If you live in Leicester and have ever visited the Orchard Tearooms at Cambridge you cannot help but feel a pang of sorrow at the loss of Aylestone Boathouse.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

This page is dedicated to the memory of:

Roger N. Hutchinson, local historian and author.

 

Nigel Allsop kindly sent in his recollections of Aylestone Boathouse, see below:
Nigel on horseback Boathouse field 1959
Nigel on horseback Boathouse Field 1959

We moved to Aylestone when I was ten from Great Glen, my stepfathers relations lived in Middleton Street in a row of terraced houses the right of the Union Inn.

Middleton Street from Boathouse Bridge

My uncle Arthur owned them and he and Nan lived in one, uncle Walter and wife in another and we lived in the end one next to the Union inn.

Middleton Street our house on the right

Middleton Street, Our house on the right

Nigel with his young brothers Kings Lock 1957

Nigel with his young brothers Kings Lock 1957

Arthur had worked for T Gordon Biggs as a boy before going in to the engineering in Leicester but still carried on helping Mr Biggs at weekends as Arthur had started to breed dogs in his spare time. I used to go to the Boathouse kennels with him and got to know Mr Biggs quite well and in fact worked for him for a few months before leaving home to work on a farm in Derbyshire at the age of fifteen.

The Biggs Family c 1890

The Biggs Family c 1890

Mr Biggs was very quietly spoken, he had a great regard for herbal medicines. Two or three time a day I would have to take him a mug of hot water to which he added various powders in his small office. He was a great believer that the dogs could benefit from herbal remedies, and most days they would have dried garlic or some other herb added to their food. He was also partial to snuff which was taken at regular intervals, he offered me a pinch once, and laughed as I sneezed my way out of his office. He very much reminded me of Tony Hancock the comedian who was very popular at the time, same hat and dark full length overcoat. I remember him employing a young lad from a very deprived background from one of the estates, poor lad used to get in a bit of a tangle when give a task, but Mr Biggs showed remarkable patience and understanding which helped to build up the lads self esteem. The kennels were opposite side from the old boathouse, and constructed the same way out of timber with creosoted for protection and raised on small concrete pillars as the site was liable to flood.

Packhorse Bridge Ayelstone

Old Pack-Horse Bridge Aylstone

In one of the old store sheds I found remnants of the Boathouse days, postcards and advertising leaflets and old ledgers, The only building left was a brick built café that was still being run in the late 50's by an old chap, the clientele were mainly young motorcyclists and their girlfriends so the café couldn't have been very profitable. It was quite a large room with metal French doors and was very run down, I think it may well have been used for dances many years ago. There was a dilapidated sign advertising the "Riverside Restaurant". In the picture where I surmise that the figure in the suit is Gordon Biggs, you can see in the background the building that was the "Riverside Restaurant".

The Riverside Resturant Aylstone Boat House


His family were quite wealthy and John Biggs three times Mayor of Leicester was a close relative, he had lived in a large Victorian house on Plantation Avenue or Lutterworth Road as a young man. The photograph of the family (see above) was sent to me some years ago by a descendant of the Biggs family and he thought Gordon was the boy on the right, he also sent a scan of the original map given to people who hired a boat, some of the names make me think he read Longfellow's Hiawatha.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Dad as a youngster in the 30's used to help out at the Boathouse, to hire a boat the gentleman would have to leave his hat as a deposit against the return of the boat, some of the young men would hire a boat taking along any old hat they could find and after they had had more than their fair share of fun would sink the boat in a backwater. Dad and his mates would be sent out late afternoon to try and find it, usually they had been tipped off where it was and would recover it and be rewarded on its return.

Leicester Aylstone Boat House


In its heyday it was a very popular spot for young people with not only the boats, but dancing, tea room and many other things to amuse them, including a Japanese garden. In one of the pictures two boys in swimming costume are talking to a tall gentleman in a suit, this I feel sure is Gordon himself, I remember Arthur telling me that a lot of the postcards of the Boathouse were at the instigation of Gordon Biggs, some have his name printed on them.

Boys Swimming at Leicester Lido

Dad was born in Aylestone and only left at the outbreak of war, his childhood centred around the village and the most popular spot was the canal. They used to jump into the canal off the humpback bridges, one a friend did it and surfaced with a broken bottle stuck on his knee, there were many hazards to contend with but with the aid of a grappling hook they could clear things like old prams and bikes.

Kings Lock Aylstone Leicester

As kids they could not afford the penny admission fee at the Aylestone baths, if they had a penny it would buy a bag of rocks (sweets). One of the more dangerous pastimes was to get a screw top bottle three quarters fill it with water and drop in a small piece of carbide, then quickly screw the top on and throw it in the canal where it would explode underwater.

A favourite place for them to swim was the Porridge Pot (see the map) where they would take great pleasure in splashing the people in the boats who didn't stand a chance of retaliating as the lads were as slippery as eels. Dad always spoke of his childhood in Aylestone in glowing terms, times were very hard, money short with mass unemployment but they had lots of fun.

The Porradge Pot Swimming at Aylstone


Just a small anecdote to finish with, Dads first job was in a factory in Jarrom Street, he bought a very dilapidated bike out of his wages to save on the tram fares, one miserable winters morning at 6.45 he was biking to work when his front wheel slipped into the tramline and off he went, knees bloody and badly shocked he picked up the remains of his bike and ran hell for leather the last half mile to work. Standing outside the main gate, pocket watch in hand, was the owner of the factory. He looked at his watch then at Dad and said "You are one minute late, if you are one minute late in the morning your sacked". At that time nearly 5 million men were out of work, so no room for even a glimmer of compassion.

