Sidelights on Sneinton Hollows

By Stephen Best

ALTHOUGH BY NO MEANS A GOOD PRINT, the placid Edwardian view of Sneinton Hollows reproduced above was sold locally as a picture postcard. It shows a location which, though readily recognizable today, would have looked very different a few years before the photographer visited the scene.

Until the 1890s, the western side of the Hollows - the right-hand side as you go down - was taken up by the boundary wall of Sneinton Manor, which stood almost opposite the end of Castle Street. This gabled seventeenth-century house was the property of the Pierreponts, of which family Earl Manvers, Sneinton's principal landowner, was a member. For some generations the Manor was tenanted by the Morley family, notable for establishing the famous hosiery business of I. & R. Morley. The funeral of Arthur Morley, the last of the Morleys to live at the Manor, took place in 1860; it was said that 4,000 people were present at his burial in Sneinton churchyard. The last occupants of the Manor were Colonel James Davidson, farmer and officer of the Militia, and his wife Susan, whom he married quite late in life. Mrs Davidson was a generous benefactor to Sneinton, giving money for the building of the Church Institute in Notintone Street. She was well-known for her concern for the welfare of her former employees, a concern which was not always fully appreciated by the recipients of her bounty. The delightful story was told of an occasionwhen, on emerging from church, she was approached by an elderly female pensioner who asked her, 'Please, my lady, could you make it gin next time?' Davidson Street, off Colwick Road, remains as a reminder of Colonel and Mrs Davidson. In 1888 the third Earl Manvers resolved to pull down the Manor, in order to release the site for housing, and for the last year or two of its life it stood forlorn and empty. It was at about this time that the artist T. W. Hammond made a fine drawing of Sneinton Manor. It will be noticed that, despite the date given for the drawing, 1890, smoke is rising from a chimney: perhaps a caretaker was in residence when Hammond visited the spot. The end of the Manor was signalled by an advertisement in the 'Nottingham Guardian' of May 21st 1894. This read as follows: 'MANOR HOUSE, SNEINTON HOLLOWS. MESSRS. COHEN AND COMPTON have received instructions from Mr N Lambert to SELL by AUCTION, as above, on Tuesday Next, May 29th, the whole of the remains of the OLD MATERIALS of the above building which include a large quantity of Beams, Pine and other Doors, Window Sashes and Frames, Shutters, a large Greenhouse, seven Trees, etc, etc. Sale to commence at Eleven o'clock.' This cannibalization of the Manor was quickly followed by wholesale development, as the short lived magazine 'City Sketches' noted in its issue for June 9th 1898: 'No falling off is perceptible in the large number of dwellings in course of erection in the immediate suburbs. The Meadows, Hyson Green, and St Ann's Well districts have all had their turn. Now it is Sneinton, where consequent upon the sale of Earl Manvers' Manor Estate, in building lots, houses are being run up by the hundred, occupied before completed, and it is calculated that this brick and mortar fever is likely to last for the next three or four years.' The houses in our photograph of Sneinton Hollows were a result of this 'fever', and appear here in a nearly-new condition, some of their front walls exhibiting signs of efflorescence.

On the left, at the corner of Castle Street, stands the Old Wrestlers Inn, a handsome late Georgian building that is still with us, though it has not been licensed premises for over thirty years. The Old Wrestlers closed in July 1957, its licence being transferred the following day to the newly-built Bendigo at the bottom of the Hollows. It was one of the last pubs in Nottingham to brew its own ale, not selling Home Brewery beer until the late 1920s. At the time of its closure, regulars of long standing reminisced about the days when the Old Wrestlers skittles team enjoyed a formidable reputation. For a long period following 1957, the building suffered neglect, but has in recent years been refurbished, and converted into flats.

That the photograph dates from Edwardian years is confirmed, not only by the costume of the charming young girl, but by the name of P. E. Bates on the board above the doorway, with a splendid bracket gas lamp to illuminate it after dark. Peter Elliott Bates was a man with a finger in more than one Sneinton pie, and is worth a word or two here. In the 1880s he was a baker in Roden Street, off Robin Hood Street, but early in the 1890s succeeded a Mrs Elizabeth Blood in the bakery and confectionery business at 102 Sneinton Road, a shop still well remembered as Day's by many local people. In its advertising, Bates' bakery displayed a weakness for the pun: 'Eat Bates' bread', ran one slogan 'It bates all'. By 1901, however, a relative was running the shop, and Peter Elliott Bates had become licensee of the Old Wrestlers, taking up residence at Durham Villas, 2 Durham Avenue, off Sneinton Dale. Mr Bates also had property interests in Sneinton. In 1908, for example, the Nottingham architects W. & R. F. Booker designed for him a number of semi-detached houses in Ena Avenue -they are the ones which bear the names of flowers or trees. Bates remained landlord of the Old Wrestlers until just after the Great War, retiring to Sneinton Mill Bungalow at the top of Belvoir Hill. Booker & Shepherd (successors to the Bookers) designed the bungalow for P. E. Bates, who continued to live here until the early 1930s.

