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© David Hallam 2022

Beeston Gravel Pit Friendly Society

When the earliest settlers arrived they were undoubtedly attracted by the features of the site that was to become Beeston. By the river, they found lush meadow ground and between there and the higher ground based on bunter sandstone to the north, they found a gravel-based terrace on which the village core was developed at the centre of a traditional three-field community. Whilst it was the agricultural qualities of the site that remained the focus in the early centuries of its development, the mineral gravel and sand deposits that were found under the central terrace also became an attraction for some. It is that aspect of Beeston life, that was an interesting feature during the 100 years or so up to the second world war, that we will examine here.

Gravel Site Extraction of gravel and sand had undoubtedly been active throughout parts of the centre of Beeston for centuries but, by the early part of the 19th century it tended to be centred on either side of the ancient track running north from the centre of the village, then called Cowgate Road - what is now Wollaton Road - on the site of what is now Roundhill School, where the red gravel was particularly attractive, and the top of the present Stoney Street - where the clue is surely in the name! In the Enclosure of 1809 1, the Roundhill site, along with other lands, was granted, in lieu of the hay tithes, to Rev Peter Strey Broughton the non-resident owner of what was left of the Beeston Manor 2. Again, there is a clue to this early ownership of the land with the name of "Broughton Street" which now passes through the original parcel of land, the extent of which can be seen as Grant 57 on the extract from the Enclosure Award map (shown left), extending as it did from Roundhill in the south to what is now Bramcote Drive in the north with the ancient footpath to Bramcote passing over its western boundary 3. The smaller grant (53) to one J Taylor, appears to be the location of what became Markhams Field which was eventually incorporated into the Roundhill School site and is now the site of The Pearson Centre. This was also the site of gravel workings at some stage but later became the site of Beeston Wakes - an annual fair held in June which remains (just!) within living memory for some 4.

Gravel Pit Advert Peter Broughton lived at Tunstall Hall at Market Drayton, Staffordshire and therefore managed his property with the help of local agents, a practice that appears to have been continued after his death in 1827, by his son, also Peter. By October 1828 it appears that he had let the gravel pits to local tenants who had 're-opened' them and were offering superior quality gravel in any quantity. Samuel Wood, of Union Street, Beeston was the local contact 5. However, it seems likely that either those behind this innovative locally, or other interested observers, had ideas for a gravel operation that would widen its ownership to become a vehicle for self-help within the community and, in February 1833, the Beeston Gravel Pit Friendly Society was formed 6. it was the initative of a local group, set up to operate the gravel workings for the mutual benefit of its members. Although the exact details are not known, it seems that the members of the group paid a regular, relatively small, subscription. They leased a gravel working, most likely from Broughton and appointed a manager to look after its day-to-operation and the income from gravel sales was used to provide sickness, unemployment and death benefits. In an era without universal social benefits it was a very valuable insurance to its members who tended to be Liberal and Non-Conformists, committed to the then popular concept of self-help. It was, it seems, an excellent business model that was so popular that membership had to be limited to Gravel Pit Advert existing members, their family and descendants as it is likely that it could not be scaled-up indefinitely. The idea, however, seems to have developed wider interest, helped it seems by Broughton himself who wasted no time in offering 'the Beeston Gravel Pit' which may have been his attempt to find some competition when the Society's lease came up for renewal. A typical advertisement for tenants, dated April 1862 is shown right 7. Whatever the circumstances, it seems the Society won the day.

In about 1881, William Heard was appointed Secretary and a Trustee of the Society 8. Born in Beeston in 1852 9, he was to serve in these roles for 41 years, almost the whole of the rest of his life. After his marriage in 1875 to Jane Lowe 10, they set up home at 5 Church Street, essentially in Post Office Square and near to the opening into Chapel Street. There he continued to develop his plumbing business which prospered and they were eventually able to purchase this property as well as other properties on Gladstone Street. He was, in many ways, typical of the type of person that became a became a member of the Society - a hard working man, keen on getting on by 'self-help' and both he and his wife were stalwart members of the United Methodist Church on Willoughby Street, Beeston 11. And, it ran in the family too - for 50 years, his grandfather, Thomas Heard (1804-1885) served as Secretary of The Greyhound Club which appears to have had similar objectives. There is more on William and his wider family here. Their surviving memorial and that of their daughter, in Beeston Cemetery. may be seen here

