Notes on the Leen and the buildings on its banks, including the churches of Lenton, Radford, Old Basford and Bulwell

by Mr. Harry Gill.

(Portions of this paper were read at the Summer Excursion to Basford and Bulwell, June, 1916).

The Robin Hood Hills run east and west across the Forest of Kirkby, and form a watershed for two important tributaries of the Trent.

The Erewash issues on the north side, flows westward for some distance until it reaches Pinxton, and thence it becomes the western boundary of the county and flows southward to its confluence.

A number of springs which issue on the south side, when joined to the waters from Hollin Well, flow in a meandering course almost due southward. This watercourse is now known as the River Leen, a corruption through various renderings of the Celtic word Llyn for lake or pool, and A.S. “hlynna” =  streamlet.

The ancient names were descriptive and accurate, for the distance from source to confluence is not more than ten miles as the crow flies. Perhaps no other stream of equal size attracted so much attention as did the Leen in mediaeval days. It formed the western boundary of the King’s great Forest of Nottingham, or “Shirewood”; it fed the “fish-stews,” and supplied the domestic needs of two important monasteries, and a Royal Castle; while on its banks stood a succession of mills, at one time numbering more than a score; for although the fall of the valley is but gentle, the volume of the flow is sufficient to turn a “breast-wheel” or an “undershot” mill-wheel at very frequent intervals throughout its course.

At one time it was necessary to obtain a license from the Crown before a mill could be established, and all mills were attached to the manors. As time went on, many mills were transferred by grant unto the monasteries which sprang into existence during the early part of the Middle Ages, and thus the monks obtained control of nearly all the mills in the land, whether driven by wind or water. An instance of this is seen in the Chartulary of Lenton Priory, wherein it is recorded that William Peverel “endowed the house withe the township of Lenton and its appurtenances including seven mills.” It does not follow that all these were in Lenton “township,” for William Peverel was feudatory lord of nearly the whole of the Leen Valley.

Ingrain’s mill, near the entrance to Wollaton Park, is the oldest mill site in Lenton and is still known as the Abbey mill, while another mill a little higher up-stream is the Prior’s mill. The site of the mill of Blacclif, frequently mentioned in the Chartulary, is elusive and obscure. It was in the vicinity of the existing Forge mill (near Bestwood Station) if not identical with it. No place on the Leen, other than the Forge mill, with its accompaniment of charcoal and smoke would suggest such a name. A reference in a deed of gift goes far to confirm this:—“Herbert [one of Peverel’s vassals] gave to the priory a marc of silver yearly out of his mill on the Leen “situate between Blacclif and the village of Radford.” i.e., ignoring other sub-feudatories his mill lay above his lord's demesne mills at Radford and below the mill of Blacclif which William Peverel [the younger] gave to Lenton Priory.1

In the beginning, and indeed for some time after, these mills were chiefly used for grinding corn. In the 18th century when the linen and cotton industry flourished in this district, many old corn mills were converted into cotton mills, and new mills were established. The advent of steam-power wrought great changes, and in consequence the mill-ponds and races became neglected; the mill-wheels, save in one or two instances, ceased to revolve, and the buildings were either pulled down or converted to other uses.

One mile from its source the stream entered the demesne of a monastery of Royal foundation, the Augustinian Priory of Newstead. Issuing from thence, and passing Papplewick on the left bank and Linby (Leen-by) on the right bank, it reaches the ancient Forge mill about midway between Hucknall and Bulwell, when it becomes the northern boundary of the extended city of Nottingham.

Thus far the river valley is verdant with meadows and woodlands as of yore. The lower half of the course now skirts the ragged edges of the city, and for years past the stream has been polluted and befouled with refuse from numerous bleach-yards and dye-works. It is only fair to state, however, that this nuisance is now abated and the stream is in a fair way to recover its former clearness.

On the banks of this lower half of the stream, situate about equi-distance from each other, were four pleasant villages which are now merged in the populous suburbs. Each of these villages derived its name from its contiguity to the stream. Bulwell: from the “bulling” or “bubbling” well which issues from the Bunter Sandstone on the “forest waste” to join the waters of Leen. Basford: either the ford near the home of Bassa (Bassa's ford) or “le bas ford” the lower ford. Radford or (Rede ford): from the fact of the red sandstone in the banks; and Lenton: (Leen-ton).

Beyond Lenton the original course ran through the meadows in a direct line southward to its confluence with the Trent at Wilford, until in due time an artificial channel was made for it to turn eastward in order to bring a supply of water to the Town and Castle of Nottingham. In the loop formed by this deviation, and within view of the Castle, a great Priory of the Clugniac Order was built by William Peverel (c. 1105.) the Norman lord of the district.

The history of the Castle and of the two monasteries, has already been told; the churches of Linby and Papplewick are described in the “Churches of the Deanery of Mansfield”; but the ancient buildings in each of the four former villages on the banks of the Leen which were incorporated with the city in 1877 have so far escaped special notice.

1) Blaccliffe is not an uncommon name in the county, there is Blaccliffe Wood near Newstead, and Blaccliff Hill between Plumtree and Bradmore, but Blaccliff mill was situate on the Leen.