Wednesday, November 14, 2012

After Over 100 Years, Still Serving Beeston

The Blue Plaque Scheme has now been running in Beeston and other parts of the southern Browtowe District for over two years. Since the scheme got under way in August 2010 - when the first plaque to Thomas Barton, the bus pioneer, was unveiled - the group has already delivered sixteen plaques, with two more expected to be in place before this year is up.

This scheme - which marks places in the District which are associated with prominent people or events from the past with a blue plaque - is very worthwhile, as it reminds us all of these individuals and events and how they have helped shape the community.

Last Wednesday, 7th November, we gathered to inaugurate a plaque that has been fixed to the 'wavy-wall' that surrounds the Tesco car park on Station Road, Beeston. It is erected there to mark the position of Beeston Lads' Club which stood there from 1913 until it was displaced by redevelopment in 2007.  It also marks the outstanding contribution made by Stephen Hetley Pearson who re-founded the Boy's Brigade in Beeston in 1909 and, through his untiring efforts, made the building available for the training and development of generations of Beeston boys - and, later, Beeston girls.

After an introduction by Peter Robinson, Chairman of the Blue Plaques Scheme, the story of The Lad's Club and its founder was ably described in turn by John Green, for the Old Boys' Association and by Neville Bostock, a former Boys' Brigade officer and now a Beeston & District Local History Society Committee member.

Although a Boys' Brigade had been formed in Beeston before 1900, by 1909 it had largely faded out - such that Arthur Stephen Rogers, a hosiery manufacturer and its first Captain, encouraged his nephew, Stephen Hetley Pearson to take on the task of reforming the Brigade. This he did with his characteristic enthusiasm and efficiency and, after securing the use of a room in the Anglo Scotian Mills, it was an immediate success when over 120 boys enrolled on the first night - a number that had more than doubled by 1913, when it was realised that larger, more suitable premises were needed. An appeal was made to the people of Beeston to each contribute one shilling and, when a factory on Station Road became available. it was acquired, with substantial financial help from the Pearson family. This major achievement was celebrated by the company marching, led by its band, through all the streets of Beeston, from its old to its new headquarters (shown above, right).

Only a year after this move, in August 1914, Britain went to war with Germany.  By then, membership of the Beeston Company had reached 300 and there was a very high level of comradeship and patriotism amongst the membership and its Old Boys' Association. These Old Boys responded to the Country's call immediately - encouraged very actively by Stephen Hetley Pearson. In late August 1914, he led an initial contingent of 27 which marched from the club to a Recruitment Centre in Nottingham. More were to follow over the following four years of war. Sadly, 42 of these fine young men were among those who were never to return. By the end of 1917, this had included Stephen Hetley Pearson himself, killed while leading his men, as a Second Lieutenant with the Grenadier Guards, at the Battle of Cambrai.

His legacy was to live on in Beeston, where generations of lads - and eventually girls - were to regard the building on Station Road as a key element of their lives. There was something happening there seven evenings a week and, as well as the excellent programme of training, there are many who have happy memories of the Saturday social evening and the annual pantomime in particular.

The original premises, known as The Lads' Club,  were later enlarged and were to remain the headquarters of the Company until they were cleared as part of the Tesco development in 2007. This made possible,  a move to excellent, purpose-built premises on Nuart Road, where the Centre's excellent work with the young people of Beeston continues.

The Deputy Mayor, Councillor Iris White paid tribute to the contribution made by the Lads' Club, the Boys' Brigade and the Girls' Brigade to the development of  many generations of young people locally, a sentiment which was echoed by Linda Lally, on behalf of Tesco, who then invited the gathering to a small reception where memories and experiences of the Lads' Club were exchanged.

Shown left to right in the photograph are, Neville Bostock, John Green, Linda Lally, Deputy Mayor, Councillor Iris White and Peter Robinson.

Monday, September 24, 2012

40 Years Old and Counting ...

Last Wednesday evening we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the formation of Beeston & District Local History Society and it was a very happy and enjoyable occasion.

Yes, it really was 40 years since a small group of us met at the Manor House in Beeston to form a committee and discuss how we could get things off the ground. As it turned out, we had little need to worry as, within a year, membership had come close to a hundred and carried on climbing. Today, it remains a thriving and active society, one of the largest in the County, with regular meetings every month and a programme of outings to interesting places. Under the leadership of the present Chairman, Alan Clayton - who, has carried out that role for some 14 years - the Society has co-operated with other local history societies in the area and with the Beeston Civic Society, to erect blue plaques to mark local locations connected with prominent people from the past, as well in other joint ventures. The society has a growing collection of photographs and local artifacts which it uses for research and displays at local heritage and community events.

The guest speaker for the evening was Sir Neil Cossons who was born and raised in Beeston - and went to school at Church Street, where his father, Arthur Cossons, was Headteacher. His outstanding career included 13 years at Ironbridge Gorge Trust as its first Director, 14 years as Director of The Science Museum and for the six years up to his retirement in 2007, as Chairman of English Heritage. In retirement, the many calls on his experience and expertise keeps him busy but he maintains a keen interest in local initiatives around the country, has always kept in touch with his roots in Beeston and, three years ago, he agreed to become the Society's President.

The subject of his talk - memories of his early life in Beeston - was perfect for the occasion and it was delivered with an insight and in a witty style that perhaps surprised some but captivated and entertained everyone who heard it.   So much has changed in the last 60 years - and the rate of change has recently accelerated at, for some, an alarming rate and looking for the landmarks from the past can be a challenge. The site of the family home on Union Street is now part of Tesco's carpark, his father's school is now the site of a modern apartment development and the fields where he worked in first first summer job, as a 'tier-in' - following the 'budder' up the seemingly never-ending rows of rose plants on Lowes nursery, all for £3 18s a week - are now given up to residential use.  But the railway station survives - although it way it now operates is but a shadow of what it was in the 1950's when the young Neil worked there in holidays while in the 6th Form and to supplement his university grant. Nowadays it is just a passenger stop with a booking office, then at the station - and the surrounding rail workings - there was a payroll of 50 and - this was the big difference - a large traffic in parcels, in and out of the town.  Parcels, large and small, arrived from all the local businesses on their way to their customers and others arrived daily for distribution throughout the Beeston area and the railways own distinctive delivery trucks. For Neil, with an inside view of all this, it was an insight in what made business in Beeston tick. But, working at the station had its more bizarre side - with the rituals of painting the platform edge, lighting the gas-lighting, sweeping the platforms and keeping the fires stoked in the porters' room. It was a world away from the way his career was to develop - but there was much to learn about life at Beeston Station in that era! A most enjoyable talk!

The evening ended with the cutting of a cake, which members and guests sampled with a cup of tea or coffee, mingling, greeting old friends and recalling their memories of the forty years. It was an excellent evening, a worthy celebration by a society which has served the Beeston area well and will, no doubt, continue to do so.

If you wish to learn more about the Society and possibly become a member, you can find out more on its website here.