One thing which struck me as surprising at the canal was the lack of lighting. The surrounding areas are all lit up yet the canal itself remains dark...
I have done some research into history of lighting in Nottingham to try and understand why the canal is not lit up like the rest of the city.
The first step towards lighting Nottingham was in 1762 when the Nottingham authorities made the decision to light the town. Initially these lights were powered by a wick floating on top of whale fat obtained from whalers in Whitby and other such ports. However, it was not until around 1807 that the town was lit properly using these lights. It is also estimated that these lights were only in use for approximately 12 years.
The fairly short life of the whale fat lights was due to a newer alternative being introduced. Gas.
The first recorded use of gas lighting in Nottingham was by a Mr Taylor, who illuminated his brass foundry during the winter of 1814. However, by 1819, gas lights had been adopted by the Nottingham authorities to light the town and on the 13th of April, 10 gas lights were lit. Despite the concerns of many over the dangers of gas and explosions, the use of gas lights spread across Nottingham for years, continuing to grow until 1874.
Four years later on the 4th of November 1878, Nottingham witnessed the introduction of electric powered lights. By 1894, the Market Square was alight with electric illumination.
It is curious as to why the canal received no lighting, the canal was finished in 1796, shortly before the introduction of lighting the town. Perhaps one suggestion is that they were prioritising the centre of Nottingham, and since it is likely that little trade happened via the canal routes at night it was not deemed necessary.
It is also worth remembering that technology was not nearly as advanced then as it is today. It would have been a huge undertaking to install the gas lights by the canal. Also given the fear of explosions from the gas lines, it may be that it was deemed too risky to have the gas around a trade route for gun powder and coal. This is especially true when baring in mind the incident which happened in 1818 when a sailor tossed a hot coal onto some gun powder. The devastation from that was severe enough without gas pipes being included. Had such an event occurred around gas lights, the damage could have extended across the whole town, not just the nearby streets.
This destruction may also have contributed to why there are no lights there now. Since the canal area was so badly damaged just 1 year before the gas lighting of Nottingham, lighting the canal may not have been the primary concern of the owners.
Speaking of owners, as discussed in an earlier post, the canal fell into the hands of many. Since no one business or corporation held onto it long enough, it is possible that the necessary time or money was never applied to the canal in order to light it. All these reasons potentially explain why the earlier lighting systems of Nottingham never made it to the canal.
Eventually the canal ended up in the hands of Great Northern Railway, who disliked canals. They left the canal to fend for itself and invested very little, if any, money and time into it. The canal became disused and ceased being a trade route, warranting no investment for lighting.
The surrounding areas have been taken over and built up into various uses, from hotels to houses to shops and more. All of these areas have been provided with the necessary lights. Yet the canal itself is still dark.
I returned to the site to photograph more of it, looking at the surroundings more as well as the canal itself. I paid a lot more attention to the views in and out of the canal.
On the subject of history, I thought it a good idea to look at historical maps of the site. Unfortunately the earliest available map was 1880, which does not predate the canal. However the series of maps does give a good idea of the changes in the area.
One of the most prominent features of the inner city section of the canal is the British Waterways building.
The British Waterways building is now home to the Nottingham Glee Club, but in it's past it was a place of industry. It's tall and proud structure does indeed suggest this with it's industrial build resulting in it still standing today. Before belonging to British Waterways, the building was home to Trent Navigation Co.
The building is somewhat of a landmark for the canal and can be seen from the nearby bridges too.
The route taken by the canal is quite an extensive one, a full and current description of that route can be found here.
A great image of the route taken by the canal was on the Canal & River Trust website, I have taken a screenshot of it and placed it below. It is a Google Maps view with an overlay of the canal (the darker blue line), showing how the canal connects with the River Trent.
Despite the current size and uses of it now, Nottingham's Canal has a history formed around industry.
If you look at the canal today, you will see a very different image to what you would have seen 200 years ago. By the 1790's, business was big for Nottingham's coalfields, providing plenty of money for the people living in the city. So when the country started to adopt the use of canals as a cheaper, more efficient way to transport goods, Nottingham joined in.
