The Strutt Estate
‘Everything was owned by the Strutt Estate at one time – houses, shops and pubs – you
name it, they owned it. Makeney Hall, Milford House – and lots of quarries were owned by
them too. I was the Manager in the Estate Office. I began as one of the office staff as a
sort of clerk. There were about thirty or forty men working on the Estate at the time – maintenance men, plumbers, bricklayers, all the usual staff. We did have one man who did
nothing else but collect rents, but of course, when he was on holiday or off sick, other people had to do it. And that was me! We had to walk miles. It used to take three whole days collecting rent in Belper alone, and then there was Milford, Makeney, and Holbrook. It wasn’t a boring job, you were calling on different people all the time. We used to collect the farmers’ rents every quarter day, and the houses every week. Now I don’t think there are hardly any houses left out of nearly a thousand-odd properties.
The properties began being sold off around 1966. There had been sales previous to that
but not in mass like we were doing it then. Sometimes we were practically giving them
away. But as Mr Strutt said, “If it helps the tenants, that’s all that matters.” A lot of the tenants had the chance to buy their own houses. The houses on Hopping Hill in Milford we
were selling for £400 a piece. When we sold the houses we had a ‘Scotch Auction’ – offers
over £400 or £500 and so on -which was a lot of money in the 1960s. We used to offer the
houses on a certain day and the highest offer got it – there was no gazumping.
The sale wasn’t really advertised. I used to put a scrappy tatty notice up in the office window or I’d scribble out a notice to stick on a telegraph pole or something when there was a fete on – number so-and-so for sale – offers over such and such a price. We’d leave a key at one of the next-door tenants, so that people could go and see it. And that’s how we got rid of most of the houses. Sometimes a house would go in a couple of weeks, and other
times it just took a little bit longer.’
‘When I was a teenager, I went to Chapel three times on a Sunday, and we used to have a
Youth Club there, and have concerts and things and parties. I was at Milford School until I
was fifteen, the only school I ever went to, because I didn’t pass my Eleven-Plus. I enjoyed
my time there, but like everyone else I couldn’t wait to leave. But afterwards you realise
what a good time you did have at school. He was marvellous, Mr Hickling, I always liked
‘There was Mr Godber – he lived down Chevin Road, and it didn’t matter if you cut your finger, or anything, you went to Mr Godber, and he always plastered or bandaged it up. I
think he was the St John’s Ambulance man at the Mill – most people worked at the Mill in
‘There used to be the Mill blower going, that called them to work at twenty-five past seven,
and then at lunch-time it went again for them to finish, and so on. You always knew what
time it was by the blower.’
Growing up in Milford
‘There were three main meeting points – one was the recreation ground, one was Ryde’s
chip shop on Hopping Hill, and the other was the Working Men’s Institute.
Ryde’s chip shop was the late evening gathering point. When you’d finished on the Rec,
you all went up to Ryde’s, where fish and chips were the luxury and the main meal would
be a penn’orth or threepenny bag of chips and some scratchings from the fish batter. They
‘The Working Men’s Institute at the bottom of Sunny Hill, was the hang-out for snooker and billiards downstairs, and table-tennis upstairs. Many a downward path started there – mine included!’
‘The recreation ground seldom had any grass on it, because it was always played with
football and cricket – and climbing up the rocks of the cliff-face was a common pastime.
How ever we survived, I don’t know.’
‘One of the local characters was a guy called Bill Lomas, who was a World Motorcycling
Champion and trials rider. His father owned a shop just by the bridge there, and he used to practice his trials riding in the Scouts’ wood carving through all the paths, and he used to do his speed trials down the Duffield straight, which is now 40 mph.’
‘The main thing that went off at school was the May Queen – every year – and the May Pole
dancing, I don’t know whether the May Pole is still there. We had the May Pole in the
middle of the school hall – it fitted into the floor and ceiling to make it stable.
It was the first school round about that used to have its own film show – the Headmaster
used to show us films such as Scott of the Antarctic, and Oliver Twist. I’ve got a feeling
that the Headmaster, Mr. Hickling, collected for the film equipment with raffles and other
things. I only remember the children watching the films in the daytime, I can’t remember
whether they did shows for adults as well.’
‘There were about 150 children in the school when we were there in the late 40s and early
50s. All the classrooms were full.’
