Nottinghamshire: Old Bestwood
Bestwood Colliery Village is a small community in Nottinghamshire that grew around a coal mine. The mine was first sunk in 1875 by the Lancaster family giving the mine its original name of the ‘Lancaster Drift’. To provide for the people coming to work in the mine, the Lancaster’s built sixty-four houses, an Institute, Offices, a school and an Ironworks. Before the colliery the Bestwood area was a peaceful place full of woodland only, with few people living there. There were two mills nearby on the River Lean that housed child workers but very few other people. Up to 2000 men came to work in the mine; many of them came from nearby areas like Arnold and Hucknall. The Colliers Pad, where miners walked to work from Redhill still exists. The winding house that used to lower the men down into the mine still stands. It has a large engine inside which would operate the ‘cage’ lowering miners down below ground. It would also bring the coal to the surface.
The original main street, now called Park Road, looks much the same with rows of miner’s cottages along the street. Small homes that stand back to back with each other. The miners would pay rent to the colliery owners to live in the houses. In the old days there were no buses out of Bestwood. To get to Nottingham a train had to be taken which would take an hour to travel the six miles. The ‘Institute’ is an interesting building. It is now called The Bestwood Hotel but was built as a reading room, a billiard room and a drinking place. Women were not allowed in! It was also used as a morgue following pit accidents.
The children of the village would play games in the surrounding woods. They would go to a favourite place called ‘The Sandholes’ and play ‘whip and top’, hide and seek and rounders. The children would go to Sunday school in the morning and afternoon. On Sunday evening they would go to church too. If they missed church The Reverend Hawthorne would call at their house the next day to find out why! The big treat every year for the children was the visit to Bestwood Lodge. Bestwood Lodge is a large hall which used to be the home of the Duke of St. Albans. Many famous people have visited the Lodge including King Edward VII. Moneyed visitors would come to hunt deer in the Bestwood Estate. Roundabouts and decorated haycarts and wagons would be at the special day. There would be a tea party and music provided by the Bulwell Salvation Army. The people who lived in Bestwood were quite poor and worked very hard. Most of them seemed to have liked living in the village though as there was regular work for the men and the village was surrounded by lovely countryside. Bestwood had most of the things there that people needed and people would not travel outside the village very often. Today parts of Bestwood look are unchanged from those days. There are though lots of new houses making the village much larger. The past is never very far away however in Bestwood Colliery village.
My Memories of Bestwood as a boy
I never lived in Bestwood but as a boy would play long days in the woods with my friends from Redhill and Arnold. We would take the walk up Colliers Pad and play all day in the woods making dens, climbing trees, and collecting chestnuts and conkers. The Game Keeper lived at Alexandra Lodges in the middle of the woods. Whenever he would see us boys he would shoo us off by pointing his shotgun at us! We would run away but always come back the next day!
I remember the first day my friends and I ‘discovered’ Bestwood Colliery Village. We had walked further than usual and saw the small cottages of the village in the distance. Going on to explore we passed the old pit gates, (the mine was still open). The first thing I noticed was a ‘pit pony’ tied up to one of the cottage’s front door knockers! The village looked so different to what we boys knew. We all lived with our families in comparatively new and smart semi-detached houses provided by the council but these little homes looked very odd. They were tiny and the bricks they were built from were blackened by years of standing near the mine.
I loved Bestwood as a boy and still do. It was a huge big playground for we boys and after playing there most of the day we would head home for Redhill in near darkness with the owls in the trees hooting. Once along Colliers Pad we would see the street lights of Redhill beckoning and warm homes and teas to come. Nowadays I still go there but I see very few people enjoying the woods. It’s very quiet. I often wish some of the kids nowadays would have the fun I did there as a youngster as it was a place where dreams were made and friendships bonded. It still looks very similar to when I was a boy and it will always have a special place in my heart.