Canal Origins in Nottingham
The coalfields of Nottinghamshire brought great wealth to the region, but transport by the local roads was slow and expensive. As Canal Mania swept the country, the citizens of Nottingham resolved not to miss out. A number of Nottingham men called a public meeting in October 1790 to discuss the possibility of constructing a rival to the Erewash which would run from the Cromford canal to Nottingham and on into the Trent. Those at the meeting apparently thought the proposal highly beneficial and elected a committee of nine to pursue the matter. William Jessop was asked to act as engineer and select the best route between Nottingham and Langley Mill. He was also requested to survey the land across Beeston Meadows for a branch canal to the Trent from Lenton. Lord Middleton (descendent of the Willoughby family, of Wollaton Hall) evidently had his own ideas on the way that the canal should go. It is not clear what these were but we do know that Jessop considered they would be impractical on account of the need for deep cutting and tunnelling. His own proposed line, however, didn't meet with Lord Middleton's approval. Jessop had suggested that the canal go round the western side of Wollaton Park. Lord Middleton said he would oppose the whole venture unless the canal was made to run along the eastern boundary (co-incidentally past his own colliery!), even though this would mean an additional expense of about £2,500. The line of the canal was moved accordingly and the plan of the new waterway from the city to Langley Mill was completed.
Work on the canal's construction began on July 30th 1792. Jessop became ill and so a local man from Wollaton, James Green, took over the job, with Jessop acting as a supervisor. Exactly one year later the first section of the canal from Trent Bridge up to the town wharves was officially opened.
By April 1796 the entire length of the canal had been completed. From the river Trent, through Nottingham to Lenton, then running northwards towards Wollaton Colliery. It then turned westwards towards Trowell and Cossall up to Langley Mill, where it joined the Cromford just above that canal's junction with the Erewash, the Nottingham canal was fourteen and three quarter miles long. The route selected required the construction of twenty locks. The first was at the Trent and the second just below the Castle Rock. The next three were in Lenton - one by Abbey Street, the second just beyond Derby Road and third positioned half way between the Derby and Wollaton Roads. On the far side of Wollaton Road was the sixth lock, the first in a flight of fourteen which took boats up to the summit of the canal just beyond Wollaton, after which it ran level all the way to Langley Mill where a set of stop locks were positioned.
The geography of the waterways in central Nottingham was, and is, complex. The city was built on the River Trent, but river navigation immediately upstream of the city had always been difficult. While the Nottingham Canal was being constructed, the Trent Navigation Company built an artificial canal - the Beeston Cut - to bypass the river from Trent Lock to Lenton. There, it met with the Nottingham Canal, which therefore became part of the river through-route. Two hundred years later, this is the only part of the Nottingham Canal to survive.
Where the Beeston Cut met the Nottingham Canal, the canal company installed a chain across the navigation, preventing boats from passing without paying the toll. The junction is still known as Lenton Chain today.
A grisly episode in the canal's history occurred in 1818. The canal was often used to ship gunpowder to the mines of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire - offering a tempting prank for the more mischievous boatmen. One of them dropped a hot coal onto a small piece of gunpowder, expecting a minor flash. In fact, the damage extended over several nearby streets, killing ten people and destroying the canal company warehouse.
By latter part of the 19th century the canal could no longer compete financially with the railways, and although not known, the end of the canal's success was already assured. In 1928 the Trent Navigation Company announced that commercial traffic would cease on all but the City section of the canal between Lenton and Langley Mill eventually being abandoned in 1937, and filled in after the war.
With no one to care for it, the Nottingham canal became overgrown and gradually silted up. The Water level was prone to rise after heavy rain and that on occasion that would flood the adjoining land. After receiving frequent complaints, Nottingham City Council agreed in 1952 to purchase that portion of the disused canal that came within the City boundary. Infilling and culverting began in 1955.
Barely 100 yards survive at the northern end of the canal - the junction with the Cromford and the Erewash - and there are few other traces left. However, the central Nottingham section is as busy as ever with leisure traffic along the Trent
The Start - Fellows, Morton & Co.
For a long time Fellows Morton & Clayton Ltd were the largest and best known canal transportation company in England. They had a large fleet of boats which ranged far and wide over the canal system. They carried diverse cargos which also helped them grow.
