1790s A group of mine owners around Ilkeston in Derbyshire got together to build a 4½ mile canal from a junction on the successful Erewash Canal to the Shipley estate. Benjamin Outram was appointed as engineer and the canal was built with 13 broad locks capable of taking Trent barges. Water supply was gained by the building of 2 reservoirs near Shipley.
1796 The Nutbrook Canal opened, having cost £22,800 to build, and was successful with a reasonable profit right from the start. Having been built by mine owners it was, of course, a purpose built canal made to carry coal. Thus its early success was guaranteed with much of its cargo heading south along the Erewash Canal and up the River Soar Navigation to Leicester.
Later, other industries also used the canal, in particular there were ironworks built on its route though these were not just built on the Nutbrook Canal for its transport advantages. The canal’s reservoirs made the route into an excellent water feeder and the ironworks made use of this to feed their thirsty boilers.
Eventually railways took over from canals as the major coal carriers around the country. Because the Nutbrook Canal was privately owned it was not run as a going concern. Therefore, its owners had no qualms about switching to rail transport.
1895 Most of the Nutbrook Canal was officially closed but not officially abandoned. The top sections of the route remained intact for many years as a water feeder for Stanton Ironworks but navigation was reduced to the short section from the junction with the Erewash Canal up to the ironworks.
1940 In the decades prior to WW2 virtually the only boats using the remaining navigable section of the Nutbrook Canal were Stanton Ironwork’s own fleet (carrying slag). However, during the war Stanton’s boats carried many different items including wheat, cheese, tinned meat and empty bomb cases!
1946 Such was the importance of the water supply from the closed section of the canal to Stanton Ironworks that the owners of the works bought the whole canal. All remaining traffic on the canal after this time served the ironworks.
1962 The remaining navigable section of the canal (which past right through the middle of Stanton Ironworks) was filled in though the canal’s water supply continued to be used by the ironworks. In fact, evidence of just how much water was used could be seen at Kirk Hallam where the cut was full of water just before it reached Stanton Ironworks (on the west side) while the water coming from the culvert on the east side of the works was no more than a trickle.
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The Nutbrook Canal left the Erewash Canal near Stanton Lock, just north of the point where the M1 crosses the Erewash Canal. This section, which was the part kept open after 1895, served the Stanton Ironworks and actually travelled through the middle of the works until it was partly filled in during 1962.
In 1971 (in the book “Lost Canals of England & Wales”) Ronald Russell said the line through Stanton Ironworks had been obliterated apart from two very short sections. A toll house, two locks and two bridges (one a footbridge and one a railway bridge) still existed on the canal within the works but a fine roving bridge near the first lock had been demolished just a few years earlier. Apparently, the whole stretch through the works is now completely untraceable as well as impenetrable – it is locked away behind the huge work’s boundary fences.
To the west of Stanton Works the canal is in water, it is well used by Stanton Fishing Club and it is possible to walk north west along the towpath from Stanton Bridge (on Ilkeston Road). There is a fisherman’s car park near by and plenty of space on the roadside. (For those who use OS Maps the grid ref for Stanton Bridge is 466394, sheet 129 – Nottingham).
Just above Stanton Bridge the remains of Lock 3 can still be seen. The lock has survived well with a concrete weir at the top and two rather unusual sluices. In 1971 Ronald Russell described this stretch as “an unexpectedly pleasant rural walk” – this is still true today.
After 400 yards the route curves north, as it does so the entrance to Sow Brook (or Lord Stanhope’s Arm) is past on the south west bank. A little further on are the abutments of what was obviously once a fine stone bridge, now with a sad flat concrete deck about 3 feet above the water.
The pleasant walk soon deteriorates and the canal all but dries up as Nut Brook comes alongside on the eastern bank. The water seen in the canal up to this point has arrived via the weir which can be seen on the brook at this point. Above the weir the canal is dry(ish) and the footpath becomes somewhat boggy. Continuing north, with Nut Brook close by to the right and the canal to the left, the soggy footpath reaches Lock 4, its chamber still reasonably intact.
The A6096 (at grid ref 463405) crosses the canal at what was once Little Hallam Bridge though the canal is now culverted beneath the road. North of here the canal is dry though the footpath can often be wet in places. In fact, walking can get quite difficult here and the path may even be impassable at certain times. The canal snakes around to the north west with a housing estate to the left. About half a mile above the A6096 is a small lake on the left hand side while Kirk Hallam Community Technical College stands away from the canal over to the right. Near by (at grid ref 457408) are the remains of a lock (probably No.5) though only its eastern wall is visible.
Shaun Taylor of near by Kirk Hallam sent me the following instructions on detecting lock 6… “Walk past lock 5 at the side of Kirk Hallam Lake, heading North, you will come to a footbridge over the Nut Brook. Walk over the footbridge and follow the path towards Kirk Hallam Community Technical College playing field and tennis courts for approximately 50 yards. Just before you reach a tarmac road the footpath heads left, following the route of the old canal. After approximately 10 yards the eastern wall of lock 6 is just visible in the undergrowth on the right hand side”.
North of the lock the path continues to follow the general line of Nut Brook though this has now moved to the left side of the canal. After about 500 yards the site of Straws Bridge (OS Grid Ref 454413) is reached and the A609 (East Derby Road) crosses the route. The bridge (long since gone) was named after Samuel Straw who was Overseer of the Nutbrook Canal and lived in an adjacent cottage.
At Straws Bridge there is a car park provided by Erewash BC Leisure Services for those wishing to make use of the relatively new “Nutbrook Trail”. This follows the old Stanton to Shipley mineral railway line which ran, more or less, parallel to the canal. This is a good point to start (or end) your exploration of the canal because the railway trail and canal towpath can create a circular walk between here and Stanton Bridge on Ilkeston Road. Felix Bus service No.12 (Derby to Ilkeston) and Trent Bus service No.120 (Derby to Mansfield) pass Straws Bridge hourly.
Just above Straws Bridge it is possible to detect lock 7. By keeping to the brook, rather than the trail, the remains of two more locks (8 & 9) can be found. Sadly these are the last recognisable features on the canal.
After about another mile the brook passes through a reprofiled open-cast mining area bearing no resemblance to a canal at all. Back in 1971 the canal could still be seen here but the mining was already planned and the canal was soon to be wiped out.
Shipley Hall used to stand on the land over to the west. The hall itself was demolished long ago and the estate was taken over by the NCB. However, the land is now part of Shipley Country Park and the remains of the hall are open to the public. There are two large stretches of water in the this area, both of which once supplied the canal. To the west is Mapperley Reservoir while to the east is Shipley Lake. The latter is now within the grounds of the American Adventure theme park.
(Many thanks to Hugh Potter for additional information and route text).