood Country Park. After this its environs get decidedly less rural as the river passes through Bulwell and Basford. After Radford, Lenton is reached. It now has a final mile or so to go before joining up with the river Trent. It is this last stretch of the Leen's journey that forms the subject of this article.
Perhaps we might begin by describing the present course of the Leen through Lenton. We pick it up at the Ilkeston Road near Faraday Road where it passes between the Raleigh factory buildings and disappears into a culvert to surface again behind the back of the A.A. Offices on Derby Road. The Leen then flows round the rear of the Rose and Crown pub, crosses under the Derby Road and travels alongside Hillside and the back of the University Hospital. Once past Abbey Street the river is sent beneath the canal and on across the Willow Lane commercial complex off Lenton Lane. It has to go under the main Nottingham-Derby railway line after which it flows down beside the Ordnance factory and disappears once more to make a relatively anonymous entry into the river Trent. From Lenton onwards the course of the Leen has been quite radically altered on a number of occasions but oddly enough the river's present course is believed to follow much the same route as it did before Man first began to interfere.
That first interference is generally considered to have been the responsibility of William Peveril, Custodian of Nottingham Castle. It is thought that sometime in the late eleventh or early twelfth centuries he had the Leen redirected so that it ran from Lenton to beneath the Castle Rock and fed into an already existing watercourse, which entered the Trent just downstream of the present Trent Bridge. The redirected Leen now provided the town of Nottingham with a more plentiful supply of water, sufficient at last to power flourmills here. Even so the supply of water from the Leen was not always adequate and in the 1300s the constable of the castle had ditches dug across the meadows to the river Trent in order to try and direct extra water into the mill complex.
The River Leen as it went under Derby Road. Photograph
courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library.
The flourmill probably ceased operations in the late sixteenth century, but the millponds were retained as fishponds. They were rented out to a waterworks company in 1700 for use as a reservoir. Unfortunately the company allowed the ponds to silt up and become choked with weeds. In 1795 soil, taken from the site of the new cavalry barracks in the northwest corner of The Park, was carried across and used to fill in the ponds. The area was then divided into allotments and became known as Fishpond Gardens. When the development of The Park subsequently took place the name was retained in 'Fishpond Drive'.
A number of other mills were situated on the lower reaches of the Leen, some of them in Lenton. A few of these buildings survived into the twentieth century, although they had long since ceased to operate as mills. One such was the garage shown on the left of the photograph. The building was positioned over the river Leen and although its exterior had been rebuilt, inside evidence could be found as to where the water wheel had once been situated.
The river Leen is said to have been deep enough to permit small boats to make their way up from the Trent as far as Nottingham; but that short journey must have been made so much easier once the first portion of the Nottingham Canal opened in 1793. (It took the navvies another nine years before boatmen could continue their journeys on the Nottingham Canal as far as Langley Mill) .The construction of the canal required some minor changes in the course of the Leen as it flowed from Nottingham to the Trent. The river ran alongside what is now known as Canal Street, Leenside and on to Island Street where, by means of a siphon, the river was sent under a side arm of the canal which ran up to Sneinton Hermitage. The Leen then ran on round the edge of Eastcroft Meadow but required a new channel digging just before it entered the river Trent because its old course had been commandeered for the construction of the canal. Eventually the section of river from Canal Street to Island Street was to disappear from view when it was culverted in 1863. While, at an earlier date, the laying of the railway line between Nottingham and Lincoln (opened in 1846) had also required the Leen's culverting to accommodate the railway track.
The River Leen from Gregory Street looking towards Grove Road.
Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library
Until the arrival of 'Castle' Boulevard in the 1880s there was no low level road between Nottingham and Lenton but those on foot could walk along the banks of the Leen. It was evidently an attractive route and one much frequented by townspeople as they walked out to Lenton and the surrounding countryside. As the decades of the nineteenth century unfolded, however, the walk's idyllic qualities were sadly sullied. All along the Leen from Bulwell to Lenton large-scale enterprises became established which began discharging huge amounts of effluent into the river. The sewage of parishes higher up the Leen also found its way into the Leen. The resultant smell and general discolouration of the river may well be imagined.
Most of Lenton's own sewage (which until the 1850s simply ran through Old Lenton in open ditches by the side of the road) was directed under the river Leen and the canal into the Tinker's Leen. This small watercourse ran eastwards towards Nottingham on the far side of the canal. The Tinker's Leen picked up further sewage from the Park estate and collected a lot more as it made its way across The Meadows, where it was directed under the canal and flowed out in~ the Trent via the final section of the River Leen.
