Nottinghamshire 7 - Worksop, Mr Straws house , what the wife wants the wife gets

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May 18th 2016
Published: May 24th 2016
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We have been home now nearly a fortnight . Where does time go to? Suzy still needs a well earned wash and spruce up inside and out. Her throws have been given a wash and need to be returned. Her cupboards are bare. She is now waiting for her next trip out. Counting down we have only 15 weeks to our next big trip of the year. Knowing how quickly time flies it will soon be here but first we need to exchange our Tesco Club Card points for Eurotunnel tickets.

By now anyone who reads my blogs will know that I waffle on sometimes quoting this saying or that . Today I picked out one that I have chopped about a bit. They say "Journeys bring power................. If you cannot go somewhere move in the passageways of the mind". Quite true really as when we do not travel abroad we do dream a lot or we visit something on our doorstep. These journeys bring joy on otherwise dull days. "Journeys are shafts of light, always changing and you and me change with them when we explore them".

So what will today bring us as we journey somewhere just up the road.

Ok let's go back in time. For time immemorial the wife has always coverted what her neighbour has. She sees something and instantly wants to keep up with the Jones' or wants to go one better. Imagine Eve hounding Adam. Think about the early cave dwellers. The wife would have called in the neighbours cave and seen the cave drawings on the wall. No doubt she would have said to the hunter gatherer of the family "Get painting " "Forget tea , If you can't paint then I will pay someone with our supply of berries to do it for you". The Elizabethans would have admired wall hangings and wanted them to beautify the walls of their homes. . So it went on. Victorian Britain was a thriving place. The Industrial Revolution had changed many parts of the green and pleasant landscape to an industrial one. Water mills replaced by belching steam engines. Factories working day and night to provide for the growing population. There were the rich and the very very rich and priviledged who lived in palaces, castles, baronial piles and stately homes who filled their homes with exotic things. There were the poor who lived in back to back slums with outside privies and just the bare necessities to make life bearable. And then there were the new rich. The dirty money , the money made from industry rather than handed down old money through the generations. The Armstrongs, the manufacturer of Arms who lived at Cragside, the entrepreunrial Mr Salt who made his money by selling wool from the alpaca, the philantropists and Quaker Frys and Roundtrees and then the newly emerging middle classes. Those men who didnt quite get to the top of the money ladder but did a darn good job of scrabbling up the first part.

They were the white collared middle classes who no longer needed to live above the shop. Did the suburbs come first or did the trains and the spiders web of train lines encourage a surburbia where the middle classes could work in the cities by day and come back into the countryside by evening. Mr Straw was such a man. William Straw ran a lucrative grocery and seed company. He had two children, Walter and William Jr., with wife Florence, the daughter of a well-off butcher. They like may others of the time lived in the flat above the shop until they moved in the semi detached house in Blythe Grove, Worksop.

I can imagine the excitement of Mrs Straw moving into what must have felt like a palace after the cramped flat. She would have had aspirations no doubt and would have wanted new things to fill up her new home.

I had picked Mr Straws house because it wasnt too far from us. The drive would take us less than an hour. It was something different. Not the huge Palladian palaces to the rich that Derbyshire has a lot of. Nor the castle. It was quite ordinary. From the outside a red brick double fronted semi- detached house in a quiet private road lined with trees. It was one of those houses built in the early 20th century which was a veritable tardis inside. Parking was opposite in the orchard. A small piece of land which would if ever sold bring in a pretty penny as it was large enough for one huge house, a couple of semis or a courtyard development of mews houses. Not that the Trust would ever sell it. Where would people park? There is no on street parking and there are the neighbours to consider. It seems odd to be a property with such modest aspects. We fell into conversation with a volunteer. Another Jones like us whose family came from Ruabon just up the road from my place of birth. Another welsh family that moved to Lancashire with the opening of the coal mines and then into Nottinghamshire as work progressed around the country. We were surprised at the numbers of cars as we knew the house was small inside and was only seen during a guided tour when four people were escorted at a time around the tiny rooms. Now you know us and guided tours. We never really like them but this was to be slightly different.

