Nottingham Canal

Nottingham Canal History

The Nottingham Canal was first promoted by three men, Thomas Oldknow, John Morris and Henry Green. They were inspired by the Cromford Canal which was then being built to the north west of Nottingham. Their plan was to build a canal from the city of Nottingham to Langley Mill where it would meet the Cromford Canal and the already well established Erewash Canal. This was because most of Nottingham's coal supply came from the mines which were scattered around the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire border.

Until this time, coal had been hauled over land to Nottingham or brought by boat down the Erewash Canal and River Trent. The Nottingham Canal would more than halve the journey - and the cost. Similar to the Cromford Canal which had been well supported by the influential local businessman, Richard Arkwright - the Nottingham Canal was also well supported by local colliery owner, Lord Middleton.

On October 20th a meeting was held at the Guildhall in Nottingham and the enthusiasm for the project was so great that the Nottingham Canal Company was formed on the spot.

The new company employed William Jessop to make a survey for a possible route. Jessop was already hard at work on the Cromford Canal - as well as many other engineering projects up and down the country.

He proposed a line of just under 15 miles from the centre of Nottingham, near Trent Bridge, to Langley Mill where the Erewash Canal ended and the Cromford Canal was to begin. As well as the main line there would also be a number of branches, most of which were to be privately owned.

On New Years Day the Nottingham Canal's Act went through Parliament and was granted. It was a time for celebration with bells ringing out in every local parish.

Work began with Jessop as chief engineer and it was a fairly straight forward job with no special features such as major aqueducts or tunnels.

However, Jessop did encounter one major problem. Lord Middleton, who had been very enthusiastic about a waterway linking his mines to Nottingham, had suddenly become less than enthusiastic when he saw that Jessop's chosen route was to cross straight over his estate. He demanded that it be re-routed around the eastern edge of his land behind a high wall. This would mean using many locks to contend with the more hilly terrain, costing the company an extra £30,000.

There were further problems in constructing what became known as Wollaton Flight when Jessop became ill and could not supervise the work. One of the original promoters, Henry Green*, took over as canal supervisor, consulting with Jessop as much as possible. Another problem arose when objections came from the Cromford Canal company who feared that the Nottingham Canal would use too much of their water supply. The Nottingham company agreed to build extra reservoirs which both canals could make use of.

* Henry Green took over as engineer on the Wollaton Flight, shortly after this time William Jessop declined the job of engineer on the nearby Grantham Canal. This was probably due to his illness along with his very heavy work load. According to one reference book he strongly backed a James Green for the job of engineer on the Grantham Canal. The reference book says James Green was an employee of Lord Middleton and had worked with Jessop on the Wollaton Flight. It could be that Henry and James are one and the same or maybe father & son or brothers.*

The first couple of miles of the canal opened on July 30th. This was the section from the River Trent junction near Trent Bridge, to the centre of Nottingham near Carrington Street. The local newspaper reported that thousands of people lined the banks to celebrate the opening and watched a brightly decorated boat which the shareholders had put out for the occasion.

Meanwhile, a new canal company obtained an Act of Parliament enabling them to build a route from Grantham to Nottingham. The start of this new canal was to be on the River Trent just a few hundred yards away from the Nottingham Canal's junction on the opposite bank. If successful, the new canal would provide the Nottingham Canal with traffic from Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. There would also be more coal traffic from Derbyshire as boats would now be able to travel from the Cromford Canal, along the Nottingham Canal and all the way to Grantham.

The whole of the Nottingham Canal opened and it was a reasonable success right from the start. Coal bound for Nottingham was its main cargo but it also carried many other things including building materials and house bricks from Balloon Woods, lime and timber from Wollaton and also a fair amount of "night soil". A passenger service from Cromford to the centre of Nottingham was also run regularly. Goods also went along the Nottingham and Cromford canals in the opposite direction, most of which would be taken to Cromford on route to Manchester. Other goods were sent south west from the Nottingham Canal onto the Erewash Canal.

