One of the highlights of my freelance history lecturing work is speaking to the Kimberley Historical Society, north of Nottingham, where I’m made welcome and feel I know many of the members after repeated visits.
Almost invariably, my lecture is introduced by the chairman, Roy Plumb, and a few years ago I looked forward to visiting as a guest to sit back and listen to Roy lecture on the railways of Kimberley and the neighbouring settlement of Awsworth.
It didn’t work out because of a mix-up of dates, but I eventually caught up with Roy’s presentation when he spoke to the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct at the Hogs Head Pub and Restaurant at Awsworth on January 31st this year.
Roy continues to use a Carousel projector to show his slides, and achieves a clarity and precision that rivals digital projection. He also has a steady hand with a laser pointer – a skill which I lack – and his account of the growth and decline of the local railways from 1797 until the early 1960s was masterly.
Two rival railway companies served the area between the Erewash and Leen valleys, the Midland and the Great Northern, bitter rivals trying to grab the coal trade from each other. The Great Northern’s ambitious Derbyshire & Staffordshire Extension opened in 1878, running to Derby Friargate and beyond and with a branch up the Erewash Valley to Pinxton, and the Midland’s Bulwell-Bennerley Branch began working freight trains a year later.
Both lines entailed heavy civil engineering. The Great Northern built the now-celebrated Bennerley Viaduct, which survived because its wrought-iron construction made demolition uneconomic in the 1970s.
At Awsworth Junction, where the Pinxton branch diverged from the Great Northern main line, the Giltbrook Viaduct curved across a road, two Midland Railway lines and the Greasley Arm of the Nottingham Canal. Almost a third of a mile long, it was known locally as the Forty Bridges, though there were in fact forty-three arches,
Two arches, 8 and 23, were occupied by four-storey dwellings, which were used by construction workers and later served as an air-raid shelter for Awsworth schoolchildren during the First World War. Their chimney pots graced the viaduct’s parapet.
This magnificent sinuous structure has disappeared because unlike the Bennerley Viaduct its brick-arch construction made it practical to demolish. It was taken down in 1973, and much of the trackbed of the Pinxton Branch as far as Eastwood became the A610 trunk road. Local people of a certain age still bemoan the loss of a magnificent landmark; younger people haven’t a clue it ever existed.
If I’ve read the 1899-1900 25-inch Ordnance Survey sheet correctly, the Hogs Head pub stands on or near the site of Gilt Briggs Farm, which was surrounded by a cat’s cradle of railway lines.
Stepping out into the night at the end of Roy’s talk, it was possible to sense the ghosts of great embankments and bridges, and the clatter of goods trains in the night, trundling across the arches sixty feet above ground level.
The National Library of Scotland website provides an overlay of historic Ordnance Survey maps against modern satellite imagery: Explore georeferenced maps – Map images – National Library of Scotland (nls.uk). If necessary key the name ‘Awsworth’ into the search panel.