WIRKSWORTH AS I KNEW IT
A Personal Recollection for my sons
(1904 - 1998)
A foreword is almost unnecessary given the opening words of the document
you are about to read. Thinking back to various family conversations, Dad
told us that he was writing something, but we never saw any evidence of
what he had been writing until after his death in 1998, nearly a quarter
of a century after he started it.
The document was written in a spiral bound school note book which was found
with other private documents kept in a safe place. Despite having intended
to write more about sports, religions and schools, he clearly decided to
edit the manuscript after completing his description of St.John Street and
did not write about those other topics. The first four manuscript pages
had been torn out of the book (although retained) and their contents
rewritten on additional pages. That was also the case for an isolated
section rewritten on page 26 of the manuscript. That editing has been
incorporated in what is reproduced here.
In order for the reader to put the text into context, especially if the
reader is not familiar with Wirksworth, we have complemented it with
photographs of the entire street that were taken soon after Dad's death.
Those photos are included as a separate file but keyed to the manuscript.
Needless to say, the view they record includes all the changes that have
taken place since the period to which the text refers. Photographs showing
some parts of St. John Street before those changes have been published in
various books that have been published about the town. Some of those
photographs can be viewed on the Wirksworth website:
www.wirksworth.org.uk/OLDFOTOS.htm. Two maps that Dad drew in the
manuscript are included with the file of our photographs but may be helpful
in putting those older photos into context. Dad’s maps have also been
inserted into the text close to where they were in his original text.
We trust that the reader will recognize that the text is purely a personal
view of persons and situations as Dad remembered them. He acknowledges
that his memory may be coloured by the years but that he was trying to be
faithful. We felt that sharing these memories as written was more valuable
than keeping them private, or by editing what might be perceived as
critical or personal comments. We hope that readers will agree and forgive
any perceived inaccuracies. We share it with you in the same spirit with
which it was written for us.
Peter and Richard Haworth
I have just passed my 70th birthday and quite predictably my thoughts revert to nostalgic memories. I realised that the Wirksworth I knew in my youth has almost gone. That we as people change, as do our habits and our way of life. Buildings alter, their uses vary, some are demolished, others take their place, and so as time passes we gradually have a new outlook. I do not know of any publication which tells of Wirksworth as I knew it and you who have I believe, a great affection for our birthplace, will return home almost as visitors and will have no means of telling your children of your hometown as it was. So I propose, in a small way to tell you in this article what Wirksworth was like as a town, how the people lived, played and worked. This will be my recollections and may be "coloured" by the years, but I will attempt to be truthful.
I propose to start with the streets, the shops, their occupants. Then the sports, the recreations, the various societies, the many religions and the schools.
St. John Street is, I suppose, the High St. of Wirksworth. I am not quite sure where the Market Place ends and where St. John St. begins, but for convenience let us begin at the Boot Shop.
See Photo 01
Looking down St John's St, from the Market Place.
This was, as now, a Boot Shop. But how different. Owned by the Gambles you knew (Mrs. White and Mrs. Haynes and Sid Gamble the nephew). I knew their grandfather - he lived to be 97 or 98 years old. His son was a genial old man who wore blue tinted spectacles. His was a "superior business". No "sale" stuff ever entered his shop. I still remember his top window was always dressed with one pair of long topped riding boots and two pairs of highly polished leggings. The bottom window showed one pair black boots and one pair brown boots (gents) and a pair of ladies boots which had metal catches up the front which held the long laces which were needed. Apparently these must have reached well up the calf.
Next door, now Weston's, has had several changes.
See Photo 02
'Weston's' to 'Bagnall's'.
The earliest one I remember was a butcher's shop. This was Blackwell's (the grandparents of Edward Webster). Three steps up to the shop in those days and of course the Blackwells lived over the shop, and under it is the big cellar room. This was lit by a big grilled window at pavement level and, as all the various potted meats and pies were prepared on the premises, I still remember the glorious odours of cooking which used to come up through the ventilators. Reminiscent of the Bisto kids. The Blackwell son Harry was a great sportsman and a tablet in his memory is in the church. Later this shop became a tailor's and Mr. Land sat inside cross legged sewing by hand on the counter. Two bales of cloth (one navy, one clerical grey) and a book of "styles" was the only decoration in the window. Later this business was taken over by a Mr. Legge. His daughter married into the Smith family of Buena Vista.
Now across the street to Mr. Wheatcroft's. He was a fishmonger and greengrocer. The shop has gone and now is an extension of the "Hope and Anchor".
See Photo 03
The Hope and Anchor, within the Market Place.
Approached by four stone steps, the shop was in two halves. Right side was the wet fish on a marble slab, so arranged that the melting ice could drain away through the window and so on to the pavement. Left side was the green grocery. Turn left inside the door towards the counter, quite unapproachable because in front I always remember - bags of potatoes (red and white), bag of carrots and onions and swedes in season. The counter itself held boxes of apples and oranges in season. This made this area inaccessible, so you were served by Mrs. Wheatcroft, who was quite small, suddenly appearing round the corner by the big scales. Your modest orders and all financial transactions were completed on top of an orange box which had three compartments. This was usually full to overflowing and if you "accidentally touched" the bottom one of the pile, a cascade of oranges resulted, and if you were really lucky, several would roll down the steps and into the street. The fish came up by train, packed in flat boxes filled with ice. The empties were kept outside under the window, hence the pavement was always wet. Mr. Wheatcroft became a councillor and became involved in a libel suit with our surveyor over his plan to alter the Market Place (more later). He suffered financially. Incidentally, he had two storage places, a small one which ran off what is now the Church Yard from St John St. The other was in China House yard and went underground.
