Beeston Memories

I haven’t lived in Beeston for many years although I was born and raised here.

I was born in Chilwell, just across the road from the Charlton Arms and in 1936 or ’37 (I don’t exactly remember, I was about 4 years old) my parents moved into a new house on Queens Rd West, close to Chilwell Manor Golf Course and across the road from the field at the rear of Barton’s garage where I and my mates played among the piles of old tyres left there.

In Sept 1937 I started school at Church St School just behind Beeston Parish Church. Now, I am left handed and every time I picked up a pencil in my left hand, I was rapped over the knuckles. After three months of that I developed a severe stammer so I was removed from there and went to Park Lodge, a primary school on Park Rd just along from the Hop Pole on Chilwell Rd Beeston – or High St Chilwell, as the pub marks the change of name. It was only a few minutes’ walk from home up what I see is now called Wilmot Lane but all the time I was there was called Factory Lane. Myford’s Lathes were made in the semi derelict buildings at the top of the lane and opposite the Hop Pole.

We played in Barton’s field, in the golf course and around the Attenborough Nature Reserve which we knew just as ‘The Gravel Pits’

Because of my stammer I had several years of speech therapy and elocution lessons which eventually ‘killed’ the stammer. They also changed my accent somewhat so these days no one can tell exactly where I am from, it is what a friend described as a ‘generic Northern accent, could be from anywhere north of a line from Bristol to the Wash.’

During the war, it is surprising how much freedom we kids had after school. There were relatively few people around, most men were in the Forces unless they were in essential industries, Police and emergency services. We would wander for miles and as long as we were home for dinner, no one seemed to worry. We played in Barton’s field, in the golf course and around the Attenborough Nature Reserve which we knew just as ‘The Gravel Pits’. Certainly in the early part of the war we had plenty of air raids when we had to leave home and go to the shelters which were erected all over the place. The nearest shelter to home was about 100 metres along the road towards Beeston. The warning was warbling sirens from all the factories and the All Clear after the raid was a steady note from them. Even after all these years, if I hear a warbling factory siren, my stomach does a little flip!

In 1943, there was a severe scarlet fever epidemic and hospital buildings kept for a possible smallpox epidemic were opened to isolate those with scarlet fever. I got it and was put in hospital somewhere near the old City Hospital. My parents visited me twice a week: they were not allowed to actually enter the ward but stood at the closed door and we talked through the glass. I was always given a big bundle of comics and magazines which my dad collected from his workmates. He was one of the managers at Ericsson Telephones factory. I had ‘complications’ so spent 13 weeks in the hospital. They were Impetigo, scabies, ringworm etc, all skin diseases caused by poor hygiene in the ward and as a result I was unable to take the 11 Plus school exams. Nothing from the hospital ward was allowed out while we were ill and for that 13 weeks, 7 days a week, dinner was Irish Stew and Rice Pudding. It was years before I could face either of those dishes again!

The 11 Plus decided whether you went to a Grammar School or a very basic Comprehensive School. As I couldn’t take the exam, that would have meant the Comprehensive School so my parents sent me to West Bridgford High School on Musters Rd, a private school owned and run by Mr and Mrs Caro. I don’t know what happened to the school after I left but I found it had been closed some time when I was in Nottingham some 16 years or so ago.

I well remember the big floods of 1946 and ’47. The school was closed for a month on both occasions. The 1947 floods were the worst, Ericsson’s factory was surrounded by water, there was a wall round the site which with pups running all the time, kept the water out of the factory. To get people to work, double deck buses would run through the floods with extensions to lift the exhaust pipe out of the water and the workers would ride on the upper deck. My dad told me later that when the waters had receded enough to turn the pumps off, there was sufficient fuel left for around another 12 hours or so.

KW

Memories Of Beeston Zoo

Regular readers to the Beestonian will remember that a few years ago we did a article on the Beeston Zoo which brought back a lot of memories for readers. Just to remind readers who missed the article, the zoo in question was located at the Victoria Hotel in Beeston.