With the opening of the Derby Canal during this same year, the Nottingham Canal also provided part of a new through-route from the Trent & Mersey Canal in the west to the River Trent in the east, thus allowing a much safer route than had previously been used via the River Trent. The owners of the River Trent Navigation decided to counter this by rebuilding whole sections of the river. This included the creation of a brand new canal cut between Beeston and Lenton,bypassing a shallow and winding stretch of the Trent. This new "Beeston Canal" connected with the Nottingham Canal at Lenton and thus the Nottingham Canal became the main navigable waterway through Nottingham with the River Trent relegated to very shallow draught boats only.

The Grantham Canal opened, running from Grantham for 33 miles into Nottingham. It joined the River Trent just a few hundred yards down stream of the Nottingham Canal's own junction. This of course created more traffic (and income) for the Nottingham Canal with bricks being one of the main cargoes, carried from Cropwell Bishop on the Grantham Canal. Because so many boats now needed to cross straight over the River Trent, a taut rope was installed across the river in winter which was connected to the two canal junctions and used as a safety measure to stop boats being swept away downstream by strong currents.

The Nottingham Canal had just reached its peak and paid out dividends of 12% when the company was forced into reducing its tolls. Local mine owners were bitterly complaining about the monopoly that the local canals held and after many heated meetings all the local canals reluctantly agreed to lower their coal carrying tolls. In the end this did very little to increase coal carriage and only served to decrease the canal company's income so the concession was dropped. When this happened, the local mine owners decided to encourage the building of railways in the area.

Railway competition arrived and the canal's owners were only too willing to sell out when the Ambergate Railway made them an offer. An agreement was made between the two companies but the Ambergate Railway Company were then very slow to get on with their side of the deal.

Before the Ambergate Railway Company got round to taking over the canal, they themselves were merged with another company and became the Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston & Eastern Junction Railway Company! The company with which they had merged had earlier signed a deal, similar to the one with the Nottingham Canal, to take over the running of the Grantham Canal. Thus, the new railway were now in line to take control of the whole waterway route from Langley Mill, through Nottingham, to Grantham.

The new railway company ran out of money after building a line from Grantham to Nottingham and they then found they could not afford to buy out the two canals. It took numerous delays and lawsuits, lasting a number of years, before the railway eventually took full control of the Nottingham Canal.

While negotiations were still going on between the Nottingham Canal and the ANB&EJR company, the neighbouring Cromford Canal was taken over by a different railway company and very soon afterwards was taken over again by the much larger Midland Railway Company. The take-over brought to an end the good business relations which had survived for over 50 years between the Nottingham and Cromford canals.

The Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston & Eastern Junction Railway Company finally took over the running of the Nottingham and Grantham canal's. The Nottingham Canal was a moderate success under railway control though over the next decade the railway company was taken over or merged a number of times until it finally became part of Great Northern Railway. This company disliked canals immensely and did nothing to keep traffic alive. As the years went by, the canal declined and boats became fewer and fewer.

The canal managed to survive for 80 years under railway ownership - a lot longer than many other canals. However, trade had virtually been wiped out during WW1 and now the final barge climbed down the Wollaton Flight for the last time.

The main bulk of the Nottingham Canal was closed down by London & North Eastern Railway, who now reluctantly owned it. The only section which was retained was the stretch in Nottingham between Trent Bridge and Lenton. This section was taken over by the River Trent Navigation and has remained open to the present day. Also during this year LNER closed down the neighbouring Grantham Canal which had also been declining for many decades. Meanwhile, the railway company who owned the Cromford Canal attempted to close that route down but, unlike the Nottingham and Grantham canals, the Cromford Canal was still fairly well used and was forced to remain open for a little longer.

