Sunday, 16 March 2014

A New World: Beechdale, Bilborough & Strelley

The interior of Bilborough St John

This area continued some of the Garden City ideals of Aspley, but here the outlook was altogether more like a 'New Town'. It was mainly built during late 1940s and early 50s, an era christened as a ‘New World', when innovation and optimism were needed to re-build Britain in the years immediately after the Second World War.

Video about the national thinking behind Bilborough

Many of the schools and council houses were built with the latest technology in pre-fabrication and Bilborough received royalty and cabinet ministers who were keen to see the important changes being made. The church of St John is most characteristic of the post-war period, while the nuclear bunker at Chalfont Drive is a stark reminder of that fading optimism. A part of the old Bilborough village can still be seen today, nestled around the medieval church of St Martin. Nearby, evidence of the preindustrial world of agriculture survives at Strelley Village. It is here where the city ends and the Green Belt begins: a ring of countryside earmarked to contain the city and conserve the countryside. Yet the treasure trove of medieval and Georgian buildings which survive here actually derived their wealth from one of the earliest coalfields in Nottinghamshire, where the seams rise close to the surface and shallow 'bell-pits' have left pock marks on the land.

1. A New World

Harvey Hadden Stadium, first built in the 1950s

Advert for the new Bracebridge Drive Co-op

The council determining the type of shop according to the local needs, as construction of the shops progressed the council invited tenders for the particular shop. The successful tenants being, No.79, Albert Padley Grocer, No. 81 Victor Thompson, shopkeeper with sub post office; No. 83, Henry Kenneth Baxter, hardware; No. 85, Harry Roberts fruiterer; No. 87, Frederick Abel Ltd, butcher; and No. 89, Albert Bambing, Fried Fish. Sites later being allocated to; - No. 59, the Nottingham Trustee Savings Bank; No. 67, J.H. Dewhurst, butcher; No. 69, J.D. Marsden, grocer; No.71, Boots Pharmacist and No. 73, the Nottingham Co-operative Society.
Lawrence Marson, A History of Bilborough (n.d.)

Part of the Glaisdale Drive Industrial Estate - this was originally Farrands, and latterly a printers 

The area of Bilborough, Beechdale and Strelley was planned with its own industries, a sports centre, a grammar school (now a college) and modernist schools and churches. Shops were conveniently planned in centres such as Bracebridge Drive, while Glaisdale Drive became one of the largest industrial estates in the city, with perhaps the most impressive structure originally built by Farrands the retail grocers. Built in 1955 Harvey Hadden quickly became the most important athletics ground in the city. Nearby, the former bus depot was complete only a few years before and is a reminder of the city's ambitions for an expanding bus network. Schools such as Robert Shaw Primary broke with tradition and were built with curved lines and flat roofs.

Bilborough St John, built in the 1950s

Interior - with many original furnishings

Ancient signs, modern murals - the one on the left represents man

The churches however are the most modern, even the old Bilborough St Martin didn't escape the times. This was painted with a mural by the artist Evelyn Gibbs, founder of the acclaimed Midland Group. Bilborough St John The Baptist is perhaps the city's finest example of the 1951 Festival of Britain style, designed by local architects Broadhead & Royle (Frank Broadhead also did the more widely known New Castle House, on Castle Boulevard). It features wonderful mosaics, which were actually early Christian symbols found during research for Coventry Cathedral. The original parish of St John migrated from Narrow Marsh after it was bombed in 1941. In Coventry the Tablets of the Word by the letter carver Ralph Beyer show similar ancient Christian signs. Beyer was influenced by family friend Rudoplh Koch who wrote a book on the subject and the same signs from his book (reprinted in 1955) can be seen at Bilborough St John - great stuff!

Parabolic roof #1 at Bilborough St Hugh

The Evelyn Gibbs murals at Bilborough St Martin - hopefully to be repaired soon

Parabolic roof #2 at Aspley St Teresa

Nearby the Catholic Church of St Hugh features an impressive parabolic (strong curve) roof designed by John Rochford and Partners, who were also responsible for the structurally adventurous St Teresa’s in Aspley. Both were complete during the 1960s. Yet that post-war optimism quickly faded as the cold war developed; the 50s concrete bunker "RSG3" at Chalfont Drive was one of 13 regional government bunkers to be built in case of nuclear fall-out.

2. Pre-fabrication

A currogated steel house in Bilborough - manufacture by BISF

The first BISF houses were let in the late months of 1947 at a rent of twenty one shillings and eleven pence, which included electricity at a concessionary rate since both the electricity and gas were then produced in the city by the Nottingham Corporation. A list of do’s and don’ts was supplied to each householder for strict observation. The first item being that the rent shall be paid promptly every Monday morning to the rent collector. In all there were sixteen items to be observed which included the height of the privet hedgerow not to exceed four feet; that the keeping of fowls, ducks, rabbits and pigeons was strictly forbidden and the attachment of outdoor wireless aerials to chimney stacks also forbidden.
Lawrence Marson, A History of Bilborough (n.d.)

