The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Derby Road - Lenton

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 15

November - December 1981

The Derby Road Story

The Derby Road or rather the A52 from Derby to Nottingham is about thirteen miles long. However, do not be misled, for you will read precious little about eleven of those miles, for this article deals almost exclusively with the history of the Nottingham end of the route. In this, the first of an occasional series on the roads of Lenton, the brief history of road maintenance, which opens the article, should also serve as common background for future articles on some of the older roads in Lenton.

In Medieval times, it was up to the inhabitants of each parish to keep their own roads in a good state of repair. This common liability was strengthened by statute in 1555 when an act of parliament was passed to help ensure upkeep of the highways. This act required that the inhabitants of each parish should annually choose a surveyor of their highways who was given powers to call out all the available labour of the village or town to carry out necessary repairs for up to 4 days a year. A later amendment of the act increased this 'call-up' to a maximum of 6 days a year. When traffic was just local, local labour was usually adequate. The villagers under their elected surveyor, often one of the local farmers, would repair those roads which they used most. However, when a main through route passed across the parish, villagers often found it difficult to keep pace with the wear on the road caused by travellers who had little or nothing to do with the parishioners and who contributed nothing towards the road's upkeep.


Horse, etc., drawing coach etc.


Horse, etc., drawing wagon, etc., wheels 6in. or more


Horse, etc., drawing wagon, etc., wheels 4½ in. but less than 6 in.  


Horse, etc., drawing wagon, etc. wheels less than 4½ in.


Horse, etc., with millstones, or one block of stone or timber

1s. 0d.

Horse, etc., drug, more than 9ft. between axles and
laden with other than one piece of timber


Horse, etc., not drawing


Sheep, etc., per score


Cattle, etc., per score

1s. 8d.

Wagons with wheels of cylindrical shape, not less than 4½ in. to pay only one third toll.

It was chiefly to overcome this problem on main trunk routes that the turnpike system was introduced in the later part of the seventeenth century. Those, with a local interest in parts of these roads, would form themselves into committees, subscribe the legal expenses, petition Parliament, and once they had obtained their own road act, become trustees of the turnpike. Then they were able to charge travellers using the turnpiked road and so defray the costs of the upkeep and improvement of the road. Certain categories of traveller were usually exempted from the toll: anyone on foot, the mail, military horse riders, people going to church or to elections, wagons used in husbandry, beasts going to water or to pasture. The turnpike system, and innovations in road construction pioneered by the likes of Macadam and Telford, gradually improved conditions. Some trusts ran up huge debts and became insolvent, but most were reasonably successful, that is until the coming of the railways. The railways meant a sharp decrease in the demand for long and medium distance road transport and a sharp decrease in the incomes for the turnpike trusts. From the 1840s turnpike trusts began to get into financial difficulties. By the third quarter of the nineteenth century, the turnpike system was recognised to be failing and as a result Parliament allowed the local turnpike acts to expire without further renewal. The last turnpike act finally expired in 1895.

Horse tram with cock horse ascending Derby Road c.1900.
Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library

The Derby Road is an ancient road, referred to in the thirteenth century as Derbigate. It started from Nottingham at Chapel Bar and then ran north avoiding the steep valley of the Park, up across and down the Sand Hills to Lenton and beyond and eventually on to Derby. The road served as Lenton's most direct route with Nottingham - remember a road along Castle Boulevard was not built until the 1880s! The average parish highway before the onset of the turnpike system has been compared with a modern day, rather badly kept farm track. In summer it would be dusty, full of ruts and bumps, but in winter the ruts would go axle deep and the rocks and mud make it often impassable to carts and horses. The Derby Road is unlikely to have been any different. Apart from its importance as the route to and from Derby and the villages in between, it was the main route for coal from local pits to Nottingham where it was sold like any other commodity in the Market Square. The price at the pit in the mid-eighteenth century was 2½d per hundred weight though after transportation to the Square, the price increased to 5 or 5½d in summer, and anything up to 9 or 10d in winter. The differential largely arising from the problem of transporting the coals into the town in the difficult winter conditions.

A constant problem, early commentators on Nottingham life frequently referred to, was that of negotiating the Sand Hills between Nottingham and Lenton. The sandy soil meant poor conditions in winter and the approach down the hill to Chapel Bar through a deep, narrow hollow way cut into the sandstone made for further difficulties. Improvement came in 1740 when Lord Middleton brought colliers from his pit at Wollaton and evened up the road surface from Lenton. On reaching the narrow gorge, the colliers were ordered to knock down part of the sand stone cliffs and throw the rubble on to the roadway. The result was to raise the level of the road surface and at the same time open out the roadway. This construction was much appreciated by travellers, but was not altogether a disinterested action on the part of Lord Middleton. Coal mining was an important part of his revenue and anything, which improved the chances of getting coal to market, would be commercially beneficial.

The toll house and bar in about 1856
This was demolished in 1870 and the pillars and ornamental lamps
purchased by the trustees of the Newcastle Estate and re-erected
at the North Gate of The Park. When these in turn were removed,
one of the lamps was erected in Fishpond Drive where it can
still be seen.

