Bulwell is a small market town in Nottinghamshire approximately 4½ miles northwest of Nottingham city centre, on the northern edge of the city. The Census in 2001 showed there were almost 30,000 people living in the Bulwell area, accounting for over 10% of the population of the city of Nottingham.
As a suburb or satellite of a major city, Bulwell has greatly expanded and affected the villages around it, to create a 'Greater Bulwell' area.
Bulwell is locally pronounced as the monosyllabic word 'Bool', which gradually formed through 'Bulwell', 'Bulwull' and then to 'Buwull'.
The name is supposed to have been derived from the spring which runs out of the Bunter sandstone over a bed of clay, near to the northern end of the forest, called "Bull Well." In The Place Names of Notts., it is suggested that the first part of the name may stand for an Anglo Saxon person called Bulla, or a bull, or it may describe the bubbling sound produced by the flowing water of the spring.
Legend has it that the town was named after a bull struck a sandstone rock causing it to seep water - a well. The now sealed well-housing, located in the nature reserve off Bestwood Road, is said to be the original well; i.e. the place that the bull gored. Both Bulwell St Mary's school and the Seventh-day Adventist church next door have illustrations of the tale relief-carved into sandstone blocks. Generations of Bulwell's children have grown up with the legend, and with the city council recently erecting a statue of a bull goring a well in the marketplace, it seems that the traditions surrounding the legend will continue indefinitely.
The parish church standing prominently in Bulwell is Saint Mary the Virgin and All Souls, known simply as St Mary's. It stands on the hill overlooking Bulwell and was built in 1849-1850, though it is on the site of the original Bulwell church, which dated back to at least the 13th century.
Towering over most of North-East Nottingham, St Mary can be seen from many miles away, and its bells still ring out across the area each weekend.
The Church of St John the Divine was consecrated in 1885.
The earliest documented settlements in Bulwell appeared circa 800 AD, most likely at the time of the first bridge across the River Leen here. With the river being significantly narrower, shallower and slower-moving in Bulwell than in other potential locations along its length and the threat of highwaymen a very real danger on existing cross-country routes, a toll bridge was constructed in this outpost, allowing for a quicker and safer passage from north to south for travellers but providing an obstacle to less legitimate travellers.
Bulwell is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Buleuuelle.
The bridge created a direct road to Nottingham from the north of the shire and this was the key to the growth of Bulwell. Tolls were levied on the bridge. Around 1200, Bulwell had grown to provide all the facilities for travellers and driven livestock, though established tradesmen resented newly arrived salesmen. The owners of the 'official', original businesses, having in some cases incurred large expense to build and maintain premises, complained bitterly about an ever-growing number of roaming salesmen undercutting their prices and taking their trade. Since they were also paying rates to the local landowner, they considered their right to monopolise custom inalienable. In response to the complaints, a local law was enacted (circa 1320 AD) forbidding anyone without 'fixed... and at least part-covered premises' from selling goods or services close to the original businesses.
However, the statute was badly worded: to circumnavigate the laws, the salesmen simply fixed posts into the ground, creating market stalls similar in design to their modern counterparts. The stalls were covered for use and left uncovered in situ when not in use, thus both abiding by the law and designating a permanent venue for their sales. The people using these facilities fought hard against the power of the richer businessmen and successfully defended the right of the marketeers to operate alongside them. The location of the Market Place remains virtually unchanged to this day and still houses a bustling market on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Quarries and mines
At some point in the Middle Ages both the magnesium limestone and the sandstone (now known as Bulwell Sandstone) on which Bulwell sits began to be quarried. The strong easily crafted durable rock, a dull yellow-orange magnesium limestone (not to be confused with the Bunter sandstone famously underlying Nottingham Castle), provided a perfect building material which was also easy to quarry. Many houses, schools, churches and - particularly - garden walls built using Bulwell Stone still stand to this day, extending for miles around Bulwell in all directions.
An early example can be found in sections of the wall surrounding Wollaton Hall, which was built using Bulwell stone in the late 16th century. The sheer quantities used there - and elsewhere in the city - suggest some kind of professional mining operation must already have been in operation by this time. Bulwell stone was later also used to repair the damage caused to the palaces of Westminster during the Second World War.
Coal is also found in abundance close to Bulwell. Running as part of much larger seams criss-crossing the region, the coal lies underneath the layers of sandstone and is in places only a few feet beneath the surface. Coalmines]] in the area around Bulwell were therefore among the first in the county to operate on a commercial basis, with large-scale mining from around 1500 onward.
