Sunday, 16 March 2014

Garden City: Aspley, Cinderhill & Broxtowe

1930s Council housing design in Aspley, Nottingham: "variation in a formal setting".
(Courtesy Picture the Past)

In the early spring of 1939... we joined the exodus of families, most of them from the old slum areas, to the new estates west of the city. Nottingham had an admirable record of slum clearance and re-housing from 1919 until well into the 20th Century. Broxtowe Estate was an expression of that pioneering energy. It was built of ugly red brick, but designed with good intent, plotted and planned for a new way of life.

Derrick Buttress, Broxtowe Boy, (2004)  

This area is home to Nottingham’s largest example of the Garden City, an urban planning concept that sought to bring together aspects of town, country and industry. Built during the 1920s and 30s, these council houses marked the biggest advance of living standards in Nottingham's history; all were supplied with running water, flushing toilet, gas, gardens and electric fittings - amenities which thousands had previously been deprived of. The fresh air from these hills must have appealed to the council house tenants as they left behind them not only the smokestacks of the city, but also the slums of Narrow Marsh. In the rush to make these improvements little thought was given to preserving evidence of the past, except for Thomas North's collieries and railway lines, many of which were still producing coal at that time.

Aspley Hall Cottages, Aspley Lane

The decline in coal mining during the final decades of the twentieth century has meant that today there are no immediate signs of pit heads, coal stacks or wagons. Yet if we look hard enough we can see the scars and relics that remain a distinctive part of a landscape marked by a complex network of former collieries with Cinderhill pit at the centre. There is little left of Broxtowe Hall or Aspley Hall, homes of the notable Helwys and Birkin families. At Broxtowe Hall Close there survives a perimeter wall, while the cottages which served Aspley Hall stand proud on Aspley Lane. Visible remains of ancient Broxtowe or Aspley, the Roman encampment and Anglo Saxon meeting place are long gone, however it is possible to imagine their ancient geographical importance from their elevated position.

1. Cinderhill Colliery

Cinderhill Colliery 1986 (courtesy Picture the Past)

Cinderhill pit was an enormous industrial complex and one of Nottinghamshire‘s first deep pits, pioneering powerful winding engines, ventilation and lighting. When it closed in 1986 it employed just under 1000 people, produced around ½ million tons of coal per year, and had an underground link to Hucknall colliery in order to reduce road traffic. The only visible reminder of this incredible undertaking is the man-made hill known as Stanton Tip, a slag heap of unwanted earth. Phoenix Park was built on the colliery site during the 90s and there is a plaque in a small roundabout commemorating the colliery.

Former site of Cinderhill Colliery, now Pheonix Park

Detail from the comemorative plaque

Confusingly, Cinderhill pit is also known as Babbington, which is a village of that name nearly 5 miles west of here. This is all down to the nineteenth century mining entrepreneur Thomas North who sank Cinderhill colliery in 1841. When he died his portfolio of collieries, which included Newcastle, Broxtowe, Strelley and Babbington were grouped together and known collectively as 'The Babbington Estate' - Babbington being one of his earliest. It is well known that North died in debt in 1868 as Collieries such as Cinderhill required large investments: engines, timber yards, repair work, brick yards, horses, ropes and drainage. But had he lived just another three years he would have seen the fruits of his labour. At his funeral crowds lined the streets to pay their respects and raise funds for a memorial which still stands in a graveyard off Church St in Basford. Many were thankful that he had provided employment and housing for people who had previously struggled as Framework Knitters.

2. Colliery Lines & Relics 

Site of Broxtowe Colliery - now Broxtowe Country Park

Victorian bridges over a former colliery line at Cinderhill - now a tram stop

If Babbington was one of Thomas North's earliest mines then Cinderhill was certainly his largest, sitting at the centre of a huge network of collieries. One of these collieries was Broxtowe Wood and today the pathways still roughly mark the route of a railway line running southward from Cinderhill and then westward to Babbington. The NET tram from Phoenix Park to Highbury Vale follows the original colliery line which formerly connected with the Nottingham to Mansfield line. The Victorian bridges crossing the line are still in use either side of the Cinderhill tram stop.

