Scene: Ilkeston in the 1850’s
In March 1854 the Ilkeston Pioneer (at that time, the town’s only newspaper, first printed in 1853) included a letter from one of its readers Tilchestune … it was usual for correspondents to use ‘pen-names’ rather than their own names.
As he walked around the town, Tilchestune was extremely happy with what he saw and was eager to share his thoughts …
In a letter (abbreviated below) headed Ilkeston and its improvements he wrote …
In the 1850’s Ilkeston was administered by Vestry and a Highway Board.
This Board was “first formed about 1849, and corresponded to the old surveyors of the Highway elected by the parishioners”. (Trueman and Marston)
Other sources suggest its formation was in the year 1844.
In the mid 1850’s the Pioneer was constantly and scathingly critical of the Highway Board and its Surveyor, whose job it was to maintain and improve the local roads, financed by a highway rate. The Board was simply a ‘talking shop’ made up of ‘sorry ingredients’ and the Surveyor should ‘try to earn the liberal salary that was paid to him’.
The roads through the Common and into Cotmanhay were singled out in particular by the newspaper as in need of care and attention, although the Pioneer did note, perhaps with reluctance, some improvement in the foot road to ‘Moore’s Bridge’ (the Derby Road route). There were reports of the contents of privies and ash-pits being thrown out onto the Cotmanhay Road at the Common, in Bath Street and in South Street.
Middle Road at the Common had heaps of dirt on each side for weeks on end.
In 1854 Mrs. Hitchcock met with a ‘frightful accident’ in Chapel Street when the pony pulling her carriage shied at a quantity of lime and rubbish left in the narrow street. A wheel caught the corner of the Slade Chapel, the cart was upset and a shaft broken….but no serious hurt to Mrs. H. and her children.
The Pioneer however felt compelled to repeat its complaint to townsmen about leaving obstructions in the street.
To drive home the point about the state of the roads and the town in general, the newspaper printed an account of a working man as he took his family for a walk and a horse-carriage ride around the town on two summer evenings.
As a result of the condition of the town’s roads, the man listed a number of complaints and minor disasters as he and his family took their journey …..a cut face and a sprained ankle for his son on the causeway in East Street, pigsty and manure smells, black poisonous smoke from the chimney of the Water-works, a stinking ditch that induced severe vomiting and fainting in his wife, a stone-throwing urchin, a drunken brawl, and on the way down Nottingham Road, a group of Kensington women and boatmen arguing and swearing.
However once outside of the town and into Trowell he encountered a different world of country cottages, rose gardens, a picturesque village school, trees and pure fresh air.
And then coming back into Ilkeston via Awsworth Road the family’s troubles reappeared as a large stone in the middle of the road broke a spring in the carriage. The family struggled on only for the horse — borrowed from a neighbour — to step onto the tram-road at the bottom of Bath Street and ‘break his knees’.
With his son now being carried home by a friend and his wife seeking refuge in a nearby cottage, the man tried to coax the lame horse up Bath Street, still pulling the cart, when it was struck by a runaway horse coming down the hill. A broken shaft was the result.
The family did manage to reach the shelter of their own home when there was a knock on the door. It was Mr Pink, the highway collector, asking for his rate!
Eventually, in 1857, Matthew Hobson, chairman of the Board of Highways, announced that anyone who wilfully obstructed any carriage or footway with scaffolding, bricks, mortar, stones or the like, would be prosecuted.
In 1864 this system of local governance was reformed when the Local Board was introduced to replace the Highway Board.
But not before the ‘lighting issue’ of the 1850’s.