The Tin Houses - Nelson Lane, North Muskham

 

Who knows the secret of the tin houses?

 

Few buildings in the Muskham Vale possess a past as mysterious as the old “tin houses” on the south side of Nelson Lane, North Muskham.

 

To the hundreds who pass them on daily trips in and out of the village - and to the thousands who probably catch a glimpse of their unsightliness from the A1 - they are nothing more than tumble-down stables whose latest indignity is to have been deserted even by the horses owned by Sam Lane.

 

To older members of the community, they are reminders of the kind of housing for which the less well-off were immensely grateful until as recently as the 1960s. Indeed, an on-going survey by members of the Muskham Vale Heritage Group - by kind permission of Sam and Paul Lane - suggests there were five rooms which, at the height of their usefulness, became nine (or 10) with the additions of a lean-to (or two) plus partitions.

 

The roof was zinc (hence the dwellings being known locally as ‘tin houses’). One interior wall was brick. The rest of the walls were wood, apart from the two chimney stacks, which are brick. The floors were also wood, perched on a brick base. The windows were wood-framed and so draughty that an elderly female resident froze to death in her “tin house” during one cold winter in the middle of last century.

 

Even after that tragedy, there were more occupants of the tin homes including a family with four young children in the 1960s.

 

But investigations continue in an attempt to ascertain the age and original use of the building. All of the evidence available from census lists and other checks on the population suggests that nobody lived in this particular field until the 1930s. Yet the legend “Armand Smith 1907” is scrawled into the base of one of the fireplaces in the “tin houses”; so could it be that it had started its usefulness in another building?

 

This is not impossible. For the Ordnance Survey map of 1900 North Muskham has a building and pump clearly marked in the corner of the field (nearest to the hedge separating the field from the present Muskham School) in which the “tin houses” stand. The pump hole has since been ‘modernised’ to provide the kind of outside tap that served every house in the middle third of the last century.

 

Some of the brick foundations of the brick building have already been found by the MVHG’s amateur (but eager) sleuths. One of the next steps will be to try and check whether the bricks from the old building in the corner of the field were used to erect the only brick wall and/or chimney stacks in the “tin houses”.

 

To add to the intrigue a chance meeting with a historian at the County Archive offices in Nottingham is leading us to consider whether the “tin houses” could have been used originally as a mission for the navvies who constructed the Great Northern railway in the middle of the 19th century.

 

Muskham’s “tin houses” bear an uncanny resemblance to navvy missions that have been preserved in Northamptonshire and can be seen at:

 

http://prints.leics.gov.uk/pictures_671136/Navvy-Mission-Room-at-Helmdon-Northamptonshire.html

 

There was certainly no shortage of navvies in the area, as recorded in an acclaimed book entitled The Railways of Newark-on-Trent written by Michael A. Vanns and published by the Oakwood Press in 1999. Vanns writes that:

 

  • The 1851 census recorded 40 navvies living in temporary huts in South Muskham.

  • In 1851, 200 navvies were busy excavating a new channel for the Trent 300 feet wide, 1,000 feet long and 6 feet deep in order that only one railway bridge would be required just south of Crankley Point. The “tubular bridge”, as it became known locally, was officially pronounced safe “beyond all doubt” when five large locomotives were driven over it simultaneously on Friday 18 June 1852.

  • Navvies almost returned 40-odd years later. At the end of 1893, the railway company recorded that it would “favourably consider” the provision of a passenger station at North Muskham if County Council plans to locate its asylum near the village came to fruition. The asylum was eventually built at Rampton, and plans for a Muskham station were dropped.

  • The last influx of navvies took place in the late 1920s when H. Coxhead and Co. Ltd. of Middlesbrough was awarded the contract to build a bridge to take the A1 Great North Road over the railway to replace a level crossing midway between the junctions of Mill Lane with Moor Lane and Nelson Lane with Bathley Lane. The bridge cost £20,821 7s (35p) and opened on 3 June 1929.

 

Tantalisingly, however, Mr. Vann’s immensely detailed history does not extend to an mentions of where the navvies’ missions were established.

 

So the MVHG investigation goes on. If you have any memories of Muskham’s “tin houses” – or, of course, if you lived in them – please share them with us by emailing initial details to:

 

memories@muskhamvale.org.uk

 

To view the 28 photographs taken in 2008 of the tin houses, please click on the following link:

 

Tin Houses Photographs

 

To view detailed plans of the tin houses [10 pages - 721 KB], please click on the following link:

 

Tin Houses Detailed Plans

 

MVHG - October 2008