Cropwell Bishop Streets: 44. Nottingham Road - part 2 (updated 17-6-21)
When you drive into the village from the A46, at what point on Nottingham Road do you think of yourself as having entered the village? Is it when you pass the Cropwell Bishop sign – or maybe not until you reach the 30mph sign and the Memorial Hall?
A hundred years ago, by the time you reached this point on a summer’s evening, you would have already passed through the busiest part of the village.
Walking down Nottingham Road
Walking down that dusty road in the early decades of the 1900s, you would probably witness a hive of activity ahead.
You might brush shoulders with chattering gypsum workers on their way home, ghostlike with their covering of white dust. And be passed by Heaselden's carts loaded with ground gypsum. And all this before you reached the Town End Canal Bridge.
You would pass by the black wooden bungalow opposite Heaselden's Works.
Wind forward 100 years and it all looks so different but somehow retains that feeling of being an entry zone – not somewhere to stop on your way to the village.
Continuing our walk, to reach the village centre we have to cross the Grantham Canal. No need to get our feet wet though, the Town End Bridge takes us up and over.
Once you reach the top of the humpback bridge, you pause and look to your right. Looking along the canal and beyond its curve – the scene is so busy, and mostly red.
A Red Revolution in Cropwell Bishop
The view from Town End Bridge would not have been obstructed by greenery as it is today. You would have faced more red than green.
Gypsum was certainly the dominant mineral output from Cropwell Bishop during the 1900s. Even in the 1800s its output was important, but it was outstripped by another mineral.
Long before the start of large-scale mining of gypsum began near the Old Mill on Kinoulton Road in 1880, there had been big factories in, and around, Cropwell Bishop.
They used miners too, but they weren't digging for white lumps of rock – they were scooping up clay. Red clay to make bricks, tiles and pipes.
It was the Grantham Canal that made these enterprises possible. For the first time in local history, heavy loads could be transported to the centre of large populations easily, quickly and profitably.
Small brickworks had existed on the outskirts on Cropwell Bishop in the early 1800s. There was one alongside the canal near the Fosse Way, the Hoe-Hill Brick and Tile Works.
It was just outside the parish of Cropwell Bishop but was certainly supplying bricks to local builder in the 1840s.
There was once a brickyard at the other end of the village, where the canal leaves Cropwell Bishop – near the Colston Bassett Road and Blue Hill. Maps show it was a working brickyard in the 1830s but seems to have ceased not long after.
Then there were the brickyards that were in the centre of Cropwell Bishop – beside the canal, of course.
There was once a small one near the Roving Bridge on Kinoulton Road, but the biggest, and most recent, brickworks, was the 'Brick, Tile and Pipe Works' opposite Canal Farm near Nottingham Road.
These were the Works that could be seen from the top of Town End Bridge.
It was owned by the Midland Brick and Mineral Company, but everyone referred to it as the Cotton Brickworks: it was owned by a William Cotton.
In the 1890s, the Cotton Brickworks was a thriving business and in 1898 it planned to go public. The prospectus printed for this step reveals interesting facts.
It was turning out 45,000 bricks a week and it was stated that, “an additional £500 could increase output to 75,000.” The clay reserves were thought to be sufficient for 50 years.
It is amusing to note that at this brickworks they were mining red clay and discarding the white gypsum as waste whilst, 500 metres away, over the Kinoulton Road, they were mining gypsum and discarding the clay.
Apparently, the brickworks had a great pile of "waste"; “several thousand tons of gypsum ready for grinding.”
It was stated that the company was making a profit of £3,500 p.a. and it was being sold for £23,000. Get your money back in 7 years – looks like a good investment for someone with the cash.
It is not known if William Cotton got his money but we do know that the brickworks had a life much shorter than anticipated.
Just 7 years later, Samuel Heaselden had purchased land next to the brickworks and was sinking shafts in his search for gypsum seams.
He appears to have been a smarter businessman than William Cotton: he not only sold the gypsum he mined, but also the clay (marl) that lay between the seams.
Town End Bridge
Descending from the brow of Town End Canal Bridge on our imaginary walk, we might well have been faced, not by buildings, but by hordes of people.
A crowd of village folk, waiting outside Canal Farm for the arrival of its farmer, Joe Blades.
It was not Joe they were after, but what he might bring them. Joe Blades, not only looked after the farm, but also the village bus.
