Monday, December 14, 2009

Did everyone know this except me ?

Until it's attempts to resist the developers ran out, the pet shop on Station Road was a well-known and popular landmark on Beeston's Station Road. Now, Simon Rowley has got in touch to draw my attention to a claim on the Notts Fire & Rescue Service website that it once served as Beeston's first fire station - that's before it was replaced, in 1902, by another building at the top of Stoney Street (where Sainsburys now stands).

Its not easy to find on the Fire & Rescue site but click here to open the page in a new window.

It certainly looks likely! Take a look at my picture of Station Road (above) taken from the forecourt of the then fire station (now vacated and moved to Hassocks Lane). The pet shop building - along with almost everything else in the photograph - has now, of course, been demolished, but, then painted blue, it can be glimpsed between the Lads' Club and the Shaw & Marven building. It's probably a little further away than the 100 metres claimed but the location of the building, close to the centre and its size - it would have accommodated the then horse-drawn, hand-pumped engine (shown below later at the Stoney Street location) - makes it all very plausible.

Although I thought I had heard most of the tales of old Beeston and thought I knew pretty well "every brick", I had never heard that it had been used for this purpose. But, of course, the reality is there is always something to learn.

Can anyone confirm the story - perhaps, as I say, everyone can except me !

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Waterloo Man

Sharing the information that I have in my Beeston database with those who get in touch about their own families often brings unexpected rewards - and surprises.

When Mike Sheldon got in touch early last year, he already had the outline of his family sketched out and I was able to offer what I had, adding some detail and family connections that were new. The family lived in Beeston throughout the 19th century and, like many of that time, contributed to the way it worked then - as framework knitters, silk mill workers and lace makers.

When Mike got back to me the other day, his story showed why it is important to look at all branches of the family and all the associated detail - not just the bare facts of dates and places.

It was when he decided to take a look in detail at the burial details recorded for the family that one entry stood out. Alongside the entry for the burial in Arnold, Notts of Thomas Sheldon, Mike's Great, Great, Great Uncle, was the fascinating note, "Waterloo Man". Clearly, as now and following most wars, local communities were careful to honour and respect their fighting men.

Thomas had clearly broken away from the life in Beeston that was continued by most of his family and become a soldier and had seen the wider world. And, significantly, it meant that there was a good chance that the Army had kept a full record of his life.

Sure enough, at the National Archives at Kew, Mike discovered his discharge papers, dated 1840. They told him that Thomas had joined the Royal Horse Artillery in 1811, aged 16 years old, was a Driver and Gunner at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and had stayed in France for 3 years 6 months. Later he served in Ireland - which is probably where he met Margaret, his Irish wife - and then in England.

Afterwards, as the census had already indicated. he worked at the Royal Hospital at Woolwich as a Coachman to the Director General of the Hospital. Later listed as a Chelsea Pensioner, he moved back to Nottinghamshire and settled in Arnold where he died in 1875, aged 80. It was the record of his burial at St Marys Church, Arnold that provided the clue to the story of his life.

The lesson is clear - follow every detail as lives are not always as straightforward as they first appear.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Connecting Beeston with Shipley

Isn't it great that the Internet is linking together, not just people, but events from the past.

John Cooper is amongst my regular correspondents and we often swap snippets of information about his Beeston-related family and Beeston itself. This week he writes to point out a connection between Beeston and a fatal colliery explosion at Shipley in 1857 - and he was able to make that connection when reading a topic on my site.

The connection is based around Mary Cox - John's 3 x Grt-Grandmother - who was born in Beeston in 1814. She married Abraham Starbuck and moved to Cotmanhay, Derbyshire where they raised a family, with Abraham working as a miner in the Shipley collieries nearby. By 1857, their eldest son - also Abraham - was only 12 but was already working in the pit alongside his father. And it was there on 4th March 1857 that father and son, together with Abraham senior's brother John and two others were killed by an explosion while working underground; others died later of the injuries they sustained. Mary was left to try to bring up the family alone - with at least five of her children still under 10 - but, by 1861 it had proved too much. Then, she and her four youngest were in the Shardlow Union Workhouse - although, more happily, she was eventually able to establish herself as a laundress in Bramcote, living there until her death in 1892.

But the tragedy would have been felt personally in Beeston too. Hannah Starbuck, the sister of Abraham and therefore Mary's sister-in-law, had married John Oldham, a Beeston framework knitter. It was one of their sons, Robert Oldham, who became a Beeston local hero following his service in the Crimean War - see my account of his life here.

So - seemingly separate lives each playing their part in events long ago, then felt strongly within the family and local communities, now pieced together by the power of the Internet and the interest of their ancestors. They would probably have been both pleased and surprised !

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Home from Iraq

Many in Beeston and the surrounding communities turned out this morning, to welcome a local army unit - 170 (Infra SP) Engineer Group - which recently returned from Iraq.
The unit marched through Beeston, from Broadgate, down Regent Street, along Middle Street (the photographs above and below shows the parade as it passed the Manor House, led by a military band) and then onto Chilwell Road and round to the Borough Council Building on Foster Avenue, where medals were presented.

As they approached the War Memorial, a group of British Legion veterans stood in respect.

There was a good attendance lining the streets to greet them, particularly around the War Memorial :

And the crowd at the bottom of Foster Avenue was too large to get close:

It was an honour to join the citizens of Beeston and area to greet our returning heroes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Another era ended

On Tuesday I made a nostalgic journey - into Canning Circus and out towards Bulwell - no trolley bus this time, the gas works is no more, as is much of the industry along the route, now the tram weaves through Hyson Green and beyond and the Northern Baths, where I learned to swim, is now a church. I was visiting my old school, Henry Mellish, on its last day. After about 80 years, it was closing and merging with River Leen School to become Bulwell Academy on a new site.

