From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 42
August - September 1986
Back to the Beeston Road
Sam Woodhead standing in front of No. 4 Beeston Road in 1929.
The sign by the door reads 'G. Woodhead Coal Merchant'
No.4, Beeston Road was the childhood home of Sam Woodhead, now living in Newbury Berkshire. An enthusiastic reader of The Lenton Listener, Sam recounted to us his memories of his early years in Dunkirk, while on a recent visit to Nottingham. These we have formed into the following article.
My birthplace now stands empty and unoccupied, the house on Beeston Road closest to the Dunkirk Flyover. In 1913, when I was born, No.4 Beeston Road was home for my grandparents, George and Selina Woodhead, my parents, Harry and Margaret (Madge) Woodhead, and several older brothers and sisters. As can be seen from the postcard below, my grandparents operated a coal business from No.4. The coal used to be brought to us and dumped on the land at the rear of the building by Taylors, who had their own coal business (and bakery!) around the corner on Abbey Lane. Taylors had a horse and cart, later replaced by a motor vehicle, which meant they could collect coal from the local collieries. We weren't so fortunate and customers' orders had to be delivered using antiquated barrows. After school and during the holidays my brother John and I would often be found pushing our barrows around the streets of Dunkirk and Old Lenton as we made our deliveries. Customers wanting small amounts would often call and take it away themselves. I remember people quite frequently calling and asking for a bucketful of slack, which would cost them 2d.
It is impossible to envisage it happening these days, but in the evenings my friends and I used to play out on Beeston Road. One of our favourite spots was the space in front of Nos. 1 and 3, a grocery alongside a butcher's shop, both run by the Grahams. The shops are no longer there, having been finally demolished in the 1960s. The street served as a perfectly adequate playground as there was little in the way of passing traffic - for the most part just the odd horse and cart. University Boulevard had yet to be built and Beeston Road petered out after about four hundred yards. The traveller on foot, could, however, continue over the stiles and walk along the path across the fields to Beeston.
My friends and I would take this path when we went to the Palladium or the Palace. These were the two cinemas in Beeston. Each Saturday afternoon they put on children's matinees and for the price of a penny you got to see the likes of Tom Mix, Chrissie White and the evil Doctor Fu Manchu. Our patronage would switch between the two establishments depending on which cinema was currently showing the better serials. We would return home by the same path but in winter, there would be little hanging about. High hedges and trees lined the path and in the gloom and darkness, we readily imagined all manner of unseen terrors skulking in the shadows, waiting to do their worst. Nowadays sadly, those fears would probably be justified.
At the beginning of September each year, the fair people started to arrive on Oliver Ball's field at the corner of Abbey Street and Abbey Lane. They came for the Lenton Flower Show held there. My grandfather allowed the fair people to use our outside toilet at the back of the house and to fill their buckets with water from the tap. As a result, the fair people were usually favourably disposed towards me and I would receive a number of complimentary tickets for the rides. It was strange how popular I used to become at school while the fair was 'in town'!
Graham's shops at the corner of Beeston Road & Montpelier Road. The photo,
courtesy of the Local Studies Library, was taken in 1934 shortly before its
demolition when Clifton Boulevard was constructed. The shops, rebuilt on a
site slightly further back, were demolished once more in the early 1960s.
At the age of ten, I joined the Parish Church Choir. The choir master-organist was then Mr. Charles Pickard. He was very talented and exacted the highest standards from us. You had to serve a considerable period as a probationer before you could be admitted to the choir proper. How proud you felt when you were given your surplice and cassock. The only unfortunate aspect was that as an initiation rite you then had to be 'holly-bushed'. Two of the choir would take hold of you and throw you against the holly bush, which grew near the west door. I wonder if it is still there? We choir boys at Holy Trinity always considered ourselves a cut above those at the Priory Church. We referred to them as 'the Priory Sinners' while we adopted the more elevated title of 'the Parish Angels' - some angels! I often wonder what has become of some of the 'lads' - Pud Harrison, Cecil Robson, Cyril Rogers and so many others. They were happy days.
Next door to us at No.2 was a huge imposing building - for much of my childhood, empty and somewhat derelict. The story I was told was that it had originally been built as a hotel in the anticipation that a railway station was to be built at Dunkirk. The station failed to materialise and so the building immediately became a white elephant and, as far as I know, was never opened for business. It did, however, have the occasional visitor, in the form of my friends and I who used it as our own private adventure playground. It made a superb site for the likes of hide and seek.
This photograph clearly shows the building used as the cane factory.
In the mid-1920s, the building was finally occupied. The ground floor was taken by a business that manufactured something called 'Castle's Consumption Cure'. It became my job each weekday to take the proprietor his milk from Cheetham's dairy. As this was only next door to us at No.6, Beeston Road it was hardly an arduous task, but you did have to run the gauntlet of his pet monkey which roamed about the premises. I used to go in, never quite knowing where the monkey would be, fearing it might jump on to my back and cause me to spill the tin of milk. Above 'Castle's Consumption Cure' the Labour Party had taken a room on the first floor and each Wednesday evening held public meetings there. I don't recall how successful they were but certainly kids in the area would go along and listen, just for something to do. On the top floor of the building Cyril Fordham started his cane factory. As far as I can gather this was largely a philanthropic enterprise on Mr. Fordham's part. He was eager to provide something for the unemployed men of the area to do and somewhere warm for them to go to during the day. In later years, Mr. Fordham played an important role in the founding of the Dunkirk Young Mens' Social Club, which now stands on Montpelier Road. I believe No.2, Beeston Road was demolished in the 1960s when the roundabout was constructed.
I left home in 1930 when I went into service with Lord Belper as hall boy-second footman at Kingston Hall. University Boulevard had already been built which eventually led to the removal of all or most of the front gardens of the existing houses on Beeston Road in order that the road could be widened. It wasn't that long after I left home that the first stage of Clifton Boulevard was laid out with the concomitant disappearance of Abbey Lane and Sandy Lane. Dunkirk, which had once been a sleepy little locality at the back of beyond, was now being put on the map - if only the road map! And no longer would the Beeston Road be a place where children might safely play.