It’s a day when things could get steamy in Broxtowe. 10℃ over the average for February, and the MP has just resigned from her party while claiming the right to stay on as our representative at Westminster. Maybe it’s a good day for the Beestonian to go and look for something that is reassuringly a good thing.
G.H Hurt & Son on the Chilwell High Road is just the place. You may have visited them when they open on Heritage Days in September, but not know they also open to the public on Saturday mornings (10am – 12noon). They inhabit an old seed mill, built in 1751, which remains a thing of beauty from the outside, but you may be more interested in their famous baby shawls, which suddenly came into the worldwide media spotlight in 2013, then again in 2015 and 2017, when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stepped outside the Lindo Wing in London with their newborns wrapped in Beeston’s finest.
“…every generation must face its own challenges.”
No-one was more delighted to see their choice than Gillian Taylor, who is in the fourth generation of Hurts to own and manage the business since its inception in 1912. The family has stayed true to its roots, producing fine knitwear that includes men’s and women’s scarves, and caring about their employees as much as they care about their customers and products.
While Gillian hadn’t previously known the royals had their shawls, she had no reason to be surprised, because if the royal family is supposed to represent our country’s core values, then a firm like Hurts surely helps us decide just what those values are.
And they are proof that every generation must face its own challenges; for Gillian it has been to adapt to an increasingly internet-dependent and computerised world. For her father, Henry Hurt (who in his 80s still takes an active part in the family firm) it was to take on the challenge of moving from hand looms to mechanisation when he was barely out of his teens, and he would go on to be awarded an MBE for his services to the knitwear industry. Henry’s own father Leslie had to deal with two world wars, injury and serious illness. It was Gillian’s great-grandfather, George Henry Hurt, who started the whole enterprise in 1912 when he took the step of acquiring the mill so that local knitters could bring their manual handframes together under one roof, and take advantage of shared marketing and production.
In the 1980s everything could surely have been lost, when the area was surrounded by similar-seeming businesses, some of which were buying their products from China. But Henry Hurt wasn’t going to compromise on quality or discard his legacy. According to Gillian it was he who said that if they stuck to their core values and loyal customers then one day perhaps even China would decide to buy from them. With a trade fair in Ningbo, China coming up in April, then ‘perhaps even China’ will be customers for the fifth generation of Hurts?
Being a journalist on the Beestonian brings you into contact with all sorts of people with different stories to tell. And someone with quite a few stories to tell is Dawn Reeves, facilitator, trainer and author of a coffee table book all about various town halls across England; their history, uses and future. That universal symbol of local democracy seems to be under threat from the very councils that they belong to. Beeston’s is a prime example. But more on that later.
We arranged to meet at Greenhoods, and so over a hot drink I chatted to Dawn about herself, her interest in town halls and the purpose of the book. “I was born in London, but moved to Nottingham with my family. I got a job with Nottingham County Council, and then as a manager with Ashfield District Council. Working in those buildings, made me realise how important they are to communities, and not just for paying bills. I’m now back in Beeston and love it. I love the creativity of the town.”
Turning to her generously illustrated volume ‘Town Hall: Buildings, People and Power’. “Working in local government, I realised that there are three main architectural styles of buildings that are used as town halls; the grand Victorian palaces like Bradford, Birmingham and Todmorden; the art deco styles of Torquay, Hornsey and Nottinghamshire and the postmodernist structures at Newcastle, Mansfield and Worcestershire. Although this book is broken down into themes, rather than styles. I touch on four general themes: ‘Purpose’, ‘People’, ‘Power’ and ‘Future’.”
Nearly 30 councils and their town halls are described and evaluated in the book, that includes some eye-catching photography, I asked Dawn how she got the book completed. “I have some friends in Yorkshire, and around the country and I just basically roped them in to either write about their town hall or take photos of it. I am planning another volume. One, which should feature Beeston’s original building. The book is self published through Shared Press and with financial assistance from CCLA.”
