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Memories of Union Street, High Road & Beyond - by Jack Martin

In December 2003, Jack Martin wrote, "When visiting my cousins some time ago ago we discussed family history and it was suggested that I should write down some of my reminiscences. I first thought of writing the memoirs as brief autobiography as recalling my progress through life would remind me of the kind of stories, and of the people in the stories, which prompted the suggestion. However, after a brief start, several years delay, and then encouragement from my cousin Geoffrey Drinkwater to continue, without willing it the project has increased in scope to include much more than originally intended about Beeston itself. At present, writing only of the early, between-the-wars, years I hope to continue with an account of my later life if time permits." Unfortunately, this was not to be as Jack passed away in May 2006.

Click to see the plan showing the places mentioned on this page

My father was Horace Martin; my mother, Helen or Nelly1, was the daughter of Harry and Eliza Parr. I was born on Good Friday, 25 March 1921, I have never been quite sure where, but assume that it was in the cottage of 30 Union Street, Beeston, where I lived until I was twelve years old. The cottage was demolished long ago and has been replaced by old people’s flats. It was one of two conjoined cottages forming an ’L’ shape. Each cottage had it’s own small garden, a brick paved yard was shared, on one side of the yard were the two coal-houses and two lavatories. We, that is my mother, father, and myself, shared the cottage with my maternal grandmother, Eliza Parr, who was originally the tenant of the property.

My Uncle Harold Martin was the eldest of the four brothers and had married before I was born2. He was an early radio enthusiast, I was fascinated by his wireless set, mounted in an old writing cabinet it had a row of several valves along the top and an impressive array of dials below. There was no loud-speaker, just Ericssons headphones. I was very frightened of the stuffed heron that stood in their fireplace. Harold had a great interest in history and archaeology, I used to accompany him and his friend Arthur Cossons, a local schoolmaster and historian, to help with the excavation of a Roman site at Barton-in-Fabis. We would cycle down to the river Trent at Attenborough and take the ferry to the Barton side, a 1d for each person and a 1d for each bicycle. The ferryman was summoned by a bell kept on the river bank. Farm buildings covered the site of the Roman villa at Barton, part of a tesselated pavement had been unearthed there many years before, the rest of it was believed to be under the stack-yard of the farm. The otherwise very co-operative farmer not unreasonably refused leave to dig in the stack-yard, but we did excavate the foundations of a small lime-kiln in an adjoining field. I would search in the field for terra-cotta and lime stone tesserae, oyster shells, and fragments of the imported, high quality, glazed terra-cotta Samian ware used throughout the Roman world. All were scattered by centuries of ploughing and were evidence of a long and prosperous Roman occupation of the site. On a few occasions we were accompanied by Dr. Hadrian Oswald who was at that time one of the great authorities on Roman Britain.

Harold Martin & Ralph NevilleUncle Harold was also a friend of Ralph Neville, the owner of Neville’s factory, and whose father had built it. Ralph Neville lived in a large house at the opposite end of Ireton Street to uncle Harold who once took me there to see the superb models of ships and engines which Ralph made, he also had some vintage cars and motor-cycles, he was a fine engineer. The house was, I believe, also accessed from Park Road, perhaps the principal entrance. This photograph shows Harold and Ralph with a Humber motor-cycle, in about 1910, probably in the garden of 56 Park Road, Chilwell.

Grandmother Martin or my mother often took me into Neville’s Factory, on High Road, Chilwell, to see my father; he and my uncle Harold both worked for my grandfather as twisthands. Harold had had some training as a designer before the war, but I think that, by then, there was little call for his knowledge. The factory was a rather grim building, two flights of wide stone stairs led up to the floor on which grandfather’s six Leivers machines were situated. The brick walls of the stairways were drably painted and poorly lit. The workshop was noisy and full of machinery, in addition to the six Leivers lace machines there were winding machines with banks of bobbins of cotton, and brass-bobbin winding machines. Stacks of the brass bobbins were pressed in a great screw press, I believe that they were steam heated first. As oil would permanently damage the lace, some parts of the machines were lubricated from a black-lead-filled sock, it was dirty work.

As a special treat I was often taken down to the engine house and the boiler room. The machinery throughout the whole factory was driven by the one splendid, carefully maintained, steam engine that I loved to see. The great boilers that supplied the steam for the engine also fed the factory’s radiators. As I found out later, when I worked in the factory myself - not in the lace trade - in cold weather the engine got priority. Phil, the boiler-man, was inclined to overlay in winter, I can remember the drums of coolant in the machine shop where I worked being frozen over on winter mornings; we worked in our out-door clothes until mid -morning, complaining bitterly about the cold until steam eventually came through the heating system. Neville’s Factory, having eventually been owned by the Myford Machine-tool Company, was demolished a few years ago.