Built around 1839, named after Queen Victoria (1819- 1901) – a popular monarch who is often featured on pub signboards. The Victoria Hotel is situated next door to Beeston Train station and like so many Victorian establishments was built to serve the passengers who used the station.

In 1971 an eccentric landlord use to keep a small zoo at the rear end of the pub, as well as a python inside. The collection included a puma, a lion, a leopard and a baboon. A number of incidents occurred involving these animals- the puma bounded into the public bar and frightened regulars and the leopard bit the landlord. Often he would be seen around Beeston, taking the bear for a walk at the end of a rope.

The ‘zoo’ was eventually closed when a terrified elderly couple complained to the police after the baboon escaped, shinned up a drainpipe and tried to break into their bedroom window.

A while back we were contacted by the Landlord’s Granddaughter who shared a few family stories and photos with us relating to the zoo. Out of respect the Landlord’s Granddaughter and the family wish to remain anonymous so their names will not be used here. Rather than trying to rewrite the memories, we have put them into some sort of  clear order below.

“The previous Landlord of the pub, who kept a mini zoo in the back yard was my Granddad and I recall the zoo and all of the animals. I can recall some fond memories and some not so fond memories of the zoo. I fondly remember in particular the snake he kept and the famous Ben, the beautiful bear.  My Granddad was in the Navy during the war and had quite a war in the South Pacific. Mum said that my Granddad was very business minded and used to charge for the workers to leave their bikes at the Vic. I forgot to ask where they worked but it was a regular thing and her and my Uncle used to collect the money from them.

My Granddad was always fond of animals and always wanted to collect the more exotic type. At the Victoria Hotel he use to have Piranhas on the bar, which he kept for entertainment. He use to feed them mice, for the entertainment of the customers. He used to love sitting with the old guys and playing dominoes too.

He also had a cage full of Monkeys which all died in a fire. It was apparently an electrical fault but I have heard rumours over the years that it was arson but that is only hearsay and as it was many years ago, we will never know the truth of the matter. It is very, very sad, whatever the cause. Monkeys were my favourite, apart from Ben the Bear. He was the most adorable animal you could wish to meet. Can’t say the same for the Baboon. As a child, I recall hating him, as he was pretty aggressive.

My Aunt recalls that Ben was eventually put into a cage as he became around 6ft in size, which is how I remember him. Also that the Baboon was kept indoors with them and slept in her dolls cot in her room when he was a baby. I really wish there were pictures of that. Again he grew and was caged. He was apparently quite aggressive with most people, except my granddad’s wife, who he took a liking too.

My Aunt also contracted TB back then and it was said that they thought it had been contracted from the baboon, she tells me.

The story of the Baboon escaping and banging on a neighbours upstairs window is true I am afraid. The lady and her husband were said to be terrified, especially as the husband was ill. The story says that Kenneth Clarke MP, was trying to have the law changed in regard to keeping wild animals and that he took this matter to parliament. There is a story about this too, separate to the baboon story. It says that Beeston constituents were in fear of the animals and many had applied for gun licences. The article names the neighbour and speaks of her having lodgers who were also woken up by the baboon banging on the window. Also, that she called the police more than once.

The other story I have heard  tells of the Leopard, biting my Grandfather. The Leopard was male and was 18 months old and on my Grandfathers shoulder, when a train passed by and hooted. This scared the animal, which nipped him and caused him to need hospital treatment. My grandfather was quoted as saying that he planned to buy a female companion for the leopard. The leopard had come from a zoo, in the south of England.

Apparently all of the animals were moved on to a ‘official zoo’ following a complaint by a lady, when the Baboon escaped. His name was Joey, if I recall correctly. I do know my Granddad was on ATV on more than one occasion, due to the antics. My Mum relayed to me that when he was asked what he had to say about the Baboon escaping and going into the neighbours bathroom.

He replied in his usual flippant manner, that she was only bothered because the baboon wasn’t a male one. I don’t know how he got away with it sometimes, but he did”.