See Photo 04
Looking up St. John's Street from 'Mr. Mee's'
Next door was a drapers shop owned by Mr. Crannis. I only remember him as a rather ill tempered old man who always wore a tall stiff white collar which held his head erect. He was very brusque and you had to tender your penny for the reel of cotton No 40 (I never understood that) before he would serve you.
Then came the Williams', who you may remember in their later days). They transformed the shop (chiefly due to Mrs.Williams) and it became a prosperous draper's and milliner's. Mr. Williams kept the till. This was a new fangled affair which rang a bell when opened and later showed the price. Other tills were merely drawers with partitions for gold silver and copper. Strange how you remember small things.
Now across the road to the BON MARCHE (a rather grand name for Clay's shop).
See Photo 05
The Lych Gate
It was I suppose a typical country shop which sold everything except food, sweets and ironmongery. Miss Clay and her brother Reg (who you may remember) officiated. The windows held a rather shapeless collection of garments, chiefly ladies ware. Inside one approached the counter via an avenue of linoleum rolls (two patterns, one a bilious yellow, representing wood block I presume; the other in red squares to represent tiles) and smaller width rolls I suppose for stairs as they had the Greek Key Pattern down the edges. The counter held a stand full of bobbins of cotton and an assortment of tape measures which dripped down the back. These were never disturbed because Miss Clay wore several round her neck as a badge of office. Only the smallest orders were dealt with in the shop proper, the more intimate requests were dealt with in the "back", having been transferred there by brother Reg. There is a window near the Lych Gate and, by peeping through, one could watch all sorts of mysterious measurements being taken and materials examined. (In passing) Reg used to cut lengths of oil cloth in the church yard on fine days. (He would) put a stone at one end to hold it taut whilst he unrolled the other end. It was considered a victory if, while he was bending, measuring, you could dislodge the stone so that the lino rolled up and hit him in the back.
The other side of the Lych Gate opening is now a grocers shop (Bagnall's) that has developed from a small place I will try to describe. It was, in my early days, a baker's shop owned by a
Mr. Lewis. It is hard to imagine, but access was gained via 6 half moon steps so that the shop itself was perched about 5ft above pavement level. The baking was done in the building which abuts onto the church yard. The windows were usually whitewashed, but often got rubbed, and so occasionally it was possible to see Mr. Lewis making his dough and taking his loaves out of the oven. I suppose he must have died or left because, suddenly, it became a grocer's shop. A little man,
Mr. Fields, took over - like most little men he bustled about and was important. He also was looked upon with grave suspicion because he sold at "cut" prices, and had "special offers". This was considered not quite fair and if the goods were cheaper, the quality must be poor. However, he prospered and I always remember his cut price Liquorice Allsorts at 6d (old pence) a lb.
Then came Bagnalls who, a few years later, removed the steps and lowered the shop floor to ground level as it is now.
Next door (part of Bagnall's shop now) was Mr. Woodford's, hairdresser and umbrella repairer.
See Photo 06
Looking down St. John's Street from 'Bagnall's'
I remember him as a grey moustached man who stooped (due to some deformity of the spine) and talked, and talked. He belonged to a religious sect called the Plymouth Brethren who had no music and believed every word printed in the Bible and indeed knew most of it by heart. This, you can imagine in a barbers shop, led to much argument (especially if a text was quoted against a local football team that had lost the previous week) and work would be suspended. I don't remember much about Mr. Woodford senior except that he was an avid stamp collector and had a big album, the pages of which he would lovingly turn over. We used to think he was a little touched to collect stamps - what has happened to his collection I wonder? Now to his son Stanley - you will remember him I suppose.
He had a wonderful gift of imagination, in so much that experiences he heard about soon became his own and he could weave fanciful tales which were all in the first person. We were enthralled, but not everybody could understand. It was one of my delights to go for a haircut on Saturday morning when all the "regulars", who were shaved once a week, sat round and Stanley led the conversation, which ranged from Astronomy - Surgery - Wars - Sport - in fact every subject you could mention - and a quote from the Bible (Old Testament, Job and the Psalms chiefly) to clinch the argument. He had been apprenticed at Matlock - so Hydropathy was an open book to him. He also had had a spell in DRI with a blood infection. This opened to him all the realms of medicine and surgery and, although I never remembered him saying he actually operated, he was the confidant of all the medical staff. He also had been in the army (1914-16) and what a field that opened. He would have made a wonderful novelist. I remember so well how he would lather up a customer in the chair, pick up the razor, and strop it and then use it as a baton to point out his arguments. Often, his victim in the chair would mutter complaints and would have to be redone. The crowning memory is of an old man saying: "Stanley, some men are liars - some are B--- liars but thou art a B---- awful liar". He was a competent barber and a mender of umbrellas. The charge was Haircut 1d, shave 2d.
Next door was a watch repairer (a Mr. Bowmer).
So, you see, the premises now occupied by Bagnalls was originally 3 separate shops, each paying its way and each had families living above the shop.
