Saturday, 6 March 2010

Colwick Industrial Estate

This follows part of a group bike ride from Stoke Bardoph Lock to Colwick Industrial Estate, along a newly relayed Trentside path. I have to thank Sneinton Bikers for their patience, as I must have tired then with my insistence on meandering along Sillitoe's tape worm artery of the Trent - stopping at rotting industrial heritage and contemporary manufacturing units.

In 1915 the Corporation of Nottingham took over the entire stretch of river from the city to Newark in an ambitious plan to increase the volume of traffic carried via the Trent. Hitherto the rate of traffic had been in decline; in 1898 the river carried over 400,000 tons per year but by 1915 it had declined below 300,000. By building new locks in the 1920s, such as this one at Stoke Bardolph, and with an extensive river dredging and deepening programme, the corporation successfully doubled tonnage on the Trent to over 650,000 by 1939. But it doesn't end there either, oh no, in 1978 the city had plans to develop the Trent further and build a major European port at Colwick for ocean going ships!

(A. C. Wood, A History of Trade and Transport on the River Trent, in Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 1950, Vo. 54), pp. 1-45.)

Today the river is mainly used for recreation and the 1920s plantation of trees which surround the lock provide an attractive haven for wildlife and a suitable spot for a foraging picnic, which dare I say it in such plain English: is a very nice place! A calming spot to sit and watch an autumn sunset. This can be a positive side of Britain's decline in industrial prowess - good footpaths, nature reserves, public recreation and wildlife. Not luxury riverside apartments inhabited briefly by dodgy football managers - as we shall see further up stream.

Next to the picnic tables is a wildlife guide powered by hand - also notice the bat carving on the corner.

Between the lock and viaduct a cycle path has been relayed alongside the river, which is abutted by Radcliff-on-Trent. No need to explain the Anglo Saxon terminology. Also notice the white bands of gypsum, a feature which rendered the Trent Valley as a centre of medieval alabaster carving, Pale Ale and British Gypsum. Illusive, familiar, moderate, bitter and flowery. It covers the cracks, the faulty joints and the dividing lines.

Unfortunately encased in concrete by British Rail in 1981 but the attempt to strengthen the crossing could have been worse. The bridge was originally built by the Ambergate Railway company - one of those many speculative and imaginative endeavours from the age of steam; this particular fantastical dream was to link Boston with Manchester but didn't get as far as Nottingham. It was eventually bought out by one of oldest of the big six railway companies: The Great Northern, which originated in Stevenson's North East and terminated at King's Cross. But this was Midland Railway country - the fourth of the big six, which originated in The Erewash and terminated at St Pancras. At least private railway competition was real back then, not the botched excuse it is now. Can anyone today seriously imagine each company with their own competing station in every town, or First Great Western sabotaging East Midlands Trains? But this is what happened here, back then in 1852.

By controlling the Grantham to Nottingham line, the Great Northern had a connection to the Erewash coalfields and the MR heartland. The MR retaliated by kidnapping the first GNR locomotive to arrive in Nottingham and it wasn't released for another 7 months following a long winded court case known as the 'battle of Nottingham'. The despute was settled by the GNR agreeing to pay a 10 year lease to the Midland for the use of their property until the they built their own station. It was in lieu of this that the GNR employed one of Nottingham's finest architects in TC Hine to decorate their new line with his then modish Jacobean and Italianate architecture: Nottingham GNR Station, the GNR Warehouse, Aslockton, Bingham, Colwick and Bottesford have the best surviving fragments. Nearby, Netherfield became a Great Northern Railway town with one of the biggest railway sidings in Midland country but was largely disbanded since post war nationalisation. This is one of those moments where Ray Gosling's observation about Nottingham can ring true, as a place 'where the Midlands meets the North'. Though I don't know if it is always a friendly meeting but sometimes more of an actual tension. The line also splits in two here - with another concrete viaduct which until 1993 was a mineral line to Cotgrave Colliery.

At evening by the lights of Netherfield-Dubovka
Walk similar embankments and announce their love

To rivers snaking over peacetime faces.

Alan Sillitoe A falling out of love and other poems (1964)

The Clayton Shuttleworth & Co. is credited with manufacturing the ironwork for this bridge - a Lincolnshire engineering company which made various machines for agriculture; threshing, ploughs, portable steam engines and so on. It is understandable why this company had a clear interest in the Ambergate Railway - connecting the Lincolnshire farmlands with the north midland coalfields. Boosted with the sales from the Great Exhibition, by 1857 the company was described as having machines all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with factories in both Vienna and Budapest. Despite the overwhelming success of the 1850s, by the turn of the century British agricultural machinery had lost out to American developments in reaping and binding technology. The post 1870 agricultural depression hadn't helped either when British farmers struggled amid growing international competition. There is a common tension thoughout these tales of British rise and decline; at one end proud complacency and at the other increasing international growth.

(The Market and the Development of the Mechanical Engineering Industries in Britain, 1860-1914, by S. B. Saul © 1967 Economic History Society.)

Cycling east to west, Park Logistics is one of the first firms you encounter at Colwick Industrial Estate.

One of the other major sites is Wastecycle, a private refuse collection and recycling company.

Trent Concrete has been here since 1919 and is one of the largest prefabricated concrete businesses in the United Kingdom, with a staff of nearly 150 people. Its most significant project of recent years has been the precast concrete panels for Nottingham Contemporary using technology developed at Derby University. Historically the company has been an essential part of twentieth century construction in Britain, taking it's raw material from the numerous gravel terraces of the Trent Vallery. From the 1920s to the 50s Trent Concrete provided the material for "Nottingham's Highway to the Sea", and ambitious infrastructure project along the river which included warehouses, locks, sluices and dredging work.