Joe Earp

Beeston’s Changing Times

We reflect on the changing nature of our town over the years

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Photo credit: Joe Earp

Changes to the places where people live are inevitable. Sometimes change is a slow evolution and is hardly noticed. At other times, as with the trams, the change is sudden and dramatic and has a huge impact. There are those who will remember the building of the shops of the Square in the 1960’s, the Bus Station and Multi-storey Car Park. This development took away the ancient centre of the old village, which was once around the crossroads of Middle Street, Dovecote Lane and Church Street, close to the Manor House. It was here that the medieval cross once stood, probably where the War Memorial now stands. Although there are no written records, it is likely that the cross was the focus for a busy and thriving market.

The cross was taken down in 1860 and its stones used in a nearby wall. Here it remained until 1926 and its chance discovery by local historian and headmaster, Arthur Cossons. Cossons had the fractured stump of the 14th century cross shaft re-erected close to his beloved school on Church Street, where it still stands, now marked with a ‘Blue Plaque’.

Beeston as we know it largely owes its existence to the development of a Saxon village close to the Trent and Derby Road. This village was surrounded by pasture and grazing land from which it takes its name (Bes – rye grass and tun – settlement or farmstead). The origin of this ancient name is still preserved in the name Beeston Rylands, to the south of the town.

The plague carried away a third of Beeston’s population of between 300 and 350 souls. Their bodies were interred in a communal grave on the east side of the Churchyard, adjacent to where ‘Wilkos’ store was.

At the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066, the then village had three Saxon Manors belonging to Alfag, Alwine and Ulchel. By 1086 these had passed to the Lordship of William Peverel. Although there is no mention of a church in Beeston at the time of the Domesday (1086) it is likely that one existed. When Peverel endowed his Priory at Lenton he gave the ‘living of the church’ and the right to appoint a vicar to the monks. Probably under their influence, the simple wattle and daub structure evolved into a substantial stone building on the site of the present church.

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Photo credit: Joe Earp

For the next 400 years not only the Church but the whole of Beeston and its villagers came under the control of the powerful Lenton Priory. By the year 1538, the year of the Priory’s Dissolution under Henry VIII, the medieval building had reached its height. It was in this year that the plague carried away a third of Beeston’s population of between 300 and 350 souls. Their bodies were interred in a communal grave on the east side of the Churchyard, adjacent to where ‘Wilkos’ store was. This was later to be known as ‘the plague hole’.

Approximately where the Wilkinsons store was, were cottages known as ‘The Poor Row’. These simply built homes were given to the poor of the parish where they could live rent free. The cottages were demolished in 1844/45. What became of the poor unfortunates whose homes they were is not recorded.

Briefly interrupting the story of the area of Beeston directly affected by the Tram extension; Beeston saw one of its greatest changes in the early 19th century. It was at this time with the growth of the weaving industry that Beeston’s status changed from village to town. The first silk mill was built in the ‘new town’ in 1826. In 1831, after suffering various fortunes and a number of owners, the mill had passed into the hands of William Lowe.

In Victorian Beeston, the cycle of demolition and rebuilding continued. In 1842 the medieval church was surveyed and, with the exception of the chancel, found to be unsafe. Demolition of the old church was completed by 1843 and re-building around the medieval chancel completed by 1844.

Despite the increased industrialisation of the town, the illustration of the church at this time shows an idyllic scene, with sheep grazing in the surrounding pasture, something hard to imagine today. Not only do individual fields and closes survive, but their names survive on existing maps betraying a history which stretches back beyond the town’s Saxon roots.

One such plot to the east of the church, where the Argos store now stands, was known as Roundhill. Across the Square, around the area now covered by Lloyds/TSB Banks, was Roundhill Gardens. The Round Hill to which the names refer was an ancient Bronze Age Tumulus which occupied the site of the Wollaton Road Methodist Church. It was upon the summit of this grassy knoll that the village stocks were fixed. Stocks were introduced to every village during the reign of Edward III, in 1376 and continued to be used until 1840. They were used for the detention of minor criminals, drunkards and the like, who could be detained for a few hours at the pleasure of the local authority.

A little way to the west of the Round Hill, on the site of the old Town Hall, was another village institution, the Pinfold. This was a walled or fenced enclosure which projected a little way into the road. It was used to confine cattle and sheep which had strayed from their fields. The duty of ‘rounding-up’ these strays fell to an official called the pinder, who was elected annually at Easter. When you are next travelling on the Tram through Beeston, consider it as your personal time-machine and think of the history contained within this short journey.

