These notes were provided for VLHG members as background reading prior to our walk on 21 July to look at remaining evidence of the course of the Nottingham Suburban Railway (NSR) where it crossed Woodthorpe Park and connected with the Nottingham Patent Brick Company works at Mapperley.

This information is drawn from four main sources:

  • 1. The complete records of NSR, in the National Archives (Reference TNA/RAIL/547/1-18).
  • 2. The Nottingham Suburban Railway by John Marshall in The Railway Magazine, June 1961, pages 373-9.
  • 3. The Nottingham Suburban Railway by John Marshall in the British Railway Journal, No 14, 1986
  • 4. Chapter 6 in Lost Railways Of Nottinghamshire by Geoffrey Kingscott (Countryside Books, 2004, £9.95)

1. The Course of Nottingham Suburban Railway:

NSR formally opened on 2 December 1889. Figure 1 below shows the route of NSR through Mapperley on the 1901 6” Ordnance Survey map. On our walk we will only be able to see the route between the point where the line emerged from Sherwood Tunnel and the point where it left Woodthorpe Park, passing under Woodthorpe Drive.

NSR was 3.75 miles long. It ran from a junction with the Great Northern Railway at Trent Lane, Sneinton, then directly north to a junction with the Great Northern’s Derbyshire Extension line at Daybrook Station, with stations at Thorneywood, St Ann’s Well and Sherwood in between.

Because of the hilly terrain, and the pre-existing roads and railways, it was a very technically-challenging and expensive line to build. As shown on Figure 2 below, a sixth of the line, totalling 1,103 yards, was in four tunnels. The Sherwood Tunnel, which carried the line through the ridge of Mapperley Hills, under Woodborough Road, was 442 yards long and on a reverse curve so there was only a short stretch in the middle where both ends could be seen.

Figure 1. 1901 6” OS Map showing route of NSR through Mapperley

In addition to the four tunnels, there were seven brick arched bridges, nine girder bridges, of which three were over 100 feet in span, eight culverts, huge retaining walls, massive embankments and deep cuttings.

The southern end of NSR, where it connected with the Great Northern Railway (GNR) line from Nottingham to Grantham line at Trent Lane Junction, is extremely hard to visualise because it was so complicated; NSR had to also cross over the completely separate Midland Railway‘s Nottingham to Lincoln line which ran almost parallel at that point.

Figure 2. Railways in Nottingham c1900. Note that NSR (between Trent Lane Junction and Daybrook) is marked by the same thick black line as the Great Northern line; NSR was a separate legal entity until 1923 but operated by Great Northern.

At Trent Lane Junction the NSR down line (travelling from Nottingham north to Daybrook) left the GNR line on a sharp curve rising at 1 in 49. In the other direction (travelling south from Daybrook into Nottingham) the up line crossed over the GNR line by two bow-sting lattice girder spans, crossed Trent Lane by a brick arch and the MR line by another lattice girder span before joining the main line. The two NSR tracks then crossed the MR line by a single-span girder bridge in two parts, the down line rising at 1 in 49. This gradient continued northwards over Colwick Road, through a cutting, over Sneinton Dale by a brick three-arch viaduct and through another deep cutting to Sneinton Tunnel, 128 yards long.

Figure 3. Trent Lane Junction in April 1954 showing the bridges carrying NSR over the GNR line to Grantham and the MR line to Lincoln.

Just north of Sneinton Tunnel there was a siding serving the Nottingham Brick Company works, on the site later used for Manvers/ Pierrepont School, now part of NCN. At this point the gradient eased to 1 in 200 and the line passed under Carlton Road before entering Thorneywood Station. Thorneywood Station (see Figure 4 below) was on the west side of the bottom end of Thorneywood Lane, now Porchester Road. To make way for the station, Holly Gardens and Thorneywood Rise had to be truncated. Marmion Road was created to provide public access to the station from Carlton Road.

At Thorneywood Station there was quite extensive sidings, a goods shed and a branch line to the Nottingham Brick Company works situated between Thorneywood Lane (now Porchester Road) and Standhill Road. This line branched off from the up platform and immediately entered a tunnel 118 yards long under Thorneywood Lane, rising steeply all the way up to the brickworks. Wagons were hauled by a winding engine at the top. (This site of this clay pit was redeveloped as the Honeywood Drive estate and the old brickyard is still marked at the top of Briarwood Avenue.)

Figure 4. The last train passing through Thorneywood Station in 1951. In the background is the Cooper’s Arms pub, still there on Porchester Road and helpful in locating the former station.

