Monday, 22 September 2014

Smoke in the Valley: Bulwell, Highbury Vale & Basford

Basford Crossings, during the 1947 flood (Courtesy Picture the Past)   

“The furnaces flared in a red blotch over Bulwell; the black clouds were like a low ceiling “
DH Lawrence, Sons & Lovers, 1913

Bulwell and Basford are the best places in north Nottingham to witness the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. In contrast with Bilborough, Aspley and Bestwood, which are mostly spacious twentieth century suburbs built upon hills, this area grew from an industrial valley with manufacturing and terraces in close proximity. Running through this hive of activity has always been the River Leen, an important source of water and power. The characteristic medieval street pattern radiates from its key crossing points and the Leen Valley is home to some of the oldest industries in the city, especially milling, quarrying, bleaching and framework knitting.

Basford Cell, Mill St – possibly a medieval nunnery connected with Lenton Priory

The railways arrived in the 1840s – a revolution in communication – at first following the river and later criss-crossing the valley with competing lines. The small workshops were upgraded to factories and as the population expanded rows of red-brick terraces and chapels spread up the valley. Huge social changes were also taking place: in religion, recreation, social services, entertainment and local democracy.

St Leodegarius Church, Old Basford (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Perhaps the car has not been as kind to the Leen Valley as the railways: new expressways bypassed old streets with little regard to the neighbourhoods they ran through, or the details of their architecture. However, since the 1980s a new emphasis on safety as well as sustainable and public transport, coupled with the Bulwellian spirit of fighting for access to their green spaces, has resulted in a number of changes. People now enjoy the NET tram route and River Leen Greenway – a car free route all the way from Bulwell to Basford and soon to be extended much further.

The River Leen Greenway, Bulwell - Basford

Excellent eighteenth century slate headstones at St Leodegarius

Ancient River
After establishing Nottingham by the seventh century, the Anglo Saxons followed the course of the River Leen and found new settlements on its banks. The ford, belonging to an Anglo Saxon named ‘Basa’, was to become Basford and the early streets radiated from its three principle crossings: David Lane, Nottingham Road and Church Street. Amid these streets are the Medieval walls of a religious cell and the impressive church of St Leodegarius dating from at least 1086 (excellent slate headstones can be found scatted about the churchyard).

Basford House, built 1730 (Courtesy Picture the Past)  

Between them ran Lincoln St, the centre of village life until the later twentieth century. Notice the Fox and Crown pub and the various Bulwell stone workshops and forges, all originating from the Georgian period. Also from the same period is the 1730 manor, Basford House, built by local landowner Thomas Langford, Mayor of Nottingham. By the end of the eighteenth century it housed the historian and hosiery merchant Thomas Bailey.

Strelley House, Bulwell, built 1677 (Courtesy Picture the Past)  

A mile or so further north the Anglo Saxons found suitable grazing land to keep their bulls adjacent to a spring – probably at Moorbridge pond. This became Bulwell and again near the principle crossing – this time at Station St – is where you will find the oldest buildings such as the former grammar school on Corporation Rd. Built in 1667 by a descendent of the great Strelley family, Strelley House is among the earliest brick structures in the city. Notice also the impressive Bulwell stone barn at the rear, both similar in structure and date as the c.1800 houses on Main St and Cinderhill Road. Overseeing all this were the church and the landowners and though the church of St Mary’s was completely rebuilt in the 1850s its ancient position serves to remind us how religion dominated local life. Meanwhile the local gentry was housed in a large manor at Bulwell Hall  – today only the Victorian stables remain.

ST Cooper's stables, Bulwell Hall

Bulwell Hall grounds, today a municipal park and golf course

Robinson's Forge Mill, from the late eighteenth century

Industrial Origins
If the Industrial Revolution is said to have begun during the latter half of the Georgian period, then Bulwell and Basford were certainly a part of it. Not only was this a landscape of stone forges but also along the fast flowing course of the River Leen were countless mills. Forge Mill was one of a number of cotton spinning mills built by the Robinson brothers who were also early pioneers in the application of steam engines. Mills such as Mill St Mill were also used for grinding corn, while others were used for bleaching textiles. This was a major part of the local economy, which required not only chloride from the local limestone but also the wide open spaces at Mill Street park to bleach the material in sunlight. Nearby, Cinderhill takes its name from the burning embers left by the lime kilns.

