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Dobson Story

© David Hallam - 2006

Wrights 1905
Wrights Directory 1905

One Family, Two Worlds

Here we follow the fortunes of members of the Dobson family whose lives touched Beeston briefly before they left for a new life in America. Their story is based on research and memories provided by Diane Sullivan of California, daughter of Albert William Dobson (1896-1957) and has been developed using local knowledge and the wide range of resources that are now available.

Commercial BuildingsAlbert William Dobson - invariably "Bert" or "Bertie" to his family and friends in Beeston - only lived in the town for about six years but must certainly have earned the respect of his contemporaries. He and his sister Kate Mary were about 8 and 9 years of age respectively when the family moved to Beeston from Nottingham in 1904. Their parents had decided to try a new venture - a fancy stationery business - in what was then known as Post Office Square, in one of the shops, with living accommodation over, in the Commercial Buildings block, on the northern side of the Square, extending to the corner of Wollaton Road - shown here at about that time but still a feature today.

Wrights 1854Bert and Kate's father, Albert Augustus Frederick Dobson was the third of nine children born to William Ralph Dobson and his wife Mary (nee Turney). Starting in around 1850 with a craft apprenticeship as a joiner and cabinet maker, William developed his skills until, by the early 1880s, he was operating a successful business as a cabinet maker, upholsterer and furniture dealer from premises at 162-4 Alfreton Road. The Wrights Directory entry for 1854 is shown - the business had expanded to numbers 160-164 by 1885. Part of this success enabled him to finance a place for his eldest son, George William at the Nottingham High School, where in 1878 he won a medal for excellence in reading. By 1881, his three oldest sons, including George, Albert and their younger brother Joseph Foster Dobson were working in the business.

For a time the family business appears to have continued to prosper but, by the mid-1880s at least one member of the family had become restless when George, the eldest of the brothers, apparently seeking adventure and an escape from what he may have seen as the limits of their life and environment, set off across the Atlantic for a new life. He headed for Denver but died there in 1888 from typhoid. Then, in the following year, the family faced another severe blow with the death of William's wife Mary. Left with six adult children at their recently acquired new home at Waterloo Road and a business to run, life must have been a lot more difficult.

Members of the family began to marry and leave home and, in 1894, William himself married again - to Sarah Gibbons, daughter of a Nottingham tailor - and, by 1901 had retired from the furniture business leaving it to be run by his two eldest surviving sons, Joseph & Albert as partners. This arrangement did not last long. Joseph, Albert's younger brother and business partner had been the first of the brothers to marry - in 1891 - and, in 1903 left England on his own, leaving his wife and their three surviving children in Nottingham, bound for Denver, Colorado. The reason for this is unclear although it does appear that he had visited some two years earlier and, again, he did not expect to stay. Perhaps he wished to find out more about the circumstances of his brother's death - but over 13 years had passed since that loss so it seems more likely that he was looking at the opportunities for a new life for his family.

This then was the situation when Albert Augustus Dobson set up his stationery business in Beeston Square in the following year, leaving behind his involvement in the family furniture business and the partnership with his brother who, as we have seen, was probably looking further afield for his future. Albert had married, in 1894, to Kate Cockroft, a school teacher and daughter of Richard, a well-established Bradford worsted warehouse manager and Abigail, his wife. While it is unclear Walking to School why the couple chose this move into a new business in a new community, we can presume the couple had high hopes for success as they settled in and placed their two children into school, just a short walk down Church Street on the other side of the Square. The picture on the right shows the everyday scene - children on their way to Church Street schools have perhaps called at the sweet shop, a lad catches up with his reading, the Boar War Memorial is a relatively new feature of the Square and the bank and Commercial Buildings are prominent on the other side. In retrospect, at least, the venture does not appear to have had a high chance of success as the immediate area was already being served by five established stationery businesses. Perhaps a reason for their optimism had been triggered by a belief that Beeston was set for a upturn in industrial prosperity. The silk mill, a major contributor to employment throughout most of the 19th century had recently collapsed, but there were good indications that the town was responding well to the change. The lace making trade was still prospering and, perhaps even more encouraging, businesses based on new technologies were established or just arriving - Humber had started making cars alongside its established cycle works and, in 1901, British L M Ericsson Manufacturing Co Ltd had acquired the 20 acre site at Beeston Rylands previously developed by National Telephone Co Ltd for the manufacture of telephone equipment. Coincidently, Albert's brother-in-law, John William Ulyett, an electrical engineer who had married Albert's younger sister Mabel in 1900, had been appointed the works manager for this major new employer. And, for the moment, the resulting optimism was reflected elsewhere in Beeston - where the Methodists had recently completed a large new church on Chilwell Road, Anglo-Scotian Mills had been acquired and developed by the Pollard family and property in both sides of the High Road, previously owned by Watson the silk mill owner, was being converted to retail use.

Walking to School There had been earlier groups of the Boys Brigade in Beeston which met at the Anglo-Scotian Mills and perhaps elsewhere but the 17th Nottingham Company that we know today, was formed, in conjunction with the Beeston Lads' Club, in 1909 with S Hetley Pearson as its Captain. Its founding objectives - "The advancement of Christ's Kingdom among boys, and the promotion of habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect, and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness." - has proven to be a force for good in the community for nearly 100 years and generations of boys have benefited from its training. It may well be that Bert Dobson - then aged about 13 - had been a member in the earlier groupings but it was in the first year of the 17th that he really made his mark. In that year he gained at least two awards as well as awards based on his other activities in Beeston - including Sunday School attendance. Click the image to see the full range of these awards, which have survived as family heirlooms in America

By 1910, however, the family had decided that its future lay elsewhere. It is likely the business was not doing particularly well. The community had been hit by the sudden departure of Humbers to Coventry in 1908 - leaving empty houses all over the town. In the same year, the competition had increased substantially with the opening of a Boots store, in The Square, directly opposite the Dobson shop. Jessie Boot's chain of retail chemist shops was growing rapidly by this time, throughout Britain, from its Nottingham base. Since their marriage in 1886, Boot's wife Florence had taken an active part in this development and the range of products sold. It was her initiative that had added a range of books, stationery, fancy goods, artists' materials - and eventually a subscription library. Competition at this level may well have been the final blow for the Dobson business and, by 1910, they were looking for opportunities elsewhere. As we will see, it was to America that they turned for their future.

Click to read about the family's new life in America

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