After privatisation in 1947, the government now wanted to get rid of the many canals which had long since been disused. In the case of the Nottingham Canal this was done by giving away the land to any local authorities who wanted it. Thus, the stretches near Nottingham were taken over and in subsequent years have been filled in and built on. Further west some stretches were simply abandoned and have since been abused by people tipping rubbish. Sadly this included the lock flight which took the canal up to its summit level about 3 miles west of Nottingham city centre. Better news can be found in the far north west of the route where no local authority wanted the land, most of which suffers from subsidence, therefore the government were left with the unwanted waterway which they then had to maintain.

The book "Lost Canals of England & Wales" reported that BWB still had the obligation to maintain the remaining watered sections of the Nottingham Canal. The author feared that BWB would manage to wangle their way out of this obligation which would lead to the canal becoming completely derelict. Whether BWB ever did get out of their obligation I do not know though I do know that the watered sections of the canal - although by no means navigable - are still fairly healthy and the towpath is well used by walkers and cyclists.

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Nottingham Canal Route

The Nottingham Canal leaves the River Trent a few yards below Trent Bridge in the centre of Nottingham.

Around 100 years after the building of the canal the land around the junction became one of England's most famous sporting areas. Directly opposite the junction (on the River Trent's south east bank) is Nottingham Forest's City Ground, virtually next door is Trent Bridge Test and County Cricket Ground while just a few yards along the Nottingham Canal is Meadow Lane, home to Notts.County football club.

Across the river, between Nottingham Forest and the A6011 bridge is the junction of the derelict Grantham Canal. To the east, the wide River Trent heads towards Newark while to the west only the first ½ mile or so of the river is still navigable, all boats have long since been diverted onto the Nottingham Canal.

Meadow Lane Lock takes boats up out of the wide river into the much narrower canal, (this lock is sometimes referred to as Trent Lock). The lock and junction are impossible to reach on foot though they can be seen from just a few yards away. Why the public should be kept out is hard to understand when there are hundreds of locks and junctions all over the country - none of which are "out of bounds".

Lining the canal on both sides for the first few hundred yards is a brand new housing estate. This area was once covered by industrial buildings and warehouses, in the Nicholson's Guide (1989) it is described as "tidied up and grassed over" but houses now stand on the grass.

The first entry point for walkers is a red footbridge which crosses the canal to allow access across the waterway to those who live within the housing estate. It is probably these people who demanded that the lock and junction should be fenced off as local children were playing near the bridge when I visited the area in 1996.

Past the houses the canal goes under Meadow Lane and runs alongside the busy A60 as both cars and boats head north into Nottingham. Within ½ a mile the canal comes to a very sharp left turn. To the east a short branch used leave the main line while to the west the canal continues right through the heart of the city. At first the route is hemmed in between tall old buildings but then it opens out and the former Fellows, Morton and Clayton warehouse can be seen on the right (north).

The old warehouse is now home to Nottingham Waterways Museum but it still has its covered loading bay complete with a boat and butty inside. Outside, on the wharf, is an old canal crane. The museum is well worth a visit, as well as information on the canal and local history, it is also possible to look around the old wharf outside.

There was a tragic accident here one day in 1818 when the warehouse was full of gunpowder. A workman thought it would be fun to make a firework... you can guess the rest. Himself and a number of his colleagues were killed instantly and his body was found on the towpath 100 yards away!

Directly opposite the canal museum is a former towpath bridge. This used to cross an arm which ran into a railway transhipment building. Nottingham Magistrates Courts now stand on the line of the arm. The huge court building faces the waterway and the towpath has been redeveloped with lighting and seats.

Just before Wilford Street bridge there is a large warehouse on the north bank. This belongs to B.W. and was in a sorry state until very recently. The whole of the north bank on this stretch was being redeveloped when I was here in 1997. Apparently the original warehouse was wedge-shaped because a basin used to run alongside it (though this has long since been filled in).

Beyond Wilford Street is Castle Lock, the castle being visible now and then between buildings on its high rock to the north. Just west of Castle Lock is a new Tax Office on the towpath side (south) and a modern looking building called Newcastle House on the north side. This "modern" building was built in 1933!

