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.

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