Car free route from Aspley Library - Keverne Close - another former colliery line

Former miners cottages from the nineteenth century

The Newcastle Arms pub

At the rear of Aspley Library is a car free route to Keverne Close, the legacy of another railway track from Cinderhill through the medieval Quarry Holes Plantation and then to Melbourne Park where there was a pit known as Newcastle colliery, so called because the Duke of Newcastle was formerly a major landowner here. Also, note the Newcastle Arms pub and miners' cottages nearby on Nuthall Road.

Christ Church Cinderhill, 1858 (courtesy Picture the Past)

Christ Church, Cinderhill, built 1856

Detail from Christ Church Cinderhill

Basford Miners Welfare and formerly Thomas North's house 'Basford Hall'

The Elms, Nuthall Road (a house which formally served Basford Hall)

North also provided housing for his workers along Cinderhill Road but sadly these cottages have all gone, but what does remain is the Grade II listed Christ Church, which was financed by North in 1856. Less than a stone's throw is Basford Hall, North's former residence and later a Miners' Welfare.

3. A Garden City

Narrow Marsh before slum clearance in the 30s

Collecting water from an outside tap in 1920s Narrow Marsh

Pail Closets on Sun Street

In Nottingham after the First World War there were still some 30,000 pail closets (a steel bucket for a toilet), serious overcrowding and houses without water, gas or electricity. The situation was urgent and the city embarked on a slum clearance and council house building programme. Nottingham became known as one of the largest and fastest builders in the country: nearly 17,500 council houses were built in the 1920s and 30s, about quarter of which included Aspley, Bells Lane, Broxtowe, Denewood Crescent and Stockhill. This huge undertaking followed national guidelines for "Garden Cities" which decreed that suburban housing should be based on the traditional countryside cottage with proper sanitation, parks, gardens, wide roads and plenty of space.

The Garden City ideal

The hipped roofs of Aspley - a traditional Garden City design

Melbourne Park and the adjacent allotments were complete during the 1930s

 “Come look at this!” Brenda shouted from another room. I ran to her. This room was smaller, even than the attic I knew so well. Fixed to the wall by the window was a handbasin with two shining chrome taps. Brenda was wrestling with the cold tap, trying to turn it on, but lacking strength. “A sink in the bedroom!” she said awestruck. I knocked her hand away and turned the tap on. We watched the water swirl around the small basin, then gurgle noisily away. After the one tap houses we had lived in before, such a facility in a bedroom seemed a reckless extravagance. I turned the tap off and we scampered, excited, into the third bedroom.”
Derrick Buttress, ‘Broxtowe Boy’, (2004)

Trees, privet hedges and Bulwell Stone walls - Denewood Crescent

Whilst tenants were expected to keep their gardens respectfully neat and tidy at all times, little official advice or assistance appears to have been offered. In these circumstances tenants sought  advice from family, friends and neighbours, sharing tools and swapping plants and cuttings. Garden practice often centred on salvaging and making do with very little, but the results were frequently dazzling and a source of local cohesion.
Miss Georgina Couch, University of Nottingham School of Geography (2002)

Broxtowe Lane

The radial plan of Aspley with William Crane School at the centre (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Garden City schools were keen on the outdoor life (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Stockhill Lane was among the earliest Garden City council estates in Nottingham, complete during the 20s, while Aspley was begun towards the end of that decade. The success of this meant that in 1932 the city was allowed to extend its boundaries and build upon the fields of Bilborough, allowing Broxtowe, Bells Lane and Denewood Crescent to be completed during the 30s. These houses followed designs by T. C. Howitt, who sought to create "variation in a formal setting", with housing planned around radial routes and given differences with facing gables, mansard or hipped roofs.

