Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Nutbrook Canal - Stanton Ironworks to Birches Lock (4)

Nutbrook Canal - Stanton Ironworks to Birches Lock (4)
May 2016

After the desolation of the Ironworks site we now break free into the relative tranquility of the countryside. I say relative because a crushing plant sits alongside the canal and its crashing and grinding can be felt as much heard.

Ilkeston Road Bridge from the north

But from a photographic perspective it all suddenly gets very lovely. The next two pounds through Lock 3 (Old Furnace Lock) to Lock 4 (Birches Lock) are maintained by the local angling club alongside a lake created by recent opencast mining and very pretty it is too. 

Looking north from Ilkeston Road

The Ilkeston road crosses the canal more or less on the level. Just south of the bridge is the old Stanton Basin (the lake beyond will be another area of opencast or subsidence). During its last days the canal was kept navigable to the basin to allow boats to turn and exit the canal to the Erewash.

Stanton Basin is to the right behind the fisherman

Old Furnace Lock is something of a delight because we have images of it, already with a weir at the top end from 1956 at which time the same valve gear existed but the fields to one side have been replaced by a big lake.

Old Furnace Lock in 1956 (B&W) and 2016

Just above Lock three Stanhope's Arm exited to the west. It was never very long and whilst the outline can be seen, its bed is so choked up it is possible to walk across it and barely get your feet wet.

Stanhope's Arm

The canal is then crossed by a narrow brick bridge which has had its middle section replaced with a flat concrete slab. It appears to be a pedestrian bridge built to connect the two communities of Hallam. 

Pedestrian Bridge between Little Hallam and West Hallam

From there its a short walk up a steadily silting and overgrown channel to the rubbish filled chamber of Lock 4 ( Birches Lock) which can be found immediately to the rear of the houses on Valley View.

Lock 4's debris filled chamber

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Nutbrook Canal - Stanton Ironworks

Nutbrook Canal - Stanton Ironworks
May 2016

Stanton Ironworks and the Nutbrook canal were inextricably linked from the outset, the canal feeding the ironworks with its raw materials of coal, ironstone, limestone and water. The works also stood on its junction with the Erewash Canal which offered further supplies of raw materials from the Pinxton area and of course a route for the heavy end product to reach its market.

Stanton Ironworks and canal 1865

In the end the Iron works came to own the canal when no one else wanted it, and even then it was needed just for the last mile or so for in site movements and more crucially, for the cooling water it needed in its processes. In the end the canal was no longer needed and was culverted under what became a slag crushing site with the slag being used for hardcore in road building. 

Stanton Ironworks site 2016

The scale of the Stanton Ironworks site is vast and continued in production till the 1980's following a series of nationalisations and privatisations, but caught by a severe downturn the 7,000 staff were laid off and the plant levelled to the ground. Today it is just a windswept concrete pad littered with lumps of iron slag awaiting its next incarnation, which is planned to be 1,900 homes - 30 % of Ilekston's housing needs for the next 20 years. You do have to wonder if this huge development wouldn't benefit from a nice water feature including a lock or two. Waterside homes always carry a premium.

And so today we are left  with some fading images of an long dead industrial past, and here and there some telltale clues of the canal which facilitated its growth and prosperity for over a century.

Lock 1 - Black Saddle Lock 1956 with boats loading in 1937 and 1944.

The last section of canal to close was the bit beneath Lock One (Black Saddle Lock) site of the  loading wharf which saw slag sent south to build runways during the war and shell casings for the military.

Lock Houses 1961

Black Saddle Lock and Lock 2 (Stanton Lock) were both filled in in 1956, a decade after trade had ceased.

Lock 2 - Stanton before it was in filled in 1956

Today just a reeded trough can be found crossing the middle of the bleak site before the canal breaks free at the northern boundary - site of the cooling water outlet and some very unpleasant looking sediment.

Canal channel above Lock 2 on the Stanton site plus the cooling outfall.

But fear not - the rest of the canal is nothing like this. The post industrial apocalypse comes to an abrupt end and something approaching beauty takes its place.

Looking north from the edge of the Stanton site

Friday, 20 May 2016

Nutbrook Canal - an introduction

Nutbrook Canal
May 2016

One mention of the word Nutbrook and the pounding tune of Tina Turner's 1973 autobiographical hit Nutbush City Limits was rolling around my head. Nutbrook was a tale of small town America whereas Nutbrook is a small stream in a remote Derbyshire valley, but there the similarities end. 

I am off in search of the Nutbrook Canal, an independent branch of the Erewash Canal built by local landowners to carry minerals (coal and ironstone) from its head to the ironworks at its foot. Whilst there was some traffic in and out to the Trent and beyond, in the main it was built for local service and the profits were delivered more in the  form of increased prosperity for the collieries and meal works on its banks than from the canal trading company itself. 

Tranquil waters of the Nutbrook Canal

During earlier research into the other lost canals in the area (Cromford, Nottingham and Derby) there was a brief mention of the Nutbrook but it was immediately dismissed as "having been completely built over by the Stanton Ironworks obliterating all trace". And there the matter rested until I came across a copy of Peter Stevenson's 1970 book "The Nutbrook Canal".  This book was written by a local historian who really knew the area and even worked in the iron works. He gained access to the official canal company records pulled this amazingly detailed book together. I have used this work to provide the historical background to my review of the Nutbrook Canal as it exists in 2016.

As ever, I am more a geographer than a historian so my inclination is to get my boots on and explore the remains than to dive deep into the  history, so I am grateful for the framework Stevenson provides which offers an excellent contextual depth.

The fortunes of this canal were dependent on a fickle water supply I started my review up among the reservoirs in the Shipley area and worked my way down the valley. However, for the sake of consistency I will document my observations from the bottom end starting at the site of the Stanton Ironworks on the junction with the Erewash Canal and working my way up the valley, using the locations of the thirteen locks as markers as identified in the following map.