The c.1800 old forge, Church St, Basford

Workshops and Stables, Strelley St, Bulwell

This same limestone was also known as ‘Bulwell Stone’ and it was first quarried off Corporation Rd – originally named Quarry Lane – where you can still spot various traces of this activity. One example is at the rear of the listed St John’s Church, which is also built from the local stone. Another is the oldest crossing over the Leen, a bridge built in the 1830s, financed by the gentry at Bulwell Hall (S.T. Cooper) and built by a local stone mason named George Holmes – his initials are on the northern keystone. This accessible and busy atmosphere drew framework knitters who were manufacturing hosiery and recalled by Lord Byron in 1812 during a speech on the Luddite protests, “Such marchings and counter marchings! From Nottingham to Bulwell, from Bulwell to Basford …” The early nineteenth century Pear Tree Pub, reminds us that Bulwell Lane was the original thoroughfare between these locations.

Basford Crossings, 1947 (Courtesy Picture the Past)   

The Railways Arrive

The Midland Railway arrived in 1849 following the floodplain of the Leen, feeding not only on the commerce of the growing towns but also nearby coal mines. Thanks to the reopening of the ‘Robin Hood Line’ in 1993 and NET tram in 2004 this route survives today and you can still enjoy the restored Edwardian iron pedestrian bridge at David Lane. Yet these are only fragments of the numerous competing company lines which were mostly axed in the 1960s. Like some lost civilisation, curious earthworks and bits of blue engineering brick are scatted over the landscape, such as the Great Central route beside the Bulwell Forest Golf Course and Great Northern embankments as viewed from Leonard Street. The Catchems Corner Pub was so called because you could "catch ’em both ways"; take either the GNR train from the Bulwell & Basford Station at Park Lane, or the nearby trams. The tramways and Vernon Rd with its huge wall were built in the 1880s. At first the early trams were pulled by horses and so this wall was required to shield them from the fright of passing steam engines.

A new road between Basford and Bulwell – Vernon Road, built in the 1880s

Pearson's Bleachworks, near David Lane (Courtesy Picture the Past)  

Bulwell town centre

With such improvements in communication local commerce grew in strength. The fine buildings and former shop fronts which surround Bulwell Market, Main St, Commercial Rd and Lincoln St are telling reminders. There was even a local architect in the Edwardian period and today you can see his handsome design for a former doctor’s surgery. At Old Basford this pattern of late nineteenth and early twentieth century prosperity was repeated in the local industry: Pearson’s Bleach works beside the river, the magnificent Prince of Wales Brewery and the sophisticated E Sallis Hosiery works. At Church St Cemetery the decaying monuments to key Victorian entrepreneurs can still be made out: Thomas North (coal mining) and Charles Cox (bleaching).

The Prince of Wales Brewery (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Basford Maltings

Sallis Hosiery works, built 1950

Church St Cemetery – commemorating the 1832 Reform Bill Act

The surviving walls of Basford workhouse

Social Change

Standards of living in the nineteenth century was a tale of two halves. Since the Napoleonic Wars there had been a slump in the hosiery trade, and framework knitters, undercut by rising rents and low skilled labour, took to smashing their masters’ machinery. The response from the authorities was less than helpful – a workhouse was built in 1815. Nothing survives of the actual building apart from a perimeter wall but it is still enough to give the impression of a prison for the unemployed. For a time the working class could not find much solace in the established church, building their own “nonconformist” chapels scatted throughout the Leen Valley  – the earliest on Handel St is dated 1811.

How the Methodists changed Part I – c. 1811 chapel, Bulwell

How the Methodists changed Part II – c. 1880s chapel, Bulwell

The c. 1880 iron footbridge and the Battle of the Bogs marks the turning point for social change along the Leen Valley – a victory for local democracy against the wishes of a private landowner (Percy Cooper of Bulwell Hall) who wished to enclose the park. It was also a legal success for the Corporation of Nottingham, which was then bringing Bulwell and Basford within its bounds. The libraries of Bulwell and Basford, Bulwell Forest Golf Course, Vernon Park, North Street Baths and the council houses of Highbury Vale and Whitemoor are testament to that great historical theme of municipal enterprise from the 1870s to the late 1930s.

