Old Ilkeston Logo

Act 1, Prologue: The Highway Board

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 …

Who that knew anything of Ilkeston fifteen or twenty years ago, has not noticed with pleasure the great improvements that have been effected in the almost entire re-construction of the roads through Kensington (down Nottingham Road), South-street, Market-place, Pimlico, East-street, Burr-lane, and Bath-street? (Anyone not familiar with the geography of Ilkeston will see most of these places shown on the earlier sketch map)

Mount Sorrel gutters and crossings, and stone and brick causeways, with curbings, have been laid, which have given our streets an air of cleanliness and finish they never before exhibited.

Numerous encroachments and nuisances on the highway have been abated or removed — The unsightly ancient projection in the centre of the Market-place, has given place to two good shops, the space between being crowned with a light and graceful platform, from which we hope, ere long, to see the member for Ilkeston harangue his constituents; and the removal of the old brick wall and stiff poplars has given us as pleasant a promenade as any little market town can boast of.

The four-feet ditches of filth, which bounded nearly all one side of Bath-street, have given place to a foot-road, which, though not the best, we must take as the ‘pioneer’ for a better one ‘looming in the future’.

Who that recollects the pool against the Toll-bar, and Weaver-pool in South-street (both alike the occasion of so much excitement, personality, and lawyer-meddling) will not admit that the filling up of one (at the Toll Bar), and the erections now rising on the site of the other (the property of our old townsman, Mr. Sudbury), are improvements ?

Pimlico has lost the old Independent meeting-house, with which are dearly associated the names of (Joshua) Shaw and (James Adolphus) Savage, once its gifted ministers, but in its place now stands the best specimen of ecclesiastical architecture in the town belonging to dissenters.

If we cross over to the Market-place, and tread the ground where once a beloved (Richard) Moxon (curate of the Ilkeston parish 1823-1836) lived and laboured for the Church, what a change do we see ! The tumble-down cot, styled ‘the vicarage’, in which he resided, is supplanted by a comfortable hall-like parsonage; and the grounds on which donkeys used to browse, are now laid out in beautiful parterres, shrubbery, &c. While in this nook, we cannot but revert to the removal of the pump in Anchor-row. Is this not an improvement ? 

.. we pass on, — The British and National schools erected speak well for the improvement of Ilkeston.

Among our little streets, East-street has done its share to improve the appearance of the place, and the respected occupant of Dalby House (Dr. George Blake Norman) deserve the best thanks of the walk-loving public, for the pleasant road he has made in the croft below his residence.

The spacious Cricket-ground is also one of our recent improvements, and forms a most enticing resort for health-seekers.

The Wesley and Bath-street chapels are no mean ornaments to our town.

From the Rutland Arms and Baths to the Wine Vaults, at the top of Bath-street, improvements have been made by the Railway Company, Mr. Chadwick, Mr. W. Riley, Mr. Thomas Riley, Mr. Burgin, Mr. Rose, Mr. Potter, Mr. W. Ball, Mr. Aldred, Mr. Evans. Mr. Lowe, Mr. Carrier, and others.

The ‘Common’, with its little ‘Ebenezer‘, and the proving-hands and taste of a Richards, a Beardsley, a Whitehead, and a Bailey, keeps pace with its parent, the town. Whether we go to the Park or the Manor-house; to Kensington with its ‘Field-house‘; or Cotmanhay, with its Church (Christ Church) and Parsonage; the Pottery, or the Wharf, everywhere are we met by signs of improvement in property and the general appearance of the place.

In this rapid enumeration of improvements, we ought not to forget the new phasis given to that locality known as ‘Albion-place‘ by the erection of the large lace factory, warehouse, and other premises of Messrs. Ball. The stimulus given to the improvements of Ilkeston, and the extension of its trade, by the erection of industrial hives of this kind, and those of Messrs. Carrier, Messrs. Fletcher, and Messrs. Bailey, Son, and Co., cannot be over-valued or prized by anyone having the real weal of Ilkeston at heart.

dated Feb. 28, 1854

(We shall visit most of these places and meet many of the people as we journey on through town).

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.