A glimspe of Sneinton Road

By Stephen Best

THIS IS AT ONCE AN EXTREMELY evocative and a most frustrating photograph. As anyone who knew the neighbourhood in the 1950s or earlier will immediately recognize, it shows Sneinton Road. Looking down towards the city early in the twentieth century from near the top of Notintone Street, it is one of surprisingly few old views of this busy and important street which, before the development of Sneinton Dale in the Edwardian period, was, in effect, the local high street.

It is an evocative picture insofar as it captures a characterful, though not beautiful street, on a summer afternoon in an era when pedestrians still felt it was safe to linger in the carriageway to gaze at the photographer. The latter evidently had a good eye for composing a view, and may have been responsible for the grouping of the children in the scene, it is a frustrating one, however, because on this occasion the technical skills of the man (we assume a man) behind the lens did not match his artistic touch. If only a single small part of this scene were in sharp focus, we might be able to pin down a much more exact date for the photograph. As it is, conclusions must be drawn from the clues laid out before us.

What can be said with certainty is that the view must be later than 1905, but before 1913. For this approximate dating we are indebted to the barber's pole on the right of the picture, which marks the hairdressing establishment of Samuel Edward Woodward at 115 Sneinton Road. Woodward was listed at this address in street directories between 1907 and 1912; he had moved by the following year, though not far. A furniture dealer occupied no. 115 before Woodward; and after him, with nice symmetry, a wardrobe dealer. Neither of these would have displayed a pole, so our bracketed dates are safe enough.

The three shops across the road from the hairdresser, and closest to the camera, would, were we able to read the lettering so sadly blurred by our photographer, provide the best chance of fixing the date more closely. From right to left they are nos. 126-130 Sneinton Road. Most easily distinguishable here is the middle one, no. 128, Edward Hainsworth's stationer's and newsagency. Luckily for the researcher trying to get at least one accurate fix on this side of the street, Hainsworth's shop is unmistakeable, festooned with papers in racks hanging on either side of his door, and liberally provided with billboards below the window. If their headlines could be made out, we might even be able to work out the week in question. Hainsworth was at 128 throughout our period, so does not help in narrowing down the date further. One is tempted to wonder whether the photograph might even have been taken on his behalf, for sale in the shop as a picture postcard. A postcard it very likely was - the presence of a caption suggests as much - and the indifferent quality of both picture and lettering indicate a local photographer and a local outlet. This shop was still a stationer's, King's, just before its demolition in about 1961.

At no. 126, next door to Hainsworth’s, a man - probably the shopkeeper - is in conversation with a dapper young fellow in tall collar and bowler hat. To be strictly accurate, they appear not to be talking, but camera-watching, as is virtually everyone else in sight. The shop is a greengrocer's, although this is not apparent from the view, and was until about 1908 the business of Edward Thomas Exton, greengrocer and poulterer. By 1910 Charles Brett was selling fruit and vegetables here, rather surprisingly sharing the address with William Pickersgill, cab proprietor. There does not seem room for two enterprises in such small premises, so perhaps Brett acted as a booking office for Pickersgill. These two were still sharing no. 126 in 1913, by which time Pickersgill was calling himself a taxi-cab proprietor; as a go-ahead operator, he was now running a motor vehicle or vehicles. (The wardrobe dealer who took over no. 115 from the barber, incidentally, was Mrs Sarah Pickersgill.) No. 126 would remain a greengrocer’s shop until it was pulled down at the start of the 1960s. Its final proprietor was the well-remembered Billy Glossop, who had the fancy brackets taken down from the fascia above his shop window, painted them, and used them as decorations for his doorstep when he moved to a maisonette across the road.

