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The Sheet Stores are located to the east of the Erewash Canal about half a mile from Trent Lock, where the canal is crossed by the main Derby to London railway line. The origins of the site go back to 1840 when the Midland Counties Railway had just opened its first route from Nottingham to Derby. The railway bought the coke they used as locomotive fuel from the Erewash Valley coalfield, and so they built a canal basin where coke could be transferred from canal boats to railway wagons. As well as bringing in coke for their own use, the railway company also hoped to attract coal traffic from the Erewash coalfield to London. They negotiated a deal with the Canal Company, that coal for London transhipped onto the railway at the basin would attract the same discount on Erewash Canal tolls as coal carried all the way by canal.
As well as the basin, the Midland Counties Railway built a house for the manager, and a coke store equipped with hoisting apparatus to lift the coke from the canal to the railway sidings at a higher level. Dating from 1840, these are amongst the oldest buildings in Long Eaton, although both have been greatly altered over the years. The coke store can be recognised as the stone-built ground floor of one of the buildings between the railway and the canal basin.The coke store did not last very long in its original form for very long, as by the late 1840s the railways were being extended into the coalfield and the need to tranship fuel from the canal declined. From 1854, the site found a new use as the Midland Railway’s Sheet Stores. The “sheets” were tarpaulins to protect freight carried in open railway wagons, and the Sheet Stores was where they were manufactured and repaired. The original coke store building alongside the canal was converted, and during the course of the 19th century a series of increasingly large buildings were erected in distinctive Midland Railway red brick styles. The number of people working at the Sheet Stores grew from 30 in 1856 to 230 in 1903. Many of the workers lived in Sawley, and there was a footpath along the south side of the railway from the Tamworth Road bridge at Sawley Junction (the present Long Eaton station). From 1862 there was gas lighting on the site, supplied from the Midland Railway’s own gasworks at Trent station.
The standard wagon sheets were 21 feet long by 14 feet 4 inches wide. They were made by sewing together 5 breadths of canvas. During the sewing, strengthening tabs were inserted for the eyelet holes used to fastening the sheets down to wagon sides. The sewing took place in an 1865 building with distinctive hexagonal pattern cast iron windows, backing on the main railway line.The completed sheets were then taken to the dressing shop, which was the last major extension to the site in 1899. Here they passed through the dressing machine that applied the waterproofing “tarpaulin dress”, made from boiled linseed oil mixed with red, green or black colouring. The sheets were then hung up to dry on halyards. The dressing shop accommodated up to 2,500 sheets at a time, and from 1904 it was equipped with a warm air ventilating system. The final step in the process was numbering of each sheet, and marking it with the month and year of manufacture, and the month and year when it should be returned for re-dressing. An 18 inch gauge internal tramway was used to move materials around the site. A branch of this passed under the Derby-London railway in a subway, and connected to an additional sheet drying shed which was located in the triangle of land which the Midland Railway had acquired when building the Trent to Weston-on-Trent line in 1869. The rails can still be seen in the concrete floor which is all that remains of this building. As well as making and repairing wagon sheets, workers at the site repaired grain sacks and ropes. The work is illustrated in an excellent set of photographs taken by the LMS railway’s official photographer for an article in the staff magazine in 1925; these are now held in photographic collection of the National Railway Museum at York. The photographs show demarcation between the sexes; both worked at sewing machines, but the men were stitching tarpaulins whilst the women worked on grain sacks.
Alongside the Sheet Stores, the basin continued to be used as a railway/canal transhipment point. In 1872-3, a crane and a shed were provided for unloading gypsum brought from Thrumpton on the Trent by boat.
By the 1960s, the traditional railway goods train with open wagons sheeted over by tarpaulins had become a thing of the past. The Sheet Stores closed in 1963, and in 1966 British Rail sold the site for £15,250, to Longmoor Development Limited, a company set up by three local businessmen, Messrs Perks, Wilcox and Craggs. At that time, the site was surrounded by fields, and the only road access was down a rough track running along the canal from Tamworth Road. The new owners had to build an access road from the end of Wyvern Avenue before they were able to renovate and rent out the buildings. One of the first tenants was Plessey, based in Beeston, who needed extra space for building Strowger telephone exchanges.Since the Sheet Stores began its new life as an industrial estate, the surroundings have changed dramatically. The construction of Fields Farm Road opened up the area for development, and the fields are covered in houses. However the original buildings have survived well. The only major loss has been the building built for repair of grain sacks, most of which was destroyed by a fire in 1992, and replaced by a modern industrial unit. The buildings contain a typical mix of Long Eaton industries, from furniture and textiles to engineering and printing. They have survived the change of use remarkably well, and several retain their distinctive Midland Railway cast-iron window frames. The canal basin is now used by the Wyvern Marina and Long Eaton Boat Club. All photographs and information on this section by kind permission of Ian Mitchell.