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Elizabeth's Story - Everyday Life in Beeston Rylands 1838 to 1842

Jan 1 - Very fine & mild day. Busy making meat pyes.

This simple statement of everyday life, written at the start of 1838, is the opening entry from the diary of Elizabeth Nutt Harwood. The story of her daily life has survived in her journal for the years 1838 to 1842, when she was aged between 20 and 24 years. Her fascinating account gives us an insight into the daily life of the farm and inn at Beeston Rylands in Nottinghamshire where she lived and indeed something of life in Beeston itself at an important time in its development.

Her daily entries allow us to understand something of how she and those around her, particularly her father Richard Harwood, responded to the rapidly changing environment around them. These individual actions were to influence the development of Beeston and, in the process, that continuing development had an influence on them as individuals. Inevitably, it is always a two way process - one cannot separate an individual from his or her environment - he or she influences the community he or she lives in whilst the community influences his or her actions.

Throughout his adult life, Richard Harwood would have described himself as a Farmer but, as we shall see, it was as a Publican that he had his biggest and the most lasting effect on the evolvement of his surroundings in Beeston.

Richard's father, also Richard, with his wife Ann and the seven surviving of their twelve children, had been attracted to move to Beeston Meadow from Radcliffe-on-Trent where his family had farmed for several generations. We can date their arrival to about 1808 as their thirteenth child was baptised at Beeston in December of that year. He began to farm land next to the canal - land which had already been enclosed by the time of the Parliamentary Enclosure in the following year. At Beeston Rylands, Richard saw an opportunity; the Canal was now established after its opening in 1783 and there was much activity, boatman came and went, bringing with them new requirements for lodging, for ale and for provisions. Richard had demonstrated his recognition of the potential of the canals by his acquisition of shares in the Erewash Canal, the Grantham Canal as well as the Cromford and the Leicester Canal and now wanted a share in the indirect benefits. On the farm where he settled with his family, he was to open the Boat and Horses Inn that, now rebuilt, survives today.

The farm however continued and would, for the time being, be the main-stay of his livelihood. Richard and Ann had the help of three adult sons, Richard, John and William as well as a fourth, Robert, of about ten and two adult daughters, Ann and May, to assist with the farm and the running of the home and inn. This assistance became the more vital when Richard's wife, Ann, died in 1811. At that time the responsibility of the family included two small children of three and six (Alice and Elizabeth) and these circumstances and the demands of a growing business undoubtedly influenced the eldest daughter, Ann, already 25, to delay marriage for another five years. Sadly, she was to die shortly after that - apparently in childbirth with their daughter, Ann.

The eldest son, Richard was about 20 when the family came to Beeston and we can speculate that his involvement in the workings of the farm must have brought him into contact with the family of Richard Nutt, a prosperous butcher who with his family, lived in the adjoining Parish of Lenton and would have had frequent dealings with the adjoining farmers and at the cattle markets in Nottingham. Richard Harwood married the Nutt's youngest daughter Elizabeth in 1817. During their short marriage of just over six years, terminated by Elizabeth's early death at the age of 34, they had two children, both daughters. Only one, Elizabeth Nutt Harwood was to survive beyond infancy. Her father, widowed at a young age, inherited the Rylands Farm - "two houses with orchard, garden croft, etc at Beeston Meadow..." - soon afterwards in 1826 and Elizabeth was to take an active part in the running of the farm and inn together with her aunt, her father's sister, Elizabeth ("Aunt Betsy") and, in particular, her father's widowed sister-in-law, Mary Langford ("Aunt Langford"). Her father's youngest sister, Alice, also helped at the Inn but was to move to Radcliffe-on-Trent to care for other family members.

When the diary opens then, in 1838, Richard was living the life of a well-established farmer. He had excellent local connections, counting amongst his friends and business acquaintances, the Chilwell squire and Tory politician, Thomas Charlton. These connections, as well as the family network - including the Nutts who were very well established in Lenton and Beeston - formed the basis of the family's social activities. Typically, Elizabeth records:

Jan 2 - Very fine day. I and Aunt Langford went to tea and supper to Uncle Robert Nutt's. Aunt John Nutt and Mrs Weston, Mrs Freckingham, Miss Cowley, Miss Day and Mrs Joseph Walker were their. Spent a very merry evening.

Jan 3 - Went with Miss Ann Barker to invite the neighbours to the meeting at Mrs Smedley's. Took tea with Miss Barker.

Jan 4 - Fine day. Aunt John and Aunt Robert Nutt, Mrs Weston, Miss Cowley, Mary Nutt and Aunt Harwood took tea and supper with us. Mrs Weston and Uncle William came after for them.

Elizabeth writes in a reasonably articulate style that suggests that she had received the kind of early education that would have been fitting for a girl of her social standing. It is likely that she attended one of the many private academies for girls which existed in Nottingham area, as elsewhere, about 1830 when she was of appropriate age.

( Description of typical school plus advert )

Now, as a young lady of 19 with some spare time, she was keen to widen her general knowledge - and so, apparently, was her father. This was typical of many at that time who were excited and intrigued by all things 'scientific'. In the larger centres this interest had developed as the Mechanics Institute movement and, a decade later it was to lead to Prince Albert's initiative in the Great Exhibition but in little Beeston, for the moment, it took the form of meetings addressed by visiting speakers. The series that started early that January was typical:

Jan 5 - Very misty all day. In the evening I went with Father and Aunt Langford to here Mr Greaves' lecture on Geology which he illustrated by several specimens of rocks and fossils. Some of them very peculiar, especially a part of a Mammel's tooth and a part of deer horn that had been found a very great depth in the earth, and a piece of rock composed entirely of fishes eggs; was very much interested.