The photograph tells us that at the beginning of the century, the ale at the Old Wrestlers was indeed brewed on the premises, and that billiards (then far more popular than snooker) was available as an added attraction for drinkers. The pub door stands open: it was not until the First World War that public houses were obliged to close at any time during the day. The signboard between the upstairs windows, by the way, proclaims the name of the inn.

The Old Wrestlers witnessed, in its time, some lively moments in Sneinton's history. One such occasion was the Old Sneinton Reform feast, held on July 16th 1832, to celebrate the passing of the Reform Act. On that day the men of the neighbourhood (not the women, I'm afraid) sat down beneath an awning erected in the street, 'Fronting Morley's public house' -in addition to being landlord of the Old Wrestlers, Thomas Morley served as parish clerk of Sneinton. The thoroughfare was decked out with what the 'Nottingham Review' described as, 'A profusion of flowers, tri-coloured flags, banners and union jacks.' New Sneinton was staging a similar jollification not far away, in South Street, and, apprehensive of boozily enthusiastic gatecrashers from there, the organizers of the Sneinton Hollows banquet saw to it that 'A peaceful barricade was thrown across the street.'

Less colourful, perhaps, but just as interesting, was the Old Wrestlers' connection with Nottingham’s oldest friendly society. An account of this appeared in the Nottingham Weekly Guardian of September 19th 1923, by Lynne Holme, a writer who had received access to the society's original club book, The present whereabouts of this fascinating document are unknown, so I am entirely indebted to the Weekly Guardian article for my facts. The society was formed in 1787, and meetings were held at the Old Wrestlers for 130 years, a new venue in Carlton Road being found during the Great War. In 1789 Samuel Tupman of Nottingham printed a little book with a big title: 'Orders to be observed and kept by the members of the Friendly Society began January 6th, 1787, and to be held at the house of Mr Gregory at the Wrestlers in Sneinton'. By 1843, W. Newbold of Old Sneinton was given the job of printing a revised set of rules for the society, which in that year joined the Nottingham Ancient Imperial Order of Oddfellows, as Sneinton Dale Lodge no. 136.

What did the society do, and how much did its members pay? We learn from the newspaper article that, at some unspecified date between 1787 and 1825, the subscription was threepence a week - 174 p in today's money - and that this gave entitlement to a payment of £3 for a member's funeral, or £2.10s. (£2.50p.) for a wife's funeral. The society's earliest outgoings were threepence for an inkstand, threepence for an hour glass, and a penny for pen and ink. The account book cost l/3d. (about 6p.), while 3/4d. (about 17p.) was spent on ale, at twopence a pint. Mr Tupman was paid eighteen shillings for printing the 1789 rules, which were sold to members at fourpence a copy. The society was evidently pretty shrewd in its handling of money. It had, by 1797, £100 invested at Wright’s Bank in Swine Green (now Carlton Street), a sum that had by 1800 grown to £140. The club book recorded the purchase in 1797 of a buffalo horn costing 7/6d. - this is, one supposes, an instance of the reason why many friendly societies were known as Buffaloes?

Goose Fair, 1800, saw the society lay out more than £35 on over 9 hundredweight of cheese. A further two shillings was spent on carriage, presumably to the Old Wrestlers, where the cheese was cut up. The first decade of the nineteenth century found the society with some eighty members, who were able to borrow money at 5 per cent interest. (Membership, incidentally, still stood at over 80 in 1897, but had fallen to 71 by 1905, and to 57 five years later). By 1800, ale had gone up in price from twopence to threepence a pint. In 1813, the sum of one shilling (5p.) was spent on 'gin and water' after a member's funeral, and two years after this the club feast involved the expenditure of ten guineas. 1815 was also marked by the acquisition of another buffalo horn, at the same cost as the one bought eighteen years earlier. Perhaps this one was of inferior quality, or perhaps buffalo horns were, by 1815, a drug on the market. The account book examined by the Weekly Guardian contributor closed in 1825, but the entries for 1824 included one tantalizing detail. On June 5th that year, the society received fourteen shillings from Mr George Green, 'Free Member'. At this time, the Sneinton miller would have been nearly 66, and his son, the mathematician, almost 31. Percy J Cropper, in his now-lost manuscript notes on Sneinton, stated that George Green (older or younger) was a churchwarden of Sneinton in 1824, and it seems likely that this free member of the friendly society was one or other of the two. Which, we may never know for certain, but we do appear to have here another possible piece of the George Green jigsaw.

One final comment: after looking at the Sneinton Hollows photograph many times, I felt that something was indefinably odd about it. It was nothing to do with the buildings - the whole feel of the place was different. Then the penny dropped: on this faraway summer day of our picture, Sneinton Hollows is seen blissfully free from parked cars. Indeed we may wonder whether, at the date of the photograph, the street had ever witnessed the passage of a horseless carriage. One thing seems certain; the sight and sound of a new fangled motor car would have filled the open door of the Old Wrestlers with a lively crowd of bantering regulars, all, no doubt, full of home-brewed ale.

I thank Julie O'Neill for confirming some details of the Friendly Society. If any reader knows the present whereabouts of the society's records, I should be grateful to hear from him or her.