The shop on the extreme left of the photograph, no. 130 Sneinton Road, presents us with further grounds for supposition. Indistinct items are on display in the window, and some lettering is evident above, but nothing is clear enough for an intelligent guess. In 1907 the shop was, of all things, an undertaker's, presided over by Arthur Smith. He was still there in 1908, but had gone by 1910, when William Grain, hardware dealer, briefly occupied the premises. Can the shop we see here be an undertaker's? I am not sure. The goods in the window do not look quite right for such a trade, but I suppose they may be wreaths or something of the sort. Nor does the lettering above the window seem totally appropriate; one would expect it to be against an altogether more sombre background. If this hunch is correct, and this is not an undertaker's, then 1907 or 1908 must be rejected. I am, however, most unwilling to dismiss these years out of hand, as other aspects of the picture, to be mentioned soon, could well indicate 1907 as the likeliest date for the photograph. It cannot be said that the window display strongly suggests a hardware shop either, but undertaker or hardware it must be.

By 1913 no. 130 had, very confusingly for us, become S.E. Woodward's hairdressing saloon. At least Woodward did not have to move his gear very far; one imagines a gang of locals carting chairs and fittings across the road, dispensing with the necessity of hiring a removal van. As a postscript to no. 130, it may be mentioned that the undertakers had by no means finished with it. During and after the Second World War, George Birch, joiner and undertaker, was listed at this address, and remained in possession until the end came at the close of the 1950s.

A prettily dressed little girl, holding a hoop that is almost invisible in the photograph, stands in the gutter in front of Hainsworth's; was she, as suggested earlier, posed there by the photographer as a foil to these workaday surroundings? If so, it was an imaginative idea. Over the girl's shoulder a woman, blurred by the long exposure of the shot, walks past no. 120, the most distant of what look like three ordinary dwelling houses. Throughout our period a draper named Charles Williamson lived at the nearest of these, no. 124, next door to the greengrocer's. He may have plied his trade in the front parlour of his home.

Just beyond the woman pedestrian are three more reasonably distinguishable shops. The nearest, no. 118, was James Berry Hyne's tobacconists from 1907 to 1913, while 116 next door was kept until 1910 by Mrs Emma Holland, 'shopkeeper.' Three years later Mrs Elizabeth Smith was carrying on the same curiously undefined trade here; in fact 'shopkeeper' usually indicated a general shop, selling a fair amount of food. No. 114, whose shop window is smaller than those of its neighbours, was the premises of Miss Mary Ann Jones, another shopkeeper, who stocked, among other things, the Sneinton Parish Magazine. A name board of some kind is visible beneath her window. In front of Miss Jones's, another young girl, her long hair just visible down her back, is walking away from the camera, and about to pass John Reade's plumber's establishment. This has another window larger than normal for a dwelling house, but smaller than usual for a shop.

This brings us to a stretch of Sneinton Road where it is difficult to make out much from the photograph. The houses in our line of sight between Reade's and the fine gas lamp must be nos 106-110. Of these no. 110, next to Reade's, was in 1910 the Ivy Laundry, but this may have meant nothing more than that washing was handed in and collected at what was still basically a private house. No. 108 gives more pause for thought; as far as can be judged from the evidence here, it still resembles a dwelling house, or at the most a very modest shop premises with a window little different from the usual domestic front-room sort. Yet by 1908 the Nottingham Co-operative Society had established a grocery shop at this address. All that can be said is, that if this view does date from 1908 or later, then the Co-op premises must have originally been unpretentious in the extreme. One notes with momentary surprise that no. 106 was the address of Thomas Ecob & Son, horse dealers, but it is clear that, while the dealers may indeed have been present on these premises, the horses certainly were not.

We have now reached a projecting sign, or is it a window awning? This must be very close to no. 102, the shop of Alfred Bates, baker and confectioner. An advertisement of Bates in 1907 urged Sneinton people to 'Eat Bates bread: it bates all!' Alfred Bates had, so the advert claimed, gained 'highest honours at the Bakers' Exhibition, London.' The Bates family was prominent locally for several decades. Peter Elliot Bates, who preceded Alfred at the bakery, had left the shop to become landlord of the Old Wrestlers pub in Sneinton Hollows. He was also a local house owner and landlord, living first in Durham Avenue, and later having Sneinton Mill Bungalow on Belvoir Hill built for him in 1922. The attractive semi-detached villas in Ena Avenue, built at about the date of this photograph, and all named after flowers, were also the property of P.E. Bates. The shop at 102 Sneinton Road remained a bakery until it was swept away at the beginning of the 1960s; it was latterly owned by the Day family for many years.