Many fortunes were made at the time from the extraction of coal, including that of Sir Francis Willoughby (1547-1596), which paid for his building of the extravagant Wollaton Hall. One of the world's first railway lines, completed in 1604 and leading between nearby Strelley and Wollaton, was built by Willoughby's heir to aid transportation of the tons of coal being produced from his mines, the trucks of coal drawn by oxen or horses.
In 1667, George Strelley "built a school for the educating and teaching (of) young children of the Inhabitants of the said Parish", a stunning building that survives to this day, along with many of the other houses built at this time. The building is now used as a private home but retains many of the original features.
In 1852 an Act of Parliament allowed the extension of the gas pipeline from Basford and the south, which brought street lighting to the town and supplies for private houses, and effectively revolutionised life in the town. The earliest supply of water was not to arrive until 1877, with the many local springs, wells and the river providing for the needs of both business and domestic use until this time. Before 1877, water-borne diseases were rife and the river water highly polluted by both industry and sewage, leading to very high rates of infant mortality across the region. The percentage of children dying before reaching their fifth birthday decreased by over 75% in Bulwell between 1870 and 1890 - a situation that led to dreadful overcrowding and even more demand for already overstretched services like housing. Health care again suffered as a result of the insanitary living conditions, but the population continued to grow apace.
1843 brought bad weather that did irreparable damage to Bulwell Saint Mary's church. The church we have today was built in its place between 1849 and 1851; the architect was Henry Isaac Stevens. In 1885 the new church of St John the Divine on Quarry Road was consecrated.
Bulwell Hall was a grand mansion house built in 1770 by landowner John Newton. It was set in its own large grounds to the North of Bulwell town centre, and was known as Pye Wipe Hall when first built; a name which stuck with local folk until the time of its demolition.
After passing through the hands of Newton's ancestors for a time, Bulwell Hall was sold at auction in 1864, along with over 1,000 acres of land, to a man named Samuel Thomas Cooper. Bulwell Hall was later employed variously as a sanatorium, an 'approved school for boys' and an Italian Prisoner of War camp, before its eventual demolition in 1958.
S T Cooper and The National School
As a result of buying Bulwell Hall, Samuel Thomas Cooper became the "Lord of the Manor" of Bulwell and its larger areas. Cooper was a philanthropist, and in 1866 he paid £3,000 for another school to be built for the local children. Then named the National school, it provided education for up to 518 children at a time; a remarkable feat considering the size of the building. Remaining in use as the "old building" of St Mary's C of E Primary and Nursery School primary school, it is now listed, and houses many fewer pupils than at the time of its creation.
After Cooper's death, his widow, Annie Cooper, donated £600 to Bulwell Saint Mary's church to provide for a better organ. Still in use (although now operating electrically powered bellows), the organ houses a plaque commemorating Mrs Cooper's donation, "in memory of (her) husband".
Some sources claim that this man was the same S T Cooper who later went on to enclose Bulwell Bogs as his own private ground; it is known that Cooper died in 1871, aged 39, and also that the protest over the Bogs took place in 1872. No other "S T Cooper" is recorded as being Lord of the Manor of Bulwell, leading many to believe the man to be the same.
1900 - present day
Over the past century, Bulwell has grown enormously with the creation of housing estates such as Crabtree Farm, Snape Wood, Highbury Vale and Hempshill Vale.
Bulwell no longer has a working quarry, landfill site, coalmine or brewery to employ its residents. Designated industrial areas such as those found on Greasley Street and Commercial Road were constructed early in the latter half of the 20th Century, followed in the 1980s and '90s by smaller developments of offices and light industrial units such as those on Pottery Way (off Sellers Wood Drive).
The larger developments for industry built in Sellers Wood in the 1980s (off Blenheim Lane/Camberley Road/Dabell Avenue) were further added to during the 1990s. Many other industrial buildings have sprung up in the surrounding area since then and the larger area looks set to grow outwards once more in the near future. The extended industrial estate includes warehousing and distribution for national food retailers, large printing factories, office blocks of all sizes and numerous small- to medium-sized units offering a variety of goods and services. A large Cash and Carry wholesaler recently joined the supermarket, petrol station and small row of fast-food outlets between this industrial estate and the rest of Bulwell. This utilises yet another piece of the land that was used for landfill until the 1960s/1970s; leaving only two large fields now without some kind of development.
