The Beeston Lock and Canal

by Joe Earp

The Beeston Lock and Canal today is a pleasant and beautiful spot. The area around the lock has been in continual use since at least the Bronze Age.  Being close to the River Trent, the establishment of the settlement Beeston or more specifically Bes-tun was an ideal location. By the river, the ground had been cleared by the early Bronze Age settlers to reveal lush green meadows and fields.

The rye (or bent grass) would have grown wild. This is where we get the modern name of Beeston from, it meant in Saxon the ‘tun’ or settlement of ‘bes’- the bent or rye grass. Today the area by the river, is called the Ryelands and if you look carefully you can still see rye growing wild.

The River Trent has always been an important river. For centuries, the river  has been used for the transportation, mostly commodities like lead, copper and coal.  In the Bronze Age there was a pile settlement located both on the Beeston side of the river and across at Clifton. The pile settlement was basically dwellings built on oak stakes. The piles were grouped close together and would have supported a platform upon which huts would have been built — a village on stilts.  These were found in 1938 along with two dug out canoes. The Pile settlement and other archaeological finds, were found during gravel extraction work.

By the end of the 1700s the river was presenting difficulties in navigation with shallows, currents and floods to contend with. Also the old Trent Bridge at Nottingham was causing continuing problems.

In 1777 William Jessop, the engineer for the Trent-Mersey Canal, surveyed the Trent and he subsequently recommended that certain cuts should be made. One was at Meadow Lane in Nottingham. The other, more important to Beeston, was to construct a canal from the village to join the Nottingham Canal at Lenton. In 1793 the Trent Navigation Company was formed with Jessop appointed as the engineer.


William Jessop

Jessop and his gang of ‘navvies’ started the work for the canal. The ‘navvies’ were often known for their wild drinking, due to the hard nature of the job. They were recruited from far afield and developed a distinctive dress and customs which alienated them from the local community.

However they performed a great task and completed the work at the cost of £80,000. The canal was entered from the western side angles- the eastern one connected with the canal itself, while the southern one enabled boats to enter the Trent below the weir and use the shallow waters by Wilford if they wished.


The Locks at Beeston
Credit: Joe Earp- Nottingham Hidden History Team

At the entrance to the locks a set of worker’s houses were built. The main and earliest one, overlooking the passenger bridge was built for the lock keeper. It was his job to collect the tolls from the passing barges and boats. The job was known to be a lonely occupation. The nearest house then to the Lock was 19 Dovecote Lane, the former Goat Inn, which is now a private residence.


18th century Weir Cottages at Beeston Lock
Credit: Joe Earp- Nottingham Hidden History Team

As traffic through the canal increased, so it became necessary to provide facilities for the barges and boatmen. By the nineteenth century two Inns had been built. These were the Jolly Anglers by the canal side and a little further away was the Boat and Horses. Eventually by 1830, a small community had grown up in this area. We all know it today as the Ryelands.


Cooper, M., 1996. The Beeston Story. Nottingham: Nottinghamshire County Council.

Markey, M., 1986. A Stroll Beside Beeston Lock, in, Nottingham Topic- [August 1986].


About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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