Further west is Tinkers Leen, a stream that runs underground to the River Trent. The towpath crosses a canal over-spill weir which runs into Tinkers Leen near the point where it disappears underground. The entrance into the underground channel can be see alongside the towpath while upstream the Leen runs parallel to the canal for a while. The land alongside Tinkers Leen is preserved for inner-city wild life.

Further west (but still within Nottingham city centre) on the opposite bank is Castle Quay which now has new commercial buildings on it which face the canal. Heading west out of the city centre the canal was once very industrial and was described as "gloomy". More recently new houses and a superstore have appeared and the area is now tidy and a lot brighter.

West of Clayton's Bridge in Lenton is another sharp turn, this time taking the route north. However, the only through-navigation today heads straight on into the Beeston Canal which takes boats back to the navigable River Trent. The junction where the Beeston Canal joins the Nottingham Canal is known as Lenton Chain because the River Trent Navigation (who owned the Beeston Canal) used to lock their route by means of a chain stretched across the waterway. It was only unlocked when a toll of 1d was paid.

Today there is no obvious sign of the junction, only those who know what it is would recognise it. The entrance is obscured by a very high concrete wall. Beyond it the Nottingham Canal is said to be filled in though the current A-Z street map shows it in water. The junction was actually a cross-roads with a short canal arm heading south under Willow Road. This is also shown as being in water in the A-Z.

The Nottingham Canal headed north from Lenton Chain but no boat has travelled this way since 1937 when the whole of the route north of here was closed. Most of the canal between Lenton and Wollaton has long since disappeared but it used to head north, on the east side of Lord Middleton's estate, Wollaton Park.

This side of the park has now been taken over by Nottingham's suburbs and the canal has been filled in but a tiny stretch of water is marked on the A-Z along Hill Side, a street running south off Derby Road (A6200).

On the far side of Derby road there is no sign of the canal in the A-Z but it must have run close to the east side of Orston Drive. Just as the canal reached the A609, Wollaton Road, it used to curve north west to pass under the junction of the A609 and the A6514. The subway beneath this junction is actually the bed of the canal and part of Lock 6 can still be seen.

After the road junction the canal curved west and climbed the Wollaton Flight. These locks were well stretched out with fairly long pounds between each chamber though the locks came closer together further up the flight. On the flight was a plethora of typical canal buildings including a blacksmiths, bricklayers, carpenters, and a timber store. The canal workshops were also here. Boats and lock gates were repaired at the workshops. Also on the flight was a wharf where lime was loaded from nearby kilns and at Woodyard Lane was a timber mill which specialised in making pit props which were then delivered (as near as possible) via the canal.

In 1971 Ronald Russell wrote that the canal could be found on Lambourne Road beside the East Midlands Electricity Craft Training centre. At that time the cut was filled with rubbish though the dilapidated chambers of 6 derelict locks could just be seen. When I was here, on a wet evening in 1997, I could see no trace of the locks due to thick undergrowth but recently I received some photos (see above) showing that some of them have now been cleaned up at ground level though the chambers are filled in.

During my visit I tried hard to make my A-Z of Nottingham tally up with Ronald Russell's descriptions of Wollaton. I found no Lambourne Road but I did find Lambourne Drive. Time and again I drove up and down the road trying to locate the canal's possible position. Getting drenched from jumping in and out of my car in search of a huge lock flight that probably didn't exist anymore! I finally found a severed bit of Woodyard Lane and (low and be hold) it was beside a craft training centre! But where was the canal? Heading east was a grassy area, sloping down slightly, with allotments on it. Sadly, there was a big sign saying "keep out - private property", it was getting dark and the allotments were unlit. The canal (from the lane) ran down the locks (eastwards) between what are now the back gardens of Charlbury Road and Seaford Avenue towards the A609/A6514 junction (mentioned above).