The story of Beeston’s town hall would make a worthy inclusion in volume two. How Broxtowe Council sold the building off for £425,000 to the Cornerstone Church, whilst ignoring other interested parties, including Beeston’s Civic Society; who wanted to turn it into a community resource for weddings, arts and theatre events and similar community celebrations. Very much like Brent’s does with theirs. But it was sold, even though the residents of Broxtowe will be out of pocket by some £155,000, as the council will be spending £533k on moving computer servers to it’s newer building, legal fees and doing up the building before the church moves in. But the council claim that it will be saving £85,000 a year on maintenance and repair costs. It is understood that the building will only be available to its church members, therefore excluding the citizens of NG9, whose past relations would have paid for the town hall to be built through their rates bill.
Last year the Civic Society collected over £5000 from residents through crowd funding to raise a legal challenge. But the findings from a barrister suggested that this challenge would not be successful. The group are currently working on some Freedom of Information requests about how the council had reached its unpopular decision on whom it selected to have the building.
With local elections coming up in May, it remains to be seen as to whether the sale will actually go through by then, or maybe a change of administration may have other ideas.
Besides writing about town halls and training businesses, Dawn has also written a couple of novels, ‘Hard Change’ and ‘We Know What We Are’. Also printed by Shared Press. These are urban thrillers that also include the shady dealings of fictional local councils.
If you would like to hear Dawn talk about her love of town halls, then she is appearing at the amazing Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham on the 10th of April at 7pm. Admission will be £3, including refreshments.
Touring the town with Beeston’s youngest residents…
We like a bit of history at The Beestonian. Our history chap Jimmy never fails to hand in excellent content about Beeston’s back story, and we like to think that we’ve helped a little bit to bring that to life. We even devoted our last issue to the subject, and that caught the attention of some teachers who –wisely–also happen to be Beestonian readers.
“Dear people who make the Beestonian,” they wrote “Here at John Clifford School we have a wonderful group of pupils who would really like a walk around Beeston to see some of the historical bits, which will hopefully engage them in a lifelong curiosity in civic history. Can you help?”
Well, we walk it as we talk it here at The Beestonian so we logged into Google Maps, purchased a new compass and devised a route. And on a sunny autumn afternoon, we met up with thirty fact-hungry five + six year olds at West End and took them on a tour of the town.
No boring recitation of dates and detail though: this is an age group where ancient history is the London Olympics and a tram-free Beeston. We thought it best to try and bring the history to life. And that’s exactly what happened, from the moment Robin Hood (our Bow Selecta columnist Tim Pollard) leapt from behind a tree to yelps of surprised delight. Shouting out favourite fruit in Hallams followed; appreciation of the fantastic new street art, then adopting Bendigo boxing stances outside the pugilist-monikered cafebar, then clambers over the Beeman and a trip to our community shop.
The kids were wonderful, well behaved, funny and flattering (I’m looking at you, six-year old lad who, on being asked to guess my age, took a punt on ‘28?’). A huge thanks to the teachers, volunteers and parents who accompanied us on the trek and got us all safely from stop to stop without a single child being lost (we think).
Our town is full of stories and overlapping layers of lives. We think that getting to know some of them makes our town a richer place to live – and starting that process young is no bad thing. Grab a compass and a few back issues of this fine publication, and we’ll see you en-route.
Although not a War Memorial by any means, the story of Beeston’s ‘Village Cross’ is so bound-up with that of the ‘Memorial Cross’. It is no coincidence that Beeston has a ‘cross’ as it’s war memorial or that it should stand on the site that it does. Through changes to the road layout over time, the Memorial Cross now appears to stand by the side of Middle Street. In actual fact this site was once in the middle of the road at this important road-junction between Church Street, Dovecote Lane, West End and Middle Street. Here was once the geographical heart of the settlement that was to become the town of Beeston.