JE

The Hemlock Stone

The history behind Hemlock…

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The Hemlock Stone today is a popular landmark with walkers and cyclists passing the stone hundreds of times a day. The stone as readers may be aware has been scanned by the Nottingham University’s Geospatial Institute in connection with the Nottingham Hidden History Team as part of the ‘Three Stones Project’. The stone is also at the centre of the popular event the ‘Hemlock Happening’, which takes place every year now and has become a popular event.

Today however the Hemlock Stone is largely disregarded, to the extent that in the last few years it has been removed from the list of ‘sites of special scientific interest.’ The old idea of the stone being nothing more than the result of bad quarrying is once again popular and has probably been encouraged by property developers with an eye on the land surrounding the stone. This current lack of interest in the Hemlock Stone has not always been the case and the folklore and legends woven around such stones are an essential part of our heritage.

Legend has it that the Hemlock Stone was hurled at Lenton Priory, some four miles west of the stone, by the Devil. This tale of the Devil or some mischievous force hurling a stone and missing its mark occurs throughout the folk-literature of Europe. It is generally accepted that such legends reflect conflict between the early Christian Church and their pagan contemporaries. The tale is more often than not associated with prehistoric sites like the large monoliths or standing stones erected by Neolithic and Bronze Age man. Such stones were the centres of pagan worship well into the Christian era.

The Hemlock Stone was reputedly hurled from the hill above Castleton in Derbyshire

The village of Kinoulton in southeast Nottinghamshire once possessed a stone with an similar legend to that of the Hemlock Stone. This stone was, from its description, probably a glacial erratic and stood in the churchyard close to the old church. Sadly, both church and stone are now destroyed,

It is interesting to compare the Hemlock Stone and Kinoulton legends in more detail. Both stones were believed to be missiles of diabolic origin aimed at ecclesiastical sites, Lenton Priory and Kinoulton church, respectively. The sites from which the stones were reputedly hurled are also of interest. Both are approximately thirty miles from their targets and both have legends of demonic occupants.

The Hemlock Stone was reputedly hurled from the hill above Castleton in Derbyshire. Below this hill, upon which stands Peveril Castle (from which the town derives its name), is the Treekcliff Cavern. This massive limestone cave, once the home of prehistoric man, is reputed to be one of the entrances to the ‘underworld’ and the haunt of the Devil. Moreover, when heavy rain issues from the cave in the form of streamlets, it is said to be the Devil urinating.

In the case of the Kinoulton stone it was supposed to have been thrown from Lincoln Cathedral, where the Devil once let loose that evil entity ‘The Lincoln Imp’ who, after running amock, was turned to stone by an angel.

To return to the Hemlock Stone and how attitudes have changed regarding such wonders, writing in the mid-eighteenth century, Dr Spencer Timothy Hall, a.k.a. ‘The Sherwood Forester’, provides us with yet more reasons for believing that the Hemlock Stone was once venerated by our pagan forefathers. The good doctor believed the stone to be of natural origin but to be man-enhanced, the result of deliberate quarrying. He goes on to say that when he was a young boy the old folk could remember a time when a fire was lit upon the top of the stone annually on Beltane Day.

Nearby the Hemlock Stone was once the ‘Sick Dyke’. This spring was regarded as a healing well, especially efficacious to rheumatism sufferers. More than one writer on the subject has suggested that the ell was connected with rituals performed at the Hemlock Stone. The Hemlock Stone also has connections with three other stones, a possible standing stone on the nearby Crow Hill and two other local landmarks, the Cat Stone at Strelley and Bob’s Rock at Stapleford.