Twice a week he drove to Nottingham, and when he returned to Canal Farm at dusk, he would unload his passengers, and also any packages that village folk had arranged to be collected from the city.
Joe enjoyed a long working day. As well as looking after village folk, he also took care of canal barges. They moored up outside his farm or in the Cropwell Basin on the other side of the bridge.
He carried out any repairs that needed doing. Even the barge horses were not forgotten – they could bed down in his stables. Joe was said to be a happy character with his fingers into everything.
He would use his motor bus for day trips, but this new form of transport had yet to be perfected.
When horses had pulled the carriages, they always managed to haul their full load up every hill, but the motorbus couldn’t cope: passengers had to get out and walk up hills.
We have to thank villager and gypsum worker, Norman Sheppard, for these recollections. He recounted them to his son, Colin, in 1981.
He also recalled the remarkable feat of two Cropwell Bishop men, Bill Fogg and Gershom Hampson, one winter when the Grantham Canal was frozen over. They skated all the way to Grantham – and back again on the same day.
The Memorial Hall is a familiar part of Cropwell Bishop’s heritage but, compared to many many of our old buildings, it is relatively new.
In the early 1910s when the gypsum mines and brickworks were in full swing, the Memorial Hall hadn’t been imagined: neither had the First World War.
Eleven Cropwell Bishop men died in that War.
In March 1919, there was a public meeting to discuss proposals for a suitable memorial within the village. By the end of 1920, a Memorial Window had been installed inside St Giles Church and a Roll of Honour inside the school (now the Old School).
Even so, there was still a band of villagers who wished to see a hut or hall built within the village.
Encouraged by the moral and financial support of Mr J. N. Derbyshire, owner of the Gotham Company that mined gypsum east of Kinoulton Road, a building committee was formed in 1924. Herbert Heaselden also gave valuable financial support
Initial plans were drawn up in 1925 and fundraising for its completion began.
As part of this effort, the first Village Fete was held on 1st August 1925. The charges for admission and afternoon teas made it a successful event. A Fete, or similar event, has been held in the village most years ever since – usually at the end of July.
At that first Fete, skittles was especially popular with the prize of a pig for the winning man and a Stilton cheese for the winning woman.
Nevertheless, before they could move forward with the project, a site first had to be found for the building.
Their search ended when the present 4 acres site was bought from the Ministry of Health. The decision to build the Hall there seemed sensible: it was already an area of intense human activity.
It was on Friday 6th July 1928 that the project was given the go-ahead.
It would cost £1220 and over half of this total was raised by the people of Cropwell Bishop. They also helped keep costs down by doing a lot of the hard work themselves. Men, wives and children devoted their spare evenings to getting the job done.
Just 12 months later, in the summer of 1929, it was finished and, on the 3rd August 1929, Mrs J.N. Derbyshire officially opened the Memorial Hall.
In October 1929, the Charity Commissioners were asked to become Trustees, and all organisations which were involved with or used the Hall were asked to appoint representatives to serve on the Memorial Hall Committee.
The first trustees were: Mary Elnor, Thomas Barlow, Mr Duncalf, Herbert Heaselden and William Parkin.
Tennis courts were laid out on the playing field in 1932, and electric lighting was also installed – but it would be 1938 before mains water arrived.
The most important date in the history of the Cropwell Bishop Memorial Hall was Wednesday 29th June 1932 when His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited the Hall.
There was a report of the visit in the Nottingham Guardian Newspaper, in which stated:
It was a hard struggle and in the last stage the Notts Rural Community Council obtained a free grant of £190 from the Carnegie Trustees, and a loan of £150 for five years free of interest. Largely through the efforts of Alderman J. N. Derbyshire, a site was secured for a playing field as well as for the Hall.
The latter is admirably adapted to its object, and it is an asset to the village. Movable partitions enable it to be used for teas, dances, meetings, and a variety of other purposes.
A condition of the grant is that the Hall will be managed in perpetuity by a committee representative of all organised interests in the parish – social, religious and sporting.
For more information on this visit, including photographs, see the Parkin Close Street Story.
Developments continued, and 1934 saw the introduction of a cricket pitch for boys, and swings and a see-saw for the younger children of the village.
By 1935 the Memorial Hall was being used for weekly cinema shows. Then a bowling green was proposed and it was completed in August 1936
In October 1935 Mr Derbyshire generously offered to pay half of the outstanding £ 275 which was owed to the Gotham Co, if the remainder could be raised by April 30th 1936: and it was.
