Grantham Canal: main page

Galleries – click on this link

The Grantham Canal runs through the north end of the village in an east/west direction on its way between Grantham and Nottingham. These days the canal is a remainder waterway and the Hickling section has changed over the last 100 years into a tranquil wildlife haven. For several generations the open waters of the canal basin and the views across the Vale of Belvoir have been our ‘Village Green’.

W0339a The Wharf (1920s)
W0339a The Wharf (1920s)

We are busy collating information for our canal pages and this will follow in due course; in the meantime, please contact us if you have any information or any questions.

Hickling Basin & Wharf Building:

Hickling Basin & Wharf Building (1990s MC)
Hickling Basin & Wharf Building (1990s MC)

The surviving wharf and wharf building was one of two wharfs sited in Hickling; the second one was attached to the Navigation Inn (now Bridge House) to the west of the bridge in Hickling. Dating from the construction of the canal in the 1790s its original form, particularly its distinctive lop-sided sloping roof, is still very much in evidence.

An article written in 1935 (Beauties of the Grantham Canal – below) looks back to the day-to-day routines around the canal; although the article isn’t entirely reliable, it records that (in its heyday) 20-30 boats might be moored at The Wharf next to The Navigation Inn (to the west of the road bridge) with horses stabled at The Navigation and the ‘navvies’ sleeping overnight at The Navigation and The Plough. The surviving Wharf building, sited next to the turning Basin to the east of the road bridge, was where the business was carried out – loading and unloading and providing a necessary turning circle for the Trent barges used to carry cargo.

The Hickling Basin is the only Basin/turning point along the 33-mile length of the Grantham canal. It is also the legendary location for the whale which, children were told, swam the canal at night and turned in the only space which was large enough – Hickling Basin.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any photographs of the Wharf Building during the working years of the canal (or the whale!); if you can help, please contact us.

The Navigation Inn – mooring wharf & stabling

The Navigation Inn was built in 1804 following the construction of the canal (completed in 1797) to accommodate the canal traffic and was sited to the west of the road bridge – it closed for business in 1912. In 1920 it was bought by Mrs Cart and converted into a house which was then named Bridge View.

It formed a second Wharf in Hickling and it was here that boats moored up for the night and accommodation for the boatmen (or ‘navvies’) was found either here or at the Plough Inn further up the road. The Navigation Inn would also have had extensive stabling for the horses which drew the barges.

(see article, below: Beauties of the Grantham Canal, written in 1935 and published in the Nottingham Guardian (author unknown).)

W1307a Canal, Basin & Bridge (dates?)
W1307a Canal, Basin & Bridge (post-1920?)

Trent Barges:

Rather than narrowboats, Trent Barges were the most usual type of vessel found on the Grantham Canal; although we have no photographs of one on the Hickling section there are a couple of great images of this type of barge at the Wharf in Cropwell Bishop. They were very functional, low-profile cargo vessels with either a small shelter or no cabin at all and were named after the vessels commonly used on the River Trent.

  • Trent Barges operated as an off-shoot of the main commercial business of the River Trent – transporting gravel and coal to Hull, for example. Their use on the Grantham Canal included transporting coal and for transporting Nottingham’s night soil out of the city to be used on the fields along the canal. The Basin in Hickling acted as a point to off-load and to turn the boats.
  • The Wharf Building was the location for a coal merchants well into the 1900s and there was a second Wharf alongside what was then called the Navigation Inn (now Bridge View) where the barges moored up overnight if necessary.         

“Lurking in a spoil heap on the Grantham Canal are the final remains of one of the last ‘Upper Trent Boats’. These wide beam dumb craft were horsedrawn and carried ‘night soil’ from Nottingham until the canal’s closure in the 1940s. In the 1970s, with some friends, we found the stem post and quickly realised what a unique opportunity for an archaeological dig this would be. So far I have found no takers so I am keeping the location secret. Only half the width of the boat is there and it has rotted to little more than a line in the soil so great care is needed if its details are ever to be recorded.” (Historic Inland Working Boats – website)

cropwell bishop wharf 1920s -
Cropwell Bishop wharf 1920s –
cropwell bishop wharf 1930s -
Cropwell Bishop wharf 1930s –

Night Soil (and clay pipes):

One of the most common cargoes travelling the Grantham Canal was night soil; in other words, the contents of the privies of Nottingham. This was brought from Nottingham on Trent Barges and spread on the fields along the canal – as the main turning point mid-way along the canal, Hickling Basin would have been a regular recipient of Nottingham’s beneficence and the fields would certainly have prospered as a result.

