The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Frank William Johnson

Dunkirk and Mr Johnson - Issue 48 (Oct - Nov 1987)

The Name's the Game! - Issue 49 (Dec 1987 - Jan 1988)

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 48

October - November 1987

Dunkirk and Mr Johnson

Frank William Johnson

It is over fifty years since Frank William Johnson died, but in Dunkirk and Old Lenton his name lives on. There are the Johnson Cottages on Claude Street and on Abbey Street the Johnson Buildings. Alongside the latter is of course The Johnson Arms. There must be very few other public houses in Nottingham whose name recalls a former owner. Elsewhere in the area the names of various of the Johnson family can be found; all visible reminders, for those in the know, of the significant role Frank William Johnson played in the shaping of our community - a role we intend to explore in the course of this article.

In August 1881 Joseph Birley Johnson, licensee of The News House on Leenside, Nottingham, died. He left an estate worth £2,400. What proportion of this passed to his son Frank William Johnson is unclear but it was evidently sufficient to buy the land and buildings which comprised Dunkirk Farm. It is doubtful whether Frank seriously entertained the idea of being a farmer, although the local directories in the early 1880s refer to him as such. His prime consideration in purchasing the farm was clearly to develop the land for housing.

Apart from the odd cart track there were no roads across his lands so Frank Johnson immediately began to remedy this. In 1882 he sought building regulations approval of the Town Council for a proposal to construct a new street to stretch from his farm buildings beside the railway across to Dunkirk Road. This street he named Montpelier Road. The following year he submitted further plans for Cavendish Street, Gibbons Street, Marlborough Street and Bunting Street. The names Cavendish, Montpelier and Marlborough may have been chosen simply because of a presumed connotation of 'quality'. As for Bunting we can offer no ready explanation. Gibbons, however, is a different matter. This is easily explained, as this was the maiden name of Millicent, Frank Johnson's wife.

Photo courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service    Photo courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service

Click to enlarge each map
Both these street plans (1904, left and 1910) include
streets in Dunkirk which evidently only got as far as the
drawing board. Reproduction of these maps is courtesy
of the Local Studies Library.

There were further roads in the pipeline and Frank Johnson deposited plans with the Council for the construction of Benson Street, Alcester Street, Birley Street and Burke Street. The building plans register now kept at the County Record Office shows that almost immediately Mr. Johnson changed his mind and altered the names of the last two to Millicent Street and Bistera Street respectively. At different periods of time Alcester, Birley and Burke have all found their way on to street maps of the area as the names of roads off Cavendish Street beyond the railway line. They were really only there on paper, as the actual roads were never completely constructed. Whether this was the area Mr. Johnson envisaged developing when he submitted his plans we shall never know as the actual plans are missing from the Record Office archives. Since we could discover no reference in the registers to a new road called Claude Street (which most definitely is there in Dunkirk) it is possible that one of this quartet of proposed roads became Claude Street. That eventual choice meant the Johnsons' son Claude Harold gained lasting local acknowledgement.

It is clear, that Frank Johnson envisaged his 'Dunkirk Farm Estate' would contain several more streets than were actually built. Evidence of this can be seen from a perusal of the street maps printed in the early years of this century. Admittedly the non-appearance of some of these proposed roads is not Frank Johnson's responsibility. Back in the 1880s the Osmaston Freehold Land Society owned the land to the left of Montpelier Road. (It was this body of men in 1886 who submitted plans for all the roads in that portion of 'Dunkirk' to the north of Beeston Road). So presumably the Osmaston Land Society or its successor must have been considering the laying out of Paul Street, Hartington Street and Roberts Street. Why these roads were never built is unclear, though it is feasible to imagine that the coming of the First World War may have had something to do with their abandonment.

Dunkirk House, a name preferred by Frank W. Johnson to its original
Dunkirk Farm. We understand the building was demolished some
time between the two world wars.

Quite possibly Frank Johnson initially sold some of the Dunkirk Farm lands to the Osmaston Land Society in order to raise further capital for his own developments. Certainly quite a lot of land within the Dunkirk Estate was sold off to other builders; nevertheless Frank Johnson actually built quite a lot of the properties on the Estate. He also ventured further afield and in the 1890s built extensively on Grove Road and Alderney and Petersham Streets in the Castle Boulevard area of Lenton.

