The Nottingham Canal

by Joseph Earp

The Earliest canals in England were the Foss Dyke, The Cuer, or Carr’s Dyke, both of them at the northern boundaries of Nottinghamshire. Constructed by the Romans and improved in the twelfth century, the Foss Dyke was scoured out under Henry I in 1121 and in some parts is still navigable.

The Nottingham Canal original proceeded from the Trent at Nottingham, Wollaton and Cossall to Langley Mill, fourteen and three quarter miles, where it joins the Cromford Canal. The act to build the canal was obtained in 1792, and the canal completed in 1802. The man who designed and built the canal was William Jessop, who previously had success designing and building the Cromford Canal.

Portrait showing William Jessop who was called upon to design and build the Nottingham Canal. William Jessop (1745-1814) was a noted English civil engineer, particularly famed for his work on canals, harbours and early railways in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Perhaps the most exciting incident from the Nottingham Canal’s history came in 1818. The incident in question was the first great British canal explosion which occurred in a canal warehouse in Nottingham. Hezekiah Riley was the captain of a boat that plied along the Trent up as far as Nottingham, where goods could be transshipped to and from the canals of central England.

In September 1818 he took his boat, belonging to Richard Barrows, down the Trent to Gainsborough with its small crew of Joseph Musson and Benjamin Wheatley. He loaded up a mixed cargo of stone, cotton, molasses, soap and 21 barrels of gunpowder. The gunpowder, from Messrs Flower at Gainsborough, was destined for the mines of Derbyshire via Cromford, and each wooden barrel contained about 100lbs of it. The boat was brought into the canal basin at Nottingham under the crane and moored under the arch of the warehouse for unloading into the dry of the stone building.

What followed was described as a “most dreadful calamity”, which “threw the whole town into consternation and spread the most extensive devastation throughout the neighbourhood” A man in the Meadows described how “the whole warehouse appeared to lift up several yards into the air and then burst asunder into innumerable fragments.” Then, “The explosion was followed by a cloud of smoke which completely darkened the atmosphere”.

The explosion was reported to have been caused by poor quality storage of gunpowder. The explosion was a devastating incident killing approximately ten to fifteen men and boys. The damage estimated from the explosion came to £30,000, which included 4000 quarters of corn, some paper and cheese in the warehouse. The warehouse was insured, but the insurance company refuse to pay up and the canal company sued Musson’s employers, the Nottingham Boat Company. They won £1000 but the boat company could not pay, and had to settle for £500. The people of Nottingham set up a fund to help the relatives of the victims.

With the Industrial Revolution came the birth of the Railway which overtook the canal as a viable economic transport route into Nottingham. As a result of the railway the canal quickly declined in use and became neglected. In recent years since the 1970s, the canal has enjoyed a ‘re-birth’ as a nature reserve and walking trail. The stretch of the canal in the City has especially enjoyed a new ‘rebirth’ with the area being well served by a number of pubs, restaurants, cafés, gyms and luxury apartments.

Photograph showing The Nottingham Canal between Wilford Street and Carrington Street, 2014. This stretch of the Nottingham Canal has been extensively refurbished, with new waterside pubs and bars complementing the fine old British Waterways warehouse. Out of picture to the left is the impressive Magistrates Court. Photograph Credit: Joseph Earp.

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.
This entry was posted in Nottingham History, Nottinghamshire Industrial History. Bookmark the permalink.

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