To the west a new housing estate (on the north side of the A609) has wiped out the canal. This situation could put a canal lover off ice skating for life - the streets are called Torvill Drive, Christopher Close, Dean Close, Jayne Close, Barnham Drive and Bolero Close! I believe the canal ran parallel or along the same course as Torvill Drive. What I didn't notice when I was there - but just have as I scan the A-Z street map now - is that one of the streets is called Bridge Road. As I can't think of anything connecting bridges with Torvill & Dean I guess this must have been near a canal bridge. The bridge presumably being on the A609.

Recently I received an email from Michael Pilsworth who lived in this area in the 1950's when, he insists, he was very young. He writes...

'Woodyard Lane is a continuation of Lambourne Drive (which was built later). The Booker's Cash & Carry now stands on what was Brown's Wood Yard, they cut pit props that were once transported along the canal.

If you stood looking west towards the Torvill estate with the craft training centre to the right of you, you would be looking up the canal, in fact the craft training centre fence stood on the very edge of the cut, there was no towpath on that side for about 400 yards, then it climbed steeply to a lock, it was roughly along the route of Torvill Drive but not so winding.

Over the hedges and trees to the left was the Raleigh Cycle sports fields and the wooded area contained Raleigh Pond, all owned by the famous cycle makers for their employees to enjoy. Further west along the towpath would bring you to a bridge and lock, a lane ran left and right, known as Old Coach Road which still exists today. Turning right up this lane brought you to a railway bridge, from the bridge you could once see the canal and a pit in front of you. See this link...

Continuing up the canal (two towpaths now) brought you to another lock, the canal levels out after this with huge slag heaps on the right. Towards the pit now with a slight right bend, we were normally not allowed on the pit side from here because it was private NCB land, so we would cross the lock to the other side. After this lock the canal opened into a huge basin, I presume for the busy barges at the pit. At the top end of Torvill Drive there are some old pit cottages that are now modernised. There was a bridge at Bridge Road, also pictured at...

The canal continued under the A609 toward Coventry Lane, another new housing estate (known locally as "lego land") claimed the rest I'm afraid. I have many happy memories of my childhood down by that area of the canal and I wish it was still with us today. Gone but not forgotten... Michael Pilsworth'.

Ronald Russell said the canal had already disappeared to the west of Wollaton by 1971. The other new housing estate, with no skating connotations, has been built around the canal though I believe its bed can be traced as part of footpaths and walkways. My road atlas shows the canal in water from about a mile south west of Wollaton, near the point where Coventry Lane (A6002) crosses the railway. This is a busy road and parking nearby is impossible. The canal line is just north of the railway bridge.

The canal bed, despite being marked in blue on most maps, is dry but is now used as a public footpath on both sides of the main road. A few hundred yards east of the road and railway bridges is a track which crosses the canal. I believe this to be the old lane which connected the estates of Trowell and Bramcote. The hump-back bridge carrying the lane is Stockman's Bridge.

Further west the canal is suddenly in water for the first time. My road atlas shows the waterway heading generally west to the north of Stapleford Hill. The railway line runs fairly close to the canal for ½ a mile or so but the canal soon curves north towards Nottingham Road (A609), meeting the road and turning west just before the point where the M1 crosses overhead. As the A609 swings down a hill onto Trowell it crosses the canal. Access can be gained in either direction from this bridge.

After about ½ a mile the canal curves round to the right and heads north. Less than ½ a mile to the west (and on a lower level at this point) is the Erewash Canal which runs parallel to the Nottingham Canal from this point on. As the Nottingham Canal heads north it runs very close alongside the minor road to Cossall on a stretch which is very pleasant and has a good towpath.

This section has been a nature reserve since 1977 and there is a designated car park with notice boards on the minor road. Mind you, when I found the car park I couldn't find the canal. Then I realised that the car park WAS the canal. Just to the north the water was back and the walk along the towpath - on a hot sunny night this time - was beautiful.

At a point where both the canal and road take a sharp turn to the west, there was once an arm heading off to the east known as the Robbinetts Branch. The junction can still be seen and the Nottingham A-Z shows the branch heading north east for about ½ a mile to "mine (disused)". The A-Z shows tracks leading to the former mine but no "official" road access.