Next door down the street was the butcher,
Mr. Rains and family. These I need not describe because you knew them well, except to mention here that they bred their own cattle and slaughtered them themselves, prepared all bits and pieces, made all the sausages etc. There are not many butchers who could do that nowadays. The family were (and are) devoted Primitive Methodists and, if I get as far as religion, shall mention that in such a section.
Mr. Tom Clay had a small shop below. He was a boot repairer and his shop offered for sale the stoutest boots and shoes. His workshop was on the top floor - now plainly visible from the churchyard. Mrs. Clay always wore a flat cap and Mr. Clay, each night, lit a small clay pipe and vanished on a mysterious walk which I believe took him round the local inns, behaviour which I understood was very dubious. I should be about 5 or 6 in those days. I believe Mr. Clay died, and afterwards his sister
Lizzie appeared to look after things till we took over.
Across the road, Mr. Mee's shop was owned by a
Mr. Land, and Mr. Mee was the tailor who made the trousers – Mr. Land made the jackets.
See Photo 04
Looking up St. John's Street from 'Mr. Mee's'
This was understood and seemed to me to be a curious arrangement. After Mr. Land died, Mr. Mee took over the business and still at an advanced age is quite active. It is hard to believe that, in those days, ready made clothes were hardly known - all were made by hand from picked material and were made to last.
Now we come back to our side and to our shop, which is now the electrical Corner House establishment.
See Photo 07
Haworth's shop ('The Corner House')
old-fashioned grocers and when I think of all the work that that entailed I shudder. Everything was weighed and packeted, often while the customer waited. Tea was blended and packed up to customers' own requirements (we had a little tea-book which gave particulars of certain customers' preferences). Coffee was ground fresh each day. Orders were packed up and delivered. Tuesday was particularly busy because the farmers' orders had to be ready so that they could get back for milking, and we kept open until 7.30 pm on normal days. I must write a section on these years at a later date, and so pass on.
The shop below was a butchers shop, for a little while at any rate, kept by a Mr. Frith. He was not mentioned in our house because he drank. He disappeared suddenly and the
Bowmers came down from higher up and so the shop became a watch maker's. Then, strangely, he disappeared, and left Mrs. Bowmer, two sons and a daughter to manage as best they could.
You will both remember quite well the passage way into the churchyard and the "stoop". Now all that area has been demolished due to disrepair but in those days this was a busy corner. We had a stable which, before my day, used to stable the horse and trap which was used for delivery. Later we used it as a store place for empty cartons. Incidentally, in one corner was a "copper" in which we used to boil our own hams. Next door was
Mr. Rains the butcher's store room and the place where Joseph prepared the meat and made the sausage. The house above, which fronted the churchyard, belonged to
Mrs. Travis and her daughter Edith.
See Photo 08
Rear of the Haworth house (red brick) from the churchyard
See Photo 09
Rear of properties south of the Haworth house
Mrs. Travis, who was a small stoutish woman, was always dressed in decent "black sensible material", (and) was disliked because she would not allow anyone to play outside her house, and indeed complained waspishly about even any noise. You will understand her troubles when I say that this part of the churchyard was the playground for 3 Haworths, 2 Rains, 3 Woodfords, 2 Ballough (?) and their friends. Miss Travis was a dressmaker with quite a good business, I should imagine, because she had two apprentices. Miss Travis used to visit various farm houses and live with them while she made up clothes for the women folk. It was suspected that this was, first, to get away from mother and, secondly, she lived cheaper and better. Perhaps we were ungenerous.
That was to the right of the "stoop". To the left lived for a little while (as I knew) the Friths, parents of the Friths who are builders. After them came two old ladies whom I thought were most kind and we (the children) were allowed to pop inside and watch one sitting knitting and the other preparing food. I believe we owned the cottage - this might have influenced them. Later a Mrs. Goodall lived there. She was a cratchety old lady - but I suppose we as children playing round about must have been noisy and a nuisance. Rains' lived (as now) and the back door came into the churchyard. So much could be written about that family - you both knew them well. How just and meticulous they were in all their business. I have known Miss Rains come down here on Saturday night at 9pm with a ½d which she had discovered she had overcharged earlier in the day. On the other hand, 1lb of sausage was exactly 16oz, even if it meant cutting a link in 4 parts.
Now we pass below "the entry". How changed that is now the old buildings have been demolished. Above the cottage was our warehouse, a three storeyed building. I will talk about that if I ever get round to describing what life was like at "our shop".
Below "the entry" was a typical piece of old Wirksworth.
See Photo 10
Front of properties south of the Haworth shop.
The buildings still stand (in 1974). First came a little bakers shop kept by the Salt family (they or Miss Salt transferred to West End). The baking was done in the building up the yard. Plain fare, bread, oatcakes, rock buns. Money was very scarce in those days and only plain fare was known in most families. Later these premises became a fish and chip "saloon" kept by the Pearsons, whose relatives live in Australia. The daughter married George Spencer, who began his chequered career there, later transferring to the Market Place.
