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Beeston Population


Source : Census

The History of Beeston - an Overview -

Although situated only four miles west of the centre of the City of Nottingham, Beeston retains its feel of independence. From an administrative point of view it remains part of the County rather than the City and is separated from Nottingham itself by the open spaces of the University campus and Wollaton Park. That geographical barrier, coupled with a strong commercial and industrial base which has adapted to change over the years and, by no means least, the existence of a strong Non-Conformist tradition has resulted in a palpable independence of spirit amongst its population.

Its southern boundary is marked by the River Trent and it was that route which would have been taken by its earliest visitors during the Stone Age - flint axes from that era have been found - and many centuries later by those in the Bronze Age (4000 to 1000 BC). Three canoes from this era, discovered in 1938 by the river, with spearheads, traces of a structure and some skeletal remains appear to confirm that the area was definitely settled by that time. Later in this evolution, the area appears to have been on the periphery of the Roman occupation, being cushioned from the main activity which took place south of the Trent. Nevertheless, traces from this time have been found over the years.

All these settlers must have been attracted by the site - lush meadows by the river, a higher gravel-based terrace and still higher ground to the north based on bunter sandstone, with an abundant supply of good water, on which to grow seasonal crops. It was this ideal site which eventually attracted the Anglo-Saxons to settle during their attacks through Nottinghamshire and adjoining areas during the sixth century. They formed a village on the terrace and established their traditional three-field farming methods.

The name "Beeston" dates from this time; it is based on the excellent wild grass which the settlers found so useful in the riverside meadows - the Saxon words "beos" meaning bent or rough grass and "tun", a place or settlement - the place where the bent grasses grow.

Some four centuries of settlement followed, interrupted and influenced by incursions by Danish and Norman invaders. The Domesday Survey of 1086, where Beeston is included only in part - approximately 360 acres out of a total area of some 1500 acres - marked the start of the Medieval period noted for the influence of the Church and the Lord of the Manor. Beeston was ecclesiastically under the control of Lenton Priory and the main overlordship was in the hands of William Peveril and eventually granted to Hugh de Beauchamp.

Although Christianity was adopted by the Anglo-Saxons and they would have had places of worship, the first definite evidence of a church does not appear until the end of the 12th Century. Over the centuries this was to be rebuilt several times, notably in the 16th century and was eventually, in 1843, to become the church building, dedicated to St John the Baptist we see today. A few fragments from earlier structures can still be found there.

For some 700 years, the village followed the pattern of change and everyday existence which was experienced by many settlements of this type in the area. The economy was almost entirely agricultural, the village core was clustered around what is now Middle Street with a market cross at its junction with what is now Dovecote Lane and Church Street - the site shown in the picture in the heading of this page. The church, manor house and farm and other older building in the adjacent present West End are all pointers to this scene. The traditional three fields and meadow lay to the north and south of that core. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537-9, Beeston was taken over by the Crown and eventually the Lordship of the Manor was granted to the Strey Family who occupied and developed the Manor House - tastefully restored in 1981 - until the last of the line died in 1802.

The church registers, dating from 1558, are amongst the most complete in the County although there are some defective years in the first decade, a gap caused by missing pages from 1611 to 1637 and few entries, no marriages, during the Civil War period. The years 1593 and 1594 record the devastating effect of a arrival of what is likely to have been bubonic plague. 138 deaths - perhaps 40% of the population - occurred as a result during a 10 month period, many being buried in a Plague Pit at the east side of the churchyard.

The 17th Century saw the first stirrings of change when initiatives from individuals led to a degree of enclosure and a resulting reorganisation of the three-field layout. The act of enclosure, which transferred rights in common into individual ownership, while often having a devastating effect on the small farmer, did have the advantage of encouraging development and diversification away from a purely agricultural economy. These changes were eventually encouraged by improvements in communication and transport facilities - the Nottingham to Derby road to the north of the village was turnpiked in 1759 with a branch to Sawley Ferry passing along the line of the present High Road. At the end of the 18th century, the River Trent was improved for transport purposes by the construction of a weir at Beeston and a canal to provide access to Nottingham. General enclosure was completed by Act of Parliament passed in 1806, making the way clear for wholesale change. This gained even more impetus in 1839 when the railway was opened from Nottingham to Derby with a station at Beeston.