The company started in 1837 when James Fellows who worked as an agent for a canal carrier decided to start his own company. James was 32 at the time and was based in West Bromwhich. His first boat was called "Providence”. He expanded rapidly and moved his operation to Tipton in 1841. Although his main thrust was the canal business he called himself a "Railway & Canal Carrier” even though his rail activities seemed minor. Unfortunately James died in 1854 aged 49. His widow Eliza carried on the business until such time as her son Joshua became old enough to be an official partner in the business. The business continued to grow over the next few years.
Joshua Fellows - every inch the distinguished Victorian gentleman. One of his sons, Frederick William Fellows, was the depot manager at Nottingham and lived at 30 Canal Street until his death in 1896.
Around the late 1850's a new boat building facility was built at Toll End and by the early 1860's the fleet had grown to nearly 50 boats. Joshua was the driving force of the business and expansion. Over the next few years numerous companies were setup and partnerships developed with carriers in other areas of the system. Long distance carrying was the mainstay of the business during these early years. In 1876 Frederick Morton joined Joshua and brought with him investment capital to expand the business, the name was changed to Fellows Morton & Co. This new company continued to absorb smaller traders, so expanding with new boats and also with acquired vessels.
Bigger & Better
In the late 1880's a new partner was taken on, William Clayton of Saltley who operated a special fleet of liquid cargo boats as well as traditional loads. William had actually died before the companies merged but his son Thomas carried on trading with his father's name. On the 3rd of July 1889 Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd. was formed. This company took over all of Claytons general cargo boats merged with the Fellows Morton & Co fleet. At this time the general cargo fleet amounted to some 11 steamers and approx 112 butty boats. The tank boats were transferred to another new company which was called Thomas Clayton Limited of Oldbury. The new chairman of FMC was Alderman Rueben Farley the majority of shareholders being family members of the directors of the company. Various problems in the first year of trading (dock strike and horse influenza) did not hamper profits and the business flourished. A new basin and headquarters were completed at Fazely Street in Birmingham at this time.
FMC when formed inherited some steamers, these were all of wooden build, 3 boats coming from Claytons the rest being built at the Tipton dock. In fact it was here in 1884 that FM&Co built there first steamer "Phoenix”
FMC steamer "Phoenix”
Courtesy Richard Thomas Collection
With the new boatyard at Fazely Street FMC tried building some steamers from steel plate. The first of these were limited to horse boats but in 1887 "Empress” a steamer was built. A total of five steamers were produced in steel but due to wear on the hulls this was found to be unsatisfactory. In 1894 FMC tried iron in the construction of their boats, the first boat completed was "Australia”.
The boat was constructed in composite form, having an elm bottom and iron sides. This proved much more effective and 3 of the 5 original steel steamers were rebuilt in this way. Between 1898 and 1899 8 more iron composite steamers were produced from the Saltley dock and 9 more between 1905 and 1911.
The steamers were hugely powerful boats and reports of them pushing open gates with 4 - 6 inches of water difference have been heard, they had a draught of over 3 feet and had a huge propellor turning very slowly. They travelled very fast and occasionally caused damage as can be seen here in this note from 1912,
"I am pleased to hear that you were able to raise Messrs Sefton's coal boat MAY without interference to the traffic. Let me have an account of the cost to the Company which will be sent to Messrs Sefton in due course, and I should advise them to try and recover the amount from Messrs Fellows, Morton & Co as the sinking was due to their steamer ADMIRAL not easing down when passing” Courtesy Richard Thomas Collection/Steamer Notes from Millner Letters
The steamers were kept mainly on the main line long distance routes and were know as fly boats or express boats, they were kept to a strict timetable, a trip from London (city road basin) to Birmingham (Fazely Street depot) would normally be expected to tae around 54 hours, no mean feat when considering distances and locks. This was a non-stop service and the crew of 4 would change shifts along the route. The steamers were very popular with the boatmen, there was a status attached to being part of a steamer crew. The main drawbacks to the steamers was the lack of carrying space on the boat due to the size of the engine and boiler and the weight of coal needed for each trip (Birmingham to London would use 1 ton of coal).