The school opened in September 1929, providing secondary education to boys, originally from both the County and City but, during much of its time, for boys from the County - including Beeston - only. It set high academic and sporting standards from the start - producing a steady stream of boys to the major universities and to government, the professions, industry and commerce. Its change from grammar school to comprehensive was regretted by many - and welcomed by others - and there was an unfortunate period in which standards dropped to unacceptable levels, but latterly it responded to the needs of a changed world with a clear ethos for today's aspirations.

All I can say is, for me the grammar school experience worked and certainly changed by horizons. Present day criticisms centre on elitism but I had no awareness of social differences when I was there. I was one of three boys from a council house background, five in total (as well as the girls who, in the main, went on to Brincliffe and those who lived in Lenton Abbey, who went mainly to Mundella) who went on from Beeston Fields Junior School in 1950. In an era where even local travel was limited, I was more aware of the amazingly different - and interesting - accents that I encountered than any class divisions that might have existed but were never apparent. The school offered opportunities, admittedly for those that the 11+ had identified as academically able, but, for my part, it was an opportunity that would not have been possible in any other way

Of course, there had been many changes since my day - many of the class rooms were now full of rows of computer screens, the metalwork and woodwork rooms now serve as a drama school and the gymnasium is now a dance studio ! Again, changes for changing times. But, there were some traces of the past - the teak benches in the laboratory where Mr McCandless taught me physics - with some success, as it turned out - and where I played chess every lunchtime, were still there and the facade and entrance of the school - offering a style which we can now appreciate - is still largely intact.

The name of the school came from Henry Mellish (1856-1927 - shown left) who lived at Hodsock Priory where he farmed a large acreage. He was very interested in meteorology and set up a comprehensive weather station at his home and recorded observations for over 50 years. He was very active in the North Notts Territorial Association - its Chairman in the critical years leading up to the Great War - a Justice of the Peace and a member of Notts County Council from its start. It was to honour his work on the Education Committee - for many years as its Vice-Chairman and Chairman - that, following his death two years earlier, the school was given his name.

Now, almost 80 years later it was the turn of his cousin's son, Sir Andrew Buchanan, Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, to formally declare the school closed - and he brought along the original gold key that had been given to the family at the official opening in October 1929. The photograph on the right shows Sir Andrew (left), accompanied by Tony Bond, the present Head Teacher, showing the key to the many past pupils who attended. The key was then used to lock the front door, formally for the last time - and it still turned !

End of era certainly - but also the start of another. We wish the new Academy every success.

Click Here to see my photographic record of the day

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nurture, not Nature

Like many of my generation, I have always been keenly aware and appreciated the contribution made by Arthur Cossons. During over 35 years of teaching in Beeston, many of those who were at Church Street school had every reason to be grateful for his dedication - and, more specifically, many were inspired by his passion for local history.

On Saturday, it was my pleasure to attend a meeting of the Thoroton Society and to hear his son, Sir Neil Cossons, deliver the Maurice Barley Lecture entitled "A Nottinghamshire Historian: Arthur Cossons (1893-1963)" - a vivid account of the life of his father.

And what a life! Yes, we knew of his dedication but now we learned of the intensity in which he pursued it. His interests were broad - including geology, natural history, philately, railways - where is knowledge was particularly encyclopedic - and, of course, history, particularly local history. Any aspect of these or numerous other subjects he took an interest in were always pursued thoroughly and with zest.

As early as 1912 - before his service in the Royal Army Medical Corp during World War 1 and while working as a clothier's assistant in various locations in the south Midlands - he began to submit short articles to local papers describing walks and cycle rides. This continued after he trained as a teacher after the War and found work in Beeston. Throughout that time he wrote for local papers - at one time, even finding time to write a daily column for a Nottingham paper - and eventually contributed to series on the BBC.

His was a prolific writer and a regular speaker to groups and societies throughout the area. This included involvement in the Workers' Educational Association and this and his original research throughout the area - including his pioneer work on Nottinghamshire turnpikes, eventually extended to six further counties - brought him into contact and in lifelong collaboration with the influential academic trio, W. E Tate, J D Chambers and Maurice Barley, particularly in campaigning for the preservation of the county's heritage. But, notwithstanding the opportunities that this reputation and network of contacts brought - with the possibilities for a mainstream academic life that inevitably arose - he remained content with his headship in Beeston and the interests he had developed. Local history, rather that academic life, was his thing and he was the very opposite of a high-brow intellectual. He was indeed, a true "gentleman scholar".

Throughout his whole teaching career he campaigned tirelessly for the development of a school museum and loan service - he had himself gathered together an eclectic collection of historical artifacts which I vividly remember being shown by him, with characteristic patience and enthusiasm, when I was only about nine. It was somewhat ironic that the loan service became a reality, with his own collection as the basis, only months before his death in 1963.

Neil was accompanied to the meeting by his sister Hilda who had collaborated in the story of their father's life, based on the voluminous archive that he left. Together, they demonstrate a clear example of the power of "nurture" - Hilda's career was with Leicestershire Archives while Neil's well known career saw him holding the most senior positions in the museum and heritage fields. Here, surely, are examples of early life influencing their life's work - "nurture", it seems, was the dominant factor.

And, I venture to say, for all of us whose formative years were influenced by Arthur Cosson's life, there was an element of nurture. We have much to thank him for.