Joe Earp

Bendigo: Part 2

In our last issue we wrote about Bendigo, the Beeston based boxer and campaigner. Local historian Alan Dance, who has researched Bendigo for a new book (out soon!) contacted us to tell us how some of the things we know of Bendigo might have been the product of some artful image manipulation from the giant pugilist himself. Read on, as Alan explains all…

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I thoroughly enjoyed the article in issue 44 about Bendigo – real name William Thompson – but I’d like to take this opportunity to correct some of the details shown. I have recently been doing some in-depth research into his life in preparation for a forthcoming book – Bendigo, the Right Fist of God – of which more anon. Much has been written about him over the years, most of it, apparently, based on a newspaper article published in 1874. In that year James Greenwood, a London journalist, interviewed Bendigo. Perhaps he was not too clever with dates and numbers and other facts about his life; perhaps he was prone to exaggeration or just liked to spin a good yarn. And he had spent over twenty years in the ring, and had consumed more than his share of Nottingham ale.

Perhaps  the first thing that trainee reporters are told is Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. It certainly seems to have been the case with Greenwood’s article, for this sowed the seeds for the myths that are still being perpetuated. So, let’s look at some of these.

The best known two are that Bendigo was the youngest of 21 children and that he was one of triplets, whose mother gave them the nicknames of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, after the three men thrown in the ‘fiery furnace’ on the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar (Book of Daniel, Chapter 3).

Mmm. Really? OK, let’s examine the records. These show that Benjamin Thompson and Mary Levers were married at St. Mary’s Church Nottingham on 12th July 1805. Their first child, Rebecca, was born three months after their wedding and was baptised at St. Mary’s on 11th October 1805. Then came Thomas (baptised 30th May 1807) and John (20th November 1809). Then we come to William. In later life, William appears never to have mentioned the other two of the alleged triplets. Not surprising, since the Parish Registers clearly show that on 16th October 1811, Richard and William, the twin sons of Benjamin & Mary Thompson were baptised. No mention of triplets. Not only that, but just 12 days later, on to the 28th October, Richard was buried. He had perhaps lived for less than 3 weeks.

Bendigo, of course, had a glittering career as a pugilist, but died in his cottage in Beeston in August 1880

Now, triplets are fairly rare, but it is possible that Mary did give birth to three boys. The only possible explanation is that one died at, or very soon after his birth. No record exists of either a baptism or burial, but in 1811 there was no legal requirement to register either. If there was a third child, then it must have been quietly disposed of, possibly by the midwife. Only one child survived, so why would his mother need to think up three nicknames?

So, after six years of marriage, Mary had given birth to 5 children (possibly six). Yet Bendigo claimed to be the youngest of 21. He definitely wasn’t, for on 8th January 1815, another child, Mary, was baptised. However, she too died young, being buried on 3rd July 1818. William was almost seven at the time of his sister’s death, so he ought to have remembered her. But as she was the last child of this marriage, it is true to say that William was the youngest surviving child; but of six, not 21.

Much could be said about Bendigo’s family. His father was reputedly a mechanical genius, but a bit too fond of the ale (he dropped down dead in the Kings Arms in Chapel bar in 1827); Bendigo’s brother John became a respected optician with his own business; his nephew William (son of Thomas), killed his wife in 1876 at their home in Sheffield and was tried at Leeds for her manslaughter (he was found not guilty).

Bendigo, of course, had a glittering career as a pugilist, but died in his cottage in Beeston in August 1880. But even after death the myths continued, for it was soon claimed that he had been buried in his mother’s grave. The truth is, she had died in September 1854 and rests in the General Cemetery, almost a mile from Bendigo’s grave in Sneinton. Ironically, she is the only occupant of the grave, and there would have been room for Bendigo to join her.

So just how do these myths come about? No doubt celebrity status plays its part, the desire to exaggerate, and of course the tendency for newspapers to print what they believe will sell.

I mentioned earlier a forthcoming book. Bendigo – The Right Fist of God will be published later this year. This is a novel based around his astonishing life story, and has been jointly written by myself and David Field, (author of In Ludd’s Name, reviewed in Beestonian Issue 44). You may wonder how we dealt with the truth and fiction surrounding his life. Since we are both keen historians who are reluctant to perpetuate myths, we have not repeated any of the untruths. We think, however, that we have dealt ingeniously with these anomalies, but just how, you will have to wait for the book’s publication to find out!

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