Just next to the supermarket is a very steep hill which still marks out the edges of the long-abandoned limestone quarry.
Lands about the town
Snape Wood and Sellers Wood were originally part of a swathe of woodland that bordered the landfill site to the north-west of Bulwell, stretching down to the farmland that became Hempshill Vale estate to the south-west. Both woods were protected under Royal Warrants stretching back to the 12th century, but drastic shortage of housing in Bulwell in the 1960s and 1970s, as in Nottingham as a whole, led to the protection being removed and new housing estates being built.
A token remnant of Snape Wood was left behind in the middle of the new estate, amounting to little more than a small fenced-in copse with three pathways leading through it. Owned by the local authority, the site was designated a Local Nature Reserve, but years of neglect have left the site rubbish-strewn and in need of a structured management plan. Despite constant fly-tipping and a lack of proactive conservation, this site surprisingly supports a wide variety of wildlife, from rare wildflowers to mammals such as squirrels, hedgehogs and foxes, as well as up to 20 different species of bird.
A larger proportion of Sellers Wood remains, with the land also designated as a Local Nature Reserve, actively managed by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust on behalf of the local authority, Nottingham City Council. Sellers Wood was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest by English Nature in 1981, being cited as "a fine example of broad-leaved semi-natural woodland...of regional importance".
The centre of Bulwell is located in a valley next to the banks of the River Leen. The bog area beside the Leen, known for over 900 years as "Bulwell Bogs", has long been set aside as a place where children can play, paddle and fish.
After an attempt by the Lord of the Manor to enclose the land around the Bogs, in 1872, the people of Bulwell staged a peaceful protest, massing in their hundreds to protect the 'common' land. Described as "...impeccably well behaved and peaceable to a man; indeed rather joy-ous of spirit!" in the official records, the people of Bulwell marched a short distance before enjoying lunch by the river. After this, the crowd is said to have "...dispersed quietly and as directed with no further disturbance", later winning the fight to designate the land for the "pleasure and leisure of the people of Bulwell".
The whole Bogs area was set to be torn up in 2002, to make way for a large road-bridge and a transport interchange, from where buses, trams, taxis and trains could all be caught. Fierce public opposition from local people resulted in a campaign being launched to prevent the work; the City Council eventually scrapped the plans. With help from local community groups and residents, the facilities at Bulwell Bogs were instead upgraded in 2003 to produce a bigger play-park, a safer paddling pool and a cleaner feel, and won a Green Flag Award in 2004 for the work done to regenerate the area.
As well as the Bogs, there is an area about a mile upstream, near the present-day Moorbridge, which historically attracted children from miles around to play. This led to the nickname "Bulwell-on-Sea" being applied by other Nottingham residents. The building of the outdoor pool nearby further strengthened the connection, with families historically travelling from across the city to spend a day by the water in Bulwell. Despite fierce opposition by local residents, the Lido was demolished in 2006 and the land sold off to house builders.
Bulwell is a transportation hub for the North Nottingham area. There are three stations serving Bulwell on the Nottingham Express Transit tram system: Bulwell, Bulwell Forest and Moor Bridge. These provide access to Nottingham and Hucknall. Next to Bulwell tram Station is the railway station, where trains on the Robin Hood Line link Nottingham to Worksop. There is also a large bus station and a taxi rank, with two taxi firms based in Bulwell.
Bulwell is deprived and crime-ridden, but has many community-based initiatives focusing on improving the area, in which endeavour volunteers play. Busy are:
- Bulwell Vision
- Scouts and guides:
- Girl Guides
- Basford Rotary Club
Bulwell Community Toy Library thrives thanks to the help of the local people.
- Football: The Scots' Grey FC, born of a pub team, though the pub is now closed
- City of Nottingham Council
- Local Newspaper covering Bulwell and the neighbouring areas
- www.geograph.co.uk : photos of Bulwell and surrounding area
- Bulwell Community Forum
- Bulwell Hall Park - information and pictures
- Bulwell - town centre pictures and information
- Prof. Davies, G (2009), Origins of local dialect around the Nottingham Area, University of Greenland
- Parish records.
- Smith, R S (1989), Early Coal Mining Around Nottingham 1500-1650, University of Nottingham
- Nottinghamshire History