In Britain, over 1,000 years ago, when Christianity began to spread among the pagan Anglo Saxons, the new faith was preached to the people from a stone pillar, (‘preaching cross’) erected in the heart of the community. This was most often close to the manor house, the home of the most important member and leader of the community. Once Christianity had been establish, a parish church was built, first in ‘wattle-and- daub’ and latter in stone. With the new church, preaching crosses became redundant and many took on a secular use as market crosses. We might add here that this is the evolution of many village crosses, however, there are a large number of market crosses purposefully erected to mark the place of village commerce.
…two of the most important buildings in the community, the Manor House and parish church are close by the site.
It is known that a village cross stood at the centre of the Middle Streets crossroads. Given the facts, it is no surprise then, to find that two of the most important buildings in the community, the Manor House and parish church are close by the site. It is suspected that Beeston’s village cross was once used as a market cross. Certainly there are clues to this effect; it is widely believed that a corn market was held nearby the site, – until the 1860s, Middle Street, from the Memorial Cross to its junction with Station Road was known as Market Street.
The cross was removed, perhaps as a hazard to road traffic, sometime in the 1850’s and the whereabouts of its remains lost until 1929. It was in that year that part of the cross was discovered built into the wall of Manor Lodge, by the headmaster at ‘Church Street Junior Boys School’, Arthur Cossons. Cossons was an active ‘local historian’ with a passion for Beeston’s history. He recognised a large piece of masonry in the wall as being a part of the ‘shaft’ of a medieval cross. Proud of his discovery, Cossons had the cross shaft removed to Church Street and erected by the side of the school where it stands to this day.
Did you know?
The shaft of the medieval cross, – marked by a Blue Plaque, – can be found on Church Street, standing between the wall of the old school building and the footpath.
The shaft, believed to be 14th century, is now a ‘Grade II’ listed monument. Most of the Victorian Board School was demolished in 2005, however, the headteachers house remains.
A Blue Plaque, dedicated to Arthur Cossons is is attached high-up on the gable wall of this building which was his home from 1932 to 1958.
If ‘The Beeston Seat’, (the Beekeeper) is a much love piece of ‘public artwork’, there is a second modern sculpture in Beeston which is largely reviled and ignored. Since it installation in 1989, thousands of Beestonians have walk past it by without a second glance. It is certain that today, very few even know its name or troubled history, yet it cost the ‘public purse’ £25,000 and is the work of the award winning artist/sculptor Paul Mason (1952-2006), – considered by some to have been; “….probably the most important sculptor of his generation in the Midlands”. (Professor David Manley). The work of art in question is the ‘Water Head’ sculpture, which stand on the western side of ‘The Square’ in-front of the jewellers shop. Its story begins not in Beeston but in Nottingham.
In 1985 the pedestrianised Lister Gate in-front of St Peter’s Church in Nottingham city-centre was being redeveloped and Nottingham City Council commissioned Paul Mason. According to the Nottingham Evening Post (Dec. 1955), Mason’s objectives were to produce a work that was; “…. contemplative and tranquil, to induce calm in a busy city”. Taking a year to complete at the cost of £23,000, the result was a marble water-sculpture entitled ‘Leaf Stem’.
“Someone seems to have gotten the ‘plumbing’ wrong and when it was first activated the artist’s desired effect was not quite achieved.”
Returning to Beeston, once again we find change, this time the refurbishment of The Square in 1988/89, at the heart of our story. Early in 1989, on behalf of Broxtowe Borough Council, Mr Barry Protheroe handed Paul Mason the commission, to produce a public work of art, – similar in design to the Leaf Stem in Nottingham, – to stand in the newly refurbished Square. The results were yet again an organic shaped tall pillar of white marble. This time Mason christened his work ‘Water Head’ in reference to the gently flowing water, which in theory was meant to run down the exposed surfaces. Unlike its Nottingham counterpart, Water Head was originally fix into the ground directly over a drain for the recycling water, rather than being on a low stepped plinth.