The first bungalows along the western side of Wigman Road
(Courtesy Picture the Past)

The bungalows in their later years (Courtesy Picture the Past)

Some of the earliest aluminium bungalows at Beechdale - since bricked up

In the late 1940s pre-fabrication was necessary because 11,000 people were on the council's waiting list while materials and labour were scarce. So much in fact that prisoners of war were employed on-site for a time. Among the first to be built were the aluminium bungalows on the west side of Wigman Road. These houses could be mass produced at a factory and then erected within a week. Accompanying these came a thousand houses manufactured by the British Iron and Steel Federation, which were all-steel houses with a concrete base. These were being let by late 1947, by which time the order for "No Fines" houses was well underway.

A Terran Newland prefabricated concrete panel house 

Wimpey no-fines poured concrete houses along Bracebridge Drive

These were poured concrete houses made from a special concrete containing no fine aggregates (hence the name) and manufactured by Wimpey, at first on the upper part of Wigman Road. In the far west of the estate around Cockington Road are the Terran Newland houses, a prefabricated concrete panel house made by a firm based at Hull. Today most of these houses have been refaced with brick, but the original proportions (and some features) remain.

The aluminium Portland Primary school - made by an aeroplane company

The Bristol Aeroplane Company's designs from the 40s

The early 1950s traditional brick houses of Strelley estate

Even some of the schools were ready made; Portland School was built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company, which specialised in aluminium buildings. Strelley housing estate meanwhile was built of brick in the early 50s and marks the point where materials were no longer as scarce.

3. Old Bilborough

Bilborough Village on the eve of change (Courtesy F W Stevenson and Picture the Past)

A pre-war sign directing the new council tenants to the church

The Old Forge - built of sandstone, quarried nearby

There was even a blacksmith in Bilborough Village, which I had to pass through to get to Strelley. He was a squat, surly malcontent who shouted at the estate kids to “clear off” if we poked our heads round the open door of his forge to watch, awestruck, as he hammered the red-hot shoes for the giant shire horses of Appleyard’s farm. The days past slowly in that first summer, and outside of the house the world had become a fascinating place’.
Derrick Buttress, ‘Broxtowe Boy’, (2004), writing about summer 1939

Old farm buildings nestling beside each other at Bilborough village

St Martin's Cottages, Bilborough

Situated off the beaten track is the original Bilborough village, an important historic reminder of agricultural life before the surrounding council houses were built. A number of buildings are listed, among the earliest being St Martin's Cottages and dating from at least the eighteenth century. Forge Cottages as its name suggests was the local blacksmith's from circa 1800, while the rectory is a somewhat grander building, built in 1842 to house the Rector of St Martin's. The Church of St Martin dates from the late fourteenth century, and houses some historic relics which are important in Nottinghamshire history. The Helwys memorial, dated from the 1590s, commemorates a family which founded the Baptist Church, while the Thomas Barber plaque reminds us of the origins of one of the big coal mining dynasties.

The medieval parish church of St Martin's Bilborough

Possibly mid-late Victorian door fitting at St Martin's Church

The church itself is similar to St Patrick's Nuthall with an impressive porch, gravestones from the eighteenth century and Victorian fittings. Surrounding the village there are further reminders of Bilborough's agricultural past, such as Manor Farm, and the Sheila Russell Community Centre, which both date from the nineteenth century. Spring Bank Cottages also dates from that time, while the site of Grange Farm has much older origins, possibly the middle ages.

4. Strelley & The Green Belt 

One of the finest parish churches in Nottinghamshire - Strelley All Saints

Alabaster monument - commisioned by the Strelley family, 1501

Brass of Isabel Strelley, 1487

Medieval townscape - the original site of Strelley Village

The stone slabs of 'Monks Way' more likely a packhorse route for coal, than a pilgrimage path

As the new housing estates spread out from the city in the 1920s and 30s, people became concerned about sprawl and the loss of farming land. In 1947 The Town & Country Planning Act designated areas of land known as a 'green belt', which could not be built on and would limit the spread of British cities. Strelley village marks the point when the Nottingham green belt begins and despite the M1 motorway (built during the 1960s) it is still surrounded by agricultural fields. Yet the ancient buildings and monuments here were also financed through coal mining. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century the profits gained from mining were managed by the Strelley family, who built the Church of All Saints - one of the finest medieval churches in the county. Strelley was one of the earliest coal fields in Notts with the remains of old bell pits visible from the field gate adjacent Broad Oak Farm House and south of the business park. Supposedly a pilgrimage path, Monks Way was more likely a packhorse route for distributing coal.

Strelley Hall, built by the Edge family in the 1790s

Entrance to Strelley Hall

The grounds Strelley Hall - landscaped during the 1790s

The later site of Strelley Village from the 1790s onwards

From the late seventeenth century the estate was looked after by the Edge family. In the 1790s T. W. Edge built Strelley Hall, which features an excellent cantilever staircase. For the sake of improvement, he also demolished the old village towards the church, built the present one and landscaped the grounds. This was a common practice known as 'emparking'.


  • Nottingham Local Studies Library, Bilborough Suburb Pack
  • Nottingham Local Studies Library, Strelley Village Pack
  • Lawrence Marson, A history of Bilborough from An Anglo Saxon settlement to a modern community (n.d.)
  • Geoffrey Oldfield, The illustrated history of Nottingham's suburbs, (2009) 
  • John Brunton and Andy Smart, Memories of the estates Aspley, Bilborough, Broxtowe & Strelley, Nottingham Bygones (2002)
  • N. Pevsner, Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire (1979)
  • J. Becket, A Centenary History of Nottingham (1997)
  • D. Kynaston, Austerity Britain 1945-51 (2008)

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