For the first edition of a new year, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on events that happened in this area exactly a century ago. 1911 was the year work started on the building of Belper’s biggest building, the East Mill, but a look back to other events of that year shows how much life has changed – and how some things change very little.
January 1911 saw the release of figures showing 75 per cent of old people in the Belper Union Workhouse eligible for pensions had said they preferred to stay at the workhouse rather than take the pension and move out. At a meeting of the Belper Guardians, who officiated over the workhouse, this announcement was met by one member’s response: “I thought these old age pensions were going to see the workhouses abandoned!” which raised considerable laughter. Persistent badgering of the authorities by former police inspector John Clark (73) of Belper finally saw a change that month in the frequency pensions were paid, from quarterly to monthly.
Early in the year, the improved street lighting programme for the town took another step forward with better and brighter lamps on Nottingham Road, Bedlam Hill, Over Lane and Long Row. April saw the first appearance of electric lighting for private use in the town centre. Rushton’s cycle and motor works on Chapel Street had electric lights in the workshop and house. The only electric lighting previously seen in the town was at the fair and to light up the front of the Public Hall (now the Ritz Cinema) for an event in 1908.
Illness hit a Belper’s High Street School in the February, with outbreaks of whooping cough and Scarlet Fever closing the school for three weeks. It was Pottery Infant School’s turn in April, with a 14-day closure owing to outbreaks of mumps, chicken pox and measles. The building had to be fumigated and disinfected before it was cleared for opening by the council’s medical officer.
In May, there was a massive explosion at Kilburn brickworks. Mr Gale was breaking up old iron with dynamite and used too much. Iron fragments were thrown hundreds of feet into the air, and one piece fell on the leg of 18-year-old Tom Chamberlain, who had been lying down nearby, looking on. His leg was fractured, and he was taken to the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary. Several others were hit by fragments, one being knocked off their feet, but no-one else was hurt.
The 1911 census results were released in June, showing Belper's population had risen from 10,934 in 1901 to 11,643 – it has more than doubled since.
George V's 1911 coronation saw bonfires lit at Duffield and Alport, with activities in all the surrounding communities. Many of the elderly were invited to a dinner in Belper River Gardens but didn't attend because the organisers didn’t put on any transport.
September saw Belper's first ever bungalow being built by Fred Blount at the rear of his new hosiery factory on Spencer Road. That month, Milford people were asking for a station to be built for the village, but this failed to receive backing from Alderman Strutt at Makeney Hall, and came to nothing.
If you want to know more about the history of Belper and the surrounding villages, visit St John’s Chapel in the town on the last Saturday of the month, between 10am and 12 noon. Members of Belper Historical Society are available to answer questions and there is information to read and a database of old photographs to explore.