Both the Beeston and Nottingham installations relied on the visual aesthetics of the play of light and water on their sculptured surfaces. Whist Mason might have been considered an acclaimed artist, his engineering skills and knowledge of hydro-dynamics were found to be some-what lacking. Someone seems to have gotten the ‘plumbing’ wrong and when it was first activated the artist’s desired effect was not quite achieved. It may have been the way in which water splashed ‘passers-by’ instead of flowing gently into the drain which generated the dislike of the sculpture, as much as the fact that when the pump was turned off, it was no-longer the spectacle it was meant to be. The Leaf Stem in Nottingham also suffered the same problems with its water flow and drainage. The water quality of both pieces of art were investigated by Environmental Health and found to be lacking. Both water-features were officially deactivated in 1994, (although Water Head was seldom in operation). For a time Leaf Stem disappeared only to be reinstated on a raised flower bed a few yards to the north of its original site, where it can be seen today. Water Head was re-mounted on a square brick-base in an effort to achieve better drainage.
The concepts and beauty of modern art are very much ‘in the eye of the beholder’. Call them ‘Philistines’ or what you will, when the Water Head was unveiled to the public it received ‘lukewarm’ attention to say the least. The Beestonian magazine labelled it the ‘Stump’. When the water-feature was deactivated, it became a favourite place for The Square’s local pigeon population to rest, earning it the nick-name ‘The Pigeon Perch’. With the coming of the Trams and The Square’s redevelopment, the future of Water Head once again hangs in the balance. There are those who would like to see the redundant sculpture gone for good. The writer is not in this mind as it seems a great shame that Beeston should loose a valuable, – in all senses, – piece of public art-work by a well-known artist like Paul Mason. Perhaps the local authority should find a new, more suitable home for it somewhere away from The Square and with a little care, planning and engineering, reactivate the water-feature. Only then can Water Head be seen and appreciated as the artist intended.
On the second Wednesday of the month, the folks from Beeston Tales gather in the upstairs space of The White Lion for an evening of storytelling, and this month they’ve got an extra special guest for a remarkable (and very local) tale…
Tomorrow, Beeston Tales will be presenting their audience with Roman de Silence, which has local significance as the manuscript was originally discovered at Wollaton Hall in 1911, where it had been waiting for around 700 years.
These days it’s kept at the University of Nottingham, but its discovery came at the height of suffrage protests, and due to the story containing themes of female emancipation, the story was silenced.
But, thanks to the hosts Tim Ralphs, Mike Payton, and the internationally renowned storyteller Rachel Rose Reid, the story will have life breathed back into its dusty pages, to reveal a tale that is very relevant to issues being raised in society today.
“Themes of gender identity make this an interesting story for modern audiences, and gives the tale a prescient quality.”
The main character, a twelve-year-old named Silence has been brought up as a boy, despite being an incredibly beautiful girl. Being the young age she is, and the upbringing she’s had, she can’t decide whether it would be better for her to be a boy or a girl. This simple-sounding concept is packed with societal questions, gender politics and the question of nature vs. nurture, where Nature is a character in the story.
It’s an adventure in identity, an exploration of what the roles were for boys and girls, and an ultimate dilemma for Silence and the society she’s living in. These themes of gender identity make this an interesting story for modern audiences, and gives the tale a prescient quality.
Rachel storytelling takes her all over the country, and she’s currently touring, but is stopping off in Nottingham (and Beeston) especially to visit and research the manuscript.
The event will take place tomorrow, Wednesday 11th July, at 7:30 pm at The White Lion.
The Beestonian’s History Editor Joe Earp has been writing about the history of Beeston and its district for the magazine for just over 5 years now. Joe was a fan of the magazine long before he began writing for them. He regularly picked the magazine up in his Beeston local and noticed that the magazine was lacking in history content. After approaching the team at the magazine they welcomed him with open arms to contribute regular local history articles. Since then the magazine has gone from strength to strength. The future of the magazine looks bright. Joe hopes to keep contributing to the magazine by exploring our local history which he hopes will not only help readers understand our past but also understand our present and future. He also hopes that the history sections in the magazine will only get bigger and better!