By the end of the 17th century traditional rural crafts had begun to be augmented by the establishment of Framework Knitting of hosiery. Although this began as a cottage industry, here as elsewhere it provided a focus for change in organisation which progressed through the evolvement of houses with a upper room for the frames with long windows to give light, to small workships built in backyards and, eventually, the fully developed factory concept which formed an important part of the Industrial Revolution. Here as elsewhere, the hosiery industry fell on harder times and, as in Nottingham, there was a transition to the more fashionable lace making. After land became available following the Enclosure there was a rash of small factory building for this purpose which was to grow according to demand and individual fortunes for the rest of the 19th Century. Early development of this type took place largely in the Chapel Street (now no more, being on the site of The Square shopping development in the 1960s) and Villa Street where the area at the north end became the site for a more major factory, powered by steam and housing 92 machines, which came under the ownership of William Felkin (who wrote A History of Machine Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufacturers) and his sons. This was followed by other purpose-built enterprises, John Pollard’s Swiss Mills and the large-scale operation of Frank Wilkinson’s Anglo Scotian Mills which had 1000 employees by the time of a disastrous fire in 1886. A rebuild was also destroyed by fire six years later but a further rebuild with a castellated, Victorian-Gothic facade onto Wollaton Road survives today.

Important as these industries were to Beeston, they were not the only employer of size. A silk mill, was built in 1826 which had mixed fortunes and several ownerships during its productive years which finally ended in 1902. In 1831 it was the target for Reform Bill rioters who burnt it down in protest to the opposition to the Bill by the owner of the mill, William Lowe. By 1851 however, after a rebuild, it was employing 580 men and women and was said to be the largest silk mill between there and Derby.

This huge increase in commercial and industrial activity attracted corresponding increases in population. In the early 18th century, this has been estimated at about 300 but this had risen comparatively rapidly to 948 in 1801. This continued dramatically during the first half of the 19th century, settled for two decades and then surged again to reach a 10 times increase during the century as a whole - and then nearly doubled again in the next 30 years.

Industrialisation also had its influence on religious attitudes with many working people turning to the growing number of Non-Conformist Chapels for their salvation. In 1798 the New Connexion Methodists came to the village and had built a chapel by 1805 and this was followed by the Wesleyan Methodists who first took over the New Connexion chapel and then built their own larger building. Other Methodist sects also developed and built in the developing community. The Baptists were also established by 1803 and soon built premises on Nether Street, a building from which emerged the famous Dr John Clifford. Born in Sawley in 1836, and from very humble beginnings in Beeston, he went on to train at a Theological College in Leicester and then became an nationally influential figure and one of the centuries greatest champions of undenominational state education. In 1902 the Wesleyan Methodists opened their fine Victorian Gothic church on Chilwell Road which continues to prosper and expand to this day; the national amalgamation of the strands of Methodism which occurred in 1907 and 1932, however, brought a rationisation of the number of buildings in use.

Education in Beeston in the early part of the 19th Century was available from 1834 at the Church of England run National School on Brown Lane (now Station Road) or the corresponding Wesleyan Methodist Day School on Chapel Street which opened in 1839. The national opposition to these denominational schools was addressed by the 1874 Education Act and by 1882 Beeston provided its first Board School on Church Street followed, in 1898, by another on Nether Street in 1898.

By the end of the 19th Century, the next phase of Beeston’s industrialisation was well underway. Between 1880 and the turn of the century , Thomas Humber and his partners were making bicycles and eventually motor-cycles and cars at a large factory at the junction of what is now Queens Road and Humber Road. At its height it employed 2000 although this came to an abrupt end in 1907 when the company rationalised its facilities and moved all operations to Coventry. The firm of Foster & Pearson was an interesting localy evolved company which had been making horticultural buildings largely based on their experiences in horticulture in adjacent Chilwell. From this developed a further evolvement into making heating boilers, initially for their buildings but eventually for wider commercial and residential use, and saw the creation of Beeston Boiler Company which operated from premises between Queens Road and the railway up until the 1980s.

Major industry arrived in 1901 when the National Telephone Company moved into a site in Beeston Rylands - the area south of the railway which runs down to the River - which soon become British L.M. Ericsson Telephone Company and was eventually to employ about 5000 producing telephone exchanges and equipment for the world market. Several generations of Beeston’s young people benefited greatly from its apprenticeships and training. In its latter years it operated as GPT Ltd, still a major employer and supplier of telephonic and electronic equipment, but finally closed in 2009.

During the 20th century the town attracted a diversity of industry and enterprise which has provided a viable alternative to those industries which developed and died during earlier centuries. Not least of these is the huge Boots pharmaceutical factory which lies partly in Beeston and partly in the City. Inevitably also, the last half of the 20th Century has seen an increasing trend towards its use as a dormitory suburb of the City and as a shopping centre for surrounding communities. Over the years Beeston has adapted to each of these changing roles and has the flexibility and spirit to respond to the changes which the future will bring.

