Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Rich Vein - and a Sad End

I am always pleased to hear from folk from around the world - none more so that those who I have been able to help wit their Beeston ancestors. This week I was pleased to hear from Trish Symonds from Australia who had extracted several pages of very interesting Beeston related stories from 19th century newspaper archives. I even discovered that my gt-gt-grandfather's brother - Thomas Hudston, then Beeston's postmaster - was killed on the railway crossing in May 1877.

But I was particularly struck by this poignant story from the Derby Mercury in March 1830 :

On the 26th ult., a coroner’s inquest was held at Codnor Park, in this county, on view of the body of Samuel Fletcher, late of Beeston, Nottinghamshire. The deceased had been begging in that neighbourhood for some days, and appeared unwell. On the day of his death he had applied to some miners there to let him lie down in one of their cabins, but was inhumanly refused. The poor fellow sat down near to a cabin door, and in two hours was found a corpse. Verdict – “Died by a Visitation of God”.

There is much in these extracts to explore and to develop into stories for this site and I certainly hope to do that - as always, keep visiting and watching for what's new about what's old !

End of an Era

The news that the Ericsson presence in Beeston will come to an end later this year is sad indeed. The origins of the factory in Beeston Rylands were built in 1901 by the National Telephone Company Ltd but were soon - in 1903 - taken over by British L M Ericsson Manufacturing Co Ltd. At the time this was a very significant development in the town, bringing the manufacture of a new technology of the age to replace the traditional textile industries - particularly lace and silk - which, even then, were past their peak.

And what a contribution to local prosperity - and the development of local skills - it made. Always a major employer, at its height in the years after the 2nd World War over 5000 were employed there. Anyone who lived in Beeston will remember the stream of bicycles and buses which passed through Beeston at the end of the working day - and at at mid-day when, as was then the custom, many of the workers went home for a midday meal. Nothing (except the railway crossing gates, before the road bridge was built) stopped them as they passed through the town.

For many too, it was the employer of choice when leaving school - in an era when engineering apprenticeships were sought after, forming a first-rate basis for a career. I well remember that, in the 1950s when I was leaving school, many considered a place in the Ericsson Drawing Office the perfect job. Now of course, the traditional draughtsman is no more. The old skills, prized by generations of local people and respected by their peers, are no longer learned.

These valuable skills were not just a basis for a job, they also often formed the basis of a hobby - many a model steam engine or radio set was constructed in a Beeston garden shed ! One group we heard of even got together and constructed the first television receiver in Beeston.

We hear that the workforce is down to about 300 - whatever the number, the loss of the jobs is particularly tragic for those involved as well as the town - and that perhaps half of these will be offered jobs in Coventry. Here, history is repeating itself when we recall that, in 1907, Beeston's economy was hit severely by the consolidation of Humber car manufacture to Coventry. Then, 3000 workers followed the jobs leaving empty properties and depressed conditions throughout Beeston. How much worse would it have been if Ericssons had not arrived and developed to help fill the gap. Lets hope that other opportunities arise now to use and develop local skills.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Mysterious Find

When Julie Batchelor, of St Barnabas Church in Chilwell, approached me to help identify a collection of family papers which had come to light, I was intrigued and keen to help. The papers - mostly books, family photographs and postcards - were found in a box in the rafters of the church - and there is no real explanation as to why they were put there.

After examining them in detail, it was reasonably straightforward to establish that they appear to have belonged to Harold Bernard Garratt who was probably born in Beeston on 1914 and died in Nottingham in 1992. His parents were Bernard and Flora (née Hayward) who lived at 5 Chapel Street, Beeston (this would have been one of a row of cottages associated with the old Methodist New Connexion Chapel, long gone - having been absorbed into The Square shopping centre in the late 1960s). Harold attended Church Street school and there was a series of class photographs which I was kindly permitted to scan for the schools page on this site.

Using the available clues and the easy availability of the 19th century census records, it is easy to track his ancestors - but that is not the main objective. Ideally, the wish is to offer the collection to his descendants. So - we have to tackle the more difficult task of tracking the family forwards.

What do we know so far ? Using the evidence from a rent book in the collection, we know that, by 1938, he had married and was living with his wife at Gloucester Avenue, Chilwell, just over the Beeston boundary. This gave us a relatively small search in the GRO indexes from about 1935 - when he would have been 20. In fact, the couple were wed in Basford Registration District (probably in Beeston, but not, according to my available records, at the Parish church). His wife was Hilda Comery (1915-1999). No births to the couple have been found up to 1940.

That's the progress to date. The search will continue using the records that are available to us - including electoral rolls and newspapers - but help from anyone who knows the family would be very welcome.

Look forward to hearing from you !