The house in Collington Street was rather run down. The kitchen still had a stone sink; the cast iron pump on the end of it was no longer used but it survived in place for some time after mains water was laid on. The pump had been fed from a well in the back yard. There was also a built-in, coal-fired copper which was filled and heated on Mondays, the traditional wash day. A wash-tub and a large wooden ponch were essential accessories, use of the ponch must have considerably shortened the life of the laundry. There was also a great cast iron mangle, altogether a crowded kitchen. The back room, the dining room, the one in everyday use, was furnished with the furniture that had been bought for the much larger house, ‘Fairholme’. A splendid marble-topped sideboard occupied the length of one wall, it had mirror doors and was richly carved with fruit and leaves and had a high mirror back with more fruit and foliage round the frame. The back wall was almost fully occupied by a vast roll-topped desk, Grandfather’s home office, the bookcase above it was used for the display of the choicest ornaments, some toby-jugs, and memorabilia. Grandfather’s wooden armchair was beside the small side window and near to the fireplace/cooking range. Underneath the larger window in the wall opposite the bureau, was a horsehair sofa. I remember that uncle Reg usually had a nap on it when he came home from work, always with his head under a cushion. The horsehair of the sofa was badly worn and uncomfortable, especially to bare legs.

The front room, the parlour or drawing room, was used only on Sundays and for special occasions. It was well carpeted and furnished with a large, dark red velvet three-piece suite. A small table with a splendid aspidistra stood in the bay window. A very nice inverted-cone, inlaid topped, needlework table stood in the corner. It was filled with the family photographs that were later arranged by Harold Martin in the still-existing album. The photos were fetched out on wet Sunday evenings for amusement and reminiscences. I cannot remember other furniture but there was a nice fireplace and a mantel-shelf which bore the mahogany eight-day clock and a pair of blue porcelain lustres with cut-glass droppers. The lavatory and fuel store were part of the building but the back yard had to be crossed to access them. In the middle of the yard was the cover of the well that had supplied the water for the kitchen pump, the only water supply prior to the installation of mains water.

I also had some happy times with Uncle Reg, I loved to go out with him on the pillion of the motorcycles for which he had a passion. He had a new motor-bike every year for many years. While courting, there was need for more comfortable transport and he bought a three-wheeler, two-seater, pea-green Morgan, with the two cylinder engine on the front and the spare wheel at the back. I then got fewer trips out. Reg was a regular visitor to Union Street on Friday evenings when he would read my week’s supply of comics, ‘Chips’ and ‘Merry and Bright’ and others, bought from Harry Price’s paper shop on the High road opposite to the top of Union Street. Later, when we had moved to Dennis Avenue, he would come for a bath as for a long time there was no bath at Collington Street. I always looked forward with great pleasure to Reg’s Friday evening visits, they were the highlight of the weeks. He was keen on dancing, I remember him dressed for his outings to the Palais de Dance in Nottingham with patent leather dancing pumps and the extremely wide bell bottomed trousers which were fashionable in the nineteen twenties, quite the with-it young man of the time.

Union StUnion Street, where I lived with my parents and grandmother until I was twelve years old was a narrow street of old houses and cottages.(As can be seen from our picture from the early 1980s, just before much of it was demolished). At the top of the street was, still is, the ‘Malt Shovel’ pub with a largish open forecourt which provided a convenient playground. Near to it, on the same side of the street, was a non-conformist chapel (Just glimpsed on the left of our picture) approached by, what seemed to me then, an imposing flight of stone steps, they too were popular as a play area when the iron gates at the bottom were left open.

The cottage next door to ours was, in my early years, occupied by Mr.& Mrs.Peel, members of a large and then well-known Beeston family. Mr.Peel (George, I think) was employed by the Council to maintain the street lamps, gas lamps then. Many of the latest ones were time controlled by a clockwork mechanism, which Mr.Peel brought home to repair. I remember the lamplighter on his evening rounds in the district in which my Martin grandparents lived, he carried a long pole that both opened the window of the lantern and had a small flame at the top to light the gas jet.

The immediate neighbours up the street, that is, towards the High Road, were the Reddish‘s with whose daughter I used to play. There was an older son, Percy, who, I believe, eventually joined the police force.

The next house above the Reddish’s was the end-of-terrace house of Mrs. Eagle and her son Ernest. Mrs. Eagle was probably a widow; son Ernest seemed to be kept on a rather tight string, had piano lessons, and was discouraged from playing with the other local children. I believe that he died quite recently and was a member of the local Probus group. Down the street were Mr.& Mrs. Harrison and their daughter Dora who was older than I, but friendly, I used to visit them. I remember the Harrisons as friendly, respectable people with a nice house who were obviously more prosperous than we were. Rand, the father, made furniture, whether as a hobby only or whether it was his work I do not know.

Next down the street was a pleasant little cottage, which, I remember, was occupied by two elderly ladies. Then came the large house at first occupied by the Jacques family, Mr. Jacques was a painter and decorator with a shop on the High Road. There were two sons of about my age: Owen, the eldest, I played with and he was often in my home. He was a dark skinned, handsome, little boy of whom I was very fond. This house was later the home of Arthur Cossons, the schoolmaster and local historian, who was a great friend of my Uncle Harold Martin. I remember the son, now Sir Neil Cossons, who has had a distinguished career as the director of several of the great national museums. The high garden wall of that house extended down the street as far as the last house, Garfield Cottage, occupied by the Yeomans family. There was a boy, George, rather older than I who I never knew well. They were a very reserved and respectable family, a boy named Jellicoe stayed with them for long periods, perhaps during boarding school holidays, who was reputedly a relative of Admiral Jellicoe. The house was a charming little building, the garden enclosed by a high wall. It still stands3, rather spoilt by a builders premises taking part of the garden.