Bendigo eh? Beeston’s legendary bare-knuckled boxer may have thrown in the towel when he died 138 years ago, but his legacy looks like it will never be counted out.
He has books about him, a graphic novel, a blue plaque on Wollaton Road, and a couple of articles in past issues of this magazine. He also is now immortalised on the High Road with a bar named after him – despite being a teetotaller, he’d probably still be chuffed.
Bendigo was not just a decent boxer, but a celebrity and showman. He created a whole mythology about him, from being a triplet (he wasn’t) and the youngest of 21 kids (he wasn’t). However, he could lob a brick from one bank of the Trent to the other, and he was an utter mountain of a man, so we won’t quibble. It’s impossible to overstate his fame: shortly after his death, a town in Australia had a poll to name their town: Bendigo was the overwhelming victor (it’s still there, and apparently a lovely place with a population that cheerfully call themselves ‘Bendigonians’. The guy was MASSIVE, and not just in stature.
However, he doesn’t have a proper statue to mark his fame. There is a rather weathered and battered ceramic above a pub in Sneinton, but considering that he was the Victorian Muhammed Ali this is a poor show.
Step in the Bendigo Memorial Fund (BMF), a group of fans of the late pugilist, who have devoted themselves to raising cash to fund a statue to be stuck in a prominent part of Nottingham. “In Nottingham there are a number of things we need to improve,” BMF spokesman Alan Dawson told us. “The grave itself is not well advertised and the information recorded about him is incorrect. A statue in Trinity Square will put this right.”
So, on the 29th April, the BMF will stage a sponsored walk following the route of William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson’s funeral cortege in 1880. This will be from the site of his former home on the site of Beeston’s Anglo Scotian Mills to his grave at Bath Street in Nottingham City Centre, a distance of 5.7 miles. There will be twenty one people doing the walk, representing Bendigo’s 21 fights. I’ll be one of them (and weather permitting I’ll strap my 16 month old son on my back and bring the number up to 21) At the graveside there will be reading from the book about Bendigo written by Beeston writer, publisher and historian Alan Dance. Local actor Peter Radford will also recite Bendigo’s Sermon, a poem written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You’re welcome to tag along.
However, what we’d REALLY like is your money. Statues, at least good statues, don’t come cheap so anything you can do to help nudge the fund towards its target is hugely welcome. It will also mean that you will be part of Bendigo’s legacy long into the future: this is a statue that WE own, that WE make. Worth a few quid, innit?
Donations can be made directly to the Bendigo Memorial Fund via
People travelling into Beeston by tram are greeted at the intersection of Lower Road and Queens Road by a large sign depicting a beehive and the words ‘Welcome to Beeston’.
The bee is a familiar sight around Beeston; there is the statue of a beehive in the high street, bees appeared on the coat of arms for Beeston and Stapleford, and beehive reliefs even adorn the frontispiece of our beleaguered town hall. It would be reasonable to guess that the ‘Bee’ in ‘Beeston’ is derived from some historical connection of bees with the town, much in the way that the city of Bath is named for its famous Roman baths.
The antiquarian A.E. Lawson Lowe claimed just that when he examined the etymology of the name Beeston in 1888. Lawson Lowe argued that the name Beeston derived from the combination of the Old English words bēo, meaning bee, and tun, meaning town or settlement, and suggested the source of the name might be due to some great abundance of beehives in the area. If this were the case it is curious that, despite the bee iconography that decorates the town, there remains little evidence of great beekeeping activity in the area. Why is it that one can buy honey made in Wollaton, but no unique brand of Beeston-made heritage honey?