The trust own number 5 and number 7 , the two identical semis. One side owned by the Straws had remained untouched since the father had died. Successive children had lived there but none had put their mark on the house . It remained in a cocoon. Everything had been kept , nothing had been thrown away and it felt like a time capsule. The second side acts as tiny reception where my bag was taken off me - just in case I caught the delicate 1920's wall paper. A small coffee machine in a corner harked to the trusts idea of refreshments, a small stock of jams, chutneys, plants and other items were stocked on the shelves. We were greeted by the guide who took us "next door" Along the way she told us about living near to the Straws and knowing them, how during the war the railings of all the houses were cut up for the war effort. Her father said " that's it we have done our bit". Mr Straw on the other hand was outraged and wrote to his local MP complaining that he would be overrun by animals and demanded compensation. He received the compensation to basically shut him up. He bought the house for £700 and it was designed to be a show piece of his wealth. Somewhere to entertain and show that the Straws had arrived . In his front garden he planted a mulberry bush to prove that silkworms could breed in the UK . Sadly his mulberry bush was a black mulberry and silk worms have a preference for white mulberry leaves.

Inside we were met by another guide who took us through the downstairs rooms. The passageway in was dark and gloomy and all the downstairs room heavy, full of furniture harking back to an earlier Victorian age. "Stand on the red carpet" she said . "That is new. Every other carpet downstairs is the original and fragile". The front parlour was Mr Straws gentlemans domain and the dining room. Heavy dark mahogany tables and chairs, dark heavy wallpaper covered the walls and a surprise electric light. It appears that because the hospital was just down the road all the houses here benefited from electricity earlier than other areas of Worksop. The fire was full of fire bricks . The Straws did not like waste and made sure that coal was not wasted when fire bricks would hold the heat and mean less coal used. Pictures hung from the picture rail. We were reminded of our grandparents houses with their picture rails.

The seond room was Mrs Straws domain. More heavy wall paper, books, letters and envelopes kept in bundles. The window had been taken out so that Mrs Straw could take her female friends straight out into the garden rather than take them through the kitchen. The pictures on the walls had all been secured from house sales over the years. The kitchen was state of the art in the 20's but had seen no restoration since. A fireplace , an old gas cooker, a towel rail over the back door, an old flat iron on the stove and boxes of tins of food unopened. When the shop had closed the stock was never sold it found its home at Blythe Grove. Time had stood still in each room. In the hall way the coats and hats of Mr Straw hung up as if he had just popped in out of the garden.

The stair carpet was a copy. Mrs Straw in a bid to wow her friends had insisted on spending £80 on doing the house up and furnishing it with the latest fashions. Her stair carpet was expensive and based on an Egyptian theme . All the rage at the time due to Tutankhamun. It only extended as far as the eye could see which meant the second and third flights of stairs had less expensive carpets on them. The trust had replaced the carpets at a cost of £12,000. On the landing a grandfather clock, two bedrooms and a toilet. The bedrooms were lighter than downstairs with brighter prettier wallpaper but still filled with every conceivable chair or table you could imagine. Ornaments filled every space. It took the trust 4 months to clean the building last year and they never got round to finishing it all even in that space of time. The bedding was pure 1920's. EVen in the 21st century the last Mr Straw slept in the same bed, in the same bedding that his family had kept for years. The toilet was fully functioning but still the same as when it was first fitted. The third floor which normally would have housed servants was given over to a library of sorts and more bedrooms. All cluttered with the belongings of the family. Shiny old shoes filled with newspapers, newspapers strewn on tables and on the beds, boxes unopened . A treasure trove still waiting to be discovered. Glass jars filled with seeds , plucked from the garden in 1951 and never used.

Outside was a small but perfectly formed garden with long borders full of wisteria overhanging the walls, grannies bonnets of white and lilac and a pure white greenhouse which housed Mr Straws collection of cacti.

Did we enjoy it? Yes it was a real eye opener. We saw life as it was lived in a more genteel age. We were taken in to the world of Mr Straw and how he acquired his wealth. The aspirations of his wife to make a name for herself. We saw what was important and how time could be made to stand still in the ordinary but extraordinary world of the Straws.

So how to round of the day . Dinner at Van Dyk Hotel on the way home. Chicken escalopes with leeks and a beef boeurginon. We couldnt have asked for a better day out.


25th May 2016

"Journeys bring power................. If you cannot go somewhere move in the passageways of the mind".
Enjoyed the blog.

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