The building(s) at the back were used by Mr. Clay and Sons as their boot and shoe repair workshops. This had two stools which were reserved for callers who just sat and talked whilst work was in progress. As you can imagine, it was a hotbed of scurrilous gossip. During the First War a great change occurred. The second house (cottage) down which was occupied by
Mr. Johnson, the blacksmith. He obtained a contract for making horseshoes for the army and so set up business as a shoesmith. Horses of course were still the accepted means of transport and power. The farm tractor had not arrived. So, all day and well into the night on occasions, we lived in an atmosphere of "chink chink" as the shoes were fashioned, and we were often called in to work the bellows. I remember with glee one incident. Johnson was attempting to shoe a donkey (more of him later). The donkey was obstinate and kicked out. First went the owner. Then, Mr. Johnson, trying to evade flying hooves, fell over his work box and was trampled on by the donkey. Johnson got up and his hand was near his light hammer, which he picked up and hit the donkey on the head. The donkey turned round, bit Johnson on the backside, then walked out down the entry and out onto St John St, and stood near the big wicker basket it usually pulled. The language was colourful, as you might imagine, but the donkey never came again.
Now we come to one of old Wirksworth's character shops. Now a decorators shop, it was then a grocers shop, which also sold pots and crockery, kept open by
Mr. Stafford (the father of Councillor Miss R. Stafford who you will remember). I say "kept open" because he was rarely in - but everyone knew that he would be across the road in the Tiger Inn and either fetched him or helped themselves. Charlie always came to our house every week end to "borrow" a side of bacon or half a cheese to put him on. The shop was in two halves. Pots on the floor on the left and groceries on the right. Brushes etc hung outside, making entry to the shop difficult if he had just had a delivery of "Farm Brooms" because you had to push your way into the shop. Charlie was one of Wirksworth's real old characters, always in white apron and a straw hat. He would stand at his shop door and engage any passer by in fierce argument and finish all by saying "I bet you ½ pint. Shall we pop over and have one?" He must have lost money - I know we did! His monthly settlements never seem to arrive. However, he wasn't the only one who defaulted.
Next we come to Maskrey's
Janet is the second Mrs. Maskrey. I well remember the first one and her mother. Mrs. Maskrey No 1 was always in the shop, which was not so crowded and more tidy than now. This gave her a wonderful vista - up the street and down. All the "goings on" were duly noted and related to a privileged few. She sold home-made sweets and butterscotch. This was set in flat tins and was broken on request with a toffee hammer. If she was in a "paddy", the tin was hit very hard and the toffee you received was in splints. On a good day you got selected pieces.
Next door was, as now, a barbers shop, kept by a Mr. Joe Fell, a dapper smaller man, dark hair, ever neat and tidy. He was in great demand at local dances. So much that one night he eloped with a girl from Kirk Ireton and was not seen for many a year until someone saw him officiating in Lyons Corner House. He never came back. In his place came a young lad, now of course Mr. Wm Smith.
You will remember the shops that stood at the corner of St Mary's Gate.
See Photo 11
Entrance to St. Mary's Gate.
The first was a fish and chip shop, kept by a Mr. Southam and family. You know his grandchildren. Before they took over it was kept by Mr. Clapham. His daughters attended our chapel and sat behind us (2 pews away). They always had the frying aroma and always ate peppermints.
The paint shop was
Mr. Websters', who employed two men. His shop was our only supply of wallpaper etc.. Mr. Cooper's shop was a private house and below where Wain's now stands was a secondhand furniture shop.
See Photo 12
Shops south of St. Mary's Gate.
Mr. Miller, the proprietor, drank more than was good for him and often the door would open and out would come Mr. Miller followed by a chair or whatever furniture was handy.
Slater's shop was kept by Mr. P Gamble.
See Photo 13
'Slater's' down to 'The Cinema'.
He had a curious stock of cleaning material and paraffin. He had moved down from the Dale. He and his shop always betrayed the fact that he sold paraffin and even his "donkey stones" smelled as he did.
Then we come to what I always thought was Wirksworth's best house. This was Nether House, which was a grand, creeper covered, Georgian House which was comparable in size to the opposite house (now the hospital). It had spacious grounds which extended down to the Hannages - good lawns and gardens, which included a peach wall (now the back of Bill Wilde's house in Nether Gardens). It was owned by a
Mr. C. E. Bowles who was a scholar of some repute. Alas, the War impoverished them and they had to move to a smaller house on North End. I well remember him presenting me with a prize at WGS called "Our Country's Flowers", and being invited to go with him on a tour round his garden and receive a lecture far above my head. There were stables approached by an archway on to St. John St. and he kept a good staff of servants. He had a young parlour maid, now Mrs. Sam Smith, so you can guess how long ago that was.
For a while after he left it was a guest house and we used to hold suppers and dances in the big dining room. This house gave distinction to the street. Now, of course, it would be preserved. Then, it was just knocked down and the present cinema was erected. The building (that is) now the Memorial Hall was a club and this flourished until the War came.
The remainder was almost as now, except the chip saloon (which) was a private house occupied by a retired solicitor and his wife.
See Photo 14
Looking down St. John's Street from 'The Cinema'.
The little shop was a grocer's, kept by the Gambles, both noted characters.
See Photo 15
The 'chip saloon' to The Wheatsheaf
Mr. Harry affected a straw hat and white apron. Summer afternoons he would appear on the Hall Leys at Matlock, resplendent in panama and white flannels, dodging his wife, Drucilla, who had stalked him from Wirksworth.
On the top of Warmbrook were two pubs.
See Photo 16
Bannisters Yard to The Wheatsheaf.