Night Soil - GCS post (10/21); clay pipes
Night Soil – GCS post (10/21); clay pipes

(GCS October 2021): an article written by the Grantham Canal Society notes that there were often other bits’n’pieces mixed in with the night soil which survive today and are frequently found in those fields which were spread with night soil; including broken pottery and clay pipes. “We’re grateful to Peter Hammond who has documented the clay pipes he’s found along the canal corridor (see image). Clay pipes were made in Nottingham and Grantham and some of these feature in the list – but many are far from home. On the list are several finds manufactured by the Starr family in Grantham. The Starr family, pipe makers of Grantham, operated during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It all started with Richard Starr of Newark in Nottinghamshire who died in 1840. Although not a pipe maker himself, his sons all became pipe makers as they lived in close proximity to two of Newark’s pipe makers, William Edmunds and John Lyne Simnett.”

Have you heard of Gong Farmers? A bit of a search for information on night soil led us to ‘The Worst Jobs in History’ TV programme & book; a gong farmer was a Tudor job title for the men whose job it was to remove a city’s waste at night. They were only allowed to work between the hours of 9pm and 5am and they had to live together in a separate part of town – they were relatively well paid, though. The word ‘gong’ derives from the Old English, ‘to go’ and/or the French for ‘cart away’ which may explain one of our modern euphemisms or it may just refer to the need to get rid of the poo!

Tony Robinson’s book includes some rather gruesome details of the daily lives of these men and the punishments inflicted if they didn’t follow the rules … Although sanitary arrangements had improved by the mid-1800s, working these barges of night soil would not have been a pleasant job for any of those involved.

night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts (1)
night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts (3)
night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts (2)
night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts (4)

Would you like to know more about Night Soil?

A local group of field walkers called The Field Detectives are working on the archaeology and history of night soil; they can be contacted by email –

Field Detectives collection - night soil items
Field Detectives collection – night soil items
Field Detectives collection - night soil
Field Detectives collection – night soil
Field Detectives collection - night soil items
Field Detectives collection – night soil items
Stories from the Night Soil (Field Detectives)
Stories from the Night Soil (Field Detectives)

Canal Weighing Office/Building (Wharf)

W0748a Canal bridge along Main St (pre-1921)
W0748a Canal bridge along Main St (pre-1921)

(Wadkin Archive – labelling W0758 photograph from the canal bridge towards the Weigh Building) “Looking from the Canal Bridge: note the Navigation Inn sign on the right. On the left trees surround the Wharf House where Mr William Collishaw lived, also seen is the weighing office where Mr Collishaw sat and manipulated the weighing machine after vehicles had filled with coal, gravel, sand etc brought in barges on the canal and paid a fee on each load. The man seen on the left could be Mr Joseph Spencer, if so he lived at Bridge Farm, also conveyed corn, coal etc in his horse drawn barges on the canal via Nottingham and Grantham. Joseph Spencer died in March 1921 aged 77.”

At present, we don’t know exactly when it was built but it clearly links into the business interests of the Wharf Building. During WWII, a hand-operated petrol pump was installed next to the Weigh Office. In July 1999 the Weighing Office was restored by the Faulks family; the windows were repaired, the chimney was rebuilt and the roof replaced.

Unlike other features of the Grantham Canal, the Weighing Office isn’t listed with English Heritage but it is a defining feature of this part of the village; latterly it has acquired an unofficial status as a village noticeboard.


Waymarker 220921
Waymarker 22/09/21

In the Grantham Canal Act of 1793 requirements are laid down for waymarkers along the route; these still exist although they are in various states of disrepair. Four of the Hickling posts are listed by English Heritage; those at 13miles from the Trent, 13¼, 13¾, and 14¾:

For example: “HICKLING GRANTHAM CANAL SK62NE 6/61 13¼ miles post approx. – 150 metres east of Main Street, Hickling – II Canal milepost. Late C18. Cast-iron post with rounded top and moulded edge. Raised letters read: “13¼ MILES FROM THE TRENT”. The figure 13¼ is painted on. The canal was authorised in 1793 and this section was built by James Green, Surveyor, employed by Lord Middleton of Wollaton Hall. C Cove-Smith. The Grantham Canal Today, 1974.” (English Heritage – listings for Hickling)

The Grantham Canal Act 1793 (page 78):

“The Canal and Collateral Cut to be measured and Stones set up to ascertain the Rates.