Just north of Thorneywood station platform, a long footbridge crossed the line (demolished in 1930) and on the right of the track there was a massive arched retaining wall . The line rose again at 1 in 50 and entered the straight Thorneywood Tunnel, 408 yards long. (See Figure 6 below)

Just after leaving Thorneywood Tunnel, the line crossed Wells Road at an acute angle by a high girder bridge approached at each end over two brick arches, before entering St Ann’s Well Station – Figure 7 below.

Figure 5. Parry Court, residential development on the site of the former Thorneywood Station, named after Edward Parry, the NSR chief engineer, on the suggestion of local historian Stephen Best pictured here.

Figure 6. Thrice-weekly goods train leaving Thorneywood for Daybrook in June 1951. Note the branch off to the brickworks, the massive retaining wall, and the entrance to Thorneywood Tunnel in the background.

Figure 7. St Ann’s Well Station, before the First World War. Most of the site has been built on (Kingsthorpe Close flats) but the station master’s house survives as a private residence, on the corner of Wells Road and Dorland Drive – Figure 8 below.

St Ann’s Well Station obliterated St Ann’s Well, which is thought to have been located at the rear of what became The Gardeners public house. St Ann’s Well Road, the ancient route from Nottingham to the well, was extended, the new section, the Wells Road, curving north-westwards and running up the hill, (along the boundary of the Borough Lunatic Asylum, which was substantially extended in ….) to its junction with Woodborough Road.

From St Ann’s Well Station the NSR line rose again at 1 in 50, climbing through a long deep cutting, following the natural gully, up the western side of Wells Road, across a field originally called Long Close, which was part of the Nottingham Corporation’s ancient Bridge Estate (for the maintenance of Trent Bridge). Much of this land has since been developed as the Pendle Crescent estate. (This part of the route is best appreciated viewed from Ransom Drive near the recent Sherwood Sports Village.)

At the head of the gully the NSR line entered Sherwood Tunnel, cutting through Mapperley Hills, under Woodborough Road. The tunnel has been filled in and there is no public access to the entrance, which was just south of the later Walter Halls Primary School (opened 1939) and just east of Elliott Durham Comprehensive (opened 1966). The tunnel runs under the grounds of Walter Halls School, between the southern end of the school building and the tennis courts; an article in Bygones (No 116, June 2006) reported that the course of the tunnel can still be discerned in summer by a dry patch of grass and the materials used to fill the tunnel can still be smelt.

The northern end of Sherwood Tunnel (Figure 9 below) was just north of Mapperley Rise, (which was created at the same time as the railway), now concealed by an odd configuration of retaining walls (Figure 10 below). From Sherwood Tunnel the line dropped at 1 in 70 straight down into Sherwood Station, passing under Sherwood Vale by a high brick arch bridge. The steep slope necessitated the line passing the platforms starting in a deep cutting and ending on an embankment. Mapperley Rise was created to provide public access to Sherwood Station from Mapperley and Winchester Street was extended to provide access from Sherwood.

Figure 9. Early C20th photograph of the northern end of Sherwood Tunnel, with the bridge under Sherwood Vale in the foreground. This view is now obscured by a residential home.

Figure 10. Retaining walls on Mapperley Rise 2007.

Figure 11. Sherwood Station in 1905, looking north towards the tunnel into Woodthorpe Park. On the right, wagons can be seen on the siding up to the Mapperley brickworks.

From Sherwood Station there was a siding connecting with Mapperley Brickworks by a very steep incline up which wagons were hauled by a wire rope. Figure 12 below shows the route of this siding where it passed under Sherwood Vale. (Weather and energy permitting we will walk to this point).

After the line closed in 1951, the site of Sherwood Station was landscaped and used for two large blocks of council flats, Winchester and Woodthorpe Courts. The curve of the row of garages beside the flats, Figure 13 below) follows the curve of the former rail line.

Figure 12. Route of the siding from Sherwood Station to Mapperley brickworks, were it passes under Sherwood Vale, 2006.

Figure 13. The curve of this row of garages beside Woodthorpe & Winchester Court flats follows the curve of the previous Sherwood Station platform.

On leaving Sherwood Station the line fell abruptly at 1 in 70 through Ashwell’s Tunnel, 70 yards long, into Woodthorpe Park. Figure 14 below shows the entrance to Ashwells’s Tunnel in 1908 and Figure 15 shows the same view in 2007.

At the time Woodthorpe Park was private land. The core of the estate is marked on the map of the 1609 Crown survey Of Sherwood Forest Forest by Richard Banks as an enclosed field occupied by George Hutchinson, freeholder. After the Basford Parish Enclosure in 1792, the land was sold on several times and combined with the meadows to the west stretching down to Mansfield Road. It was then bought by Henry Ashwell, a bleacher with factories at New Basford, who built Woodthorpe grange as his family home in 1874. Ashwell developed Woodthorpe Farm, created impressive entrance drives from Mansfield Road and Woodthorpe Drive, added stabling and other out-buildings, laid out ornamental gardens and a market garden with orchards and glasshouses, and extended the estate by buying an adjacent brick clay pit , which he developed into a rock garden which still exists.

