The third largest town in Derbyshire stands on top of a hill above the Erewash Valley, close to the eastern border of Derbyshire. It owes its development mainly to industry, with coal, iron and hosiery all having played important roles at different times. A century ago it was on the way to establishing itself as a spa town when a spring was discovered whose properties had curative effects on some ailments. Alas, the spring went dry and all that remains to remember it by is the name of the main street, Bath Street!
There is evidence that well before the Romans visited the area people lived hereabouts, but the Saxons were probably the first to settle where Ilkeston is now situated. Farming was the main occupation and for many years there was little growth in the population. The Lord of the Manor obtained a market charter permitting a weekly market and an annual fair.
The main market now takes place twice a week on Thursday and Saturday, when Ilkeston’s Market Place is packed with stalls selling a wide range of goods. Although in addition there is a small market held on Fridays and a Farmers Market on the fourth Friday of the month. Over 750 years after the granting of the original charter to hold an annual fair, the Ilkeston Charter Fair is still going from strength to strength. It is the largest street fair in Derbyshire and nationally recognised in the calendar of street fairs. Unlike other major fairs, it has retained its town centre site.
Originally, the fair was held in August, but in the middle of the 19th century, the event was switched to October. The Statute Fair that took place at that time, where labourers were once hired, had gradually been given over to entertainment and it was decided to combine the two events. It is a highly popular event, attended by people from many miles around the area, when not only the Market Place, but also the surrounding streets are filled with fairground rides and stalls.
It was not until the second half of the 18th century that Ilkeston expanded significantly, when mining and hosiery played important roles in the development of the town. Labour was cheap in the East Midlands and this helped encourage the expansion of the stocking frame and lace industry. The introduction of steam as a means of power enabled large factories to be set up, where knitting machines could be powered by a steam engine. Coal mining was boosted by the opening of a network of canals, which linked with major rivers and opened up trading opportunities all over the country.
The 19th century saw a rapid growth in the population and the completion of the conversion of Ilkeston from an agricultural settlement to an industrial town. The opening of the Erewash Valley Railway in 1847 gave industry a further stimulus in the town, and the demand for coal grew to feed the needs of the industrial revolution. Good communications, rich coal seams and with iron ore another major resource in the area, the population increased from 2500 in 1801 to 25000 one hundred years later.
During the early part of the 1900s, coal mining was by far the major employer of men in the town and the textile industry of women. The closure of Oakwell Colliery in 1911, due to fire damage left only Manners Colliery still operating in the Borough and most local miners had to travel to find work at neighbouring pits. When coal mining went into decline later in the century, the diversification of employment in the town helped to soften the impact on Ilkeston’s economy.
The buildings in the town reflect its industrial past, with the dominating hilltop parish church of St Mary, a Grade I listed building dating back to about 1150, the most impressive. All that remains of the original building are three piers and arches, the church having been restored and enlarged over the years and the tower rebuilt less than one hundred years ago.
Across the market place from the church is the library, opened in 1904 following a donation from Andrew Carnegie. At first, readers selected books from lists, but as borrowing increased, people were allowed to browse. The Town Hall was erected in Italian-style, 20 years before Borough status was conferred on Ilkeston in 1887, and the Drinking Fountain and Horse Trough were donated to commemorate the award. On the edge of the market place is the Scala Cinema, the town’s first purpose built cinema.
The Borough Council introduced an electric tram service a century ago, when open topped trams ran through the town. A bid to have them covered in 1913 was turned down and the people on the top deck had to continue to endure all the vagaries of the British weather for a further 18 years before the trams were replaced with roofed trolley buses. The Transformer Box by the churchyard wall was used to supply electricity.
Tucked away in a quiet spot just off Bath Street is the Erewash Museum, located in an attractive setting at Dalby House, which celebrated its 21st birthday in 2003 with a comprehensive programme of events. From here, the Bennerley Viaduct can be clearly seen. An important part of Ilkeston’s industrial legacy, it is 1400 feet in length and one of only two of its kind in the country. Built by the Great Northern Railway to carry a twin track across the Erewash Valley, the last train crossed in 1973, and it is now protected by Grade II listed building status.
White Lion Square, on the southern side of the town is named after the pub that once stood near by. It was here that a toll bar used to operate to obtain funds to pay for the maintenance of the road. Further up South Street is the Baptist Chapel. Built in 1774, it is one of the oldest buildings in the town.
On the outskirts of the town, Rutland Recreation Ground has seen many epic battles between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire County Cricket Clubs. Further along the road, Victoria Park provides a pleasing mixture of formal and informal gardens, enhanced by a group of mature trees. Swimming is available at the leisure centre in the park, with a teaching pool as well as a main pool. The Albion Leisure Centre in the centre of the town provides for both sporting and non-sporting activities.
Ilkeston is the birthplace of two current and very well known actors: Robert Lindsay and Bill Roache. Mention the name of Bill Roache and most people would recognise him as Ken Barlow from Coronation Street. Robert Lindsay first made a name for himself as Citizen Smith, in the popular BBC hit comedy in the 1970s. He has featured in many important roles in television and on the stage ever since then.
Bill was born in Ilkeston, the son of a doctor. After leaving school, Bill spent five years in the forces, before joining the acting profession. Initially he only obtained small parts, before his big chance came when he was selected in 1960 to play the part of Ken Barlow in the long running soap opera Coronation Street. Already he holds the record for the longest serving actor in a television series and with the popularity of the programme undiminished, he should be able to add many more years. He may also add to the three wives and twenty plus girlfriends he has had in the series so far!
In 1968, Robert Lindsay won a place at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts in London, but it was not until nearly ten years later that his big chance came, when he was chosen for the principal role in Citizen Smith. Since then he has played many leading roles for both stage and television, including Fagin in the sumptuous five million pound adaptation of Oliver Twist.
All Ilkeston images - courtesy of Garth Newton
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
"The front of the Scala is a far more impressive site than than rear of the building. It dates from 1913 when it was constructed as Ilkeston's first purpose built cinema with a seating capacity of 1000. The 1930s saw the installation of an electrical sound system which was updated in the 1940s. "Gone With The Wind" was screened here in 1948 and this week the final episode in the "Lord of the Rings" saga is being advertised. Other claims to fame include appearances in the TV series "Boon" starring Michael Elphick and being used in another series both in the plots and the opening credits of "Shine On Harvey Moon". The car park in Pimlico to the left of the Scala was once occupied by a row of cottages but these were demolished in 1974.
**An extract from Garth Newton's excellent website: www.ilkcam.com
Garth also kindly supplied all the images of Ilkeston shown on this page.**
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This is an easy, level walk mainly along surfaced tracks and footpaths, through gently undulating countryside with views across Shipley Park and visiting the picturesque village of Mapperley.
The walk starts from Straw’s Bridge Nature Reserve, a local beauty spot, and then joins the nine mile long Nutbrook Trail. Completed in sections, the trail now runs from Long Eaton in the south to the edge of the Borough at Shipley Park.
After leaving the trail, the walk heads across fields before joining an access road leading to the village of Mapperley. This part of the route offers good views of Shipley Country Park developed during the 18th century by the Miller Mundy family.
The former mining village of Mapperley, dates back a long way and was awarded a market charter in 1267 to hold a fair and a market. In 1966, the church was largely rebuilt, following damage from mining subsidence.
On the return journey, follow the track past Brook Cottage through a wood and then along a raised track. An opencast coalmine used to operate here during and after the Second World War.
After a short walk through fields, the Nutbrook Trail is rejoined.
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