Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blue Plaques for Beeston

It is very pleasing to see real progress with the local joint initiative by Beeston Civic Society, Beeston & District Local History Society and Stapleford & District Local History Society, to mark those who have historic links to the local area with a blue plaque. These plaques, already familiar in London and other major centres, link the person with the place with which they were associated very effectively and its good to see the idea being taken up in smaller towns - and in the wider Beeston area in particular. The first was placed in Chilwell earlier this year to commemorate the life of Thomas H Barton, the local bus pioneer and, in Stapleford, a plaque for Arthur Mee, the writer and journalist, has been unveiled - with more, we understand, in the pipeline.

On Saturday afternoon last, there was an excellent gathering to witness the latest placing, this one on Church Street Schools, Beeston - now, of course, converted to apartments - to commemorate the life of teacher and historian, Arthur Cossons and the exceptional contribution he made in Beeston over many years.

We all gathered at the Methodist Church hall, where Alan Clayton, the Chairman of Beeston & District Local History Society welcomed three generations of the Cossons family headed by Arthur Cosson's son, Sir Neil Cossons and his daughter, Hilda Stoddard. Peter Robinson, Chairman of the local blue plaque project, spoke of its objective of linking 'person with place' - and today it was the well deserved 'person', Arthur Cossons, and the 'place', therefore, undoubtedly Church Street Junior Boys' School. For Sir Neil it was a time to remember their father in the context of his own early life in Beeston and his time at his father's school and the family home on Union Street, now lost through redevelopment.

We had also gathered to witness the unveiling of an associated plaque to mark the remains of the Village Cross which had, until about 1860, it is said, stood in the area previously known as 'The Cross, where the War Memorial now stands, until it was taken down and used as part of a nearby wall. It was there, in 1929, that it was rediscovered by Arthur Cossons, who had it erected next to the school. During his lifetime, there is no doubt that he made sure that his pupils and the wider population of Beeston were aware of what it was but now, with memories fading, there was a need to add an explanation of what it was. Professor John Beckett set out the evidence to the audience. While there was no evidence that Beeston had held ancient rights to hold a market, the old name for Middle Street - Market Street - may point to its local use to mark a corn market and its proximity to the Church pointed to its use as a focus for processions at Harvest time.

We all then walked around to Church Street, with plenty of opportunity to compare our experiences of Arthur Cossons time at the school there. We readily agreed that there was no doubt that his enthusiasm and dedication to local history has had a lasting effect on local people and their continuing interest in their town's history.

The unveiling itself was performed by Sir Neil, assisted by Hilda, his sister (left) and the other members of the family. On his right are (left to right) Alan Clayton, Peter Robinson and Professor John Beckett. The plaque is fixed to the side of what was the caretaker's house at the school, as the building which housed the Boys' Junior School - of which Arthur Cossons was Headmaster - which stood to the rear of the site, adjacent to what was Church Lane - as distinct from the fully restored original Board School building on Church Street - was demolished as part of the redevelopment.

Everyone then moved around the corner where Margaret Cooper, a Beeston historian who taught in Beeston schools, was invited to unveil the plaque which now describes the 14th Century cross.

We all then returned to the Methodist hall for light refreshments, to view a small exhibition of the life of Arthur Cossons - and, of course, to continue to chat and swap memories between friends. An excellent occasion to mark one of Beeston's worthy 20th Century figures.