The next major change didn’t occur until 1948 when Notts County Council announced it was to flatten Town Bridge and widen and re-align the road.
The widening and re-alignment of the road lead to the loss of a significant portion of land, so the Committee negotiated with the Council to have a double entry drive with wrought iron gates, and a stone wall with a stone tablet in the centre.
The Memorial Hall Today
It is now almost 100 years since the Memorial Hall was built. It was built on a tight budget and is now showing its age.
For many years the Parish Council hired the Memorial Hall for its meetings and, for a brief period, had a tiny office there.
In 2006 the Parish Council decided to take out a 25-year lease on the playing field to ensure that the refurbished play equipment would be maintained to a high standard. Costs have been met from public funds.
It was at this time that the Parish Council decided to have a structural survey of the Hall carried out.
The alarming findings of the survey led to the Parish Council offering to take over the Memorial Hall with a view to demolishing it and replacing it with a larger, more sustainable building whilst retaining the iconic frontage.
The plan was to include office space for the Parish Council but leave the Memorial Hall Committee to run the new building as before.
The Memorial Hall Committee voted to reject this offer.
A few years later, when Rushcliffe Borough Council threatened to demolish the Old School building and sell the land it stood on, the Parish Council decided to buy the building. It saw it as an opportunity to save this, basically sound, building for the benefit of the community and to provide office space for itself.
It felt secure in the knowledge that such a move had the support of 82% of the residents of Cropwell Bishop (as indicated by the Parish Plan Survey of 2008).
Sadly, the Memorial Hall structure has since deteriorated further to the point where, in 2021, it was declared unsafe to enter. This is why it is now closed and fenced off.
Its future remains uncertain.
According to the Charity Commission, the declared Objective of the Memorial Hall’s Trustees is the:
“Provision and maintenance of a village hall for the use of the inhabitants of the parish of Cropwell Bishop without distinction of political religious or other opinions, including the use for meetings, lectures and classes and for other forms of recreation and leisure time occupation with the object of improving the conditions of life of the inhabitants.”
It is to be hoped that a way will be found to build the facilities expected in the 21st Century so that the committee’s noble objectives can be achieved for both current and future generations in Cropwell Bishop.
It may be that some people are reluctant to see demolished a building that was built (with the help of villager folk) in memory of those who didn’t return from the Great War of 1914-18.
In this Street Story we have seen how invigorated people were both during and after the building of the Hall. In the first 6 years they built tennis courts and bowling greens, they established clubs and put on plays, they started a cinema and a football team, and they continued having a village fete every year.
Yes, a Hall was built, which was a satisfying achievement, but, I wonder, did the feeling of optimism stem more from the spirit of togetherness brought on by working together on a great project with real meaning.
Maybe this feeling was as valuable as the building itself in helping families face up to the sorrow brought on by a terrible war.
A century later and the village will soon have to make decisions about the future of the Memorial Hall. Could it be that, once again, the process will be just as important as the bricks and mortar.
The young men who had their future stolen by the Great War, are surely best remembered by something that supports a safer, more stable future for new future generations of our village.
It is the duty of Trustees to make decisions about the future of the Hall but following recent resignations, there is currently, only one trustee – an alarming situation that is out of step with the recommendations of the Charity Commission.
In the past decade, Chris Keast has, on several occasions, asked teams of university students to put forward their ideas for a replacement Hall. Even from the few examples below, you can see that by careful design it is possible to maintain a link with the original design.
I wonder if a team of villagers can be formed to make the dreams of century ago come alive again on those historic 4 acres of land that we all share. They will need a clear vision and they will need drive to succeed, but it happened once, and it can happen again.
Town End Bridge to Kinoulton Road
Continuing our imaginary walk from Town End Bridge to the junction with Kinoulton Road takes us past a row of terrace houses that was known as Parkers Row.
These homes were built in the 1860s and were occupied by workers of all kinds and their families.
The row of houses was named after the owner, Vincent Parker, who was a wealthy farmer/publican at Canal Farm. He died in 1897.
The Row was demolished in the 1960s.
Note: Thanks to Anne Terzza, Pam Barlow, Tony Carter, Chris Keast and the Sheppard family for information and help. I also wish to acknowledge the value of a document by the late Rick Hickman describing the history of the Memorial Hall.