FMC steamer "Sultan”
Courtesy Richard Thomas Collection
With the drawbacks to the steamers and technology advancing FMC tried a few different ideas of powered propulsion. In 1906 an experiment was carried out on the steamer "Vulcan”, a gas suction engine was tried, the crew need to run the boat and the fuel consumption was reduced but the size of the installation still left a lot to be desired. In 1911 a rival carrier had tried a new form of propulsion with a semi diesel engine which had proved to be successful , the unit was a Swedish Bolinder single cylinder direct reversing engine from the company of J. & C.G. Bolinder in Stockholm. FMC built a boat for testing this engine which was built with a similar hull to the steamers but with shortened engine room therefore increasing the cargo hold space. "Linda” became the first motor boat of the FMC fleet. The new engine was a success and FMC immediately started building another 9 of these boats, all names of which started with the letter "L”, Due to the success of the new engine FMC started a retrofit on the steamers, converting the boats to motor boats, thus signaling the end of the steamers, the age of steam certainly was a milestone in the history of canals as was the introduction of the diesel engines. in 1915 the steamer "Baron” was converted and the rest of the steamers followed, the last being "Viceroy” in 1927. FMC had up to this time built mainly their own boats, the Uxbridge dock continuing to build wooden boats and Saltley building new and maintaining existing boats. In 1922 FMC approached W.J. Yarwoods & Sons Ltd. of Northwhich were asked to make 12 motor boats. The first boat from Yarwoods was "Adder” which arrived in May 1923. FMC ordered 12 more from Yarwoods which were delivered hull only the first of which was "Eagle” in April 1926. In fact the Northwhich builder built further hulls for FMC, in 1931 a hill of coppered steel was delivered "Acacia” which proved to be the start of the change to steel composite. In 1935 "Cactus” was launched and became FMC's 100th motor boat.
FMC Motor boat "Cactus” The 100th FMC Motor Boat
Courtesy M. Parrott Collection
In 1932 a new class of motor boat was built for FMC by Yarwoods, the so called Fish class of boats, the first boats arriving in 1933, the first of these "Bream” was a coppered steel hull, a smaller less powerful version of the 15hp Bolinder was fitted, the 9hp model was smaller and enabled the engine room to be shortened therefore adding space to the hold for valuable cargo. Due to the lower power the boats mainly worked without a butty. 6 of this class had fore-cabins, with no butty the extra sleeping area would have been most welcome. The Uxbridge dock kept up with the production of wooden hulls, these hulls were quite a bit cheaper than the Yarwoods steel hulls.
Saltley produced many butties over the whole lifetime of the company starting in the 1890's. Wood and iron composite boats were produced by the dock, which were named mostly after English towns or countries. Between 1895 and 1912 over 60 were made. Production of butties stopped in 1912 at Saltley except for a couple in 1921. Uxbridge also built wooden butties from 1896 also named after towns, 40 were made up to 1912. In 1922 Uxbridge started building butties named after girls, 27 were constructed the first of which was "Ada” in 1922 and "Joan” the last was finished in 1933. Joan was also the last buttty ever built by FMC. FMC did not build all their own butties in fact they had boats built from Nurser Brothers, Less & Atkins and Braithwaite & Kirk. In 1937 FMC converted 12 butties into motor boats. Yarwoods had the job of converting them, the first of which was "France” in 1937.
FMC's livery in the early years was a combination of black & white with a red dividing line. Shortly after the company re-incorporated in 1921 the livery was changed to the red, green and yellow colours that were to stay with the company till the end.
In 1947 FMC incurred its first trading loss ever, with the added competion of roads and railways the company went into voluntary liquidation and the assets were taken over by the then "British Transport Comission” A grand era had come to an end.
Nottingham and FMC
The offices are designed with a mix of gothic and classical details, the application of which is heavy and gaudy comparative to its size: having the pretension of its taller neighbours but none of the stature. These differences make the pair of buildings conspicuous despite the fact that they are smaller than the most surrounding buildings. The recessed siting of the warehouse also adds distinctiveness. A set of separately listed gates and gate piers are found to the front of the warehouse and have the similar over-gilded quality seen in the office.
At the canal edge a loading cut runs up to a central loading door, either side of which are loading platforms with cobbled surfaces and two small manual loading cranes, which are separately listed grade II.
In the 1980's the former warehouse was converted into the Nottingham Canal Museum, which has since closed  and the building converted into the 'Canal House' bar and restaurant.
The former offices were purchased from Nottingham Council by Whitbread Brewers who converted the premises into a Pub and Brew House from 1980.