The Search for the Viaduct
After leaving Trent and travelling in an easterly direction towards Nottingham the next station is Attenborough. We needed to bare in mind that as we developed this section of line we had to take account of the works and businesses, particularly the larger complexes, which had their own branch and sidings off the main line. These were not only important to the historical and geographical content of the route but additionally for us, these could be used to create working scenarios which we can say, 4 years on, are definitely worth playing. If you are a keen driver and like a challenge, you will no doubt have fun in trying to complete them.
A few minor branches existed before getting to Attenborough, but by far the largest of them was Chilwell Ordnance Depot (COD). This was a huge complex fed from Attenborough Shunting Frame and had many arrival, departure lines and sidings on the South side before you entered the base. The thing that divided the South and North sides of the base was the main A6005 Long Eaton to Nottingham road, locally known as "the tank road".
The Tank Road
The so called road conjures up another short story which I think is worth a mention at this stage. I cannot find any reference to this name on the internet, but many local elderly people knew it by this name for its particularly hard and robust construction to withstand the caterpillar tracks and extreme weight of the tanks that travelled down it.
I encountered it again in my job many times over the years when having to attend reported gas escapes and knowing that you were looking at a broken gas main, there was nothing that a 'road crew' could do with conventional jackhammer's to break through the immensely hard aggregate to access the problem. This was a job for a JCB and many days to access and repair the main.
The A6005 Long Eaton to Nottingham road divided COD base by running over a viaduct that spanned the total complex and although I and many others have travelled over it in our time and have a clear picture in my mind how it looked nowhere could I find a photo picture or image of any type anywhere. We had an abundance of historical and reference data available to us regarding track layout, building plans and internal track layout of the base there was no viaduct.
2 of the 3 images we had of COD at the time were from library books showing small trains about to exit the base, the other 1 is perhaps the most famous and can be found on Google images or Picture the Past.com.
The image is taken from the top centre of the Viaduct looking down into the base observing the checkout hut, the tracks going in all directions and even leading into a closed shed housing (unknown to many) an internal private station.
We felt that in order to be able to develop the whole of the Ordnance Depot it was imperative we obtained a photo of the exterior design and structure of the viaduct as this was the Grande entrance and 'front door' to the complex with the former rail link from the main line going underneath.
Initially our search was fruitless and it was necessary to continue to develop the main line easterly towards Nottingham and the businesses and industries located around the track. As we moved closer to Beeston and onward to Lenton and Nottingham these developments were becoming more and more concentrated. Although we became more engrossed in developments such as Boots, Beeston Boiler Co, and Creosote works we never lost sight of COD and occasionally took another deep dive into new library books, reference manuals and asking the locals if they knew anyone to help us in our plight.
The search went on for 18 months to 2 years and it so happened I found myself looking in the library archives of the central library in Nottingham. This is not somewhere the general public are allowed to access and I had to be escorted by some prehistoric librarian, three time removed and retired twice.
These records contained donated and unseen old photos which had not been referenced or indexed by the library but was again fruitless. My travels also included historical societies throughout the Nottingham area, searching the internet and signing on the National Archives Website.
The National Archives did turn up some snippets which told us there was information held on Chilwell Depot and were located somewhere in Dorset. Any hyperlinks referencing COD on these sites however didn't conveniently work. Maybe all this information was protected by the official classified information act (MOD). I felt I was hacking into the NATO website and would be woken at 4:00am the following morning and taken away for breaking the official secrets act. I only wanted a picture of a 'bloody concrete bridge!!
On a pleasant autumn day in September 2012 I was visiting the Barton bus heritage day in Beeston as another interest of mine. Also taking place in one of the buildings was a grande display of archive photo collections, memorabilia, and front page spreads of newspapers from every year back to the 1920-30s. This work was the treasure trove of the Chilwell Historical Society. I did not know it existed even though I had tried several other local societies which were fruitless.
I noticed that there was genuine A3 sized OS map books dating back to the 1950's and as I was turning the pages and taking close up photos of interesting sections we required for development of our route I came across the exact location illustrating the viaduct and ordnance depot.
I was able to take note of where the viaduct actually started and finished using standard Latitude and Longitude references as this would provide us the means to set the viaduct in exactly the right place on our route. We have been consistently proud to boast that our route is not only accurate historically but geographically as well.
It was at this point where I met an extremely pleasant and knowledgeable lady who enquired if I was looking for anything specific. She turned out to be the curator and the OS books were on loan from Broxtowe Borough Council. I explained in detail my 2 year long search to find any reference or images of the elusive Chilwell viaduct bridge.
Her response could have been something out of an episode of one foot in the grave with Victor Meldrew.
"Oh you've not been to the Chilwell Historical Society have you? We have several in our collection of old photos of Chilwell"
"I don't bleddy believe it!
"Why don't you come along to the AGM on Tuesday as all our collections will be on display. The cost will be 50p for non members but If you ask for me I can find you the photos you are looking for....and you can have tea and biscuits too!"
At that point my thoughts were 'I don't care whether its 50p or £50!!!....Let me see those bloody photos!'
Sure enough the eight or so photos of the old viaduct being demolished was more than enough for my brother to start working his magic with his 3D Max design software. Until he saw the pictures he could not really recall the structure but had recalled crossing it many times as a teenager. For a small cost and a pat on the head I secured some copies for Mick to do his handy work and sat back totally satisfied that a major milestone had been acheived.
Some days later I received a text from our friend 'the curator' suggesting I visit the central library and request a look on the Microfiche for Nottingham Evening Post on Thursday March 17th 1988 which featured an article on the Chilwell Viaduct.
March 17th 1988
The Viaduct was to be demolished, it had been inspected by the Environment Agency who reported that it had an 8 ton weight limit imposed on it and it had come to the end of its natural life, having deteriorated rapidly over the last ten years. The viaduct was a reinforced concrete structure consisting of 49 spans which carried the A6005 road over the former rail link into the Royal Ordinance Depot and was originally built in 1916
I can hear my brother Mick doing his design tecki speech now when I showed him the photos. Its alright giving me a photo and in this wonderful world of GPS, Google Earth and ariel photography you can usually figure out to a metre or so how long and wide something is. The real tricky bit is the 3rd dimension...'Height'. This thing had 49 spans of interlinking struts at different angles, tapering archways and decending platforms either side of the central top platform.
We did know that the rail tracks that travelled under went through the central two spans and also had a good idea that the loco's used would have to have sufficient clearance to go through. A real problem to solve however was trying to determine the width of each span between the support legs.
My dear old friend who I had previously approached for photos of the viaduct without success was in the pub one night some time later. He had worked on the railway and in the ordnance depot years before. I told him about my recent success and proudly showed him copies of the aquired photos of the viaduct being demolished. They certainly seemed to bring his memory of the structure back in mind. I went on to explain that Mick was in the process of designing this for our route but the element giving us cause for concern was determining the width of the two central spans between the support legs.
"....when you drove a Chieftan tank through to the testing track on the other side there was only 2 inches either side to spare"
To my amazement he said. "Oh that's easy, I can tell you to the inch. Its 12 ft 4 inches because when you drove a Chieftan tank through to the testing track on the other side there was only 2 inches either side to spare".
A silly statistic in someone's head from their days at work which on its own is meaningless and useless. We all have them don't we? And yet this silly statistic created a truely superb replica of something everyone drove over on their way to work every day from Long Eaton to Nottingham and didn't even remember it had disappeared. It now stands proud in our route as a jewel in a crown and truely makes an outstanding experience when attempting our Chilwell Depot scenario.
So who has got that useless snippet of info that is going to tells us where to find the lost Ark ??