On the other side of the street the only places I remember south of the chapel I mentioned previously were, proceeding southwards, a small house in a long garden, and then Sammy Sisson’s house. As I remember it the Sissons house was a badly run-down one that had once been very attractive, possibly of the Regency period. Sammy was something of a recluse. The largish front garden was enclosed by pen wire and used as a hen run. I believe there was, or had been, some stabling as I remember my grandmother Parr telling me that my grandfather had kept a pony and trap there. That must have been in his pre-America days4 of prosperity as a twist-hand. In the great days of the Nottingham lace trade the twisthands were very prosperous, my grandmother told me that they would often go to work smartly dressed with top-hats or bowlers and in a Hansom cab.

Union St FactoryNext down the street was a very large house, which in my pre-school days was occupied by the Hayter family who seemed to be rather more comfortably off than most of the rest of Union Street. They had a boy named William. Billy was a playmate of mine and I envied the fact that he went frequently to Aberdovey in Wales for holidays. He always referred to Aberdovey possessively as ‘My Aberdovey’, obviously loving the place. They left, and I heard no more of them. Then the house was occupied by the Keller family. The old Kellers were Swiss immigrants, who, I assume, had taken the house because of the large workshop at the rear. The workshop (Shown left just before its demolition c1980) was also accessible from Willoughby Street, in fact its principal entrance. I seem to remember some stabling attached. The house and workshop had probably been built in late Victorian or Edwardian times by a business man wanting his home and business premises together, as did the Kellers, for they had embroidery machines in the workshop and produced blazer badges and other similar small embroidery items. There were two daughters and three or four sons; Frank, possibly the eldest son, ran the business; George, the second eldest, was in the building trade and friendly with my uncle Reg. Roy, the youngest of the family, was my best friend and I spent a lot of time with him in the very large garden belonging to the house. There was also a very large conservatory, which we played in on wet days.

Mr. Keller was a competent gardener who grew much of the family’s vegetables. He was a small, stooped, little man, who probably looked much older than his real age. He was unapproachable, and, while not exactly feared by his family, was clearly the master of the house and the business. His English was negligible. Mrs. Keller was a large, kindly, woman, perhaps rather inhibited by her husband. Roy and I played in the garden, which had fruit trees including an immense pear tree. Mr. Keller grew a vegetable we peeled and ate raw, possibly a kind of artichoke, Roy called them ‘donies’, they were sweet and fruit-like, eleven-year-olds will eat almost anything. When we moved to Dennis Avenue to live, I lost touch with Roy. He was just a little older than I, handsome of face and with a superb physique. In the 1939-45 war he was called into the Royal Air Force and was killed, I believe in an air accident, while serving in Canada. What a waste!

The long high brick wall of the Keller’s garden extended as far as a few small houses and cottages towards the bottom of the street. First, a small house at the top of a fairly long garden, and then two semi-detached houses, in the first of which lived old Mrs. Shrewsbury and her grandchildren, Jack and Edna. Mrs. Shrewsbury, who was extremely poor, was the guardian of her two grandchildren; what had happened to their parents I never knew but early death through tuberculosis and other diseases, which are now curable was commonplace. Edna, who was older than I, liked to act as ‘nanny’ to me and would take me in my push-chair to see the trains at the level crossing on Station Road, real trains with fire, smoke, and smell. I was fascinated by them. The house was barely furnished: a deal topped, well-scrubbed, table, wooden chairs, a worn rag rug on the tiled floor, an alarm clock on the mantelpiece turned on its side as it would not work in the normal position. What the source of income was I do not know, but it must have been barely enough to keep them alive. I do not know what benefits were available to the poor in those days but there must have been something, Parish Relief perhaps. (When my Grandmother Parr took a house in Stoney Street - about where Sainsbury’s main door is now - her only income, the Old Age Pension, was ten shillings (50p) per week). Mrs. Shrewsbury was hardly more than five feet tall and dressed in clothes that belonged to the Victorian era. They were all black and ankle length; she wore a bonnet decorated with black beads and a costume that had perhaps been her widow’s weeds that she may never have been able to afford to replace. She obviously took her responsibilities to her grand-children very seriously, informed by the morality of a long-past era; if Jack and Edna were out beyond the curfew she imposed (probably not later than 8 p.m.), she would put on the beaded bonnet and go in search of them. When they were found she would drive them home before her shouting, "I’ll kick a railroad through you", to their backs. I never heard that expression except from Mrs. Shrewsbury. Their next-door neighbours in the pair of semi-detached were the Kilburns; the small boy in the household, with whom I used to play, was known as Reggie Shepherd, his exact relationship to the family I never knew.

Now back to the top of Union Street. Opposite the Malt Shovel were high, double, gates, wide enough to admit a horse and cart. What the premises behind the gates were used for I never knew, or whether anyone lived there; occasionally a small monkey would appear on the gate top and chatter at passers-by. Next down the street was the Miller’s house. Mr. Miller was a hopeless but harmless character, Mrs. Miller probably carried the family. A boy of about my age, Harold Miller, (Adge), was a great friend of mine, he had a slightly older sister, Muriel, (our Mudge). They seemed to be very poor and the house was ill kept. I remember Adge once offering me some toffee; he was very proud of it because his mother had made it. Unfortunately it had been made in a tin in which onions had been cooked - it was the only onion-flavoured toffee I ever had. I believe that Harold was later a member of the local fire brigade.

