The Lengthsman’s Hut stands next to the towpath as the Grantham Canal heads east from the Basin towards Grantham; about a 5-minute walk. It has always had a strong sense of ‘village memory’ about it and, as recently as the early 1990s, was a little dilapidated but its structure was clear and visible.
The Lengthsman had responsibility for maintaining his ‘length’ of the canal and there would have been several along the towpaths between Nottingham and Grantham. Probably built in the late 1800s, it wouldn’t have been lived in but it had a small fireplace and chimney and would have been used for shelter and storage. The Hickling Lengthsman’s Hut is one of only two surviving huts on the Grantham Canal and is the only timber example. With a brick fireplace and chimney, the rest of the Hut was constructed from railway sleepers standing on end (a reminder of the early links with the railway companies) with an earth floor, overlaid with red bricks and a wooden roof. Such huts would generally have been made with whatever materials came easily to hand.
It is understood that Hickling’s last Lengthsman was Shelton Walker who farmed the fields to the north of the towpath (see photos, below). His son, John, planted Shelt’s Spinney a little further east (by the swing bridge) in his memory. These days, this is an extraordinary wildlife haven, particularly for woodland birds.
The Hickling Lengthsman’s Hut is an extremely rare example of a building of this type.
Both spellings are widely used and seem to be interchangeable.
‘Lengthsman’ as a word seems to have come into use in the 1700s but probably dates back to Tudor (or even mediaeval) times and refers to someone who kept a length of road tidy and usable.
These days the Canal & River Trust seem to have opted for ‘Lengthsman’ although both spellings are frequently used in connection with the canals.
The Collins dictionary lists both spellings with the same definition for each.
As the Millennium approached, restoration of the Lengthsman’s Hut was put forward as a project to commemorate the Millennium milestone; unfortunately, a number of false starts followed and it has taken a further 20 years for the restoration to reach completion. In the meantime, some of those original timbers and features have been lost but after a huge amount of work and determination the Hut now looks like its original self once again.
One of the other downsides of this long restoration process is that some of the old photographs of the original Lengthsman’s Hut have been lost. We would really like to hear from you, if you have any that we could add to this page!!
Further photographs of restoration and of the Lengthsman’s Hut in the years before its restoration will follow shortly.
The Restoration (2019-2020):
(This section is in its very early days – more will follow!)