“And be in further enacted, That the said intended Canal and Collateral Cut shall be measured, and Stones or Posts erected on the Sides thereof respectively, at a Quarter of a Mile Distance from each other, and that all Goods, Wares, and Merchandise which are made liable to the several Rates and Duties hereby imposed, that shall be navigated, carried, or conveyed upon the said intended Canal and Collateral Cut, up to or part any of the Stones or Posts to be erected, shall be charged with and pay the said Rates and Duties for One Quarter of a Mile for every Stone they shall pass by, in proportion to the Rates hereinbefore granted.” (Grantham Canal Act 1793 p.78)

As we pass these markers along the towpath now, they are casual reminders of how far we have walked but their original purpose was to determine the distance travelled by canal users and how much they owed in ‘Rates and Duties’ – the canal was in private ownership with shareholders to satisfy and, like the railways, every journey had a price.

Waymarker 220921
Waymarker 22/09/21
Waymarker 17022021
Waymarker 17/02/2021
Waymarkers Grantham Canal Act 1793 unbound - copyright Notts Arch
Waymarkers: Grantham Canal Act 1793 (copyright Notts Archives)

Original waymarker found in a garden (GCS September 2022):

(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker

Grantham Canal: Aqueduct over the River Smite (listed monument)

“SK72NW SK715295 7/64: HICKLING, GRANTHAM CANAL, Aquaduct over River Smite approx. 800 metres south-west of Long Clawson Bridge

“Canal aqueduct. Late C18. Brick. Single-span basket arch with three courses of brick voussoirs. Deep swept sides acting as buttresses. The arch is partly collapsed. The canal was authorised in 1793 and opened in 1797, this section was built by James Green, Surveyor, employed by Lord Middleton of Wollaton Hall. The aqueduct is also in the parish of Clawson, Hose and Harby, in Leicestershire. C Cove-Smith. The Grantham Canal Today, 1974.

“Listing NGR: SK7150529434” (The River Smite forms the boundary between Nottinghamshire (Hickling Parish) and Leicestershire (Clawson, Hose & Harby Parish; hence, this listing appears across both parishes.)

Smite-Canal Aqueduct - Eng Heritage image 1 Alan Murray-Rust Oct 2021
Smite-Canal Aqueduct – Eng Heritage image 1 Alan Murray-Rust Oct 2021
Smite-Canal Aqueduct - Eng Heritage image 1 Alan Murray-Rust Oct 2021
Smite-Canal Aqueduct – Eng Heritage image 1 Alan Murray-Rust Oct 2021

A Black Cat called Min & Hickling Fishermen (1939)

In 1939 the Nottingham Evening Post published the odd story of a cat who had learnt to steal fish from local anglers; some were amused, some were not … Min had to learn to swim quite quickly.

WWI: The Machine Gun Corps, the Belton Estate & the Grantham Canal

Research is very much ongoing and we would like to hear from anyone who has any information or photographs to help with this story.

Local resident, Mr Simon Lane, is looking into his grandfather’s history during WWI; he came from North Notts and was one of the first recruits to join the newly formed Machine Gun Corps. He understands that the establishment of this new Company brought about a brief revival in activity on the Grantham Canal when it was used to transport equipment and soldiers from Nottingham through to the Belton Estate near Grantham.

The Machine Gun Corps, which led to such great changes in strategy on the Front in Europe, had its training camp at Belton House in Lincolnshire (near Grantham) and the foundations of the buildings can still be seen just below the famous Folly:

Tommy Watchorn – Crutchy

Tommy Watchorn is one of those village characters whose name crops up regularly; as the commercial life of the canal declined, recreational trips in skulling craft became more common – Tommy Watchorn is the name most associated with these:

Winnie and Dora Collyer in front of Bridge House (c.1914-18)
Winnie and Dora Collyer in front of Bridge House (c.1914-18)
Wnews7 1968to1972 (136)
Wnews7 1968to1972 (136)

Scrapbook of Hickling:

