The name of William ‘Bill’ Wheatley may not be known to that many Beestonians, but to those that do, he means a great deal to them. My only time of meeting Bill was when I went to his house to chat with him as a subject for the ongoing ‘I Am Beeston’ project. Although I managed to take his photograph, for some long-forgotten reason the interview never took place. Now, of course, it is too late, as Bill sadly passed away in June. So as a way of recompense to him and his family, here is a potted history of his life and his many achievements.
William was born on 31st October 1929 on Moorbridge Road in Stapleford. He was the oldest of four children. Archie his father worked at Stanton Ironworks, while his mum Elsie was what is known as being in service, before becoming a wife, parent and homemaker. When Bill was eight, the family moved to Stanton-by-Dale. At 15, Bill got a job at the Ironworks as an apprentice electrician. National Service arrived when Bill reached 21.
Having knowledge of electrical matters, Bill served in the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) where he instructed recruits on radar systems, at their base in Arborfield, Berkshire.
When he was demobbed in 1952, Bill specialised as an electrical engineer in mining and petrochemical sites. He became a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and a Chartered Engineer (C Eng MIE). He retired in 1992, after being an engineer for 50 years.
Life changed for Bill when he married his wife Cynthia Chapman in 1957. Bill met Beeston born Cynthia through his involvement in the local Methodist Church on Victory Road. They enjoyed 53 years of marriage, living in the same newly built bungalow on Trent Road in the Rylands before she died in July 2010. The couple had two daughters; Kathryn and Helena. Bill became involved in the church at a very young age, through firstly becoming a choirboy, then as a bell ringer. He loved the Methodist Church nearly as much as Cynthia. as he was involved in the church’s many activities such as teaching, leading the Sunday School, organising a boy’s club and the Christian Endeavour, which aimed at helping young people to find God. In 1963, Bill helped to create the Midland Camping Venture (MVC). This group provided week-long summer holidays for young people and gave them an opportunity to get involved in various outdoor activities. It proved to be very popular, as thousands of young people signed up for these camps. Bill also became a local preacher and looked after the Victory Road church.
But religion wasn’t the only thing that kept Bill busy. After seeing shire horses as a child, Bill found his love of all things nature. He learnt to recognise the calls of different birds and know lots about plants. He even sold rose bushes to Wheatcroft’s. In 1996, he and the late Keith Corbett started the Beeston Wildlife Group, which is very popular with wildlife enthusiasts, and became Chair, after Keith’s passing eleven years later. He was also heavily involved in Attenborough Nature Reserve and other local conservation projects.
His community work was formally recognised in 2008, when he took a trip to Buckingham Palace and received his MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for Voluntary Service to the Community in Beeston, Nottinghamshire’. Bill described this as one of his proudest moments. Then in 2012, Bill was given the Freedom of the Borough of Broxtowe. A fitting tribute to such a remarkable man.
Away from the church, nature conservation and helping others, Bill enjoyed reading, with his favourite novel being Laurie Lee’s ‘Cider With Rosie’, possibly whilst listening to some jazz music. He supported Derby County and was a fan of motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi. He also liked steam trains and a bit of plane spotting at RAF Waddington. Bill also spent the best part of 25 years learning Spanish, and at the age of 79, drove for several hours, so he could do some birdwatching.
An inspirational man by any standards. I went to his service of thanksgiving at Beeston Methodist Church on June 22nd. It was a sad, but joyous affair, with many people relating stories and fond memories about their connection with Bill. A lot were from the days of the MVC. This was followed up with a later meeting that day at the Attenborough Nature Centre.
With many thanks to Kathryn Randall
and Heidi Tarlton-Weatherall for the information and photographs.