The ‘Lock House’, Newbridge Lane: to be or not to be – the census story – 5

The General Register Office organised the censuses by civil registration districts, which were subdivided into enumeration districts (EDs).

Obviously, the census is about people and their living and social conditions. But it can also lead us into research about places and buildings. This blog – part 5 of our series looking at the census locally – is about one such place and building sometimes wrongly presumed to be a lock-keeper’s cottage on Newbridge Lane. As we’ll explain it wasn’t the home to a lock-keeper.

A view from Wheeldon Mill Lock, which is actually at Newbridge Lane, which runs over the Chesterfield Canal on the brick bridge behind the lock gates. The cottage to the left, was actually in Whittington parish, was two storey and has sometimes wrongly been believed to be a lock-keeper’s cottage. Only the second storey can be seen in this view, possibly from the 1920s or 1930s. (John Lower collection).

Census year 1881 and a ‘man from Whittington’

Only one enumerator, Fred Cropper, in 1881, added ‘any explanatory notes or observations’ on the descriptive sheet for his enumeration district (ED). (The General Register Office organised the censuses by civil registration districts, which were subdivided into EDs.)  In this description of ED 30, the almost complete lack of punctuation, is Cropper’s, not ours we hasten to add! The abbreviation RSD is for Rural Sanitary District.

All that part of the Chapelry or Parish of Brimington (which is in the Ecclesiastical District of St. Michael’s Brimington) which lies to the N W of the Turnpike Road from Chesterfield to Worksop including Wheeldon Mill & the houses both sides of Wheeldon Mill Lane & Newbridge Lane Malthouse Cott. Lock House Summer Villa Almond Place, Cemetery Terrace & Houses in back Lane by Board School to Heywood’s Farm inclusive of all houses on left hand side from entrance of the parish on the road leading to Staveley RSD Chesterfield Union.

Cropper’s additional note reads as follows;

I have been to Lock House Newbridge Lane & they it appears had filled a census paper up for Whittington. I also went to Lock House Chesterfield & they informed me that a man from Whittington had taken theirs.

(‘Lock House Chesterfield’ must refer to Tapton lock, Lockoford Lane, but this was clearly not part of his ED.)

The enumeration book for ED 30 does have an entry for the lock house, squeezed in after the sheet had already been filled out, but in it is recorded only ‘Would not fill it up’.

An enlarged extract from the 1898 Ordnance Survey map of Brimington. This area was marked as a ‘wharf’ on the previous map of 1876. Note the small dots near the ‘Def’ notation. These denote the parish boundary between Brimington and Whittington. They show that the cottage in question (near the arrow-head leading from ‘140 .141’) was just inside Whittington. By the date of this map trade was in decline on the canal and the wharf may not have operated as such. Buildings on the site were still shown on the 1938 map. (Ordnance Survey, 25-inches to 1 mile, Derbyshire sheet XVIII.15, edition of 1898).

On investigation, it turns out that the ‘man from Whittington’ was Edgar B Fletcher, who was the enumerator for Whittington ED 44. His description of the ED includes ‘the whole of Newbridge Lane including the Cottage near the Canal Wharf’. This is a better description than ‘lock house’, as there was in fact no house at Wheeldon Mill lock, (the lock, rather confusingly, is at the bottom of Newbridge Lane) whereas there was a building at the canal wharf, just over the parish boundary in Whittington, north of the canal bridge. This can be discerned on OS maps, where the boundary of Whittington urban district bulges out to capture the canal wharf. It is clear that ‘Lock House’ should not have been included in the Brimington census at all.

The occupiers of the house at the canal wharf are recorded in Whittington ED 44 for ‘Canal Wharf Ho.’


The ‘Lock House’, Newbridge Lane: other census years

In census year 1841, there was no specific reference to the lock house in the descriptions of any of the Brimington or Whittington EDs. Nor was there any property enumerated at either place that could be identified as the lock house. In all other censuses the property was identifiable in an ED at one or both places.