  • (p.24) In 1854 the canal was bought by Ambergate Railway then to L.N.E. R., later to British Waterways Board in 1936 . The last commercial boat travelled in 1922 and was owned by a Mr.’Iky’ Slater. During the 1920 ‘s Tom Watchorn (“Crutchy”) would take parties of six or seven in a rowing boat, the favourite place being Devils Elbow between Kinoulton and Owthorpe . In the other direction the trip would be as far as Harby.
  • (p.31 – label) Tommy Watchorn (Crutchy) Donnie Simpson (?) Frank Dickman, Mr. Widdowson (Publican). Original photograph crumpled as it was sent to Tom Munks in France during the 1st World War.
  • (p.46) Mr.Tom Watchorn – known as ‘ Crutchy ‘ – was at one time a cobbler in the village. He worked and lived in what is now a shed but was a black hut inside the gate of ‘Bridge View ‘ when it was the ‘Navigation’ Public House.

Maggie’s Memories:

  • Mr.Tom Watchorn – known as ‘ Crutchy ‘ – was at one time a cobbler in the village. He worked and lived in what is now a shed but was a black hut inside the gate of ‘Bridge View ‘ when it was the ‘Navigation’ Public House.
  • (p.87) Mr Tommy Watchorn affectionately known as ‘Crutchie’ he was a cripple and as his nickname applies, used crutches. He lived in a wooden hut in what is now ‘Bridge View’ yard, he was the local cobbler (I have an article about Crutchie from a newspaper in one of my Scrapbooks). Tom owned a small boat which he kept on the Canal during the summer time, and would take parties out daily, there would be trips to Harby where tea would be taken at the village pub not far from the canal and to the ‘Devils Elbow’ which is a bend in the canal between Kinoulton and Owthorpe, and there was a little copse or spinney where a picnic tea was laid out on the grass. Tommy provided a small stove and kettle for boiling water, if the party was larger than the boat would carry Tom would hire a smaller one from the landlord of the Plough depending if one of the company could row, and sometimes one or two have cycled to Owthorpe canal bridge then along the bank of the water. There was always a large green cart umbrella under the seat in case of rain, and if a thunderstorm developed Tom would take his boat to the canal bank and have it securely fastened until the storm was over. I can remember being caught in a heavy storm, and we all huddled together under the large umbrella, naturally we children thought it most exciting, we also enjoyed swinging the wooden bridges to allow the boat through, there were many happy hours spent on that old boat on the Grantham Canal at Hickling. Tommy was also fond of fishing and during the season would often be seen sitting in his boat in the middle of the basin, and anglers would hire Tom and his boat for a day. During the winter months the only income Tommy had was from repairing boots and shoes. All Hickling residents admired Tommy Watchorn.

We hope to be able to work with The Grantham Canal Society to build a full history of the canal over time; in the meantime, the Society often shared some early photographs of the Grantham Canal in Hickling on their Facebook page:

Click on the book cover thumbnail to order a copy of the GCS guide to the Grantham Canal.

(GCS) My Holidays on Inland Waterways by P Bonthron (1916)

Written in 1916 there is a short section relating to the Hickling stretch. By this time the canal is largely disused and is difficult to navigate through weeds and low water. The travellers (who seem to be sculling) encounter just one barge during their two day journey and this is said to be carrying ‘one of the Railway Company chiefs making a tour of inspection’ – perhaps, a reference which dates the beginning of the process towards disuse in the 1920s and the formal remaindering of the waterway in 1936.

The Beauties of the Grantham Canal (1935)

A wonderfully idiosyncratic record of the canal and its villages at the end of the canal’s working life and just before it was remaindered (- although a little fact-checking may be needed?). This article was transcribed from an original article in the Nottinghamshire Guardian by Tony Jackson of the Grantham Canal Society. The name of the original author is not recorded; if you can help us to find a name or a copy of the original article, please contact us.

With our grateful thanks to the Grantham Canal Society for sharing the article and images.

A delightful old waterway is the Grantham Canal, endeared in the hearts of many Nottingham People.  Connecting Grantham with the River Trent at Nottingham, and constructed about the year 1793, it is now disused.  There is a Bill being presented to Parliament by the LNE Railway Company, owners and lessees, to relieve them of responsibility of cleansing and maintaining the canal.  It is being watched very carefully by the Trent Fisheries Board, and local authorities whose domain it passes, in the best interest of the great general public.  Following a sinuous course through the lovely Vale of Belvoir (NE Leics) all along it is charmingly pretty. The resort of anglers, artists, photographers and nature lovers, its varied flora, fauna and aquatic life make a strong appeal.