Figure 14. Entrance to Ashwell’s Tunnel from Sherwood Station in 1908.

Figure 15. The same view in 2007. The garages were built by the council in 1963 to serve Winchester and Woodthorpe Courts.

Although compensated financially, Ashwell was not happy about NSR crossing right across his estate in 1889. It is recorded that he insisted that Ashwell’s Tunnel, named after him, was lengthened by 10 yards so that it would not disturb the hay ricks in his farmyard at Woodthorpe Farm. Shortly after the arrival of the railway, Ashwell sold Woodthorpe Grange and Park to Edward Parry. Parry was a highly renowned civil engineer and amongst his many eminent positions he was Nottinghamshire County Surveyor, designer and surveyor of the NSR line, and a director of the Nottingham Brick Company, the main beneficiary of the line.

It is not clear whether Edward Parry ever actually lived in Woodthorpe Grange; in the 1891 census he is recorded as age 46, living with his wife, Mary, two daughters, four sons and three servants at Elmhurst in Lucknow Drive. In 1905 he sold Woodthorpe Grange and Park to John Godfree Small, lace manufacturer. In 1921 it came back on the market. The sale documentation (in Nottinghamshire Archives) shows that the auctioneers anticipated selling the estate as five separate lots, separating the house and pleasure gardens from the farm, the market garden, and the meadows to be sold for house-building. However it was purchased as one lot by Nottingham City Council, facilitated by a grant of £5,000 from Jesse Boot, conditional on the whole becoming a public recreation area. (Figure 16 below). Since then the Parks Department have used the Grange continuously as offices. The exterior of the house is unchanged. The ornamental gardens round the house have been conserved with the flower beds and planting schemes conforming to the 1921 particulars.

Returning to NSR, on entering Woodthorpe Park the former route of the railway is clearly marked by a line of trees and undergrowth, straight across what is now a miniature golf course. This line was adopted as the western boundary of St Jude’s parish, last revised in 1930, indicating that railway lines were previously regarded as important enduring features of the landscape.

The NSR line left Woodthorpe Park, passing under Woodthorpe Drive (Figure 17) and between Woodthorpe Avenue and Grange Road. It crossed Marlborough Road on a girder bridge, over what is now Raibank Gardens on an embankment, over Thackeray’s Lane on a high brick arch and, after a shallow cutting, over a high curving embankment (still in place and accessible via a footpath out of the rear of B & Q car park) just before joining the pre-existing GNR line and passing over Mansfield Road on a brick bridge to enter Daybrook Station, on the site now occupied by Madford Business/Retail Park.

Figure 16. The Lord Mayor officially opening Woodthorpe Park in 1922. The Very Local History Group in the same place: 21 July 2008

Figure 17. Former route of NSR under Woodthorpe Drive in 2007.

2. The Origins, History And Decline Of NSR

NSR was conceived in the mid 1880s by a group of Nottingham business men, chaired by Edward Gripper (1815-1894). Gripper had come to Nottingham in the early 1850s and bought-up the Mapperley brickworks. In 1867 he amalgamated with William Burgess’s Carlton/ Thorneywood brickworks to form Nottingham Patent Brick Company (NPBC). (He never married and lived alone, with his servants, on Mansfield Road, next door but one to St Andrew’s church, in a house obscured by a very over-grown hedge in recent years!) By the mid-1880s Gripper had retired from the brickworks but was still very active in public life as a councillor, alderman, JP, and chair of the Water Committee and the School Board. The NSR consortium also included Robert Mellors, who had taken over as chair of NPBC, Thomas Hill (hosiery manufacturer), Henry Milward Baines (grocer), and John Wesley Lewis (iron manufacturer).

By the 1880s there was a desperate need for improved transport for commuters between Nottingham and the expanding suburbs. Horse-drawn trams and omnibuses were slow, could only carry light loads, could not travel long distances and could not get up steep hills, such as those at Mapperley. The existing railways (see Figure 2 above) were designed primarily to serve the many coal mines and were not adequate for commuters. The Great Central Railway and Victoria Station were not yet even thought of. Travellers to Daybrook or any of the stations to the west on the Great Northern Railway (GNR) had to go a long way round via Netherfield and Gedling, adding nearly four miles to the journey. Trains on this route were also subject to delays because of the heavy coal traffic on the section between Colwick and Daybrook. NSR was therefore intended to shorten the journey to Daybrook and beyond by 3.5 miles, to avoid delays, to provide rail transport for the population of some 40,000 on the eastern side of Nottingham, and to the NPBC brickworks at Thorneywood/Carlton and Mapperley.