4. The 1920s & 30s

The city dispersed: the early 30s ring-road, and council house plan by T. Wallis Gordon

Western Boulevard under construction (Courtesy Picture the Past)

The 1930s ring road and cycle route - this is Western Boulevard today

The old route to Nuthall, Nottingham Rd

Miners cottages, Nuthall Road - now a petrol station (Courtesy Picture the Past)

This was a period marked by new roads, branch libraries and a style all of its own. Road building and widening was necessary to accommodate not only rising car ownership, but also new motor and trolley buses, which were then replacing tramlines. Until the 1920s Nuthall Road at Cinderhill had the appearance of an old country lane with miners' cottages nestling beside it; The Nuthall pub and the Elms still preserve part of the original route. But the largest road scheme was the ring road of Middleton Boulevard, Western Boulevard and Valley Road. This was one of the last pieces of work by City Engineer T Wallis Gordon and was designed to follow the example of Nottingham's Victorian ring road (Castle Boulevard - Gregory Boulevard).

The original interior of Aspley Library (Courtesy Picture the Past)

The lantern at Aspley Library, built 1937

Aspley Library in 1937 (Courtesy Picture the Past)

I entered the room and felt like yelling for joy. I had never seen to many books in one place, and all for children. Even the smell was beguiling. It would take me for ever to read them all, and the prospect was wonderful. The room was brightly lit and furnished with round tables the colour of honey. Around them there were child-sized chairs with upholstered seats - the luxury!Derrick Buttress, ‘Broxtowe Boy’, (2004)

Mock tudor shops - Aspley Lane / Strelley Rd

1930s Gothic: St Margaret's Church, Aspley Lane

These two decades were also marked by the building of 6 new branch libraries, which culminated in the art deco Aspley Library of 1937, with a stock of some 10,000 books. Designed by Gordon's successor, R.M. Finch, the library features a remarkable lantern and was described at its opening as "set in a garden at the gate of a Garden City". Along Aspley Lane and Nuthall Road, the shops, pubs and churches tell us more about the prevailing style of the Garden City movement which was imitating the countryside; mock-Tudor timber frames and medieval Gothic; the best examples being the Tudor Lodge, The Beacon pub, St Margaret's Church, the 30s Newcastle Arms pub, the recently demolished John Barleycorn pub, and the row of shops on the junction of Broxtowe Lane and Strelley Road.


  • Derrick Buttress, Broxtowe Boy, (2004)  
  • Ernie, Scoffham, Vision of the City: The Architecture of T.C. Howitt (1992)
  • Nottingham Local Studies Library, Cinderhill Suburb Pack
  • Nottingham Local Studies Library, Babbington and Cinderhill Colliery: a selection of historical resources
  • Nottingham Local Studies Library, Aspley: a selection of historical sources
  • Nottingham Local Studies Library, Strelley Village Pack
  • Geoffrey Oldfield, The illustrated history of Nottingham's suburbs, (2009) 
  • John Brunton and Andy Smart, Memories of the estates Aspley, Bilborough, Broxtowe & Strelley, Nottingham Bygones (2002)
  • N. Pevsner, Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire (1979)
  • J. Becket, A Centenary History of Nottingham (1997)
  • D. Thompson, England in the Twentieth Century (1965)


  1. The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lot of great information which can be helpful in some or the other way. Keep updating the blog, looking forward for more contents...Great job, keep it up..
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  2. The blog is very informative about Garden City. Reading about history and places has always been very interesting to me. I enjoyed it a lot. Birmingham Parking

  3. I was brought up in Aspley and knew the whole area very well. I'd never thought of it as a "garden city" but now it makes perfect sense. Spent many happy hours in that lbrary searching for Just William books!

  4. My great great grandad was Harry Slater. He was inn keeper of 40yrs at the Broxtowe Inn from later 19th to early 20th centuries. Would love to know more about the place.

  5. HI Stuart, if you have not done so already, pop down to the Archives on Wilford Street and Central Library on Angel Row – they might be able to dig out some more.

  6. Ok hopefully at some time in future I'll do that. Thanks.