The canal itself was built by Benjamin Outram between 1793 and 1796 with the bottom three locks working by 1794, to lock 10 at West Hallam in 1795 and reaching Lock 13 and the Shipley area the following year. In all the canal was about four and a half miles long and included 13 locks lifting craft 84 feet. The locks were built to broad dimensions to accommodate the Trent Trows but in reality most traffic comprised the Midlands 7ft narrowboats. Given the scarcity of water a narrow gauge may have been a better option.

Even in its heyday this was never a busy canal with an average of just 9 boat movements per working day.

A working pair passing slag hoppers of Stanton ironworks 1948

The canal eventually failed in the face of railway competition, subsidence and leakage, closing informally above Stanton in 1896. Just the bottom 1.3 miles remained in use for the purposes of Stanton Ironworks - its eventual owner. Stanton Ironworks sold its last boats in 1947 and the last independent boat left their wharf below lock one (Black Saddle Lock) in 1949.

There are a surprising array of remains to be found on this canal, in addition to the canal bed itself which remains very visible along much of its length. Of the 13 locks which existed five remain visible including 3,4,6,8 and 9 plus a number of the smaller bridges.

The exploration will be covered in stages defined by the quantity of good photos available:

Click on the links to jump to the posts (when live)

1. Stanton Ironworks (locks 1 and 2)
2. Stanton Ironworks to A6096 bridge (locks 3 and 4)
3. Straws (or Moor's) Bridge area (locks 5, 6 and 7)
4. Pewt Golf Course to Mapperley Book (locks 8, 9, 10, 11 12 and 13)
5. Shipley Reservoir and Paul's Arm
6. Coppice Lake, Osborne's Pond and Mapperley Reservoir.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

What do you do if you cant go boating?

The Captain dons the chefs hat
May 2016

Given our sudden change of plans you may be wondering what I am doing to keep myself out of mischief.

Well, while we may not be out and about with The Jam Butty, it did stretch its legs last week on the BCNS Explorer Cruise and, with our horizons limited, we have focused the Wild Side activity on events which are within striking distance of home - which basically means the Birmingham and Wolverhampton Levels.

Medlar and Apple Chutney before labeling

Wild Side will therefore operate at a lower ebb than usual, but we will still need some stock, particularly later in the season. And then there are the freezers, three of them groaning with last seasons bounty - that cant be left to go to waste, can it?

So, encouraged by the success of my dabble into marmalade making last year the understudy has stepped into thew spotlight and, under Helen's excellent tutelage, I have expanded to Jams and Chutneys. We soon exhausted our reserve of blackberries which converted into Blackberry and Red Wine Jam and then the Fruits of the Forest was made up adding more to our reserves. Sticking to a red theme I processed a mountain of Damsons into some very yummy Damson, Ginger and Green Tea Jam.

With some Rhubarb and Ginger Jam as well...

Satisfied that I had got to grips with the principles of jam I progressed to chutney, a much slower process but one which has started to make inroads into the Medlar pulp we have stored. We now have an extra 50 jars of Medlar and Apple Chutney which will be mature by the end of the summer. Not content with Medlar, I have today rattled off a batch of Gooseberry Chutney plus the third of four batches of Rhubarb and Ginger Jam.

 Rhubarb and Ginger at the softening stage - and then the scary time as the setting point approaches

The pile of completed product is building up in the store room and I have learned loads about how you make preserves. Don't worry about Helen in all this - she is the creative brains and I just follow her instructions very closely. If I had to create a new jam I wouldn't know where to start!

I am now starting to have a look at vinegars. There is a batch of sweet Raspberry and Lavender waiting to be bottled and then something like 25 litres of the hugely popular Wild Garlic Vinegar maturing out in the shed.

What with the decoration and DIY needed in the house and my expanded Wild Side activities I havn't had a moment to miss work!  You may have also noticed the blog coming back to life now I have a bit more time on my hands.

Next week we fly off to St Lucia for a week with friends after which we embark on the cycle of chemotharapy and all that entails. Looks like I will have to fit a bit more caring into my schedule, especially during the six "chemo weeks".

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

BCNS Explorer Cruise - the final leg

BCNS Explorer Cruise - the final leg
May 2016

What a difference a night makes. During the hours of darkness the rain had moved on and I was face with wall to wall sunshine, calm conditions and the towpath thronging with dog walkers and joggers.

Moorings in Walsall Wood

As often happens when things break down, I had been giving the cooker some serious thought and I had remembered that the failure to get gas to the burners may be due to the flame off device not working properly. I have seen this issue on the model elsewhere.

I decided to test the theory before setting off and disconnected the gas feed beneath the cooker before turning it on briefly. Gas emerged so the problem had to lie within the cooker. In recent days the gas supply had been fickle and sometime raising and lowering the glass lid did the trick - so the finger of suspicion pointed to the valve.

I quickly undid the six screws holding the cooker in place and heaved it up and out. Not an elegant or smooth maneuver, but one I undertook several times whilst building the galley. A quick inspection revealed a bent lever which was no longer activating the gas supply switch. The lever was only thin so I bent it straight with my fingers and we installed the whole thing and voila - we have gas!

The weather demanded thin trousers and a tee shirt and the last hour and a half through the leafy back end of Aldridge was nothing short of delightful. The sun shone, the birds sang and the herons fished. All was well with the world.

There was plenty of time to unpack the boats and attend to all the domestic activities on the car park side before poling the butty back into position followed by the motor boat. Somehow my three day trip had extended to four days and three nights, two which were lovely and two were pretty soggy but overall it was lovely to be afloat again at last - and by taking the butty I came back with considerably more money in my pocket than when I started.