The Nottingham Suburban Railway Act is dated 25 June 1886 and received Royal Assent on 25 June 1887. It was strongly supported by Nottingham Corporation, containing clauses relating to bridges, roads and public works to protect the Corporation. In May 1886 an agreement was signed with GNR who were to operate the line on behalf of the NSR Company. GNR had the option of buying NSR after ten years but they chose not to and the NSR company continued to own the line and remained independent until the LNER took possession in the 1923 groupings.

At their first meeting on 7 August 1886 the NSR directors appointed Edward Parry as surveyor and engineer for the line. Parry was also a NPBC director. In October 1886 Parry estimated the venture would cost a total of £194,000 10s 3d. This proved much too low, the actual cost being about £70,000 per mile. Grants towards preliminary costs were made by Nottingham Corporation and NPBC. The contract to build the line was awarded in December 1886 to John Price Edwards of Edgbaston.

Figure 18. Unidentified contactor and his men, believed to have been taken during the construction of NSR.

In April 1887 GNR agreed to work the line for NSR for 55% of gross receipts. Construction began in June 1887 and by November 1889 the line was completed and the opening arranged for 2 December 1889. From January 1890 the passenger service consisted of ten trains per day from Nottingham to Daybrook and nine in the other direction, on week days only. The line never had a Sunday service. The journey between Nottingham Central Station and Daybrook took 13 minutes.

Within twelve years NSR started running into difficulties. In 1900 the new Great Central Railway, running into the new Victoria Station, started poaching some of the commuter traffic from the northern suburbs. Soon after the passenger traffic at Thorneywood, St Ann’s Well and Sherwood began to decline because the new electric trams (reaching Sherwood in 1901, Mapperley in 1903, Thorneywood in 1910 and Daybrook in 1915) were providing a much more direct and cheaper service into the centre of Nottingham. The number of trains stopping at these stations was gradually reduced and, on 13 July 1916, Thorneywood, St Ann’s and Sherwood Stations were closed, initially supposedly as a wartime economy. In January 1923 the NSR Company was absorbed by the LNER, which ran three trains to Shirebrook daily along the NSR line.

NSR had two further fleeting moments of glory. On 23 January 1925 a 12 yard stretch of the roof of Mapperley Tunnel, between Daybrook and Gedling, collapsed, and the line was blocked by about 150 tons of bricks and clay. While this was being repaired all the Leen Valley coal traffic, as well as the passenger trains, had to use the NSR track. On Tuesday 10 July 1928 King George V and Queen Mary visited Nottingham. After opening the Royal Show on Wollaton Park, and before opening the new University, they went to review 17,000 school children on Woodthorpe Park. 6,550 of these children, along with 284 teachers arrived at Sherwood Station in 13 special trains from Basford, Bulwell, Thorneywood and Nottingham Low Level stations. Thorneywood and Sherwood Stations had to be specially overhauled after 12 years of disuse and staffed for the occasion.

In February 1930 the NSR down track was lifted and the junctions at Trent Lane and Daybrook rearranged to converge into single track. The only remaining signal box at Sherwood was closed. By July 1931 only on train per day used the track and this terminated in September 1931. The only traffic was to pick up goods at from Thorneywood three times per week. During an air raid on 8 May 1941, a bomb fell on the line just north of the bridge over MR and blew away the embankment, but as this part of the line was not used, it was never repaired, and buffer stops were placed at the ends of the two sections either side of MR.

On 16 June 1951 a special train organised by a railway enthusiasts’ society made a journey along the track from Daybrook to Thorneywood and back. This was the last passenger train; the line finally closed completely on 31 July that year. Proposals to use the route as a north to south Nottingham by-pass met with no success mainly because of the difficulty of approach at each end. In June 1954 work began on dismantling the line although the junction at Daybrook was not removed until February 1957. The lattice bridges, which were a feature of the line, were also demolished. The bridge over Wells Road was removed in June 1959 and the other bridges over Sneinton Dale, Colwick Road and Thackerey’s Lane followed in the next decade. The embankments were also removed with the spoil being used to fill in the tunnels. For a time, Sneinton Tunnel was used as a rifle range but it was eventually bricked up.(Figure 19 below) A stretch of the NSR trackbed in Sneinton has been made into a footpath but most of the line has now been built over and is inaccessible and hard to trace.

Figure 19. The bricked-up northern end of Sneinton Tunnel.

© Christine Drew