Sawley in 1900

Sawley in 1900

The following was written by Judy Kingscott for ‘A Brief History of Long Eaton and Sawley from 1750 to 1914’ published in 1967. 

People who live in or know Old Sawley today would hardly recognise the village as it was at the turn of the century.  The old houses are being demolished and new ones have sprung up in their place.  Almost all the buildings have changed: except the church, the chapel and public houses.  One of the older residents, Mr. Ralph Smith, remembers the village as it was when he was a boy some seventy years ago, and these are his recollections.

Mr. Smith is a member of a farming family long established in Sawley.  At this time Sawley was rapidly declining in importance as more and more lace factories brought increasing prosperity to Long Eaton. The census return for 1901 gives the population of Sawley as 1,751 but many of these people lived in the then new housing area around Sawley Junction Station, known as “Monkey Park”.  In the old village there were about 200 houses, nearly all brick built but thirty or so had thatched roofs.  One thatch survived until the mid-1950s when the old cottage [on Back Street] next to the Railway Inn was demolished.

Many signs of an earlier way of life, such as the village well and pump, were still evident at the beginning of the century.  The well, which was filled in about, 1930, was on Towle’s Close (now Towle Street) and the pump was near the entrance to the Manor Yard in the Cross Place (Market Place).  Stocks and a whipping post had survived too, and these stood in Front Street (Tamworth Road) just about opposite the White Lion Inn.  Adjoining the New Inn [Cross Street] was the pinfold where stray animals were kept until claimed by their owners.

Next to the pinfold was the fire station, a stone building housing the village fire engine.  There is some doubt as to whether this was hand or home drawn, but it was apparently sold in 1929 for £5/10s and the village then had to pay £10 per year for the services of the Long Eaton brigade.  Bate’s farm in Wilne Lane still boasts its fire plaque which indicated that they were covered by fire insurance.

Another feature of the village which had disappeared in more recent years was the Toll House which was built in two sections on either side of the main road on the Derbyshire side of Sawley bridges.  Although no longer necessary for toll collecting, the house was inhabited up to the 1930’s, and the foundations can still be seen by the side of the bridge.  Villagers still claim an ancient right of way across the riverside meadow in front of South Cottage to collect sand and gravel.  This meadow is also reputed to have been the site of various sporting activities such as donkey races and cricket matches.

It is not known what happened to the stone cross which used to stand in the Cross Place.  When gas lighting was installed in the village its place was taken by an ornamental lamp, often referred to as the big lamp.

An imposing three-storeyed building known as the Manor House stood next to the Nag’s Head facing the Cross Place, until about 1940.  Mr. Smith remember it as being inhabited by two families, but it was probably used for trading purposes on market days at the time when Sawley had a thriving weekly market.

Most of the houses were centred round the Cross Place, on Town Street (now Tamworth Road), Cross Street and Back Street (both now Wilne Lane).  The area now covered by the old peoples’ bungalows in Chantry Close was the site of Gaol Yard.  This yard opened out into a square with houses, some of them derelict, on three sides with the old gaol or detention house standing in one corner.  This was a square, one-room structure with a single window high in the wall.  In the 19th century, offenders were detained there overnight before being taken, often on foot, to Derby.  By 1900 the gaol at Long Eaton was used for Sawley lawbreakers.  The village had its own policeman towards the end of the last century, but prior to this, local men had patrolled the streets at night for a small payment.  The Parish Church of All Saints with its rectory and long avenue of trees has hardly changed and its spire still dominates the village.  The Church institute stood between the rectory and two cottages on the main road.  This building was probably the one used by Mr. Harriman for the first village school.  Between the church and the adjoining Church Farm, the sexton has unearthed foundations probably marking the site of an earlier rectory.  Bothe Hall, the former home of the Bothe family, is set in its own grounds opposite Church Farm.

In the 19th century Sawley had boasted four or five factories or warp shops, but none of them were working at the turn the century.  Mr Smith recalls that one warp shop, owned by Mr Thorpe, was situated in the garden of some cottages on the main road, adjoining South Cottage (the site now a store for road mending materials).  The last employees at this shop were Long Jack Williamson, Humming Jimmy Rice and a Mr Blood.  There was another warp shop, owned by Mr Smedley, opposite the Baptist chapel on Wilne Lane.  The remains of stocking factory can still be seen incorporated in an engineering works in Little or Middle Twitchell (now Church Avenue).  There are also reports of a lace factory next to the White Lion, owned by John Thorpe and Joseph Smedley, which was burnt down when the adjoining thatched cottage caught fire.  Mr Smith believes that there was a hosiery factory in a building adjoining Shaw’s Yard behind the White Lion.