Union St TerraceBelow the Miller’s house was a row, a terrace, of small houses that ran at right angles (transversely) to the street (Shown right just before their demolition in about 1980). Access to them was by a common yard or passage running across the backs of the houses. In front of the houses, running parallel to the street were the gardens. When I was, I would think, six or seven years old, I sometimes visited an elderly Mr.Lowe who lived in the terrace. The attraction was that he bred white mice and there I had my first instruction in sex. I remember asking him how he knew which of the mice were male and which female. "The stones", was the answer demonstrated on one of the mice. Joey Middleton, a boy of about my age, also lived in this terrace. After the gardens of those houses was a terrace of, I think, four houses, that ended with the Eagle’s house: Violet Bunn lived in the first.

I have not been able to remember every house in the street but I think that I have remembered most, perhaps all, of them. In writing the above I have become aware of the variety of people living in one small street in those days; a school master, business people, the very poor, lower middle class respectable folk, and some not quite so respectable. This reflected the variety of types and size of houses in the street. They were not built all at the same time, at a similar price, to attract and house similar kinds of people with similar means. They had developed, probably over a century and more, as land became available and individuals were prepared to build; unlike the present tendency to build estates of similar houses to provide homes for similar types of people.

A Note on the Street Itself:

Union Street, then a very narrow street for its whole length, is one of several, near-parallel, streets and ways linking the present High Road and Middle Street which was the old main street of the town. Some of the older houses and cottages are at the bottom, the Middle Street end, of the street, which makes me wonder if development began northwards from Middle Street. The house occupied by the Yeomans faced towards Middle Street; two small houses/cottages on the opposite corner were also old as I remember them. The small house immediately after the Kellers garden was one of the oldest houses in the street. Some of the houses were the result of what we now call in-filling, the two Victorian semi-detached houses occupied by the Shrewsburys and Kilbourns had been built between the older house immediately south of the Kellers long garden and the two old cottages at the bottom of the street. The older house could well have been the dwelling house for a small-holding the land of which may have extended over the land occupied by the two semi's and, perhaps, back to what is now Willoughby Sreet. The older, Sisson's, house further up the street, similarly, may have owned and used land occupied by the Hayter/Keller house and probably had land extending back to Willoughby Street, the Hayter/Keller house next door still did.

A hundred-and-fifty or more years ago Union Street was probably only a lane. The Sissons house was possibly the last building from Middle Street on the East side of Union Street. The Miller’s cottage may have been the last at the top on the West side. I can not remember any buildings earlier than late nineteenth century ones on Willoughby Street, which is the next street linking the High Road and Middle Street to the east of Union St. Several of the older houses possibly had land extending back to where Willoughby Street is now. The surviving, pre-Victorian, buildings of Beeston are nearly all west of Willoughby Street and south of the High Road.

A Note on the Cottage, 30 Union Street:

The cottage had four rooms only, downstairs a living room and kitchen; upstairs two bedrooms, my grandmother slept in the small one and I shared the larger one with my parents. That arrangement lasted until we moved to Dennis Avenue in 1932 or 1933. The only outer door opened from the sitting room on to a narrow brick yard or wide path. The sitting room floor was of red tiles laid on the earth, there was no damp course and rising damp was a continuous problem. The kitchen floor was stone flagged and uneven, the sink was shallow stone, there was a cold water tap only. The stairs led off the kitchen, the pantry was beneath them.

There was no electricity, the rooms were lit by gas. Cooking was done either on a gas cooker in the kitchen or, more often, in the side oven of the living room fireplace. On the other side of the fireplace was a boiler, the only source of hot water in the cottage apart from a kettle and pans on the gas cooker. A trivet could be swung over the fire to boil a kettle or pan. The loose shelf of the oven was wrapped in a piece of old blanket and used as a bed-warmer in the winter. When more than one bed-warmer was needed bricks were put in the oven to heat well before bedtime. Grandmother Parr was an excellent cook and made good use of the oven for stews, cakes and bread, I particularly remember her rabbit pies. Bread was also delivered to the cottage as well as being home-baked. Milk came to the door in a large white-metal container with polished brass fittings; pint, half-pint, and quarter-pint measures with large, hooked, handles hung inside the milk bucket which must have held at least a gallon-and-a-half. No one considered it unhygienic: I remember the container and measures looking clean and polished. Bottled milk was obtainable from the Purity Milk Company on Chapel Street, supplied in bottles with a white pot cap and red rubber sealing washer. A wire clamping devise enabled the bottles to be re-sealed. There was a deposit of 1d paid on the bottle. The milk had a distinctive taste.

The garden was small but pleasant, screened from the street by an old red brick wall about five feet high and separated from the shared yard by a lower wall. There was an orange-blossom tree, white with blossom in the Summer, wonderfully scented and full of bees. My father made fish-ponds in the garden, one of his few interests.


After the Peels left the adjoining, next-door, cottage was occupied by Charlie Alcock and his wife Mary. Charlie had been until then the landlord of the Malt Shovel, the pub up the street. I think that age and ill-health had forced his retirement. He was a sick man, immensely fat and florid, he had a large multiple nose pitted with open pores. The Alcocks did not seem to be particularly comfortably off. Perhaps the pub had not paid too well, or Charlie had taken much of the profit in liquid form. They kept rather to themselves, but Mary had a sister who visited; Mary was deaf and her sister shouted to make her hear. When the windows were open in the Summer their conversation was very audible, I remember the sister telling Mary of a visit to a travelling theatre on the Wakes Ground which is now occupied by the Roundhill Primary School and playing field. The play was a melodrama, the sister’s story ran, "A chap came on to the stage and sat on a milestone and said ‘I’m tired, and I’m cold, and I’m hungry.’, then somebody in the audience threw something onto the stage in front of him and shouted ‘Eat that bugger then.’, and do you know what it was, Mary, a bloody great jam pasty". Audience participation!

