Walking motivation has been in short supply of late, thanks to a combination of the lower temperatures, a shortage of daylight hours and general laziness. A proper stroll was therefore much overdue as I set out to explore a route between two business parks in northwest Nottingham – Nottingham Business Park, near Strelley, and Phoenix Park, which is on the former site of Cinderhill (or Babbington) Colliery.
I travel towards my start point on a number 35 bus, whose route takes in many areas and features of historic interest. So much so, in fact, that, in late 2018, Nottingham City Transport announced the launch of History Bus 35, a guide to the history of some of the places that the service travels through. The guide was written by Robert Howard and you can read about the launch (and follow a link to download the guide itself) here.
Nottingham Business Park is a bleak outpost on the borders of D H Lawrence country. Much of the action (such as it is) of Lawrence’s novel The Rainbow takes place a couple of miles away in Cossall, or Cossethay, as it is known in the book, so I suppose it’s unsurprising that some of the ‘street’ names on the business park, including Lawrence Drive and Chatterley Park Way, reference the once-controversial author.
‘Business’ and ‘Park’. Which sorry individual first conflated those two words, I wonder? Just one in a long line of corporate linguistic misappropriations. A 2015 article in the Washington Post claims that the first office park opened in an upper-class suburb of Birmingham, Alabama in the early 1950s, ‘as commuters became uneasy with simmering racial tension in city centres.’ These days, business parks are a ubiquitous edgeland feature, with locations determined by logistical and economic factors.
Nottingham Business Park is home to such concerns as Keepmoat (‘a leading UK home builder’), Highways England, Yü Energy (a supplier of business utilities), Remit Training and Centiq (‘Trusted experts in cloud infrastructure and SAP HANA platforms’ (me neither)).
As I wander along the thoroughfares that link the various uninspiring office buildings to each other and to the outside world, I feel a profound sense of sympathy for everyone for whom this place will be lying in wait on Monday morning. What a pitiful location in which to have to earn a living. I imagine that Lawrence would have been appalled to have his name and that of one of his most famous creations associated with this sensory vacuum. His poem All That We Have is Life should be posted somewhere on Lawrence Way for all to read:
All that we have, while we live, is life;
and if you don’t live during your life, you are a piece of dung.
And work is life, and life is lived in work
unless you’re a wage-slave.
While a wage-slave works, he leaves life aside
and stands there a piece of dung.
Men should refuse to be lifelessly at work.
Men should refuse to be heaps of wage-earning dung.
Men should refuse to work at all, as wage-slaves.
Men should demand to work for themselves, of themselves,
and put their life into it.
For if a man has no life in his work, he is mostly a heap of dung.
Adjacent to Nottingham Business Park is a new housing estate called Woodhouse Park, which, perhaps inspired by the business park, has used Lawrence-related names for most, if not all, of its Hopperesque streets. These two vapid environments deserve one another.
As I try to escape from Nottingham Business Park, I’m somewhat nonplussed by the fact that there are footpath signs in evidence near to the main road, but, bizarrely, absolutely no evidence of any footpaths near the signs. Several minutes of uncertainty follow before I decide to take the plunge and cross the main road anyway.
I manage to locate a path that leads towards Broxtowe Country Park without too much difficulty and follow it into Chilwell Dam Plantation before nearly being run off the footpath by, in quick succession, a quad bike and two motorbikes – an indication that I’m nearing the Broxtowe Estate, built in the 1930s and assuredly not without its problems in the present day.
Broxtowe Country Park has an air of abandonment on this mild Saturday afternoon. The footpaths and the large expanse of grassland contain only one other person – a dog walker, and it’s only as I near the other side of the park that one or two other figures emerge. Everyone else is at home watching Netflix, or whatever it is that everyone gets up to these days.
Surrounded on all sides by housing and largely bereft of facilities, Broxtowe Country Park feels like a cursory afterthought that has since been left to its own devices. In part the former site of Broxtowe Colliery, it is a curious, characterless non-space that is unlike other, more inspiring country parks in and around Nottingham. It seems regrettable that this barren, largely featureless place survived while the adjacent Broxtowe Estate supplanted both Broxtowe Hall and the site of a Roman fort.
As I reach the eastern portion of the park, I pass a tarmacced area next to which water emerges from a pipe into a curiously attractive recess before disappearing down a slope. The path onward (which is really more of a road, although no cars are in evidence) also starts to descend, more-or-less following the route of the mineral railway that once ran through here. A small stream runs to one side for most of the way before it vanishes into a culvert as I make my way out of the park and emerge back into civilisation next to a petrol station and a care home complex.
Before turning towards Phoenix Park, there’s one other nearby place that I want to explore – Quarry Holes Nature Reserve, which sits between Tilbury Rise and Nuthall Road, not too far away from Cinderhill Island. The mineral railway ran through here too, and the name of the reserve is a bit of a giveaway. According to an information board at the entrance, ‘The distinctive mounds and slopes of the reserve were created when the site used to be an important quarry – supplying limestone for building projects.’ The board also reveals that stone from here was used to repair the old Trent Bridge.
Historical interest aside, there’s not enough here to detain me for long, so I begin to make my way towards my final objective.
Phoenix Park is a on a slightly more human scale than its spirit-sapping cousin to the west. A Premier Inn and Beefeater restaurant, together with the park and ride facility next to the tram terminus, all of which integrate well together, give the place a certain amount of hustle and bustle. Families and couples move from their cars into the restaurant to avail themselves of its entirely adequate food and vanilla atmosphere, while arriving trams disgorge their load of carrier bag-wielding Saturday afternoon shoppers returning from the city centre.
Reminders of the site’s coalmining past are much in evidence – one of the roads is named Colliers Way, a spoil tip reveals itself behind the park and ride and a plaque in the centre of a small roundabout gives some information as to the heritage of the site: ‘Opened by Mrs. Mel Read MEP for Nottingham & Leicester North West on 2nd December 1994. This new Business Park – Partly funded by the European Union – is built on the site of the former Babbington Colliery which, when it closed in 1986, was the oldest working mine in Nottinghamshire. Following Nationalisation of the mining industry in 1947, it employed 1,900 men. It reached a peak output of 864,000 tons in 1968.’
Businesses located here include E.ON, British Red Cross, Peppermint Technology (‘…innovative legal cloud software for UK law firms’), SF Group (‘The Recruitment People’) and Multi Packaging Solutions (‘…packaging solutions for the branded and healthcare markets’).
Call centre worker or deep-pit coal miner – which is the heap of dung? Both? The last deep-pit mine in the UK, Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, closed in 2015, so I don’t suppose I will ever have the chance to compare the two.
I hadn’t planned to climb the spoil heap, but there’s a path leading up to it and I can’t resist. It’s not long before I’m at the summit, king of the castle, taking in the tremendous views all around me. Proposals exist to turn at least part of this place (known as Stanton Tip) into housing, but I’m hoping that it’s held in suspension for just a little while longer.
The walking and cycling guide to the Aspley/Broxtowe/Cinderhill area entitled Garden City, by Chris Matthews, contains some excellent background to the history of the area and is highly recommended. It can be downloaded (along with several other similar guides) from Chris’s website.