See Photo 17
Looking up St. John's Street from The Wheatsheaf.
One, now the house of Mrs. Wilson, the other the Wheatsheaf. Only the two cottages separated them. Bannisters Yard was a narrow strip with cottages both sides. Hard now to imagine what it was like.
Back again to the top and the other side - to Lloyds Bank.
See Photo 18
Trustee Savings Bank to Lloyd's Bank.
Banks in those days were superior places and one entered as if into some ducal establishment - in fact very few people went in. The shopkeepers took money in, but the ordinary people never crossed the threshold. The manager was Mr. Tompkins. He was a captain in the Territorials and on high days and Sundays would appear dressed in his scarlet uniform, compete with sword. We held him in some awe. He had a young bank clerk at his beck and call. He was, of course, Brian Hilditch, of whom more later. In those days the Bank House was run by a staff of about 3-4 servants, so was considered quite an establishment. Below was the Trustee Savings Bank and over it lived one of the curates.
Then, over Hammonds Court (Meadow Road), to one of the notable shops, Buxton's the Pork Butcher.
See Photo 19
Entrance to Meadow Road.
They were a musical family - they all sang and played. They did this very well, but very loud, and many times, while his daughter (Mrs. Slater) played and sang in the house, Mr. and Mrs. Buxton would join from inside the shop. All work would be suspended and Mr. Buxton would conduct with his carving knife until the song was finished and then afterwards (would) carry on oblivious to the fact that everybody was waiting. We understood, but any strangers in the town were dumbstruck. He was a fervent member of the Cricket Club. He wielded his bat like a chopper and every Monday morning he would demonstrate to any passer by how he "got out" with whatever tool he had to hand. It was dangerous at times to pass his shop because suddenly he would shoot his arms out of the door to sharpen his knife on the steel, and if you were too close you caught the sparks. The window was a good sight - full of all pork by-products - sausage, polony, brawn, black pudding etc.. Very colourful. They had pork products for every meal and so the whole family had pale and full complexions.
Then to the Tiger. This was kept by the
Pashleys. Mr. Pashley was the Cricket Club's slow break bowler, very fat, very slow and deliberate. As a lad he used to bowl me out regularly at practice and I never knew why. Now I know; I lost him in the air. He used to try to sneak out the back way to be early for cricket. Often he failed and, at the call from his wife, would return and leave his bag outside in Meadow Lane. If anyone saw it they would report that: "We had better bat. Charlie will be late today."
Two doors below lived Mr.Joseph Talbot.
See Photo 20
Looking up St. John's Street from the Hospital.
He had a stable of horses and provided a trap and a carriage called, I believe, a Victoria. This was our means of local transport. He also, of course, had a "flat dray" and did light carting. He had two (claims to) fame. He had a son,
Joe, who obtained a scholarship to Cambridge University from our local school - this set him apart from ordinary mortals. Secondly, he had been a cavalry man in, I suppose, the Boer War and occasionally would appear on the Recreation Ground complete with sword and give a demonstration of cut and thrust accompanied by wild yells - most awe inspiring to we children. He could be listed among Wirksworth’s characters.
Then we come to another of Wirksworth's characters. This was
Phoebe Wheeldon, a tall austere black clad old lady who, strangely, had a small farm on the site of Arkwright Street. Each morning and evening a solemn procession would wend down St John St and into Foggs Entry, led by Miss Wheeldon and followed by her helper, a
Miss Pearson carrying a yoke with two buckets. Empty as they went, but on the return journey full of milk, which was later delivered by Miss Pearson door to door. Who did the milking, we never knew. The barn door was closed, but we were sometimes allowed to walk the cows in from the field. She (Miss Wheeldon) was held in great respect because she belonged to some select religious sect - akin to the Quakers who did not mix with any other people. (I was given to understand that the last headmaster of the Grammar School
(Mr. Berridge) used to attend these cottage services - because these were held in her house.)
Now it is Waltham House, the Wheatcroft family’s residence.
See Photo 21
Waltham House, now the Hospital.
The house is almost as it was in the early 1900s. The Wheatcrofts, as you know, were tape manufacturers. They owned The Harlem Mill, The Speedwell Mill, and the Bleach Mill (Wash Green) and were one of the largest employers of labour. The family was 4 sons and one daughter. Two sons were casualties of the 1914-18 war. It is hard to imagine what sway this family had over many families in Wirksworth. The family were strong Congregationalists, and if any of their employees had not been to service on Sunday an explanation was required. How different today. They also owned Millers Green (then a separate village) and the farm (Wards) - The Barrell - and succeeded in closing it after purchase. They also owned Stonebridge Farm (which our grandfather was tenant - until after the war when it was purchased). They kept a full staff of servants who all had a good training in their particular spheres. Later, the war and the depression broke the business and, after the death of the parents Wheatcrofts, the sons carried on the mill with diminishing success. Now that family has died out and Wirksworth is not quite the same.
The Mill, now under new management, makes many more lines for many uses. Fashion has changed and dictates the need for a large range of narrow fabrics. So, prosperity has come again and the employees are now well paid, and indeed there is a shortage of staff. The House was left vacant after the elder Wheatcroft's death. The sons had, of course, their own establishments and so we all got together and the house was purchased to become the New Cottage Hospital, replacing the old one up in Babington House, Greenhill. This was one of the social changes which I may recall later.