Close to no. 102 we see the figure of a woman passer-by in a large hat - is she brandishing an umbrella? Near her is what may be a small vehicle, perhaps a delivery handcart, by the kerbside near Bates's. So murky is the print, however, that this could possibly be a much larger vehicle, descending Sneinton Road in the farther distance.

Crossing the road to the odd-numbered side of Sneinton Road, we find some welcome greenery. This is growing, not in Sneinton Road, but in Notintone Place. One of the many established trees in this side-turning is in full leaf, as is another in the front garden of no. 1. The gas lamp on a bracket attached to this house is probably a public street lamp, rather than one provided through the generosity of the occupant of the house. This person's identity will be discussed in due course.

Another engaging little girl, dressed this time in a pinafore, stands demurely beneath the side windows of 1 Notintone Place. I thought at first that she was with her mother, but, on closer inspection, the lady beside her, is, as the motion blur shows, walking up Sneinton Road. The girl is certainly not on the move, and has indeed managed the creditable feat of keeping still for the camera; these two, therefore, may be quite unconnected in any way. Behind the lady is the narrow entrance to Ten Feet Street, the cul-de-sac with the self- explanatory name, which provided access to the rear of the odd numbers in Notintone Place, and to the fronts of a few houses backing on to premises in Camden Street.

Here stand half a dozen lads, including a tiny one in knickerbockers and large hat. Of the others, four bigger boys - two in waistcoat and shirt sleeves - also wear knickerbockers. To the left of this group is a delivery boy with a basket, who has graduated to long trousers. He is bent over, either by the weight of his load, or by the way he is craning his neck to peer at the camera. Seeing this knot of lads, it occurs to me that three of them could easily be my father (the little one), and his two elder brothers; until the end of 1913 the Best family lived close by at 13 Kingston Street, opposite the Albion Chapel, and just out of view here.

We are now back where we started: at Woodward's hairdressing saloon, against whose wall the smart chap in the straw boater casually leans. It is the straw hat, together with the foliage, and something about the light and shadows, that suggests summer here. Beyond Woodward's large window is a private house, its entrance hard to see in the picture. At the corner of the next side street, Camden Street, a projecting nameboard marks no. 111, the boot-making shop of Thomas Hitchcock, a near-neighbour of Woodward throughout the time the hairdresser was at 115 Sneinton Road. On the opposite corner of Camden Street can be seen another sign, that of Herbert Palethorpe at no. 109, who, as a boot repairer, may have been a rival of Hitchcock, and who was to move into the latter's premises by 1913. Two dwelling houses come next (one of them the home and workplace of a tailor,) then comes a large hanging lamp proclaiming a pub. This is the curiously-named 'Paul Pry,' open for custom by 1832, and pulled down in June 1958. John West, the landlord, was followed in quick sucession before the Great War by William Hinton and Harry Crofts.

A Paul Pry, by the way, was 'an idle meddlesome fellow, who has no occupation of his own, and is always interfering with other folks' business.' In 1825 John Poole's 'Paul Pry: a comedy,' was published, based on the life of one Thomas Hill, but there is no record of its ever being staged in Nottingham. It seems unlikely, therefore, that local drinkers ever witnessed a performance of this play, but it may still have been sufficiently well-known to influence the name of the new pub in Sneinton Road.

Next to the 'Paul Pry' is a sun blind at the corner of Byron Street. This marks a greengrocery or fruiterer's at 101 Sneinton Road. Owned in 1907-8 by William West, it was empty in 1910, and taken over shortly after by Frank Walton. The shop at the other corner of Sneinton Road and Byron Street presents the only bit of writing in the photograph that I have been able to decipher. It consists of the words COLEMAN’S STARCH above the entrance to Murphy's grocers at no. 97-99. Henry Murphy was in charge in 1907, but must have retired or died soon afterwards, as by the following year his daughter, Miss Mary Murphy was listed in the directory. As late as the 1950s Mrs Eveline Murphy was maintaining the family tradition here.