Beeston High Road in the 1920’s and 30’s:

The High Road was the through road and the main shopping area. It was a quieter road then, there was very little motor traffic and still many horse-drawn vehicles, with little care children could safely play in the road, especially after the shops had closed for the day when the town virtually died. There were fewer shops then than now; between Union Street and Acacia Walk there were only three or four. From those shops to the top of Acacia Walk there was only a neat row of white-painted railings fencing a large green field in which ponies grazed. The field extended down Acacia Walk to the large house which is now the Conservative Club5, then the Adult School, to which the field belonged.

StegglesStarting from the top of Union St. and turning East along the High Road the first shop was Clifford’s, the pork butchers. The dwelling house attached to the shop was the corner building. Next door was Applebees the electricians, as there was no electricity in our cottage I had to take the accumulators for our two-valve wireless set to Applebees6 to be charged, we bought the high-tension and bias batteries from there too. At the next corner, that is the corner of Willougby Street, was Steggles’s the bakers (Sidney, the son of the family, was in my class at school). Their daily deliveries were made in a small horse drawn van, very nicely painted with their name and products, a very neat little turn-out. I cannot remember the shops and houses on the South side of the road after Willoughby Street except for a butchers shop beyond the City Road. This remains in my memory because of a display of live ducklings in the shop window. They covered the white-tiled window bottom, their legs were tied and they were quacking piteously. This display attracted a crowd of children, at intervals the butcher came out and drove them away, he was obviously frightened and ashamed. There is still a butcher’s shop in that vicinity, probably on the same site.

The first of the shops West from Union Street was the corner one, Popplewell’s the butchers, which is still a butcher’s shop. The next was Daykin’s hardware, well stocked with galvanised iron buckets and enamel bowls, jugs, tea-pots and kettles. Daykin’s later took over the third shop, originally a greengrocers if I remember correctly, and then came the confectioners, Turner’s.

Turner’s shop, the last before the fence and field, was an older building than the previous ones in the row, a small, neat building, possibly an early nineteenth century dwelling house converted to a shop. The Turners were an elderly couple, or so they seemed to me as a child, rather genteel and proper and perfectly suited to their trade and the building. Mr.Turner was always very formally stiff-collared and neat, Mrs. Turner was also rather proper and formal, I particularly remember that she invariably wore a black velvet band around her neck, an Edwardian fashion. In the dim, gas-lit, shop there seemed to be a disconcerting separation between her head and her body. I often bought sweets from the shop on my way along the High Road to Church Street Junior School. Then came the semi-rural, railed, field as far as Acacia Walk.

High RoadOn the north-west corner of Acacia Walk was Blower’s, the haberdashers. Mr. Blower, the proprietor, was every inch a haberdasher. He diversified a little into other goods that might attract the lady customers. He lived in one of the pair of fairly large Victorian semi’s directly opposite to my grand-parent’s house on Collington Street. The next shop to Blowers along the High Road was the bakers and pastry-cooks, Glover’s, a rather classy establishment with excellent products, staffed by two rather superior young ladies who condescended to put down their needle-work to serve customers. I once nearly swallowed a needle which had found its way into one of their otherwise excellent cream sponge sandwiches. Then came Paling’s, later Eite’s toy shop which presented me with great temptations. The untidy window was crammed with toys and games, some as cheap as 1d. My earliest interest in photography was the result of buying from Paling’s a small cardboard printing frame with day-light sensitized paper, with it the negative silhouettes of leaves could be made and the print fixed in salt solution. After Paling’s was a yard, Mill Yard, that still exists although there are now no dwelling houses there.

(The photograph shown here, though from the later 1930s, is still so evocative of a gentler, pre-traffic era on Beeston High Road. It shows Blowers shop on the corner of Acacia Walk with Glovers next door. Woolworths has now appeared beyond that and the field on the other corner of Acacia Walk has been built on. Opposite can be seen the wall in front of the Conservative Club. What was the Silk Mill towers in the background.)

There is little point in detailing all of the shops along the High Road, from Mill Yard there was a busy stretch, a shoe shop and a butchers I remember and then at the corner of Station Road was Meakins the drapers, later Victor Oades and now mobile phones and a coffee shop. Then came The Square.

The Square:

The SquareThe High Road, Station Road and Wollaton Road, together with the Square formed a cross-roads and a natural town centre. The Square, now somewhat enlarged and pedestrianised, was a square in name only, it was really a wider length of the road, the turnpike road, through the town between the High Road to the East and Chilwell Road to the West. The width of the Square was the result of both Chilwell Road and Church Street entering the Square at its Western end, they formed the almost hair-pin bend in which the old town hall had been built on the site of the old pound or pin-fold. The Old Town Hall was an undistinguished, red brick building several storeys high, the awkward shape of the site determined its near-triangular plan. It dominated the Square.