The remainder of St John St is almost intact.
See Photo 22
St. John's Street south of the Hospital.
See Photo 23
St. John's Street opposite Bannisters Yard.
The Foggs Entry has now been renovated and the cottages are quite attractive inside.
Before I wander any further, may I make a few comments. All these people lived over their business premises. That meant that we were a community of self sufficient people - there was no need to go out of our immediate surroundings for the necessities of life. Nobody had a lot of money (we children had none) and the people worked to live, which was all that was asked. Our needs were simple and our social life centred round the Church and Chapels (more of that later). Children made their own amusement and although some were indeed more affluent than others, this did not raise any social barriers as it does today. I have named the shops in St John Street and you can see that to live we had no need to leave our area. The children, and each family would have several, all played in their own locality and although we all, without exception, had many household chores which we were responsible for, we were all together as a little community and as far as our family was concerned, there was no inter-parental quarrelling and any one in need or trouble was assured of help given in the kindly way that only such a grouping can afford.
We differed in many ways - I suppose chiefly due to religious persuasion (as each society had its own social gathering and cliques). I may be able to enlarge on that theme later. I suppose our family was fortunate, we were accepted by all and there was no social life in the town or indeed any household in which we were not welcome. This was due, I now know, to the high moral standing our family had maintained in Wirksworth for many years.
The Market Place:
This is probably the most altered and changed area of Wirksworth, structurally at any rate.
See Photo 24
Southwest side of the Market Place.
What follows is a rough sketch of Market Place No 1 as it was until say the 1930s.
See Photo 39
Sketch of the 'Market Place of Old'.
Shall we start at the West End, the top of the Market Place. This was the Pig Market and was an area which was cobbled with stone sets and, on market days and fair days, it was here that farmers brought their pigs to be sold. Bundles of hay and straw and wooden palings helped to keep the pigs confined to that area. The noise and the smell gave a proper farmyard atmosphere. Below that was a long building which stretched across the top, from The Road (West End) to within 10ft of the doctor's house and level with his front door.
This was, in early days, a milliners' establishment and here were made the dresses and hats for the "better off" ladies of Wirksworth. I have been told quite a lot about that because my mother was apprenticed there and was on staff for some years. Upon the death of the proprietor, a Mrs. Hall, the premises were turned into a Conservative Club. I have spent many happy hours as a guest of members. I could not become a member because our family had a Liberal tradition to maintain. However, in my youth, I was considered a useful snooker player (I do hold the record of 52 for Wirksworth snooker), so have played there in several challenge matches. Supposed to (be) evidence of a mis-spent youth if you are fine at table games.
Below, on the Market side, was
Mr. Millington's shop. A remarkable man - who could clean and repair any mechanism if he so wished. He was one of our real characters. Apprenticed in Derby, he cycled down to Sadler Gate in Derby on Sunday evening to be ready to start with his foreman at 7 o'clock am Monday. At night he slept under the counter in the shop and returned to Wirksworth on Saturday night after 8pm. Later he worked in Wirksworth and took over the business when Mr. Evans the proprietor left to open a shop in Matlock Dale Road. One prospers and one just lives and enjoys life. Mr. Millington was a keen gardener and an unscrupulous competitor at the local horticultural shows. So flagrant were his actions that finally he was (de)barred from all competitions. He also was a keen rabbit man and always kept ferrets and gun dogs. He had a dog which slept under his work bench next to the ferret box. His shop was the meeting place for all the men of his ken. Little work was done, but much libelous conversation was heard. He was also a great beer drinker. A type of Wirksworthian we shall never see again.
Down again to a tobacconist shop kept by a
Mrs. Pickard, who was stone deaf. It was considered a joke to slip into her shop, quietly whilst she was arranging her stock of cigarettes, and suddenly yell, causing confusion etc. She was so deaf that she was unable to say if this had been done on purpose - that is, if you kept your face straight. Otherwise you were reprimanded, then reported - that meant a good hiding. All considered in a day's march. Below again was the house with the door opening onto the market.
We are now down to within 10ft of the Hope and Anchor. This area has also changed. Where now is the dining room of the Hope and Anchor was a shop. I remember it as
Palin's, the green-grocer, in my early days - later they moved across the Market. But, for many years after that, it was a baker's shop kept by a
Mr. Brough. His bake house was across the narrow Causeway as shown on the map. Mr. Brough's son was Charlie who you knew so well. Imagine the smell of hot new bread which came from out of the bakehouse. One could stand outside and see the loaves, cakes and buns being taken from the oven. He also baked meats and made Cornish Pasties and sausage rolls. Next door again was the
Miss Greatorex's establishment, who sold home made sweets and everlasting sticks and liquorice bootlaces. For 1d one could have a night's enjoyment from Miss Greatorex. The shop had a paned bow window and it was one step down to the counter. This corner I now can see was a typical Dickensian corner, also all gone.
Opposite was, as shown, two cottages. These cottages and the bakehouse formed the base of an isosceles triangle of buildings. Across from the cottages was a curio shop kept by a
Mr. Millward. His shop was a curious jumble of bric-a-bat. I never knew if he sold anything. I remember he had gold rimmed glasses on the end of his nose and he took snuff. This, we were informed, was a "dirty habit" and he was looked on with suspicion.