Past the junction the main line takes a big curve to the west and then immediately begins to curve back round to the north. In fact it continues to curve until it is heading north east and reaches the village of Cossall Marsh. It passes the west side of the village on an embankment but the route crosses over Coronation Road (the former A6096) not on an aqueduct but through a concrete pipe! This explains why I couldn't see the canal from my car when I drove through the village in 1994!!

The canal fairs somewhat better at the next road bridge (Awsworth Road) which was a minor, though very busy road when I was here in 1994. However, since then the new A6096 link road has been built and the area has changed somewhat. The canal can still be accessed from the west side of the new road where Awsworth Road crosses on a flattened bridge halfway up a bank. Further west, down the bank, Awsworth Road also crosses the Erewash Canal. When I was here in 1994 the Nottingham Canal looked wide and appeared to be almost navigable. However, it is unlikely that it will ever be re-opened even in this healthy looking stretch as the route still suffers badly from subsidence.

To the south of the flattened road bridge there were ducks and swans, to the north a fisherman and a number of walkers were using the towpath. Sadly, this optimistic scene is short lived as the canal runs dry just ¾ of a mile further north. The dry canal's route curves around from north west to north east on the west side of Awsworth. Then the route curves again, more sharply this time, and heads north west parallel to the A610 though the road is now a very busy dual-carriageway with no access roads to the canal.

The next access point is on Newmanley's Road South but to reach this road by car you must first travel into Eastwood and locate Church Street. Travel south west until you cross the A610. Immediately after the dual-carriageway you must turn left, this is Newmanley's Road South. This lane was obviously once well used though it is now officially a private road and a dead end. However, I found it could be driven along and there was away out at the far end. At first the lane runs south east alongside the A610 but then it bends south west and immediately crosses the Nottingham Canal.

To the south east the canal is just a dry footpath but to the north west it is a soggy, weedy ditch with a footpath (the former towpath) alongside. Newmanley's Road drops steeply down hill after crossing the canal. It passes a row of houses, a lorry garage and a strange old mill (now a house) which stands alongside a small bridge over the River Erewash. Within another few yards is the Erewash Canal and Shipley Lock. Just past the Erewash Canal is a popular pub and restaurant.

Back on the Nottingham Canal, about 400 yards north west of Newmanley's Road is a swing bridge over the weedy canal. About 400 yards further north is a well preserved red-brick bridge. The lane on this bridge also crosses the Erewash Canal just 200 yards to the west. After another ½ a mile the waterway runs very close to the A610.

The Erewash Canal is now (literally) only a stones a throw away to the west though any stones heading east from the Erewash Canal would not be met with a splash in the Nottingham Canal as it is completely dry from here to its terminus just one mile away. All the same, a number of bridges still cross the route and a row of terraced cottages stand on the Erewash Canal very close to the very unnavigable Nottingham Canal at Bailey Grove. Access to both canals can be gained via Anchor Road which, many years ago, was the A610 though now it comes to a dead end at Bailey Grove.

The A608 crosses both canals to the east of Langley Mill and immediately after the road bridges the 2 waterways meet alongside the pub which is named after the canal junction and the basin beyond - The Great Northern. The Cromford Canal also made a junction here at the basin though most of its southern section was filled in shortly after its closure. The first ½ mile or so is still used as moorings.

At the basin, beside the pub, there are some terraced cottages and an old toll house which was shared by the Nottingham and Cromford canals. It seems unlikely that the Nottingham Canal will ever be restored for navigation and currently it has know society or restoration group. Most of its route at the eastern end has been filled and built on.

The western end suffers badly from subsidence caused by the prosperous mines along the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire border. However, the Erewash Canal was restored to full navigation in the 1960's and 70's, the Derby Canal is presently (1998) just beginning to be restored so who knows what might happen in the future?

The Lenton Local History Society run a web site which includes items on the Nottingham Canal. Their home page is at

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