Friday, May 30, 2014

Commemorating 100 Years of Excellence

There will be many in Beeston who remember Swiss Mills only for the spectacular fire that destroyed it in 1984.  It is those kind of events that stick in the collective memory - but that's a pity because its often the real story that is then forgotten.

On Tuesday afternoon this week, the Southern Broxtowe Blue Plaques Group set out to put that right when their latest commemorative plaque was unveiled on the site. And, it is hoped, that it will remind us all of the true story of the site of Swiss Mills, on Wollaton Road, Beeston, Cross Street and Villa Street, where for upwards of 100 years, four generations of the Pollard family and their employees made fine lace.  The firm was a large part of what was a major industry in Beeston. While now we look in vain for signs of that industry, we should remember that, in its heyday,  a quarter of the working population of Beeston made its living in the lace trade.

The unveiling of the plaque, which can now be seen on 46 Wollaton Road, one of the modern office units which replaced the mill, was conducted by The Mayor of Broxtowe, Councillor Stan Heptinstall and Ernest Pollard representing three present-day generations of the Pollard family, many of whom were present.

The first of the four generations of lace makers was Thomas Pollard (1803-1880), who made a start in the trade, working wooden hand-operated machines in stables in Villa Street. He had established the basis of the business, but it was his son, John Pollard (1839-1903), who took the business to a new level, acquiring existing mill buildings and building more to form the complex that became Swiss Mills. The most prominent of the buildings was built in 1886, with John's initials carved high on the Wollaton Road frontage. After John's death the business continued to prosper under his son Arthur Pollard (1864-1952), widely recognised as one of the most gifted lace men of his time. In 1909, he purchased the nearby Anglo Scotian Mills which, like Swiss Mills, he used to house a mixture of his own machines and 'standings' rented to others. Arthur's son, John Pollard (1899-1997), also an expert and dedicated lace maker, joined his father in the business in a difficult era that saw two world wars and a declining demand for lace as fashions changed. It fell to him to oversee the final closure of the factory and the disposal of the machines and the site. He is remembered by many in Beeston for his friendly good humour and his in-depth knowledge of the lace trade.

This was a family enterprise that provided employment for many in Beeston's past and produced fine lace that was valued for its excellence. Surely an achievement worthy of recognition !

The Mayor and Ernest Pollard (centre), with members of the Pollard family at the unveiling. Click here for more pictures taken on the day.
You can read more about the family's century of lace making in 'Pollards of Beeston' by Ernest Pollard, reproduced here.