The canal was called for by the citizens of Nottingham to replace the slow and expensive roads which were being used to transport their coal. Led by Thomas Oldknow, John Morris and Henry Green, the proposition was to create a passage of water which could join the city with Langley Mill and the Cromford Canal. The work was completed by 1796 and allowed Nottingham to become a bigger part of the busy coal trading business.
When opened, Nottingham's canal was 15 miles long and possed 20 locks, although the majority of these were gathered together in Wollaton. Part of the canals expanse became the 'Beeston Cut' which was used to bypass a trickier part of River Trent in order to get to Lenton. This was actually an artificial canal which then joined the Nottingham Canal. At this junction, a toll was applied and a chain stretched across it to enforce this toll. In the present day, it is one of the only fully surviving area of the canal to remain.
1818 saw a disaster which could arguably have kickstarted the decline of the canal. One of the boatmen around the canal threw a hot coal onto some gunpowder as a joke, "expecting a minor flash", instead he caused an explosion which damaged several streets and killed 10 people, as well as destroying the warehouse used by the canal company. In history that followed, many other businesses would take over the running of the canal, mainly revolving around the railways.
By 1937 a stretch of the canal was abandoned from Lenton to Langley Mill. By this point the canal had slipped into decline and was no longer the industrial trade route of choice for the city. A major factor in the decline was the taking over of the canal (amongst other canals) by railway businesses. Time after time the managing companies were bought out and the canal traded off. Once in the hands of Great Northern Railway, a company which disliked canals in favour of promoting the railways, Nottingham's canal was more or less left to fend for itself. This did not help matters since the coal traders had begun to favour the railways themselves due to the costly tolls of the canal. Despite lasting longer than most canals, after the war the Lenton to Langley stretch was filled in completely and canal stopped existing as a trade route.
Luckily the canal is not gone though and parts of it do still exist. Furthermore there is a whole trail which follows the canal and lists all of the bridges which go over it, number by number. The canal is used widely for leisure activities now, many cyclists and runners use it as a peaceful and tranquil place to be. There is even, as mentioned in an earlier post, an entire community of people which live and travel on the canal.
It is no longer at it's busiest peak, but now serves a different purpose, one which despite being a complete contrast to it's original purpose, plays an ideal role in a busy city. The canal is now the tranquil hidden secret of a city which is often too busy to even remember its presence.
The canal is easily suggested as a secret of the city, there are areas which many people may never even see of the canal, but furthermore there are events surrounding the canal which might never be witnessed. On every visit to the canal I have been on, I have seen evidence of community and trust, which leads onto my next initial thought.
In my visits there has been an undeniable sense of community. The people who I've there know one another. They help one another and they share with one another. Whilst I was there, I walked past a woman holding a dog which had fallen into the canal. She had rescued it from the water and started taking it back home to be dried when a boy on the other side of the canal spotted her. The dog was his and before I knew it the woman had returned the boy's lost dog and was advising him on what to do next. It is the things which happen in an area that make it, that was a prime example to me.
The canal is not a new addition to Nottingham. It was created long ago to provide the city with a trading route which was efficient enough to match the needs of industry. It used to be a busy place full of boats trading up and down from place to place, whereas now it is far more of a leisurely place instead.
Having lived in Nottingham all my life, I have heard more than one story about the canal in connection to crime. This creates a shadowy persona for the canal, which is something which definitely comes across when passing under some of the bridges. Whether or not this feeling is connected to the things I have seen/ heard of it before hand I am unsure of, but there is without doubt a sinister feeling about some of it at night.
The Hidden Gem Of Nottingham
Every day people walk past the canal, over bridges or on the pavements above it. There are roads that pass along side it and even a supermarket next to it. However, the Nottingham Canal is one of the most unmentioned features of the city.
Despite having an extensive past and playing a prominent part in the history of the city, it seems that the canal has fallen into being something which is mostly known only by those who live on it. To the rest of us, it may be a known part of Nottingham, albeit a likely unappreciated and underestimated one. However to many it may not even exist.
The canal itself is big, providing 15 miles of water to follow, yet only small sections of this are likely to be known by those claim to know of the canal. For example, many people, myself included till not too long ago, did not think of the canal past the section which passes the Magistrates Court.
From this, it is fair to suggest that the canal is almost a secret of the city, hidden in plain sight, and this is one of my initial thoughts on it.