Local legend has it that in the early 1880s the Dunkirk Estate was seriously being considered as the location for a new suburban railway station. This would explain why Frank Johnson entertained the idea of building such a large pub as The Dunkirk Hotel. It has been also suggested that before building work could start on The Dunkirk Hotel, a rival establishment began to take shape across on the Beeston Road. Fearful that the licensing authorities would only countenance one pub in the area Frank Johnson urged his workforce to complete his pub in double quick time. The Beeston Road premises were completed, but not before The Dunkirk Hotel had already opened for business. Frank Johnson's rival never did get a licence and stood empty for many years. (Something of the building's subsequent history can be found in Sam Woodhead's article in Issue 42 of The Lenton Listener).

The Dunkirk Hotel that we know today is obviously not the original. The
present day one was built in the 1960s at the rear of the original building,
which explains why the pub is set back from the road. Our photograph of
the first Dunkirk Hotel (date unknown) is reproduced courtesy of the Lenton
Local History Society.

By the 1890s Frank Johnson's activities in the Dunkirk Estate had reached the attention of the local directories, which now began to describe him as 'grazier and builder'. He evidently had retained sufficient spare land on which to keep livestock while it was fattened up for market. In the 1900s the City directories acknowledged another string to his bow when they began to refer to Mr. Johnson as 'grazier, auctioneer and valuer'. These later appellations weren't quite what they might seem. Frank Johnson was involved in the rather specialised business of carrying out valuations of pubs and off-licences. In those days very few pubs belonged to breweries, so when a pub came on to the open market the licensee and prospective purchaser needed to know what the business was worth. They would seek an independent valuation, which was where Frank Johnson came in. He had been brought up in a pub and presumably had worked up an expertise in these matters. He also bought and sold pubs himself. Among these were The Stanley Hotel on Sycamore Road, The Nag's Head on Stoney Street, The Rifleman Inn on Kirk White Street, The Railway Tavern on Ilkeston Road and of course The Dunkirk Hotel. In about 1904 he added The Abbey Tavern to his collection. This was situated in among a block of buildings on Abbey Street known as Friar Place. In 1912 Frank Johnson had it all demolished and in its place erected the four shops known as the Johnson Buildings and built the pub that bears his name.

All his efforts had made Mr. Johnson a very wealthy man and in 1906 he rented Dunkirk Farm out to a Mr. Thomas Aram and moved his family home to The Park. He bought Duke William Mount, an extremely palatial mansion, where he remained until his death in 1934. Some of his properties were sold to pay death duties, but the remainder of his estate was managed by trustees which included his son Frederick Percy Johnson. Following his death in 1952 all the properties were eventually sold off and with it the severance of the Johnson connection with Lenton - that is in all but name!

Our thanks are due to Frank L. Johnson, son of Claude H. Johnson and grandson of the subject of our article, for his help with the production of this article.

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 49

December 1987 - January 1988

The Name's the Game!

Last issue our main feature was given over to Frank William Johnson and the role he played in the development of Dunkirk. Mr Johnson chose to name one of Dunkirk's streets after his son Claude and another recalled his wife's maiden name of Gibbons. We hinted that other members of his family found their way into local names, but took the matter no further. Not wishing to leave readers permanently in the dark, we have collected together some of these other 'Johnson' references and constructed the brick wall montage shown below.

The first houses Frank Johnson had built were the eight dwellings that comprise 'Dunkirk Villas', which are dated 1883. These are the only examples we can find where he christened the buildings but didn't use a family name. His wife was the first member of the family to be so honoured with the erection of 'Millicent Villas'. The Tottle Brook actually passes beneath the middle two houses in this row of eight. When building regulations approval was initially sought for these houses in February 1884, the Town Council turned the plans down because of the presence of this watercourse. It continued to give the thumbs down on several more occasions when Mr Johnson resubmitted modified plans. The houses were finally erected in 1885 so presumably the Council relented, although we didn't actually come across any evidence of its change of heart in the building registers (now lodged at the County Record Office).

Frank Johnson had 'Birley Villas' built in 1901 and 'Percy Villas' in 1902, both on Montpelier Road. These names referred to his sons Frank Birley Johnson and Frederick Percy Johnson. In 1903 Mr Johnson built a row of houses on Claude Street. This time he didn't make his choice from the names of one of his six children but instead simply called them 'Johnson Cottages'. In all likelihood there was one further member of the Johnson family who found their name etched into the stonework of a house in Dunkirk. In 1886 Frank Johnson had a row of five houses built on Marlborough Street and its name plate can still be seen inserted within the brickwork. Unfortunately, as our photograph reveals, its facing has crumbled away and now nothing can be discerned upon it. Someone in the locality must be able to recall what was once there. If so could they please tell us, then we can complete our name call.

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