The block stretching down from Murphy's to Upper Eldon Street housed, in the few years we are considering, an interesting cross-section of Sneinton residents and ocupations: at no. 89 Antonio Mequie, ice cream vendor: at 91 Samuel Brotherhood, blind manufacturer: at 93 Albert Potter, chimney sweep. And, as the photograph attests, Sneinton certainly possessed sufficient chimneys to provide plenty of work for a sweep. At the corner of Eldon Street is another shop, owned in 1907 by George Mendham, 'beer retailer and shopkeeper.' By 1910 Mendham had been succeeded by William Henry Pagett.

Behind the shoulder of the errand lad with the basket may be seen an aristocrat among Sneinton Road shops. This, at no. 85, on the other corner of Upper Eldon Street, is the establishment of Samuel James Bendall, grocer, and wine and spirit merchant, soon to assume the dignity of 'S.J. Bendall Ltd.' This was still a grocer's in the 1950s. A door or two below, a white shop-blind can just be made out. This may be Button's tripe shop, but I cannot be sure; Button's was still going strong in the 1950s, but as a fish and chip shop.

Just outside Bendall's, a horse and cart tackle the laborious ascent of Sneinton Road. This is the only horse in our scene, but, as the principal motive power in Nottingham's streets, horses were constantly seen and smelled in Sneinton, as elsewhere. The carriageway here, however, appears totally free of horse droppings - presumably boys had been active with buckets and dustpans, selling their resultant plunder to neighbours with gardens or plants in pots.

The shadowy shapes above the white shop blind indicate Minerva Terrace, as the stretch of Sneinton Road between Haywood Street and Byron Street was called. The houses here were set back behind raised front gardens, above a front wall punctuated by doors of storage spaces or outhouses, which lurked, cellar-like, under the gardens. Even in decline in the 1950s they retained a muted dignity. The block below Minerva Terrace, between Haywood Street and West Street, is seen here as a mere smudge.

So what about the date? Doubts over whether no. 130 is an undertaker's in our picture, and whether the Co-op is yet in business at no. 108, just about cancel out each other. For me, the scales are tilted by the plate attached to the railings at 1 Notintone Place, in front of the little girl. In the Nottingham street directory of 1907/08 this was, as it had been for a few years, the address of Dr Charles Edwin Cornwall, surgeon and Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. A few months later the doctor had moved away the short distance to Sneinton Boulevard. After a gap, he was followed at no. 1 by a private lady, a photographer (briefly,) and a rooming-house proprietor. Of all these, much the most likely to put up a plate announcing his professional presence was the medical man. I go, therefore, for Dr Cornwall, and a date sometime in 1907. This means that in the photograph no. 130 must indeed, in spite of my misgivings, be an undertaker's, and that the Co-op has not yet opened its doors at no. 108.

An extra factor in favour of that year is the existence of another photograph, taken from almost the same spot as this one of Sneinton Road. It bears a hand-done caption in block letters exactly like those in our photograph here, and I believe that the same photographer was responsible for both. This other picture, showing the young Charles Allcock and others at the opposite corner of Notintone Place and Sneinton Dale from the one seen here, was reproduced in Sneinton Magazine no. 5, in Summer 1982. It, too, is believed to have been taken in 1907.

What sort of world was inhabited by the Sneinton people we glimpse here? A very poor labourer might earn a little over £1 a week, paying just over 3/- rent (about 15p.) Tenants in Victoria Buildings in Bath Street, however, might have to lay out over 5/6d a week for the largest flats there. At about this date the average weekly wage of an urban workman was 29s. 10d (£1.49p.) Based on an average family of wife and four children, 22s. 6d. (£1.13p.) of this would go on food, leaving little for anything else except rent. Income Tax was l/6d (7½p.) in the pound, but those who earned less than £160 a year were exempt.

Prossers of Hockley, the well-known local outfitters, were advertising made-to-measure suits for men at 42 shillings (£2.20p.) and ready-made suits for men from 14/6d (73p.)

Boys' suits could be had for as little as l/6½d (about 8p.) Trueman's furnishers in Goose Gate offered a solid satin walnut bedroom suite at just under £6, and leather dining room suites at under £4. A child's funeral could be arranged for about £2.