The Town Council became 'increasingly concerned about the state of the local drainage and carried out a number of measures aimed at improving the situation. In 1856-7 the river Leen was directed into a new culvert which ran across Eastcroft and the Beck, which carried away most of Nottingham's own sewage, was also directed into a new culvert. All this sewage, however, still poured, untreated, into the river Trent. Landowners below Nottingham such as Lord Manvers and J.C. Musters of Colwick Hall complained about the state of the river and threatened legal action if steps weren't taken to deal with the situation. The problem was not simply one of Nottingham's making and hence was not one the town could effectively tackle alone. In 1864 Nottingham and Birmingham had sent a joint deputation to the Home Secretary urging the creation of regional drainage boards. But evidently the Home Secretary did not accede to their request. In 1868 the agents for Manvers and Musters reiterated their complaints and in 1871 once more threatened court action. This spurred Nottingham to hold joint talks with the parishes of Radford, Lenton, Basford and later Bulwell. The result of these discussions was the establishment of the Nottingham and Leen District Sewerage Board and the drafting of the Nottingham and Leen District Sewage Bill which was presented before Parliament. In 1872 the Bill received the royal assent and the Board set about its work.
Between 1873 and 1875 an intercepting sewer was laid from Bulwell to Nottingham. In Lenton it ran from Radford Marsh along Gregory Street where it was turned into Sherwin Road and ran on towards Nottingham beneath what was later to become Castle Boulevard. After Canal Street the newly constructed pumping station at Eastcroft sent the sewage out through pipes to Stoke Bardolph, where proper sewage treatment plants were constructed. Lenton was connected up to this intercepting sewer in 1875. The Nottingham and Leen District Sewerage Board only lasted until 1877 when the Borough Extension Bill came into effect and the Board's powers and responsibilities passed to the enlarged Town Council. It was, however, long enough for the Board to sort out the Leen valley's sewage problem.
The canal near Abbey Street befoe the River Leen
was directed into it. Photograph courtesy of
Nottingham Local Studies Library.
In the course of negotiations over the Borough Extension Act the Town Council had offered to construct a new low-level road between Nottingham and Lenton. This was eventually built in 1884. (The story of 'The Birth of the Boulevard' can be found in Issue 33).
There was insufficient room for both the river Leen and the new road. So in 1883 the Leen was diverted into the canal just before it went under the Mansfield branch line of the Midland Railway Co. The extra water created by this manoeuvre was then directed out of the canal into the Tinker's Leen at the overflow weir just before the Castle Lock.
After heavy rains the river Leen was always liable to flood but it seems that during the first half of the twentieth century the situation was gradually getting worse. Partly this was because silt and debris which should have been constantly cleared away was allowed to build up. (The Trent River Authority only took on this responsibility in 1964). Another factor involved the gradual development of the lands which had formerly acted as the river's natural flood wash lands. More surface water was also entering the river as a result of the increasing urbanisation of the catchment area either side of the river. In low-lying areas such as The Meadows there was always the threat of flood from either the Trent or the Leen, or sometimes both. In the mid-1950s the Nottingham Flood Protection Scheme was completed and the people of Nottingham no longer had need to fear the waters of the Trent. But there was still the Leen. In 1960, for instance, the Leen caused flooding to over 150 properties in The Meadows, many to a depth of four feet.
Nottingham Canal in the 1960s. Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library.
From 1945 onwards the City Council had been investigating how the situation regarding the Leen might be improved but discussions with the Land Drainage Board and various Ministries had got nowhere. The 1960 floods, however, led to renewed pressure for action and the proposed River Leen Improvement Scheme was unveiled in 1962. The planned improvements were to be in five phases spread over about six or seven years and costing in the region of £1 million. Over half this sum was spent on works in the Lenton area. £225,000 was set aside for the construction of a new channel for the river which ran from Lenton Lane down to the Trent. £310,000 was required to complete the works needed between Lenton Lane and Triumph Road. A new culvert beneath the railway line and a siphon to take the river under the Beeston Cut were the main items of expense. The section of the Nottingham Canal from Lenton up to Langley Mill had long been abandoned and it was a relatively easy task to prepare the bed of the old canal from its junction with the Beeston Cut up to Derby Road to receive the rerouted river Leen. From Triumph Road up to Vernon Road in Bulwell £333,000 was spent mainly on channel improvements and the reconstruction of several bridges. The final phases involved work from Bulwell up to Papplewick and these cost £120,000.
The new course created for the Leen means that it now flows into the Trent along much the same route as it originally did the improvements have also meant that the waters are now kept in check even after the heaviest rainstorms. Well that's not quite true, for in Old Lenton the streets still have occasion to fill with water. As yet no real flood damage has occurred but who knows perhaps the odd pile of sand bags might not go amiss!
Those would like to learn more are directed towards "The History the Leen" (1962) by H.R. Potter, available at the Local Studies Library, Angel Row.