Bulwell bogs

The old Bulwell Library on the left

Monday, 15 September 2014

King Coal: Bestwood, Rise Park & Top Valley

Bestwood Colliery Rescue Team, c. 1911 (Courtesy Picture the Past)

“Two miners having finished work for the day mounted bicycles and, lurching forward round the angle of the gatepost, vanished into a little lane leading into the woodlands. I decided to follow them and was glad I did, for the scenery of the district is indeed enchanting”
Alex Wells, Nottingham Journal, 1934

Bestwood, c. 1880 (Courtesy Picture the Past)

The two most distinctive aspects of Bestwood are its royal associations and urban development from a colliery company village. But it also plays a part in the incredible northern growth of the city – onto an area which had been mostly farmers’ fields – throughout the twentieth century. Bestwood is so big that it becomes a difficult area to define, with a village, two council estates and a pumping station sharing the same name and some distance apart. The old maps reveal that Bestwood has always been huge, following the same contours since it was defined as a royal hunting park in the Middle Ages, stretching from Goosedale Ponds in the north, to Arnold Road in the south, and east to west between Bestwood Lane/Hucknall Rd and Mansfield Rd.

Bestwood Lodge, c. 1880s (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Bestwood takes a starring role in various episodes of royal history, from the Normans to the Stuarts. The Dukes of St Albans descended from the latter family which, in the seventeenth century, was granted Bestwood as its ancestral home. The 10th Duke took a particular interest in the site, building the fabulous Bestwood Lodge in the 1860s, which became frequented by the rich and powerful of late Victorian England. The following decade a very different Bestwood emerged: an industrial village planned around a coal mine and ironworks, with competing railway lines tripping over themselves to get here. By the end of Victoria’s reign the city was edging ever nearer with the building of Bestwood Pumping Station and the City Hospital. Yet it wasn’t until the 1930s that the first council housing emerged. The subsequent housing estates reveal the decade by decade changes in everyday life throughout that long century.

Bestwood Lodge today

1. Royalty & Aristocracy

After the Norman conquest, Bestwood (forming part of Sherwood Forest), became subject to Forest Law – an area vigorously protected by royal officials for both deer and timber. Grievances over access were bitter and likely it was these laws which led to the folk tales of Robin Hood. Despite this, it was hardly a landscape for developing densely populated communities with diverse economies; this was a hilly deserted landscape of dry sandy soils, grass, woodland and deer. Hunting, for Medieval kings, was not a necessity but a leisure pursuit, a game where a feudal society centred on military service and privilege could be played out. And it was some of the most vigorous of those kings who exercised that right here: Henry I, Henry III, Edward III (who built the first lodge), Edward IV and Richard III – who famously stayed the night here only 3 days before the Battle of Bosworth. In a sense the Woodside Riding School has revived this equestrian tradition at Bestwood. 

Woodside riding school

Alexandra Lodge – Bestwood Lodge gatehouse

Bestwood’s next and greatest feature within royal history did not emerge until the late seventeenth century, when the playboy king, Charles II, granted the lodge and grounds to his beloved mistress Nell Gwyn. “Poor Nelly” was the mother of his illegitimate son and Charles was concerned enough to endow him with a stable income and social position, entitling him ‘1st Duke of St Albans’. It was the 10th Duke, William Beauclerk, who had the most remarkable impact upon the estate, demolishing the medieval lodge and building an incredible mansion, gatehouse and stables throughout the 1860s. Designed in the gothic style by notable architect SS Teulon, the complex is stylistically the same as St Pancras Station (built the same decade). Bestwood was therefore a very attractive location for visiting dignitaries, such as Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli. The Duke’s patrician approach can also be seen at the 1869 Emmanuel Church, built on the eastern fringes of Bestwood when it was still a small farming community.