Armitage Brothers has a Royal Warrant for the manufacture and supply of pet food, priding itself on being the largest companies of its kind in Europe. It is over 200 years old and has had its main factory and distribution centre based in Colwick since the conception of the industrial estate during the interwar period. The writer Wayne Burrows worked here for a short time until he moved on to better things at the McCain Chip factory in Grantham.

The estate was originally conceived as an inland port to Hull and eventually the North Sea. It was generally considered a success by the 1960s but twenty years later this function had declined due to a combination of reasons, some of which include: the silting up of the Trent at Stoke Bardloph, an increase in road traffic and I think also the piping of north sea oil to Colwick - though as yet I can find no further information about the inland piping of refined oil.

Access to water traffic was a valuable asset for the import of raw sugar. Perhaps the oldest building on the estate is the Sugar Beet Factory - an industry which was established in England between 1912 and 1928 and one which was more predominant in the flat lands of East Anglia. Colwick was therefore of marginal importance in the industry, being developed out of speculative corporate decisions rather than locational necessity. There were and still are a small number of sugar beet factories in the UK, although Colwick is no longer one of them. This was an industry which appears to have developed out of Britain's decline in its international standing: in the nineteenth century it had relied on imports via empire and the continental dumping of sugar - hence the Victorian origins of Tate & Lyle. All this changed in the early years of the twentieth century when the dumping of sugar in Europe was restricted by international agreement and new customs duties were imposed on the material. The site is now used by Kitchen World and the grounds as depot for Leec - manufactures of medical and mortuary equipment.

(The Location of the Beet-Sugar Industry in England and Wales, 1912-36, by H. D. Watts © 1971 The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).)

Since the dredging of the River in the 1920s, this was a place where oil could be distributed from Hull via the Trent to the petroleum depot at Colwick - an important distrubution centre for the East Midlands. The oil drums are still an impressive site from the Colwick Loop Road, but it is now a shadow of its former self - at one time the site was home to Texaco, Esso and Total but it appears that only the latter remains - the adjacent site of the former occupants have been cleared for redevelopment.
(The Inland Waterways of the United Kingdom in the 1960s Author(s): H. D. Watts Source: Economic Geography, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Oct., 1967), pp. 303-313)

ROL is an international retail fixture suppliers which has offices in Italy, Denmark, Sweeden, Holland, Spain, France, Brazil, USA and Thailand. It is not suprising that its UK headquaters are based here given the city's history in commerical manufacture - especially Boots. World-wide ROL employs over 500 people.

It is perhaps fair to suggest that the quality of architecture at Colwick has declined since the 1970s and this building marks the last attempt at industrial aesthetics, in this case a muted Scandinavian modernism. Manufacturing is still a vital part of the economy, but its relative neglect compared to finance and business is evident in nearly every industrial estate I have been to in Nottingham. Business Parks at Ruddington, Pheonix Park, NG2 and Assarts Farm have pine plantations, good roads and new builds - many of which are empty. Yet manufacturing estates such as Glaisdale Drive, Lenton, Bulwell, Dunkirk, Radford, Stapleford, Basford and Eastwood are left to rot; with huge potholes and a regular diet of dodgy burger vans. This is the unit which my Dad rents for engineering here. Bio City and the Science Park are notable exceptions, though they are not built for mechanical engineers or manufacturers.

Notice the potholes. In 1907 textiles was the largest single branch of engineering in the UK and a dominant force in world trade. Earnest Jardine was one of its major players with a highly successfuly lace machine making company based in Nottingham. Colwick Industrial Estate was originally conceived in the 1920s and financed by Jardine's ambitious plans to make way for the city's expansion and make money in industrial real estate. It is perhaps testament to his forward planning that some of the original occupants are still here, though it is also a little endemic of the lace machine markers' complacency that companies such as Jardines are no longer with us. But all this is sometimes just provincial English self depreciation, which hides the fact that since the 1980s, central government has often done little to help industry in the regions. Since the spectacular crash of the finance and property driven economy in 2008, we are supposedly seeing a return of industrial interventionism by government. I will believe it when I see it on the banks of the Trent.

Candle Meadow estate with the hill of Bakersfield in the distance in an Eric Lyons style prefabricated modernism, though without the same middle class wealth or sensitivity to landscape. This could have perhaps had a better relation to lakes of Colwick Park but instead they are enclosed by the busy Colwick Road on one side and flood embankments on the other. Having said all that they do have a fair bit of public green space in the back alleys - which provides a separate pedestrian walkway from the road.

Finally our tour ends at Trent Lane, immediately adjacent Trent Lane Depot. An interesting location which juxtaposes working class entertainment with a failed residential development designed for the super rich. Though River Crescent does have some (sort of) environmental credentials (taking heat from the Trent to heat the swimming pool), the bulking mass of this development is an aggressive affront to riverside. Its size was rightly criticised by residents at Lady Bay, and so far the very few City bankers  have found a home here. Sven Goren Erkison took a flat for a short while - a neat analogy as his whole premise for being here was based on financial scam at poor Notts County. Currently the scheme looks as though it is heading towards receivership. Neighboring this Trent River Cruises continues to patrol the Trent, where revelers and boatmen discuss the forgotten history of the riverside.

1 comment:

  1. I lived in Colwick between 1955 and 1964, so I know this area well. Excellently written article supported by proper references.