The first road running from Nottingham to be turnpiked in 1737 was the one from Trent Bridge out to Loughborough. This was the first of many. In 1758 an act was passed to turnpike the Derby Road. Responsibility was handed over to a set of trustees who were charged with improving the stretch of road as far as St. Mary's Bridge in Derby and also a side branch starting at Lenton and going on to Sawley Ferry on the Trent. A tollhouse and gate were erected in the Derby Road just above Chapel Bar (the first part of the Derby Road was in fact called Toll House Hill until 1855). From the top of Canning Circus, then referred to as Zion Hill, radiated the turnpikes to Derby, Ilkeston and Alfreton. A tollhouse and gate were built somewhere close to the present Beeston Lodge entrance to Wollaton Park and this controlled access to and from the Sawley Ferry section of the turnpike. The Sawley road formed part of the main route from Nottingham to Birmingham. The junction of this road with the Derby Road was finally closed to traffic in 1963 and the road, the Beeston Lane, became part of the internal roads of the University Campus.

Apart from the general exemptions from toll charges mentioned earlier, the inhabitants of Beeston, Chilwell and Bramcote too could pass through the Lenton toll gate without paying a charge, provided that every year each of these parishes had paid out of their poor rates a sum of ten shillings to the trustees. This charge was later increased to £5 a year.

In 1854 the trustees erected a further tollgate in Lenton, a hundred yards down the hill from Church Street (see photograph). The trustees could then charge two tolls to travellers. This had the parishioners of Lenton up in arms. They held several public meetings and sent deputations to meet the trustees. They submitted a petition to the Secretary of State expressing their opposition to any renewal by Parliament of the Derby Road act. Eventually a compromise was reached. Lenton's parishioners withdrew their opposition to further renewal of the act and agreed to raise a sum of £50 by means of subscription, which when raised was presented to the trustees. For their part, the trustees agreed to charge half tolls to all Lenton inhabitants. This arrangement came into force in January 1856. The trust continued to collect their monies until November 1870 when the Derby Road turnpike act expired. The toll houses and gates were immediately demolished and responsibility for maintenance of the road then passed back to the parishes.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Derby Road had gained a certain unenviable notoriety as a favourite resort for a number of 'gentlemen of the road'. Several of their highway robberies were carried out in the Lenton area. One of the less successful robbers was one Ferdinando Davis, a young man, native of Sawley in Derbyshire and by profession a blacksmith. For he was apprehended and subsequently executed in Nottingham on March 31st 1802 for robbing John Cockaigne, a butcher's apprentice, travelling along the Derby Road in Lenton, of a silver watch and a sum of money.

The Nottingham Canal as it passed under the Derby Road. The canal, opened
in 1796, was finally abandoned in 1937 and was filled in during the 1950s.
Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library.

Within the Lenton area alone, there have been two recent re-routings of the Derby Road. In 1832 Lord Middleton decided to build a more impressive entrance way to Wollaton Hall. At that time the road left the line of the present road near the Rose and Crown pub, proceeded up Wollaton Hall Drive and on towards the Hall, then at the Wollaton parish boundary stone, bent back towards the present line of the road and rejoined it near to where Lenton Hall is now situated. Lord Middleton had the turnpike re-routed to run along its present line, had Lenton Lodge built and enclosed the extensions to his parkland with a high brick wall. He then used much of the old road as the carriage drive up to the Hall.

The second diversion was a much smaller affair. Until the mid-1880s anyone travelling along the Derby Road had to negotiate via the level crossing, the railway line opened in 1848. In 1886 it was decided to make life easier by constructing a bridge over the railway, which made the level crossing redundant.

A portion of the original Derby Road leading up to the level crossing can still be seen. This is the tiny section of road which runs outside the front of the Three Wheatsheaves Pub and merely serves as a car park to the pub and as an entrance to the commercial premises built on the site of Lenton Station. The bridge itself was rebuilt in 1931 when it was widened from forty feet out to sixty feet, to ease traffic congestion.

Always one of the major roads into and out of Nottingham, the rumble of traffic has continued to grow. Once the M1 was opened in the 1960s the Derby Road's importance was further increased. Now rather a bad dream; those who were here in the 60s will remember the Council's grandiose plans to build an urban 'motorway' around and through the city centre. The Derby Road was to have been one of the arterial routes linking into this scheme, while Canning Circus would have disappeared under a welter of slip roads and underpasses. Much as one grumbles, stuck in the rush hour traffic at the top of Derby Road, surely most would now shudder at what carnage might have been wrought on our city centre had the Minister not rejected the scheme in 1971.

The Derby Road looking into the city in 1927

Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library.

In the photograph, the road had recently been widened, the electric tramlines re-laid and the road resurfaced. The left-hand side followed the original edge of the road as the road was widened by extending to the right. The odd numbered houses from 329 up to 353 had only just been constructed. The Woodsend Almshouses are just out of the picture on the left and where the AA's Farnum House now stands, was open land. There was no Triumph Road, as this wasn't constructed until just before the Second World War. In the centre distance is the Three Wheatsheaves, standing at the corner of Derby Road and what was then known as Radford Marsh, now re-titled Radmarsh Road. Hopefully close scrutiny of the photograph will reveal a further building standing at the corner of Radford Marsh. This was one part of Marsh Farm but had recently been taken over by the motorcar body builders and garage belonging to F. Mitchell, situated alongside.

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