Emmanuel Church, Bestwood (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Bestwood Winding Engine today

2. A Colliery Company Village

The 10th Duke’s next ambitious scheme involved a partnership with mining entrepreneur John Lancaster. This was the planning of an entire community centred on a coal mine and ironworks company. Bestwood quickly became one of the best provided colliery villages in the county, with a school, cottages, offices and the pit engine winding house built during the 1870s alone.

Miners' cottages, Bestwood village (Courtesy Picture the Past)

St Mark's Church, Bestwood

The Bestwood Institute pub, St Mark's church and cemetery were completed the following decades, but it is perhaps the little things which are most evocative of the Company’s paternalism. Notice the initials and date stone plaques on the cottages, walled gardens and the green square – originally laid out for allotments. Nevertheless the Duke liked to keep work and home life separate: the hedgerows along Colliers Way were grown tall to keep the blackened miners from sight.

Colliers' Way, Bestwood, looking towards Arnold

Great Northern Railway line towards Bestwood village

By 1901 Bestwood was so popular that there were three different railway company lines scrambling over themselves to feed on the iron and coal produced here. Most of this infrastructure was demolished following the Beeching axe of the 1960s but the cycle routes beside Hucknall Rd and Moor Road follow the old embankments. At its peak the Bestwood Coal & Iron Company employed around 2000 people, but by 1967 the coal mine was considered uneconomical and closed. In the decades that followed there begun a successful transformation of the ‘moonscape’ – the colliery slag heap – into a Country Park and the careful restoration of the engine winding house. The panoramic view from the top of the Country Park is one of the best in the county.

Bestwood Country Park, looking north

Named after a pioneer farmer of the nineteenth century

3. Farmers’ Fields & Bendigo’s Ring

Bestwood’s difficult soils were a magnet for have-a-go farmers from 1775 until they were covered in housing during the twentieth century. The estates and roads still recall the names of the various farms that stood here, such as Top Valley, Southglade, Bulwell Rise Farm, and Cherry Orchard Mount. Remarkably the hedgerows of Southglade Park beautifully preserves the field patterns of the old farm. The first pioneers failed because the soils were so light and pebbly but by the mid nineteenth century farmers such as George Lamin were highly regarded for developing new methods in manure and crop rotation.

Southglade Park today

The original hedgerows of Southglade Farm – still intact

Bendigo (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Just as these fields were carefully being tended to, a man with an athletic appearance would have been walking here, searching for a suitable hill to conduct a boxing match. According to historical records it appears that Sunrise Hill was the site of Bendigo’s Ring, rather than is popularly believed to be at nearby Glade Hill. Either way, it was one of these hills in Bestwood where twice champion bare-knuckle prize-fighter William Abednego Thompson, practiced and fought during the nineteenth century. He died in 1880 but lived an eventful life (politics, religion, drink) and was nationally famous.

The view looking west from from Sunrise Hill

1877 Boundary Marker, near Bestwood village

4. Growth of the City

By the end of the nineteenth century Nottingham was growing ever closer. Neighbouring Bulwell was incorporated in 1877 – notice the boundary markers – but the first real instance of the city starting to absorb Bestwood was the building of a fantastic pumping station by the Corporation in 1874. Taking advantage of the natural sandstone wells deep within Bestwood, the famous water engineer Thomas Hawksley saw this as an important step in supplying water to a growing industrial population. Yet this was not without some stipulation from the design conscious 10th Duke, who decided that the chimney should look like a church steeple!

Bestwood Pumping Station (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Bestwood Estate, built 1930s in the traditional garden city style

The City acquired Bestwood fields in the 1930s and spacious ‘garden city’ style houses were erected at Bestwood Estate. To the east, Bestwood Park Estate – with its incredible views – was 1959-1966, and though of similar style and materials to its predecessor you can spot subtle differences such as the brickwork and modernist porches.

Bestwood Park Estate - modern brickwork

Bestwood Park Estate, built 1959-66

Bestwood Park Estate - modern porches

By the 60s and 70s car ownership had grown enormously and local authorities throughout the country struggled to accommodate the growth in traffic and concern for safety. One approach – Radburn planning – involved the separation of vehicles from pedestrians and this can been seen in the ring roads, cul-de-sacs, green space, precincts and multiple subways of Top Valley.

Top Valley estate underpass