‘I remember the air-raid shelters outside school, they were like brick buildings with a concrete top and they’d got a manhole cover. Anyone off the street could go down to cellars
underneath school during an air-raid. I remember going to school with my gas-mask on my arm in a little cardboard box.
I remember one day when some of us were threatened with the cane, that night when the
Headmaster went to find his canes, we’d hidden them all, broken them in half and hidden
them down the window-sill.
We used to make slides in the playground when it was icy, in the girls’ playground, the top
Sunday School Anniversaries
‘During their heyday, one of the highlights of the Baptist and Methodist year was the Sunday School Anniversary. The Shaw Lane Anniversary was always held on the third Sunday in May. The Baptists’ was always the third Sunday in June. The Ebenezer was always on the fourth Sunday in June.
For at least a month before the anniversary, the children spent their Sunday School periods learning special songs, solos and poems, which they were expected to learn by heart and perform on the day. The augmented choir too, would meet one evening a week for at least four weeks, to learn the special songs and ‘The Anthem’. Selection of the anthem was important since great rivalry occurred over the merits of the three anniversary anthems.
It was usual for all the children to be given a new Sunday outfit of clothes to wear on ‘The
Day’, for the first time. There was also rivalry amongst the ladies of both choir and congregation to see who could sport the most eye-catching hat for the occasion. It was almost like Royal Ascot.’
‘The Day started at 8am (Yes! 8am). We met at the top of Sunny Hill, where we sang the
first of our special anniversary invitation songs! We would then begin our procession of
witness, singing our songs at points along the way. Our procession took us down Sunny
Hill, along Well Lane on to Banks Buildings as far as Jackson’s Lane. (Prior to demolition
we used to go on to Swainsley Court.) We would then double-back to the Market Place.
Our travels then took us to Hopping Hill, Duke’s Buildings, Foundry Lane, Shaw Lane, and
finally Bridge View, where we would sing our final song. (All this time a band of nonsingers had been struggling to keep up with us as they rattled collection boxes, knocking on doors, collecting money for the Sunday School funds.)’
‘When we first saw Milford, in 1974, we were bowled over by its position, with houses high
on either side of a narrow valley. We decided to buy the house we saw, and went to Belper
Council’s Public Health Officer as part of a search. We were staggered to find that most of
the old stone houses in the village, including the one we wanted to buy, were marked on
his map in red as sub-standard housing! A few, such as East and West Terraces, were
noted as being “unfit for human habitation”.
A few years later, Milford was declared a conservation area, All the sub-standard houses
were miraculously transformed overnight into desirable listed residences, which couldn’t
be altered without permission. A classic mill village, said the authorities (even though 90%
of the mill has gone). So the mill-owners applied for permission to demolish most of what
remained of the mill – and guess what: they got it. And now we’re a World Heritage Site.’
‘At one time there were three adult men’s football teams in the village: Milford Ivanhoe FC, Milford Mills Welfare FC, & Milford Scouts Old Boys. There was also a very successful
school under-14s team.’
‘Milford boasted two football pitches. Firstly the Welfare ground on the east side of the A6
road adjacent to Nealies land. This was the ‘home’ ground for the school team, who played
their matches on Saturday mornings, whilst the Welfare team played there in the afternoon. The other football pitch was two hundred yards further along the A6 on the west side of the road, and was usually known as the Ivanhoe ground, even though it was shared by the Ivanhoe and the Scouts Old Boys.’
‘Changing facilities for the Welfare team were in the Welfare hut. The Ivanhoe had no such
luxury so they used the upstairs club room at the Strutt Arms, known as the ‘stripping
room’ and then trudged almost a quarter of a mile down Duffield Road in their football togs, followed by their ardent fans. Sometimes there was as many as 250-300 spectators at the game. The Scouts team was not so popular, with less spectators, but they had to change
in the Scouts’ Hut in Chevin Road wood, so they had an even longer tramp before and after
playing. Arthur Hallam the cobbler was kept busy most Mondays in his shop on the
Bridge re-studding football boots after such a long hike.
Just before half time in the Ivanhoe and Scouts matches, a couple of boy spectators were
sent to Number 1 Moscow Farm Cottages, where a Mrs Dakin had two large billy-cans full
of ‘Camp Coffee with Chicory’ waiting for them.’
‘Tennis was very popular and Milford Tennis Club was very successful, situated on the Welfare premises. They had four grass courts and an all-weather hard court so members –
both male and female – had ample opportunity to play their games, many of which were
matches in the South Derbyshire League where they enjoyed considerable success.’