So there we have one side of the Market which has now all disappeared. It was demolished in one of Wirksworth's great upheavals, but quite recently, perhaps 1930. As that needs recording, perhaps that might need a special paragraph later.
Up to the other side of the "Market Place No 1". Structurally, this side is almost the same, although the uses to which the premises have been put have altered.
See Photo 25
Building Society and Black's Head.
The Building Society's place was Hilton's Boots Shop (kept by
Mr. Pattin). Then the Black's Head (as now). Below was the London Central Meat Shop and then Hunter's shop.
See Photo 26
Black's Head to Crown Yard
These two are now combined into the Laundromat. Palin's shop was the Crown Inn, a very old establishment with extensive stabling in the rear.
See Photo 27
Crown Yard to 'Marsden's'
Then Bradley's and so down to
Marsden's at Scotts Corner, so called because years ago a cripple called Scott used to sit at the corner for many years.
See Photo 28
North side of the Market Place, Town Hall in the background.
Now it is still used as a vantage point because one can see down St. John St., across the two Market Places and have a good view in those days of who went into the Hope and Anchor, the Black's Head, the Crown, the Greyhound and the Red Lion. Now the Crown and the Greyhound are closed.
Marsden's are of course a very old business house which has seen many ups and downs.
See Photo 29
Scotts Corner ('Marsden's') to Symonds House.
They were farmers’ ironmongers and sold machinery such as was used in those days, and milk churns. In those days, farmers provided their own churns and each had a brass tag on the top bearing the owner's name. If a farmer sold three churns he had to have at least six: 3 out, 3 in. His milk was sold by contract to firms in the large towns and it was a great day for the farmer when the firms came to "buy the milk". Most from round here went to London and the farmer brought his milk to the station by cart to catch the 5.20 train. Imagine the station with say 40 carts each to unload and load up all the churns and the chaos that occurred. These contracts were binding for so much milk - in good condition at the firms depôt. Any short was surcharged, and so any over was made into butter and cheese. Most farmers kept on the safe side and so the farmer's wife etc was kept busy. This is all by the way. I was talking about Marsden's, a prosperous business until after the wars. Then, between the wars, we had Nestles, who started a factory in Ashbourne (incidentally, I believe they wished to come to Wirksworth in the first place). They provided their own churns and collected the milk from the nearest road to the farm. This of course set the rot in as the farmers naturally stood to gain, especially as they were paid for all they sent. Their churns were also a different shape and did not hold so much (and of course were not so heavy) so these were soon mass made and Marsden's work got less and less.
The business was reorganized and the son(s) took over and concentrated on the farm machinery connection – which it holds today.
Mr. Marsden (Jack's grandfather), I believe, had been married twice and Mrs. Marsden had two families - so the relations were most complicated. My uncle married a Marsden and my aunt (Aunt May) married one of Mrs. Marsden's brothers. The family were all Wesleyans (one daughter married one of our parsons). I may be able to include some history either in a section for old characters or in a section on the religions.
Next door (now the paper shop) was kept by
Mr. Harrison (Ken's father).
See Photo 30
The 'paper shop' to Symonds House.
He was a plumber and decorator and they kept the shop with wallpaper and paints – and (strangely I always thought) good quality pottery (teasets and dinner sets etc). Access to the back door was via the Crown Yard and behind the stables and the slaughterhouse of the butchers (higher up the Market Place). Ken Harrison was one of our group who played in the Church Yard. Next door was a tailors shop
(John Willy Land) who later moved to St. John St. after Blackwell Butchers died out. The shop was taken over by
Mr. Hawley, an extension of his Greenhill emporium. Mr. Hawley always wore a straw hat and a striped apron. Except on Sundays when he appeared immaculate in black suit and highly polished boots which squeaked – causing consternation in the Baptist Chapel morning and night – he always was last to arrive and bowed and smiled his way slowly down to his own pew in the front. I think he should appear later with Mr. Marsden.
Next again was, as now, a butcher's shop, kept by a Mr. Ogden who married a Miss Blackwall (see St. John St.).
Next door (where now is the Super Market) was a draper's shop
See Photo 31
Entrance to The Dale.
He sold material and his windows were always full of rolls and rolls of various cloths. His business was mostly with the bigger houses. They all employed a seamstress whose duty it was to make the bed linen, the dresses for the servants, the curtains etc. A most important shop (he was also a bell ringer at Church). Upon his death, the shop was taken over by the Co-op who branched out in ready-made dresses.
Above again (now a pet food shop) was
Mason's the Chemists. A real old fashioned alchemists shop - well respected and, in those days before any NHS, acted at the people's first call in illness.
Symonds House on the other side was, as now, a private house but round the corner in the Dale was the solicitors office.
Before the New Road (Harrison Drive) was constructed, the entrance to the road was occupied by two shops.
See Photo 32
The first was a small sweet shop which also sold biscuits and tried at a later date to branch out as a tea shop. This failed because both Miss Doxey and her brother William were eccentrics. The other shop stood empty for some time and was then taken as a second-hand furniture shop by some people from Manchester called Watts. The sons later started the motor and taxi business you know. I expect that I shall be able to talk about that service under another heading.
We are now down to the Red Lion which was as now.
See Photo 33
The Red Lion.