In about 1888, the Society appointed Ernest Shrewsbury as the manager of its gravel and sand workings. He too was to remain with the Society for many years - in his case, he was to retire in 1931 after 42 years, when the Society held a smoking concert in his honour 12. Ernest was born in Beeston in January 1863, the youngest of six children of Thomas Shrewsbury, an agricultural labourer and his wife Ann (née Cox). Sadly, Ann died in 1866, aged only 30 when Ernest was aged 7 13. At first, he followed his father working on a local farm but was probably pleased to take up his position with the Society in about 1888 as it appears to have enabled him to marry Louisa Curson, who was born in Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk in 1866. They set up home at 18 Willoughby Street, Beeston and went on to have eight children 14. Ernest died in 1945 followed by his wife in 1953.

At some point during its history, the Society acquired the piece of land which was situated at the top of Stoney Street, Beeston, Nowadays it is the furthest part of Sainsburys car park at the rear of the Anglo Scotian Mills complex and up to the back gardens of the south side of Abbey Road. It seems likely that it is either part of the parcel of land shown on the Enclosure Award map (Above left) as number 52 with "Sarah Naylar" as the grantee or part of the parcel labelled "William Hammond". It was a valuable source of sand which the Society was able to exploit profitably for many years, enabling it to continue as a viable concern up the 1930s. One of its main customers was The Beeston Boiler Company which took both fresh sand and returned and dumped blank sand after it had been used in the iron moulding process.

Another initiative by the Society, probably made in the early part of the 20th century, was the purchase of about 10 acres of land, known as 'Golden Drop', in Beeston Rylands. This was offered, in the form of 110 allotment gardens to its members as another form of 'self-help', enabling those without a garden at home to grow their own fruit and vegetables.

In December 1922, Walter Bostock was appointed Secretary at a special meeting of the Society. At that same meeting, the retiring Secretary, William Heard was thanked and was handed a cheque for 10 for his 41 years of service - how the value of money has changed! 15

The new Secretary, Walter Bostock, was born in Beeston in April 1876, the youngest of six children born to Simeon and Hannah (née Bowlzer) Bostock and would have had a difficult childhood when his father died when Walter was just a few weeks old. But, as a member of a typical Wesleyan Methodist family, his mother made sure he received a basic education in the pre-Board School era, he attended the Wesleyan school on Chapel Street Early in his working life he worked at Pollard's lace factory but his inherent engineering skills soon took him to employment at the Humber works. It was while he was there, in 1899, that he married Emily Titcombe, the daughter of Frederick Titcombe, a tailor and his wife Eliza (née Denison), at the Wesleyan Church in Beeston. They were to have five children. By the time that the Humber factory moved to Coventry in 1908, he was holding the position of charge hand. Rather than move to Coventry he chose to take his skills to the London area where he found engineering work with the Clement-Talbot Motor Company and stayed there for seven years until the war-time air raids were found to cause his wife distress. They then moved back to Beeston where, for a short time, he took a job with Collingham & Owen before being appointed foreman in the engineers' department at the Chilwell Shell Filling Factory. He was working there at the time of the catastrophic explosion on 1 July 1918 when 134 workers were killed and about 250 were injured. Walter received head wounds and a broken shoulder. After the war, he started in business at 22 High Road as a newsagent and continued with his work for the local Wesleyan Church, including involvement in the long tradition of its choir carol singing around the streets at Christmas time. In 1920, he was elected to represent Labour on the Beeston Council but did not seek re-election three years later. He was not elected when, in 1930, he stood for election to the Council again as an Independent. He died in March 1949 having been pre-deceased by his wife in June 1944 16.

A report on the Society's Annual Meeting in December 1927 gives us an insight into the working of the Society 17. Tellingly, it was held at the United Methodist Chapel on Chapel Street that had been the New Connexion Methodist Chapel before it amalgamated with the Willoughby Street chapel in 1907 and was attended by several of the leading members in the Society. The Chairman - who was re-elected as President - was 'G Peel', probably 'George' but otherwise unidentified 18. The financial report still showed a significant turnover for that era - income of 761 0s 9d was balanced with expenses of 753 15s, leaving 7 5s 9d in hand. And, the slate of Committee members who were elected/re-elected gives us an insight into a cross section of the membership 19:

  • Oscar Spray - was born in Beeston in December 1881. the youngest of four children of William O'Connor Spray and his wife Ciliea (née Swann). In May 1905, he married Gertie Bottomer, the daughter of William and Mary (née Brown) Bottomer and they went on to have three children. In the years before the Great War, Oscar worked in the lace trade, latterly with W Lamb who appealed for his exemption from service on several occasions but was ultimately unsuccessful and he went on to serve in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery from July until October 1917 when he was discharged with mental issues 20. After the war, he opened a shop at 60 City Road, Beeston.. As a life-long Liberal, he stood for the Council on that platform but came next to last in the poll, reflecting the political climate at that time. He was a supporter, also, of the another self-help organisation, the Beeston Sunday Guild and became its Vice-President in 1935. He and his wife retired to live in one of the cottages attached to the previous New Connexion Chapel on Chapel Street 21 but worked part-time as the caretaker at the Gospel Mission on Willoughby Street. He died in 1960, aged 78 followed, in 1977, by Gertie, aged 94.
  • William Edward Sibert - who was born in Beeston in 1871, the son of Richard and Betsy (née Bennett) Sibert. His father died in 1890 when only 49 and his brother died in 1891, aged 17, when William was aged 19 and 20 respectively and it could possibly be these factors that demonstrated to him the value of the benefits that were offered by the Society and the reason for his relatively late marriage. At the time he was working as a boat builder, probably for George Mitchell at his boathouse on the Trent. In June 1900, he married Harriett Hannah Woodcock (b. c1876 Stapleford) and went on to have two children together which they brought up together with Harriett's daughter from a previous relationship. By this time his occupation was centered on more mainstream carpentry and joinery work. At first the couple made their home on Denison Street, Beeston with his mother and unmarried sisters but later moved to a home of their own at 7 Broughton Street, Beeston and eventually at 16 Wilkinson Avenue, Beeston where William Edward died in February 1936, aged 65, followed, in November 1943, by Harriett, aged 67.
  • John William Hazzledine - was born in Beeston in March 1868, the third of ten children born to George and Althea (née Bloor) Hazzledine. He spent the whole of his working life in the lace trade, latterly at Tophams on Wollaton Road. In 1889, he married Sarah Ann James (b. November 1870) and they had 3 sons one of whom, Harold, was killed in France in the Great War Click here for his memorial page. They were to spend all of their married life living in the Church Street area of Beeston, close to Chapel Street where he lived as a child and where he was likely to have developed his lifelong Wesleyan Methodist faith. He was also a keen footballer and cricketer. He died in Nottingham City Hospital in May 1955, aged 87, followed in 1959, by his widow, also aged 87 22.
  • Edward Marshall - was born in Chilwell, Notts in February 1883, the eighth of ten children born to Freeman & Elizabeth (née Woodcock) Marshall. He worked as a railway wagon repairer and played football for their football team He appears on a 1908 team photograph which can be seen here. He also embraced the self-help ethos through membership of the Sunday Mens Guild - click here. In 1909, he married Matilda Cresswell who was then working as housekeeper to the family of Henry Belcher. the manager of The Humber Company and who lived on Barton Street, Beeston. At first, the couple lived at 48 Humber Road South, Beeston but later moved to live at 1 Clifford Avenue, one of the first houses to be built on the Beeston Fields Estate. They had six children, Edward died in September 1936, aged 52, followed some 43 years later by Matilda, in 1978, aged 96.
  • H Bowlzer - not currently identified (neither Horace or Harold, sons of Walter, seem likely).
  • W Clifford - not currently identified;
  • John Shrewsbury

In 1929, Walter Bostock had been delegated by the Society to sell its Stoney Street land to Beeston Council for 500. Situated as it was adjacent to the Council Depot and the fire station, it was considered to be useful for the potental expansion of either or both. However, when the Council took some months preparing to complete the transaction and another offer emerged from Beeston Boiler Company for 600. the offer to the Council was withdrawn and the higher offer was accepted 23.

Now that all gravel and sand extraction was over, the Society had lost its main sources of income and now relied solely on income from renting its allotments. In the event, in January 1936, its members voted to sell the allotments and, presumably close the Society. The allotments were offered to the Council for 3,000 24 and although it is not known when and for what price, it seems the Council did take over the allotments at which point, having no assets or purpose, now that the Welfare State was being established, it seems that the Society was wound up. As for the Golden Drop allotments, they were to become the centre of controversy in 1952 when the Council proposed to use the site for Council housing but, eventually the tenants accepted an alternative site 25 and the houses centred on Longlands Road were built on the Golden Drop site.

The Gravel Pit Friendly Society had served its loyal membership well for over 100 years. It seems it was a job well done!

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