BootsOn an island in front of the town hall stood the Boer War Memorial surmounted by the badly sculpted figure of Hope. In 1934 the memorial was removed and re-sited in front of the Broadgate Recreation Ground along the High Road, where it still stands7; the Council of the day had, apparently, been unwilling to abandon Hope completely. Today, it seems incredible that the memorial was moved to ease traffic congestion in the Square. Boot’s the Chemists shop on the South side of the Square was the only building to better the awful example set by the town hall. The shop front was in a pleasant, half-timbered, style (shown here, right8). It is a pity that it was not saved. All of the shops and buildings on the South side of the Square were demolished when the Square was pedestrianised. The whole character of the Square suffered by the closure of the top of Church Street.

Post OfficeThe old Post Office, a stone built, single storey, building of no architectural interest(Shown left, to the left of the path and the bank building, with the memorial in the foreground) was on the East corner of Foster Avenue where the Lloyds TSB bank is now. The Post Office and the long brick wall of its yard occupied a considerable length of the North side of the Square. The rest of the North side was a row of shops, among them a butcher’s, a fishmonger’s, Josiah Brown’s the tobacconists, and a chemist’s. Those shops on the north side that were demolished were similar to those on the Wollaton Road end, which have survived from the nineteen-twenties until today. They are late nineteenth or early twentieth century buildings, two storeys high, with attic rooms in the roofs. The floors above the shops would have been the living quarters of the shop owners and the front rooms of the first floors the family parlours. Those rooms have large bay-windows commanding interesting views of the comings and goings in the Square.

In the south-west corner of the Square by the end of Chapel Street, a row of about four shops was set back from the line of the other buildings on the south side. Those buildings were smaller and almost certainly rather older, and less severe in appearance, than the later Victorian and Edwardian developments which determined the character of the Square. In front of the shops, raised several inches higher than the pavement, was a forecourt or terrace of blue bricks with a substantial stone kerb. There was a similar arrangement in front of the short row of shops on Church Street on the other side of the end of Chapel Street. The two developments were almost certainly contemporaneous, it seems possible that at the time of construction they were the only buildings in the area we now call the Square. The raised forecourts may have been an indication that when they were built the Square and Church Street were not paved or metalled and the raised terrace may have been a necessity. When I was ten years old, in 1931, I remember standing with my mates and watching flood-water rise slowly from the drains and spread to cover the Square. Later, flood banks along the river prevented such extreme flooding.

Middle Street

Wood StreetI attended Church Street Junior Boys School. From Union Street I could walk to school along the High Road or along Middle Street, the old main street of the town. While I lived in Union Street the stretch of Middle Street from the City to Station Road was a pleasant one, the City Road end was mainly a late 19th, early 20th century development. On the north side, between Acacia Walk and Station Road, there were older cottages with pleasant well-kept gardens, perhaps the earliest expansion of the old town across Station Road. Wood Street, the top of which was opposite to the bottom of Acacia Walk, was the only connection between Middle Street and Nether Street in their considerable length. It was a pleasant little street, as I remember it, there were houses on the Western side only. In one of the long gardens a large shed acted as a shop, it sold sweets to the children on their way to the Nether Street schools, and the oddments usually stocked by the small domestic businesses such as the front-room conversions found throughout the town. The street was closed several years ago (pictured here before its closure). On Nether Street, opposite to the bottom of Wood Street, was a terrace of small, very old, thatched cottages with long front gardens.

The stables of Ginever’s the undertakers, quite a large establishment with an arch entrance to the stable yard, was then on the South side of Middle Street, between Union Street and Wood Street. Mr. Ginever was a well-known character in the town, never seen without a floppy tweed hat except when attending a funeral. When the town was flooded he would take out one of his horses and carts and ferry the stranded. Middle Street then carried very little traffic, there was a causeway on the north side only for the whole of its length.

Middle Street The continuation of Middle Street on the east side of Wollaton Road was the oldest and poorest part of the street. Near the corner on the south side is the Star Inn with its large carriage arch. It is really a very old building although its exterior is altered and it has a later extension. William Street, on the south side of Middle Street, was probably the very poorest part of the town in the 20’s and 30’s, a virtual slum. From the north side two narrow thoroughfares connected Middle Street with Church Street, first Chapel Street, already mentioned in connection with the Square, and then Church Lane (Seen on the left of the picture of Middle Street, taken c1965). Between the Middle Street ends of the two thoroughfares most of the buildings, probably all, were without gardens or forecourts. One of the houses had been converted into a small shop with stone steps up to the front door, selling the usual sweets and oddments. It was a depressed and depressing area. Lying horizontally in the bottom of a dangerously leaning old brick wall at the end of Church Lane was a tapering length of stone. The wall partly enclosed a large, dirty, yard entered by an opening, I cannot remember a gate, on Middle Street. Arthur Cossons, while the headmaster of Church Street Junior Boys School, which was then entered from Church Lane, recognised the stone as the shaft of an old cross. He was able to have it removed and re-sited in front of the schools on Church Street where it remains. I had seen the stone in the decaying wall many times on my way to school, the wall was only a hundred yards or so from The Cross, which may have been the site of the market in the old village. Arthur Cossons thought that the stone had been the shaft of a market cross which may have occupied the position of the present war memorial. Church Lane was closed several years ago and access to the school building, no longer a school, is now from Church Street.

West of Church Lane the character of Middle Street lightened, on the south side there was, and still is, the wall of the Manor House garden and the gable end of the 17th century Manor House itself. On the north side was a stone built house, demolished I suppose, when Church Lane was closed. Then, in the corner of Church Street, a neat old house with a splendid tree (Both in full view in our picture) and small garden still survives, it is now known as Manor Lodge although any connection with the Manor House is uncertain.

The extension of Middle Street to Chilwell Road at the bottom of Devonshire Avenue is a post Second-World-War development. Previously the only direct connection from Middle Street at its Western end to the through road, the turnpike, was Church Street. Church Street, Dovecote Lane, Middle Street, and West End formed a crossroads, ‘The Cross’, in the centre of which the War Memorial stands. West End was, in effect, a continuation of Middle Street,. It had, has, some of the, oldest, largest, and finest old houses in Beeston. It was virtually a cul-de-sac, the only exit to the west was Hall Croft, a fenced footpath leading to Chilwell Road, the turnpike road. I have always found it difficult to understand why Middle Street, the old main street through the town, and its continuation West End, finished so abruptly with none but pedestrian access for return to the turnpike road, I find it illogical. Did a wider track exist at sometime in the past?

The Robinets and the River:

MitchellsHowever, West End was not a dead-end so far as I was concerned when a boy, as after turning to the left down a short, tree shaded, lane there was a wide gate and stile giving access to the Robinets, fields which me and my mates called the Robin-Hoods, a much more romantic and evocative name. Through the gate the Robinets was a popular playground for children, the dyke or narrow stream, which ran through the field, was the principal attraction. In the stream were sticklebacks, three and five spined and some red-breasted, there were frogs and tadpoles, toads and newts. The usual equipment for the popular fishing expeditions to the Robinets was a small net on the end of a bamboo cane, probably bought from Paling’s toyshop on the High Road, and a two-pound jam-jar with an improvised string handle for the catch. To avoid starvation on the expeditions jam sandwiches and a bottle of water or cold tea were essential; or, on the way a bottle of her home-made dandelion-and-burdock would be bought from an elderly woman who lived in one of the cottages of a rough old yard, long ago demolished, just above the Crown Inn on Church Street. Growing in the rather unkempt field was a variety of wild flowers; buttercups, daisies, celandines, and cowslips and a grass that my father called dithering-quaker, nettles and thistles too. On the far side of the field a stile marked the route of the footpath through fields down to the river.

Sometimes I would go with my father to the river, to the small beach below the weir, to fish for the minnows he called struts that he fed to the perch in his ponds at Union Street. Always in the shallows on the other side of the river, the Clifton side, was a congregation of herons, also fishing; and still an occasional salmon would leap the weir. It was always summer and it never rained in the Robinets or by the river, or so it seems in memories seventy years and more later. Above the weir there were boats for hire and the south bank of the river was lined with house-boats. There was a boat-shed and a small wooden tea-room which opened in the Summer; Mitchell’s Steamer (Shown right, taking on passengers at the tea rooms; in the background are the lockhouses and the top of the weir), which gave trips up the river to Barton, was a popular attraction. On a fine Sunday afternoon one could meet many of one’s relations, friends, and acquaintances on the river-bank, taking the air in their Sunday-best.

The by-pass road has cut across the footpath, the Robinets are tarmac and brick, the name ‘Robinets’ is preserved by a street name, Robinet Road. The river is still a pleasant escape, in some ways improved. It should now be very carefully conserved, I hope that it will be.


The population of Beeston in the 1920s was about 30,0009, that seemed to be the accepted figure at the time; I have not had the opportunity to confirm it from records but I think it near enough. There was a deep economic recession and high unemployment in the 20s and early 30s. The disastrous economic and social effects of the First World War were only slowly overcome. Few, very few, people then had private cars, the public transport system was adequate, but for many people too expensive for other than essential use. Most of Beeston people’s shopping was done in Beeston itself; for less usual items of shopping there would be a trip into Nottingham, most probably on a Saturday afternoon when the whole family would be free, Saturday morning was part of the normal working week. The laws of supply and demand ensured that the local shops were adequate for the Town’s every-day needs, and a little more. The principal shopping area was the High Road and Post-Office Square. There were a few scattered shops on the Wollaton and Station Roads and a few further down the Chilwell Road, small shops catered for local needs in the parts of the town from which access to the High Road was not convenient for every-day shopping. Many of the small shops were dwelling house front-room conversions such as the ones I remember in the terrace of houses on the west side of Stoney Street and on Middle Street, both sold sweets and oddments of groceries. The Stoney Street one was my source of supply of liquorice-root and locusts. It was necessary to shop daily as few homes then had fridges or freezers for the storage of perishables. Many larger houses and most shops still had cool cellars for storage, most houses had a pantry with a stone cold-slab on which meats were kept, often in fly-proof meat-safes. Hot weather raised more urgent preservation problems when containers of milk and butter were stood in cold water or kept in water-soaked earthenware containers which cooled by evaporation. Milk was usually delivered twice daily on week-days. Some of the needs of households which were unable or unwilling to go to less accessible shops bought from carts and vans, sometimes large barrows, which peddled the more basic necessities, greengroceries, groceries, bread and cakes, fish, meat, and sometimes, small household items. Many of the shops were willing to deliver purchases, no charge was made the service. The larger shops may, by then, have had a motor van or, more likely, a horse drawn vehicle, boys on bicycles fitted with large front carriers were a commonly used method of delivery. The town provided drinking troughs for the benefit of horses, the last one I remember, which very considerately incorporated a smaller trough for dogs, was at the bottom of Devonshire Avenue. Gardens benefitted from the by- product of horse-drawn delivery vehicles.

With few exceptions the Beeston shops were privately owned, family, businesses, some of the owners had a reputation for meanness, one grocer was nick-named ‘split-raisin’ as he was reputed to split a raisin in half to avoid giving over-weight. A major exception to the family businesses was the Nottingham Co-Operative Society store on the High Road at the corner of Villa Street; it was the largest shop in the town and the nearest approach to a super-market at the time. Other exceptions were the ‘Star’ store in the Square, and later the 'Home and Colonial' store. There was no self-service, staff and customers were kept strictly apart by substantial counters, purchases were asked for by the customer and were taken off the shelves, or from the store room behind the counter, weighed out and wrapped or bagged by the shop assistant. Most items were taken from bulk containers, bacon and cooked meats were sliced to order, butter was scooped from drums as needed and patted expertly into rectangular blocks, cheese cut to order from the whole cheeses or large blocks by wire cutters. Very little was ready-weighed, wrapped or pre-packeted, everything was handled. There was very little regard for hygiene although most shops, but not all, were superficially clean. An old friend has told me of one Beeston butcher’s shop where, while cutting and serving meat, the woman assistant would run her hands through her hair leaving in it obvious traces of fat and blood. I doubt if many customers would be particularly concerned.

The shops were far more labour intensive than the modern super-markets or shops with self-service facilities. Patience was required while waiting to be served, there was no orderly queuing and at busy times service out of turn led to frayed tempers. One difficult customer, or one with a large order, would monopolise an assistant for a considerable time. I cannot remember a Beeston shop with the facility but in some larger stores, such as the larger Co-Ops, cash and bills were sent to a central cashier by means of containers propelled by springs along over-head wires. Customers then had to wait while the bill and change were returned. (As a child I was fascinated by this arrangement in the large Long Eaton Co-Op store in Chilwell where my Grandmother Martin shopped.) Service was slow if a shop was busy, and often a few chairs were provided for customers. The pace of life was more leisured then, it is easy to imagine that Beeston’s present two super-markets deal with more shoppers in a few hours than all the High Road shops together dealt with in a week. Now, personal transport has made the centre of the town more accessible to shoppers from the outlying parts of a catchment area much larger than the Beeston of the 1920’s.

If we were to go back to the Beeston of the nineteen-thirties I think that we would find it a rather dreary place, it has changed, largely for the better. Inevitably it will go on changing, new generations have different ideas and needs. There will always be those of an older generation who wish to retain the things with which they have been familiar and disapprove of whatever may replace them, sometimes with justification, often without thought of the future usefulness and value of the things they wish to preserve. William Morris’s advice on the contents of homes, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" can be well applied to towns too.

1In fact, the name on both her birth and marriage registration and on the 1901 census was "Ellen".
2That is, he was the eldest of four surviving sons; four more sons and a daughter had died as infants. Harold married Olive Budden in 1919.
3Garfield Cottage has now (2008), sadly, been demolished having been acquired as part of the proposed redevelopment of this area
4On the 1901 census, Harry Parr (aged 52) is living at 32 Union Street, described as a lace curtain maker. His wife Eliza (aged 41) was working at home, finishing lace. Their daughter Ellen (who was to be Jack's mother) was then aged 5. On 11 Nov 1903, Harry arrived in New York on the Oceanic out of Liverpool, apparently there to explore the opportunities for lace makers in America - at a time when many were making the move there from the Nottingham area. It is interesting that he felt the need to remove 5 years from his age, claiming to be aged 49 and 4 months. On January 21 1905, he again arrived in New York - on the Arabic out of Liverpool. This time, however, entry may have been refused as the details on the ship's manifest have been crossed through. It seems that this ended his thoughts of emigration.
5In 2007, the Conservative Club site in this location was acquired as part of a proposed redevelopment of this area. It has since relocated to newly renovated premises on Station Road.
6Applebees later relocated across the road into what had been Hemming's Chemist shop. It is remembered with much pleasure by many local people as it retained the fittings and quaintness of the old shop until redevelopment forced a move to Wollaton Road in about 2003. Happily, the old fittings were retained at the new location.
7Since this was written, the entrance to Broadgate Recreation Ground has been remodelled. At that time (in 2007), the memorial was restored and repositioned into the middle of the recreation ground
8The Boots store in Beeston was built in the mock-Tudor style, much-favoured by Jessie Boot, which was used for stores elsewhere as well (e.g. his store near to Trent Bridge). This photograph can be date fairly precisely to about 1933. In 1935, the Boots store was enlarged by building another gabled section to the right of the original building (which dates from about 1907). The bank building which can be seen on the extreme left was built soon after Frederick William Doar (who ran the well known grocery store next to Boots) had sold the corner to the National Provincial Bank in 1931
9In fact, the 1931 census tells us that Beeston itself (without its surrounding communities) then only had a population of 16,017
The photograph of the Harold Martin & Ralph Neville is from the Geoffrey Drinkwater collection. The series of pictures of aspects of Union Street were taken by David Hallam in the 1980s, shortly before demolition took place and sheltered accommodation was built. The other photographs have been added from David Hallam's collection.