In early days this was a noted coaching inn and has extensive stabling up the yard. At the top of the yard was the bowling green which was one of Wirksworth's "better class" affairs. Alas this was destroyed when the new road cut straight through - and so Wirksworth lost another amenity.
I shall include the Town Hall in the Market Place because in those days it was part of the market scene.
See Photo 34
The Town Hall.
You are aware of the plan – if not, the following sketch may help.
See Photo 40
Sketch of the Town Hall and adjacent shops.
The bottom portion (now the Rates Office) was a butchers shop (Abbott's). Old
Mr. Abbott was a rough loud man who kept his family in complete subjection. His daughter was for many years a teacher at the School and followed his example with her pupils. The portion above the entrance was used to store the market stalls etc by the UDC (Urban District Council). Round the corner were two spaces which were used on Market Days by the farmers' wives and daughters to sell butter, cheese, eggs and in the other one rabbits, poultry.
See Photo 35
Town Hall and 'farmer's market'.
This was an essential part of the wives' income as that money was by custom the housekeeping for the farm. This custom fell out of use with the decline of the private sale of milk and its collection by the big combines from the farm itself. This I will try to remember when we talk about changes of customs.
Incidentally, we used to have an Orange Fair on Pancake Day and the space in front of the Town Hall was occupied by stalls selling oranges. (That was the day when everybody bought oranges for
marmalade and we sold 3x2lb sacks of special sugar for preserving in that week. It was all hand weighed and packed after school.
The shop you knew as Miss Stokes' was kept by
Mr. Atkinson, [see oldphoto X027] a white haired, jocund man - stoutish, with a white apron and gold watch chain.
See Photo 36
He had two men with him in the shop and one man whose duty was delivery and general warehouse duties. The business was really high class and he supplied all the big houses in the district. I remember him sending me home with a note asking for the loan of six sides of bacon to complete an order for Willersley Castle. Have often wondered how big the order was. However we were friends and I always think of him as the typical Victorian grocer. He was a kindly man and very knowledgeable. He kept the weather records for our area, was a keen gardener and botanist, willing and able to talk to we children about any allied subject. He started several of my friends in the hobby of wood samples. He was a big churchman and gates to his memory were installed at the Church porch, iron ones to replace the wooden ones which were falling into disrepair.
I remember his housekeeper (Betsy) a stout white hair, steel rimmed bespectacled lady who made rock buns which often went free. He lived in the Manor House and his horse and delivery cart was kept in the stables at the side of the house.
Round to the front of the Market (the East side): Structurally as now, but occupied first by Mr. Land,
[see oldphoto X027] the drapers shop.
See Photo 37
'Miss Stokes'' to the east side of the Market Place.
This was a large establishment which employed quite a big staff. What is now Hilton's was
A.J. Marsden, the stationers with the auctioneers office over the shop. This was a big shop and sold general stationery material, newspapers etc.
Next came one of Wirkworth's rather unique shops. Kept by the
Miss Smedleys, two refined old ladies, who sold only home made bread and cakes and provided afternoon teas of a delicate nature. They baked in the back of the shop (I can smell it now). The entrance was up two steps and the shop window was of the old bow type - with small panes - that are coming back into fashion in 1974. In those days it was "the thing" to meet at Miss Smedley's. Funnily enough I never remember it being called just Smedley's (always with the prefix "The Miss"). With their demise, Wirksworth lost a link with Georgian and Victorian living.
Next door was the Greyhound Hotel, which closed in my early days. I just remember it, and standing in the door way to watch the soldiers (Territorials) parade.
Where now is Hunters was
Mr. Johnson the ironmonger - an ardent baptist, and so the supplier of that class of good and paraffin to all the non-conformists in the town.
See Photo 38
East side of the Market Place.
He was a lay preacher and got very emotional during his sermons and had to stop on many occasions to weep. I suppose he must have been very sincere - in those days I thought he was just (a) plain show off.
Then the bank, as now. The manager was a Mr. Coulson - his son was in the flying corps. He brought down the German flying ace in the 1914 war, got wounded, came back to WGS for a refresher course, went on to Cambridge, fell out of a punt and was drowned. His father was a particular pal of mine (though of course much older).
Then next door was
Hindles The Farmer Chemist, an old established business, probably 1750.
See Photo 01
Looking down St John's St, from the Market Place.
Where now is Read's shop was then
Shields the tailor. His window carried a bale of clerical grey cloth in one window and a pair of check trousers in another. His daughter was Mrs. Hardy the mother of Alice Hardy (Cromford Road) who died so tragically with Miss Reece a little while ago. Very genteel was Mrs. Hardy and used to slip down the Church Yard with a jug each night to fetch the beer.
The Hope and Anchor was kept by the
Budworths who had owned it for a generation.
See Photo 03
The Hope and Anchor, within the Market Place.
In fact an old Mr. Budworth was the first customer the Ind Coope had when they started brewing at Burton.
There are many tales to be told about the Hope and Anchor. It was reputed to be the site of the Roman Governor of the prison camp which they established here about 10 AD. It features in Baroness Orczy’s book Beau Brocade and was the meeting place of the Barmote Court. But, above all, it was a superior establishment noted for its exclusive clientele (which never numbered more than a dozen).
I may be able to recall for you the consternation caused when overnight we received 750 soldiers chiefly Cockneys who did not understand the niceties of Wirksworth's pubs.