Beauties of the Grantham Canal 1 Gamston Swing Bridge (GCS)
Beauties of the Grantham Canal 1 Gamston Swing Bridge (GCS)

The old whitewashed bridges, now disappearing with the claims for modern transport for strong concrete and iron structures, have formed the subject of many a study.  There is a peacefulness on the canal which might be more sought after, and a ramble by the banks is a tonic at all seasons of the year, especially to the jaded town dweller. It is very local, but away from the traffic, and here the motor car can be briefly forgotten.  At the same time a car can be very useful to reach certain stretches and points of vantage, where many leafy alcoves can be found for a picnic.

read more

Hickling Wharf Building and Basin (highlights):

GCS: Boats launched 1977 & 1997:

As a remainder waterway boat usage is subject to licensing; at the time of writing (2022) the only boating license in place along the Grantham Canal is for the GCS trip boat which operates around Harlaxton.

Grantham Journal 8th Oct 1971 – Canal Rally:

Hickling Canal And Doris Bella

Thirty years ago there was little understanding of the cruel problem of Alzheimer’s. We thought my mother was just being difficult in old age, but unknown to me my father was shielding me from the real facts he was trying to cope with on a daily basis. I got to know something was seriously wrong one Christmas when my parents were staying with us in Green Lane. I went to see her doctor who obviously had little idea what to do. He advised me to put her in a home, and in the meantime when she was difficult to give her a tranquilliser. ln the end my father became ill looking after her, and both ended up in the City Hospital where she caused chaos as she could not remember which bed was hers, and patients would find her in their bed!

My husband very kindly agreed that my parents could come to stay while we evaluated the situation in the hope we might find a solution. The chaos was now in my home. The six months which followed were heaven and hell. I remember that summer was entirely devoted to my parents, getting my father better again, and learning to cope with Alzheimer’s. My mother and I always had a good relationship and she could still make me cry with laughing. She was good fun. The hell was when she decided to go home to her mother. Somehow, she could always find a suitcase, pack all her clothes, and one would hear her heaving it down the stairs, stand by the front door and with triumph announce she was going. lt became routine to make her a cup of tea before she went, and my son would quickly get the suitcase back upstairs.

My mother came from Liverpool, only ten minute’s walk from the Mersey estuary. Her happiest childhood days were probably playing on the sand-dunes next to the river, watching the huge liners dock, crossing the Mersey on the ferry. All her life she ensured she spent time next to the sea, and loved swimming in it, cold as it may be.

(3rd April 2023)
(3rd April 2023)

Hickling Canal was my salvation in those months. When I needed to remove my mother from my father so he could relax for a while, I would suggest to her that we went to feed the ducks. She loved feeding the ducks, and we were into fun time again. We would then just sit, cuddled up, and look at the beautiful canal, the people fishing, the varying skies, and sometimes have a little walk along the path. The atmosphere was so tranquil, so soothing, and my mother would relax, and then I could relax, and we could return home to carry on with our lives.

I was not the only one taking a mother to the canal to feed the ducks. I met others. Did their mothers have Alzheimer’s too? ln those days one did not talk to anyone about it.

There was a stigma about mental health. We really knew very little, and certainly there was no help other than to use tranquillisers or to put the person into care. Eventually, sadly, that is what did happen as my mother’s condition worsened. The Social Workers were brilliant and she was put in a home in Bingham which was excellent. My mother was not somebody who was used to just sitting around, and at that time she was allowed to help in the kitchen, or even in the garden, but then Health and Safety came into action and she was banned from the kitchen. All this time her home was standing empty, but she would tell me she was saving for a house, which broke my heart.

Alzheimer’s is a dreadful condition as over the following few years I watched my mother gradually leave me until the last cell died. For at least ten years she did not know who I was. My over-riding memory of her, while she had some memory, was her kneeling next to her bed at night and praying. She had always done it, and I hope it gave her comfort. It certainly had an effect on me.

(DC/July 2015)

From the Wadkin Archives:

Country fair Corn Dollies at the Wharf

Click on this button to view:

  • Galleries of photographs
  • Extracts from the Wadkin books – memories, anecdotes, names and dates
  • Transcripts of the newspaper articles

Please note: this is a large gallery and may take a little while to load to your screen.

Grantham Canal – In the News (Wadkin Archives)

In the News – zoomed: