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Early DaysThe Tailors' ShopThe William Junior YearsThe Next Generation
Thornhill Eras

© David Hallam - 2004

A History of the Thornhill Family in Beeston - continued

William Thornhill jnr The William Junior Years - After his father's death in 1876, with the tailors' business firmly established, William junior (Seen Left) began to use his enterprise, his drive and his business talents in wider fields. He was a popular figure locally and highly respected with a friendly demeanor and memorable for his well-turned-out checked tweed coat and suit and soft peaked cap - all characteristics that helped greatly in achieving much that was to last for future generations. In particular, his iniatives in the development of housing in Beeston were particularly significant and provided coherance and a degree of quality at a critical time in the development of the community which survives today. The late Victorian era was a time when the "respectable middle-classes" - based on a skilled craft, small scale entrepreneural initiatives or professional service - emerged as a force, flourished and needed a decent home to match. Self-help was the order of the day and William was amongst those who harnessed these energies and transferred them into reality.

First came the Imperial Park Land Society and its sister organisation Beeston Building Society. Together, they aimed to assist the development and financing of relatively superior housing, suitable for the aspirational target market, centred on what is now Imperial Road, north of Newton Street, its western side being the Chilwell boundary defined by Park Road, the eastern boundary by Elm Avenue, part of the pre-existing St John's Grove development and on the north defined by North Street. The early model was that used by similar self-help groups at that time - saving by a group of subscribers and the allocation of funds as they accumulated by the drawing of lots, in turn for each of them to build a house.

This initial success was repeated when, in 1881, a syndicate headed by Thornhill acquired land from George Fellows, of the banking family that had its home at Belle Vue, now Beeston Fields Golf Club. The Belle Vue Land Society was formed to develop this land using similar methods to those that had been succesful at Imperial Park. The development lay to to the north and formed a continuation to Imperial Park; again, Chilwell was its western boundary, Denison Street formed its northern extreme and Montague Street defined its eastern limit. Through its centre, running south to north was formed Bramcote Road, its unusual angular path contrasting with the other roads in the development which ran at right-angles. This followed the path of the ancient track to Bramcote that started where Foster Avenue now meets Chilwell Road, is now diverted round the Roundhill School site and still has traces along the Chilwell boundary of Beeston Fields Golf Club.

The houses that were built, particularly the early ones in Imperial Park tended to be substantial villa type homes typical of the style we can all recognise as dating from the late Victorian era. It is tempting to imagine that William had been inspired by the developments he had seen in the then newly developed and fashionable parts of Birmingham.

All 145 plots that made up the Belle Vue development were allocated to subscribers in three trenches in 1881 and 1882 and it is noticable that amongst those who received an allocation were several that were clearly speculators who probably intended to build for resale or for investment. This applied to Thornhill himself who was allocated a number of plots as well a share in the whole of the east side of Montague Street for his personal use. Here, and on plots allocated to him in Imperial Park, Thornhill built a number of houses in a distinctive style which is recognisable today. Many of these he retained as investments to eventually form part of his estate which he handed on to family members in his will. This distinctive style and the evidence of his will allow us to identify properties in other parts of Beeston - notable Mona Street and possibly Waverley Avenue - where he built for investment.

Although he never took public office, as a staunch Churchman and a Conservative of the old school, he took a keen interest in the welfare of the area and was a generous subscriber to local charities - but he had his own way of doing it. He never sat down to dinner on Sunday without first placing a silver coin in a box he kept for subscriptions to either the General Hospital or the Children's Hospital. For many years he was secretary to the Philanthropic Lodge of Oddfellows.

gin label Rosa Boot (nee Markham) was a striking figure of a woman who ran the Commercial Inn on what is now Wollaton Road next to Markham's Field which is now incorporated into the Roundhill School playing field. This field, rather more than two acres, was the site of gravel workings but, in about 1860 suddenly found a new use. Beeston Wakes, a period of local rejoicing and merrymaking held annually in June, had always taken place in the main streets of the village but, following the unfortunately death of a child due to the congestion, William Markham, Rosa's father, had opened the field for the occasion; the fair was continued on the site until it was incorporated into the school field in the early 1950s. Rosa had been left to run the Commercial after her father had died in 1871 followed three years later by her mother Mary Markham (nee Ball). Under the terms of her mother's will, Rosa now owned the Commercial in a way which protected her interests against claims by any husband she may have and, in 1875, she had married Maurice Boot from Lenton, himself a bleacher but part of a family of small farmers - described as "cowkeepers" - and publicans. Born and brought up in Lenton herself and having indirect family connections through her mother's side, Rosa probably knew Maurice and his family well. His father had kept the "Red Cow" in Lenton which was continued by his widow after his death sometime before 1861. His brother Cyrus had operated as a beerseller in Lenton - and his widow was later to marry George Cheetham who ran the Wheatsheaf Inn on the Derby Road - and an older brother William was, by 1871, keeping the Boat Inn, also at Lenton.

The marriage of Maurice and Rose Boot was a short one - Maurice died in May 1881, aged 44 - and one that must have been dominated by sadness, particulary towards the end. In the six years of their marriage they had four children; only Markham and Edward, the two eldest, born in 1876 and 1877 respectively, survived to eventually marry, their third son, Charles Francis was born in 1878 but died six months later, their last child, Norman Cyrus died in February 1881, only two months old and only about three months before his father. For the next six years, Rosa continued to run the Commercial Inn which would have brought her into contact with William Thornhill as it was there that some of the philanthropic groups, in which he played a principal part, met. They married on 1st September 1887 at Beeston Parish Church.

Thornhill ShopWilliam, with his new wife Rosa (seen left outside the High Road shop - click image for details), continued, for the time being, to live on the High Road - the Commercial Inn was leased to Thomas Walker, who also had the rights to extract gravel from Markham's Field - but sometime after 1891, decided to build a new home on North Street, nearly opposite the end of Imperial Road. When allocating plots in Belle Vue, he had retained the plot to its rear fronting onto Park Street and that now became part of his garden. His grandson, Cyril Edward Tracey, described it in a story of his life written late in his life :

" ... every year for years he planted fruit trees - apples, pears, cherries, etc, leaving a large open space in the centre for a house. So that by the time the house was built it was surrounded by a beautiful garden, and by the time the house was completed you couldn't see it for trees.

"Grandfather decided to name it Middleton House because Lord Middleton was a good customer and lifelong owner of Wollaton Hall where Grandfather had done his courting. My great grandfather, Isaac Wibberley**********

All his life, William had had his eye on the next generation and was keen to ensure that the family business was continued; now, in his new home, he could not only further is property development interested and charitable work but could also develop his role as the centre of his family universe. As a further break from the past, Rosa finally sold the old Commercial Inn to Robert G Hanson in November 1896. It was rebuilt in the following year, eventually to become part of Hardy & Hanson brewery business.

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