Cropwell Butler

Cropwell Butler - Cropwell Top Lock - Then and now

Cropwell Top Lock

Where once stood an extraordinary range of buildings, comprising of lock keeper’s cottage, other cottages, and workshops, now lies grass. The remake gives little indication of what must have been a busy location. The old picture is made circa 1955.


The text A Social History of Cropwell Butler gives a general view on the importance of the canal for the village. “The enclosure of the open fields marked a change in the communal way of life surrounding the Manor Court. The tenant or farm worker, deprived of his small parcel of land, had to find work elsewhere or apply for relief. The Nottingham to Grantham Canal was started in 1793 and this passed along the western edge of the parish. A wharf was built for handling goods to and from the village including amounts of coal. The canal and its associated brickworks provided some for a time with employment, and cottages were built around the brickworks adjacent to Hoe Hill. In the 19th century, a lock keeper is listed in the village inventory of tradesmen. In 1851 about 20% of the population of the village, then 695, was employed in non-agricultural activities including the canal, the brickworks or the lime kilns at Cropwell Bishop.”

The Six Inch Ordnance Survey from 1888 shows the now demolished lock house and workshops which, until, the late 1960s, stood by Grantham Canal’s Cropwell Top Lock (11).

Cropwell Butler - Cropwell Top Lock - OS Map 1888
Detail 1888 Ordnance Survey Map – Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952

The view of the lock and range of buildings taken from under the old Foss Bridge is dated 1955. For sure at the beginning of the 1960s the buildings were still there.

Cropwell Butler - Cropwell Top Lock - Foss Bridge view
Foss Bridge view – Archive Grantham Canal Society

“My great grandmother, Betsy Clarke (née Wesson) lived in one cottage”, recalls Barbara Pugh. She continues: “And later in the 19th century another relation George Clarke who taught at Cropwell Bishop Methodist Chapel lived there too.” “The old picture brings back memories”, says Charles Shelton. “I remember when the Handleys and Simpsons lived in the cottages. Bill Handley was the lock keeper.”

1960s decline

“So sad to see what we’ve lost by this act of corporate vandalism. So much damage was done to our canal in the 1960s”, says Tony Jackson, Grantham Canal Society’s social media manager. “Ivan, a teacher in training at Stoke Rochford Teacher Training College near Grantham, walked the canal in 1963, in order to produce a study. On arriving here, he met some British Waterways employees, who told him they were engaged in building weirs. I suspect these are the weirs at the head of each lock; maintaining the water level once the gates had fallen into disrepair. Ivan also discovered Toll receipt books, languishing in an outbuilding. We’ve often wondered what happened to them, because of what a story they would tell of the cargoes carried, weights and frequency. There are records of overall tonnages, but not the day-to-day stuff these toll books would tell us of.”

Tony continues: “Some 47 years later, Heather, in her dissertation, discovered these passage notes from the lock house at Cropwell, in an archive, but doesn’t say where.”

The late 19th century OS map also shows a Brick & Tile Works. In the area, a canal link to Bingham, called a collateral branch, was planned, but this was never constructed.

Unique lock?

“Lock 11 is unusual, may even be unique”, says Tony. “That is probably the reason its brickwork in the lock chamber was restored in recent years by the Canal and River Trust.”

Cropwell Butler - Cropwell Top Lock - 1990s restauration
Brickwork restoration – Archive Grantham Canal Society

Cropwell Top Lock, is the one which is beside the A46. Tony continues: “Working boats, had to climb 11 locks out of the Trent Valley. Boatmen, women, and children could now look forward to 20 miles lock-free. But it wasn’t all plain hauling. There were 13 swing bridges to operate before reaching Woolsthorpe Bottom Lock. These wooden bridges were operated from the non-towpath side, requiring a crew member to cross the bridge to push the bridge open. This allowed free passage of the towing line; the line wouldn’t get caught on the bridge structure.”

The Grantham Canal runs for 33 miles (53 km) from Grantham through 18 locks to West Bridgford/Nottingham, where it joins the River Trent. It was built primarily for the transportation of coal to Grantham. It opened in 1797 and its profitability steadily increased until 1841. It was then sold to a railway company, declined, and was finally closed in 1936. It was used as a water supply for agriculture, and so most of it remained in water after closure, although bridges were lowered. Since the 1970s, the Grantham Canal Society has been working to restore it.


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