There have been various attempts over the years to explain this apparent discrepancy. During the industrial revolution it was suggested that the bees in the name referred to Beeston becoming a ‘hive of activity’. The Survey of English Place Names, produced by The English Place-Name Society in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, has suggested an alternative origin for our town’s name. They argue that the ‘bees’ in Beeston stems from the Old English bēos, meaning bent rye grass or reeds, rather than from bēo, meaning bee, and that ‘Beeston’ means a settlement notable for its grassland, not its bees. There is certainly a case for this. The Old English plural of bees is bēon, and if the town were named for bees it would have incorporated the ‘n’ in bēon, resulting in the name ‘Beenton’ (bēon + tun). Historical references to Beeston support this claim. In the Domesday Book of 1086 the settlement is referred to as Bestune, and in a 1610 map of The Countie of Nottingham held in Beeston library the town is referred to as Beston.
The modern visitor to Beeston, travelling into Beeston by tram and seeing the ‘Welcome to Beeston’ sign, might be surprised to learn that our seemingly developed town was once notable for its sweeping grasslands. Yet this connection between Beeston and grasslands has survived further into modernity than one might first assume. Margaret Cooper recorded in her 1996 book The Beeston Story how older folk could still remember wild rye growing on the Trent Road. In his 1955 description of The River Trent J.H. Ingram describes Beeston as being surrounded by a ‘wide … plain’. The fact that the part of town south of the railway is called Rylands further testifies to this enduring connection with rye grass. This supposed Old English origin of Beeston’s name is perhaps more relevant to Beeston’s recent history than the modern visitor might first assume.
For further reading on the history of Beeston’s name see the following texts available at Beeston Library:
Cooper, M. (1996) The Beeston Story (Nottingham)
Earp, F. E. & Earp, J. (2017) Secret Beeston (Gloucester).
A Green Man is a sculpture or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. Branches or vines may sprout from the mouth, nostrils, or other parts of the face and these shoots may bear flowers or fruit. Commonly used as a decorative architectural ornament, Green Men are frequently found in carvings on both secular and ecclesiastical buildings.
Usually referred to in works of architecture as foliate heads or foliate masks, carvings of the Green Man may take many forms, naturalistic or decorative. The simplest depict a man’s face peering out of dense foliage. Some may have leaves for hair, perhaps with a leafy beard. Often leaves or leafy shoots are shown growing from his open mouth and sometimes even from the nose and eyes as well. In the most abstract examples, the carving at first glance appears to be merely stylised foliage, with the facial element only becoming apparent on closer examination. The face is almost always male; green women are rare.
Beeston does indeed have its very own Green Man. Blink and you might miss this one. For those wishing to take some time out from the Town’s busy shopping streets it is recommended that you take a little stroll, – as Beestonians have been doing for over 100 years, – through Dovecote Lane Park. This wonderful wooden sculpture entitled ‘The Green Man’ is located in the enclosed garden area of the park at the Trevor Road end. Rather than saying anything about it, we will let him speak for himself.
The Brass plaque attached to the stone base tells the whole story:
‘This sculpture was carved by Stan Bullard (1920 – 2012), a Beeston sculptor, from a piece of yew tree in autumn 2008. It was undertaken as a commission from Broxtowe Borough Council to replace the ‘One World Sculpture’ on this site which commemorated Earth Summit 1992. The new sculpture has as its theme “man’s interaction with the natural green world.” The sculpture also marks the 100th anniversary of Dovecote Lane park which was opened in 1908′.
The ‘One Word’ sculpture replaced by the Green Man, was another of Stan’s works. It consisted of a ‘totem pole’ type carving of a man’s head, with falcon like shoulders and abstract tree like body. It was painted yellow and black and gloss varnish.
Once again we will let the original plaque tell the story:
‘This sculpture was carved by Stan Bullard, a Beeston sculptor, from a beech tree, felled at Strelley after storm damage. Work commenced in Beeston Square on One World Day, 30th May 1992 and was completed as a commission from Broxtowe Borough Council to commemorate Earth Summit 92′.
Note that Stan gave a live demonstration of his work before completing and installing it in the park.
After singing our socks off last weekend, as well as very much from the heart, we're raising funds for Hope Nottingham at Hope House, Beeston, a vital one-stop community support centre helping the local community and beyond. Please come along on Sat 5 October, 7pm and support us