Sawley had always been farming community and there were five farms within the village.  The number of people who still worked on the land was declining.  In addition to the new workers from other parts of the country, many local workers had left the land to work in the lace factories at Long Eaton, and many more were employed by the Midland Railway Company.  Even so, most of the villagers grew their own produce in gardens or allotments and many of them kept a pig which was killed at Christmas.  Although wages were low, people apparently lived well.  The earnings of farm worker and a platelayer were about 18/ per week, railway clerks received about 24/ and bricklayers and joiners were paid 8d an hour.  Farm workers in particular worked long hours – up to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.  They were paid about 3/ a week rent for a tied cottage and often received free potatoes and other produce from the farmer.  Mr Smith, whose family also ran a butcher’s shop, says that meat was comparatively cheap – beef, for example, was 3½d per pound.

There were about fourteen shops in the village at this time, including four bakers, three butchers and two shoe shops.  Many people made their bread home and took it the bakehouse to be baked.  Other shops sold groceries and provisions and there were two tailors in the village.

Sawley was well provided with public houses – there were five within about 200 yards as well as a shop selling beer and spirits.  In addition, various home-made wines were produced, and many families had a barrel of beer.  The public houses, somewhat altered and enlarged, are still there today, but the New Inn on Cross Street gave up its licence a few years ago.  The Railway Inn began as a cottage in Wilne Lane until the present building was erected on a nearby site.  The Harrington Arms provides historical interest as it was the turnround for coaches on the Lenton to Sawley turnpike road.  Passengers alighted there to take the ferry across the Trent and preserved in the inn yard is a short flight of steps said to have been the ones used by passengers entering and leaving the coaches.  In 1900 the proprietor of the Nag’s Head, a Mr Porter, operated a horse cab from stables behind the inn.  Bicycles were not normally ridden on Sundays, but young men would cycle for three miles to qualify for a drink, as on Sundays the inns could only provide refreshment for travellers.

Parents in the village had the choice of sending their children to either the Baptist School in Back Street or the Church of England National School in Cross Street, and apparently there was great rivalry between children attending the different schools.  Most children began school at the age of three and left at thirteen.  They had a month’s holiday in the summer and a few days at other times.  The Baptist schoolroom is not now used, and the old Church of England School and adjoining schoolhouse were recently converted into a modern garage.

Only one or two wives went out to work as this was generally frowned upon, but many of them worked in their own homes.  The chief home industry was flossing.  The wedding dress of a Princess Royal was embroidered at Sawley.  Another local craft was basket-making.  The willows or osiers used for this grew by the river, mainly in the ox-bow lake known as “Ou Trent”.  Villagers also went “sticking” by the riverside to collect driftwood for fuel.  It was also the custom to scour the fields after harvesting for any leftover wheat which was made into “frumenty”.

A feature of village life at this time was the way in which peculiar names were given to places and people.  Pantile Row, Golden Row, the Brook, Staple’s Row, Finney’s Row and Blood’s Row were some of the names used for houses.  Dr. Clifford was born in one of four houses known as Bugle Bunch.  Some people were known by nicknames associated with their occupations, such as Lamplighter Pego, and others had curious names like Humming Jimmy, Long Jack and Roacher Smith and Billy No-neck.  In the case of the Smiths, it was necessary to distinguish them as they formed a high proportion of the village population.

There were a few other features of life in the village which have disappeared in this century.  No one now hires out horses and carts or breeds donkeys.  There are no thatchers or blacksmiths.  There used to be two blacksmith shops, one in the Cross Place and another in the yard adjoining the Harrington Arms.  An old man called Levi Leivers used to make rope and twine on a hand frame outside his cottage on Draycott Lane.  Much of Sawley’s prosperity had been founded on the canals and the trade they brought, but by the turn of the century only a few of the men still worked on the waterways.  The others had gone to the railways and lace factories which caused Sawley’s decline.

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