In 1851, 1861 and 1871 the lock house was mistakenly included in various Brimington EDs. Its description included ‘Wheeldon Mill and the Lock House’, ‘Wheeldon Mill – The Lock House’ and ‘Wheeldon Mill (or Wheeldon Bridge) the Lock House, in each of the three census years respectively. In these years there was nothing comparable in the description of any Whittington ED. Nevertheless, the lock house was only included in the enumeration for the 1851 and 1861 censuses of Brimington. In 1871 it was enumerated in Whittington ED 40, where its address on the census summary sheet was recorded as ‘Whittington Wharf’.

In 1891 there was again duplication, as there had been in 1881: the description of Brimington ED 28 included ‘Newbridge Lane, Malthouse Cottages, Lock House’ and Whittington ED 42 included ‘Newbridge Lane, Cottage near to the Canal’. The relevant summary sheet for Brimington contained this entry for Lock House: ‘Nil. Included in ED 42. Included in Whittington.’

At the next census in 1901, the lock house appeared for the first time correctly, being only in a Whittington ED, (number 48), where the description included ‘Newbridge Lane, Cottage near canal, Whittington Bridge’. However, this was an anomaly, as in 1911, the property was enumerated only in Brimington. Descriptions of the EDs in 1911 are not available (at least not in Ancestry) but a household schedule was found in ED 27 addressed (by the enumerator, Charles Cropper) to ‘Lock House, New Bridge Lane, Brimington’. This same address was written in by the occupant on the household schedule itself.

So, throughout the history of the census there was some confusion about which ED the property should have been in. Perhaps reference to a map might have confirmed that the property was actually, just, in Whittington!

The cottage next to the canal at Newbridge Lane, the subject of this blog, revealed in this undated postcard, formerly stood on a small wharf. It was still present on the 1938 Ordnance Survey Map. (Chesterfield Canal Trust collection).

Was there a lock-house at New Bridge Lane?

A tradition has developed that houses situated near locks were ‘lock-keeper’s cottages’. Whilst this may be true in some instances, it was not generally the case on the Chesterfield Canal. Here canal locks were usually expected to be opened and closed by the boatsmen. (As an indicator of this very few locks have an adjacent lockhouse). Canal maintenance was generally dealt with by lengthsmen, who, as the name indicates, had a length of canal to maintain.

The canal cottage at Newbridge Lane, was not, as described above a ‘Lockman’s cottage’, but seems to have acquired the name locally ‘lock house’ and other similar descriptions. 

For the record the following table shows details of the people listed at the cottage and their occupations from each census. (Note that in this table the ages of Henry Johnson and his wife are inconsistent with the passage of time, but these are the exact ages as recorded on the census summary sheets.)

Notes: 1) A ‘higgler’ is a household coal seller and deliverer of coal.
2) Henry Johnson recorded his occupation as ‘Farmer’ but the census enumerator, Charles Cropper, overwrote ‘Labourer, Iron Foundry’.

Note that in 1851 and 1861 Thomas Longden is described as ‘canal labourer’. He could well have the job of local canal lengthsman.

In the 1939 register, the cottage was enumerated within Brimington (ED RCQE of Chesterfield Rural District) where its address was recorded as ‘Lock Canal House, New Bridge Lane’. The two un-redacted occupants were William Stone (58), a ‘small farmer’ working on his own account and his wife Sarah (54), who like most married women had her occupation recorded as ‘unpaid domestic duties’. Buildings are still extant on the site on the 1938 Ordnance Survey map. (25-inches to 1 mile, Derbyshire sheet XVIII.15, edition of 1938).


We are grateful to Paul Freeman for his research on the the census in Brimington and to the Chesterfield Canal Trust and John Lower for permission to use illustrations.

This series of blogs on the census will form a longer illustrated article in the 2022 Brimington and Tapton Miscellany 14, by Paul Freeman. Our thanks to Paul for researching the information in this blog. We are particularly grateful to to the Chesterfield Canal Trust and John Lower for permission to use illustrations from their collections.

The previous blogs have been

The census story – 1 (a general introduction) can be found here.

The census story – 2 – organisation in Brimington can be found here.

The census story 3 – missing presumed lost? can be found here.

The census story 4 – missing but not lost can be found here.

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