‘The bowling green was provided by the Strutt family at the beginning of the 20th century for the use of Mill employees (when they had the time or energy), but females were not allowed to tread the hallowed turf (strange, but even today some bowling clubs ban
females!). It was not until the 1960s that female bowlers used the green but nowadays
they are well evident.’
‘Milford also boasted a Cricket Club, that played on the Moscow Farm field. An old railway
coach here served as pavilion, with home and away teams’ changing rooms, whilst the
centre compartment contained delicious teas for the mid-match interval. The actual square (wicket) was professionally laid out and was said to be one of the best in the district.’
‘I have only lived in Milford for three years, but already have some very fond memories of
the place; especially its more eccentric side.
In May 2000 a photo-archive of Milford and its people was organised as part of the Millennium Celebrations. As part of this I was ‘inducted’ into the social life of the village and have never looked back! A flyer was posted to my house announcing the photo-archive and asking for volunteers. A public meeting was held and I went there quite nervous – I knew no one there. Everyone was very pleasant and welcoming and I was encouraged to volunteer to photo my ‘patch’.
For the next two or three weeks I spent many evenings, knocking on doors and taking pictures of people outside their houses. A few people were rude and a few refused to answer the door, but most were lovely. Total strangers invited me into their gardens for cups of tea and some have since become friends. There were also some lovely memories of the scenery; Jacksons Lane choked with cow parsley in the evening sunshine, Morrells Lane with the wild rhubarb leaning over the track, with all the birds singing one glorious sunny morning.’
‘I remember going down to the allotments at the back of the Mill. There was a little alleyway between the school and the house (no. 4 Chevin Road). My husband, Walt, had an allotment down there and so did the schoolchildren. Each child had a little patch about a yard wide when Mr Leatherbarrow was headmaster.
All those gardens were washed away when the river flooded in the 1960s, and it was
turned into a car park.’
‘I left school in 1946 age 14 and went to work at Genic for 1 pound 2 shilling and sixpence
[£1.12½p] a week. Genic’s was a manufacturing chemist, where the Garden Centre is
now. They’d got sugar there, a great mound of it – you couldn’t eat it, it were infested with
rats, you could see the sugar wriggling, there was rats everywhere down there. I used to
work with a press to make little pyramids for hanging in toilets. In those days nobody had
proper toilets, only earth closets and these pyramids was to keep flies away and they
smelt something terrible!’
All the above were published in Milestones – Memories of Milford & Makeney.
Copyright – Maypole Promotions November 2002
Memories of David Merrifield
I started Milford Elementary School, as it was then known, in September 1938, at the age of 6 years. I can remember that first day vividly as my school pal joined the same day. His name was Colin Ryde who lived at No 4 Hopping Hill. Colin took his first day at school very hard and cried all day. Our Teacher in 1st class was Miss Dineen, who laid him on a shawl in a corner and eventually fetched his elder sister June from a higher class to console him. However, it didn’t work! He calmed down during the ensuing week, and we came great friends. The following year we moved to 2nd class. Our Teacher was Miss Nancy Clara Merrifield, my aunt.
The Headmaster was Mr Leatherbarrow, who was an extreme tyrant with a cane, which he used on boys and girls with gay abandon. He certainly wouldn’t get away with it now. He lived just up Makeney road, on the left, past Forge Steps. His son Eric attended the school whilst I was there. In later years, after we had emigrated here to Australia, I found Eric here, managing a large hotel. His parents emigrated to Sydney on retirement, and passed away a few years ago, although I never caught up with them.
Colin and I passed through the school together, bypassing every second class, until we reached eighth class, where we then were put to work in the end room (where the stairs went down to the boys’ playground), tutoring lesser children who couldn’t keep up. I eventually gained a scholarship to Strutts, whilst Colin gained a Second Place (in those days, a scholarship paid no fees, while the second place were half fees). This was a bit incongruous as Colin went on to be a very fine organist and painter, and he finished as a Professor at Repton! I only saw him once after that, on one of our visits to the UK. He married Sheila Waldron, and lived along the main road, near the Anglican vicars Rectory.
Friends and acquaintances included David Brassington (always getting the cane!) who lived up Makeney. Among the girls was Sheila Harrison who lived up Sunny Hill, near Well Lane. Barbara Jenkinson lived at the entrance to Wood Lane.