On that occasion, even Aunt Langford had found the time to attend. Hers was a busy life, taking a leading part in helping her brother run the farm whilst not forgetting her family connections across the river at Clifton. Mary's late husband, John Langford, had been a framework-knitter at the time of their marriage but soon afterwards (by 1821) had become a boatman at Clifton at the bend below the weir. At this point a ferry had existed since ancient times and, in fact, Clifton Parish extended to include a small landing area on the Beeston side. Today this area has been transferred to fall within Beeston's boundary but its location can clearly be seen in the Weir Field at the river bend.

Every Saturday though, her routine was invariable, attending the Market at Nottingham with Richard. That Saturday was no exception:

Jan 6 - Very misty all day. Aunt Langford and Father went to Nottm.

Then again, on Sunday, she was usually to be found attending the Baptist Chapel in Beeston with Elizabeth. On this first Sunday however Elizabeth seems to have attended there alone; perhaps Aunt Langford attended the funeral at the church that day:

Jan 7 - Dull day. Went to Mr Smith's Chapel in the morning. Hannah Hurst was buried in the afternoon at the Church.

These were of course Richard's brothers who all lived nearby. His youngest brother Robert had stayed to help run the farm in the Rylands but linked his livelihood closely to the canal; at various times we find him described as 'a provider of boathorses' (1833), a 'horse-keeper' (1839), a 'Trent Navigator' (1840) and a 'boatman' (1830 & 1844) as well as a 'farming man' (1831) and simply 'farmer' (1835, 1837 & 1841). It seems that Richard had made available to Robert and his family the second of the farm-houses contained in his heritance.

Both John and William, whilst maintaining their contact with the family each followed alternative livelihoods. John was a ?????? whilst William established himself as a shoemaker in Market Street (now Middle St) in the village and became Constable by 1844.

The weather has always tended to be the pre-occupation of diarists and Elizabeth was certainly not the exception. This is not surprising, farming activity is so adversely effected by inclement weather and, later on, the Inn was to benefit by better weather! So, typically, we find her recording a spell of real winter weather.

Jan 9 - Sharp frost morning. Snow in the afternoon.

The Rylands - with its isolation and regular winter flooding at that time - was not a pleasant place to experience that sort of weather - although, in the Beeston Rylands of today with its extensive areas of urban housing, it is difficult to imagine how she felt. It was the railway - as we will see - that was the catalyst for change, first bringing distinctive villas built above and below the Railway Station around 18?? by relatively wealthy businessmen escaping from overcrowded Nottingham and able to commute on the Railway to Beeston. Somewhat later more other housing appeared; some, dating from the turn of this century and centering on the large Telecommunications factory, and much more, built in the 1930s as overspill from Beeston. In the 1950s the area was finally made safe from the overflowing Trent, by a flood prevention scheme, enabling the housing to be extended even further and mobile homes to be sited.

In 1839, then, none of this existed; between the settlement at the Canal and the village of Beeston about a mile to the north on the higher land, were open fields crossed by paths. To Elizabeth this was "Beeston Meadow" for this was the ancient meadowland regularly flooded by the river. The area was farmland and featured several distinct farms, including Padge farmed by John George and the Hassocks Farm worked by William Smith, but the main settlement consisted of the farms of Richard and Robert Harwood on the north bank of the canal, a few hundred yards east of Beeston Lock two inns - Richard's "Boat and Horses" (or "Boat") and the Jolly Anglers on the canal side run by Samuel Bradshaw - and about twenty cottages. It clearly existed to serve the passing canal trade providing beer and lodging at the two inns. The Agent of the Trent Navigation Company, William Barker, lived at Beeston Lock and boatman and their families were to be found in each of the other three lock cottages. From the census of 1841 we see that seven of the cottages had framework-knitters as the head of the household with members of their family doubling the number of knitters in the community and there was also a lacemaker and a weaver. Of the remainder, four of the heads of household were boatman and another four were labourers most probably associated with the canal. Another, Thomas Palethorpe, an agricultural labourer appears to have been associated directly with the Harwood farms. Both inns and the Palethorpe household had boatman and their families as lodgers, a total of nine over all three houses; Robert's farm in particular owed much to the canal, providing the horses required for its operation locally. Remote as they were from the centre of the village of Beeston, the community will have, in some ways perhaps, learned much more of the world around them from the passing trade on the Canal and tended to look just as easily to Nottingham for their everyday contacts.

It must have been quite bleak in the winter - no wonder Elizabeth recorded it all so faithfully. The weekly lecture and Sunday Chapel must have come as welcome breaks, not to be missed whatever the weather:

Jan 12 - Frost and snow most of the day. In the morning went with Father and Aunt Langford to here Mr Clark's lecture on Geography. Liked him very much.

( Comment on the 2 Hurst deaths )

Jan 17 - Sharp frost, little snow in the morning. John Hurst was buried at the church in the afternoon. In the evening went to the meeting at Mrs Smedley's.

Excerpts from the diary are included by kind permission of Nottinghamshire Archives.