It cost a penny to send an ordinary inland letter, registered letters requiring an extra 2d. Sneinton had five Post Offices: at Sneinton Road, Thurgarton Street, Meadow Lane, Sneinton Elements and Thorneywood Lane. From Sneinton Road there were eleven collections a day, and two on Sundays. Claude Manfull, druggist, of Thurgarton Street, 'qualified optician, by examination, London,' offered free eye tests, while the XMA Company of 54 Carlton Road, just round the corner from Sneinton Road, were marketing XMA: 'the greatest discovery for eczema, scurvy, scrofula, and all kinds of skin diseases.' This was modestly proclaimed as 'the most valuable ointment in the world' - at only 7½d. (about 3p.) it must have been irresistible. Many poor people could not afford to pay a doctor, so proprietory remedies like it were eagerly resorted to. Dr J. Collis Browne's Chlorodyne, a famous nostrum, could be had for as little as 1/1½d. (6p.) 'The best remedy known for coughs, colds, asthma, bronchitis. Acts like a charm in diarrhoea, cholera, and dysentery... The only palliative in neuralgia, gout, toothache, rheumatism...’ Horlick’s Malted Milk was advertised as replacing 'the wastage of the muscular tissue and nerve force which is continually and regularly taking place in our bodies, by judicious, suitable, and scientific food.' Children's health started to improve in 1907, when the first school clinics began, but their grandparents would have to wait until 1909 for the introduction of Old Age Pensions. Colwick Street Schools received from Dixon & Parker a large number of pinafores and knickers for distribution among the poorest children, and ninety pairs of boots were made available to pupils at half-price, to enable them to attend school on wet days.

Nottinghamshire won the County Cricket Championship in the wet summer of 1907, thanks largely to the devastating bowling of Albert Hallam and Tom Wass. Notts County were in Division 1 of the Football League, and would remain there until 1912/13. During the coming season they would face such clubs as Woolwich Arsenal, Preston North End, Bury, and Bristol City. Nottingham Forest had just returned to the First Division after one season in Division 2, where they had met, among others, Burton United, Leeds City, Clapton Orient, Burslem Port Vale, and Gainsborough Trinity. A less exalted team, Sneinton, was based at the Colwick Road ground; among their 1907 opponents were Netherfield Rangers, Nottingham Insurance, and Colwick G.N.R.

The electric tram route along Colwick Road began during March - passengers could ride for over a mile-and-half for Id (less than half of a modern penny.) 1907 saw the City Council make the resolution: 'That the Forest be closed at dusk.’ Quickly realising, however, that this would be unenforceable, they resolved instead that the ground 'be lighted at dusk.' Zebedee Jessop, founder of the Nottingham department store, died, while another notable local retailer, Councillor John Tricks Spalding, of Griffin and Spalding, was elected mayor. The Big Wheel made its first appearance at Goose Fair in the Great Market Place. Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in the world, gave a matinee performance at the Theatre Royal, and among music hall artistes on the bill at the Nottingham Empire during 1907 were George Robey, Vesta Tilley, Harry Tate, and George Formby senior.

One thing seems certain; all the males in the photograph, apart from the shopkeeper and the very little boy, would have been prime candidates for the trenches in the Great War, as were my father's elder brothers. One wonders how many of them, like Jim and George Best, saw Sneinton again after 1918?

If the location of this picture is hard to grasp, go to the top of Sneinton Road, and stand just outside the entrance to the Salvation Army Old People's Home. You will be just about level with the spot occupied by the photogapher, in the middle of the road; it should be stressed that such a position is no longer advisable. Woodward's hairdressing saloon was very close to the site of the steps in front of the off-licence, the pharmacist, and the fish and chip shop.

This article began with some criticism of the photographer's technical shortcomings. In closing, it is more appropriate that he be commended for having captured this scene at all, in 1907 - as I believe it was.

I am once again indebted to John Hose, who read the manuscript for me, and provided the anecdote about Billy Glossop's doorstep adornments.

Elsewhere in this magazine tribute is paid to Anne Day. A former resident of Sneinton Road, Anne was a valued friend, and a staunch preserver and presenter of our local history. This small piece of Sneinton's past is inscribed to her memory.