 

I have included a couple of photographs of the Packhorse bridge, the small triangle of land on the left of the photograph was rented by uncle Arthur in the late 50's when he decided to keep pigs, we pollarded some willow trees at the kennels and made stakes to drive into the ground and run a barbed wire fence around the land, all the stakes we drove in on the canal side rooted and became small trees, the ones there in the modern photograph seem to be the result of our endeavours, the pigs escaped with amazing regularity and Arthur gave up after a couple of years. The land belonged to T Gordon Biggs I seem to remember. Arthur eventually bought a small holding near Dunton Basset, his pigs continued to escape. 

Aylstone Boat House Foreground Now Kennels


Thanks to Nigel Allsopp for his time and trouble in sharing his memories with us!


 

 

In a booklet recently discovered as part of an auction acquisition (thanks to Andrew W. King) the Aylestone Boathouse is described in sumptuous detail.

 

River Swimming

The booklets title:

Leisure hours amid delightful scenery and cooling waterways at Aylestone Boathouse

...sets the tone.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Looking at the area today, nature has certainly taken a hold. Some may see this as environmental reclamation, but most others as neglect. Take a look at what Leicester once had to offer with boating and swimming promoted shamelessly in Aylestone. If only we had celebrated our waterways throughout the 70s and onwards they may still have been in use today.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Do you know what it is like to feel so healthy - so full of life that your very finger tips pulse for the joy of it. With the ills of winter gone, and in their place glorious sunshine, delightful scenery, wonderfully cool waters, and the charm of out-door association. There are the multi-coloured toilettes upon the river, the uniform whites of the tennis lawns, the restful gardens with their fashionable patronage. The summer sunshine fills us with the zest of life; and yet it is hard to realise that such pleasures and such scenes can be obtained within such close proximity to our city  -  and yet all these are every day experiences at the Aylestone Boathouse.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Hours of Idling

...under the willow and aspen trees, slowly sunbathing despite the multi-coloured parasols. Sipping lemonade or having tea from the well-ordered Boathouse Cafe; this is just one simple way - and yet a delightful one - of spending our summer's leasure at the Aylestone Boathouse.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

The orchestra will play in the gardens on Thursdays and Saturdays, from 3-5p.m.
River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Boating.

Yes! that's a most fashionable and desirable thing to do. Everybody boats in the sunshine. Some row, other paddle - whiles others prefer to pole their way along, but whichever you choose - the river's the place for a summer's day.

Picnic baskets may be obtained from the Aylestone Boathouse Cafe.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Locks Ahead!

A new set of rollers make it possible for the Aylestone boater to pass by this lock and visit a new reach of water hitherto unknowns to him.

Always remember to ship oars and to remove rudder of rowing boat before passing over rollers (the rollers were removed during the second world war, melted down and used in the construction of tanks).
River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Kings Reach

...is the newly opened - up water way between King's Lock and Blue Bank Wood. This reach makes a fine rowing course, the opens up some delightful scenery. Upon approaching the wood many pretty picnic spots will be found on the right bank of the waterway.

Punts and canoes may enter the backwaters by means of skids from landing stage opposite Blue Bank Wood.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Mallards Retreat.

From the main stream we enter Mallard's Retreat. To the left will be found Blue Bank Reach, Ratby meadow, the Otter Range and also the grounds of the old historic church - St. John - and old Saxon remain. The scenery and atmosphere of the water course is so delightfully restful that it is difficult to realise the city is in such close proximity. A half-day upon these waters gives one a wonderful change.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

The Reaches

...of the backwaters and open pools at Aylestone are amongst the most beautiful water spots in the country, comparing in scenery and in volume of water to the fashionable reaches of Cherwell and the upper reaches or the Cam.

You start in the heat of a summer's day, but soon you are gliding along underneath a canopy of trees, negotiating bend after bend of delightfully cool waterway.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Mr Ray Newcombe of Aylestone said in the Leicester Mercury of June 27, 2011 that he had many fond memories of swimming in the back waters of the canal at both the Porridge Pot and Tattenham Corner. The Porridge Pot was deep enough for diving and Tattenham Corner better suited the less adventurous.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Pool of Nokomis

...If there is one thing better than an hour on the water at Aylestone, it is two or even three. You may then give way to that very English habit of tea drinking. Picnic spots are marked en route.

Just a reminder! Mowing fields are barred.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Lovers of Nature

...will be charmed with the varied vegetation to be found along the backwaters, and during the peaceful hours of the day, many uncommon species of birds, and otters may be seen.

The tours will be made much more interesting by following the sign posts erected, land by referring to the plan provided upon the centre page of this booklet.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Old Roman Pack Horse Bridge

...at the entrance to the backwaters is a part of the Old Roman Fosse Road. It is only possible to visit these waters in a punt of a canoe, as in some places the water is not wide enough to enable oars to be used. There is now plenty of water for the former however, as all the shallow places have been deepened.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Tennis and Camping.  

Why not the simple life amid delightful scenery. There are many excellent pitches for tents with every facility for swimming and boating in the early hours of the day.

Within 5 minutes of the Aylestone terminus.

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

River Swimming and boating Aylstone Leicester

Aylstone Boat House

No swimming in Leicester

Leicester's swimming history

Looking for a window cleaner in Leicester?