Since Local Government reorganisation in the early 1970s, Beeston has been part of Broxtowe Borough Council. This takes in the former Beeston & Stapleford Urban District Council and parts of what was Basford Rural District Council. Its name is derived from the old Wapentake for the area but is confusing to many in present day use as it is the same as a well-known housing estate in Nottingham City. The former Urban District included the former villages or communities of Chilwell, Attenborough, Toton, Bramcote and Stapleford. Today, it is often difficult for visitors to differentiate between these communities but they have developed from distinct origins with different strengths and outlook.

Nearby Communities :

Chilwell : lies immediately to the west of Beeston and, today, is largely residential in character. In ancient times this area is said to have consisted of two villages - East Chilwell and West Chilwell and was part of the larger area which includes Toton and Attenborough. Much of this came under the control of Ralph Fitzhubert who was Lord of the Manor across the Trent River at Barton-in-Fabis. Strong ties with Barton seem to have always existed and a ferry has existed for that purpose for centuries. Until comparatively recently, Chilwell did not have a church of its own and was part of the Ecclesiastical Parish of Attenborough where its register entries are to be found. This is reflected in its Domesday entry which credits it with "half a church".

By Tudor times, the Manor had been acquired by the Charlton family who remained in possession of much of the village until after the 1st World War when it was sold at auction. The Hall was demolished in the 1930s although much of its wall remains today. This family control of the village contrasted with that of the "openness" of adjacent Beeston and had the inevitable effect by restricting development with much of the industry remaining cottage based. As a result, the Chilwell population started the 19th Century at 638 and grew slowly to reach only 1176 by 1901. This started to change after the sale and nearly doubled from 1359 in 1911 to 2584 in 1931.

During the 19th Century the village was noted as one of the biggest fruit growing area in the country - something of which there is little evidence today other than residual fruit trees in residential gardens in the Park Road area. This was part of a tradition for horticulture including roses and other flower growing which became established locally. In Chilwell this was dominated by the Pearson family who where also involved in the Foster & Pearson and Beeston Boiler transition in Beeston mentioned above - a classic evolvement from basic horticulture to heavy industry.

In 1908, Thomas Barton started running buses in the area and was to set up his base and main garage in Chilwell. Eventually the familiar red buses of Barton Transport operated all over the East Midlands and on tours throughout the British Isles and the Continent - in fact becoming the largest independent bus operator in Western Europe.

Chilwell Shell Filling Factory occupied land which lies between Chilwell and Toton. It was put together by Lord Chetwynd in a very short time at the beginning of the 1st World War to help address the demands for shells for our forces in Europe. On July 1st 1918 it was the scene of what remains the largest ever explosion in the British Isles. There are still people who remember that terrifying moment which resulted in the deaths of 134 workers many of whom were subsequenty buried in a mass-grave in Attenborough Churchyard. The site became dormant between the Wars but was activated to play a full part in the 2nd World War as Chilwell Ordnance Depot supplying tanks and other equipment to the front, then and in subsequent conflicts. Much of its land has now been put into residential or other use although the core of the site remains.

Attenborough : This pleasant village lies to the south of present-day Chilwell, up to the River Trent and astride the Nottingham/Derby railway line. Although it is the site of the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin and provides the name for the ecclesiastical parish it was in ancient times, curiously, part of the Civil Parishes of Chilwell and Toton providing "half a church" to each. There is evidence that there was a church on this site as early as circa 964 and some of the parts of a later 13th/14th Century rebuild survive in the present building. The earliest Register entries date from 1560 and include, of course, residents of Toton and Chilwell.

Attenborough’s most famous son was Henry Ireton, the Parliamentary general, who was born in Attenborough in the house which survives next to the church and who married Cromwell’s daughter, Bridget.

Today, Attenborough is a favoured residential area. The area between its houses and the river have been much worked over to provide gravel and for many years the resulting water-filled pits provided something of a problem which has been happily solved over the last 25 years or so by its development as a nature reserve.

Toton : This remained a tiny, rural settlement which was isolated from the other parts of the Parish, the more-so after the Shell Filling Factory cut off its main access to Chilwell and a diversion to by-pass the community was built. The size of its population hardly moved during the whole of the 19th Century, starting at 175 and closing at 186 - but took off after 1921 reaching 644 in 1931. Change began when a rail marshalling yard, handling the output from the collieries of the Erewash Valley was developed on its western edge. Today, Toton consists almost entirely of residential housing in response to the demand for homes in the area for commuters working in adjacent towns or requiring easy access to the adjacent M1 motorway.

Further Reading :

The Beeston Story by Margaret Cooper
Published by Nottinghamshire County Council Leisure Services, 1996
(ISBN 0 900943 89 0)

© David Hallam - 2002