Thursday, June 02, 2022

Leicester's lost canal wharf district

This converted canal warehouse forms part of Leicester College's Abbey Park Campus and stands beside what was once, and may be again, Memory Lane Wharf.

I say "may be again" because pontoon moorings have been installed and, says Towpath Talk, there are greater ambitions:

Waterways and wellbeing charity, Canal & River Trust, working in partnership with Leicester City Council, has submitted plans for new boat moorings to be created at the city’s historic Memory Lane Wharf, enabling boaters to stop off and explore the city.

The plans, which have been drawn up in consultation with the Inland Waterways Association, would see 6-8 residential moorings and 4-6 secure visitor moorings created with electric hook-ups, water point and waste facilities.  If approved works would begin in October with the moorings available for use in 2021.

Maybe those pontoons are the new moorings, but there was little sign of the other facilities and no pleasure boats when I was there last week.

At one time Memory Lane was a busy commercial wharf, but that must be a good while ago. The Inland Waterways Association's National Rally of Boats took place on this stretch of the Grand Union in 1967, yet two articles about it in the association's bulletin for September of that year make no mention of the wharf.

A photograph of it published in the Leicester Mercury in 1974 shows why.

This was once a very industrial area of Leicester that even had its own railway terminus: the Great Northern's Belgrave Road. And Memory Lane was not the only canal wharf here.

Parallel to it ran one owned by Fellows, Morton & Clayton, the most important canal carriers in the early 20th century. You can see the entrance to it in the photo below, as well as the reflection of the former St Mark's church.

I have even seen the end of the Willow Brook described as the "Belgrave Circle Arm".

This final length of the brook is clearly man made, and it would have been a good place to site another wharf, but looking at an early OS map I found no sign of the brook here at all. Having run alongside Belgrave Road station, it disappears from the map.

There is a hint that in those days it met the canal on the other side of the bridge on Abbey Park Road, but I wonder if this culvert near the wharves is where Willow Brook really ended or ends.

There is plenty of derelict land around Memory Lane, which means that it might be possible to dig out a new marina here. Moorings here would give boaters access to Melton Road's "Golden Mile" and Indian restaurants - an exciting prospect.


Claude Rains said...

Interesting. I can envision a resurgence in narrowboat travel, provided they go 100% electric power. To that end, realizing solar power might not be available, perhaps a windmill at the wharf, and hookups for overnighting, like caravan parks, might be part of their future plans? One can wish, at any rate.

Matt Pennell said...

It would be nice to see something really futuristic - a 3D printed installation inspired by interplanetary space travel, preferably made using experimental materials - built on Memory Lane