Reminiscences of Broad Marsh

This article is published in grateful memory of Allan Derry who died in September 1996. He was baptised at St Peter's in 1910 and served for many years as lay reader and churchwarden. From the February 1993 edition of the Magazine, this is one of his most powerful, evocative and personal pieces.

Narrow Marsh

The recently published account of the ministry of the Rev. H P Hales and republished photograph of Narrow Marsh from the Central Library in Nottingham, prompt me to set down my own recollections as a boy and young man. What became the slums of Broad Marsh were more desperate than we can now imagine. They are more vivid to me because as a boy I accompanied my mother on visits to Clifton Place in Narrow Marsh to see an old aunt of my mother's who lived in this enclosed yard in very poor circumstances. To corroborate my memory I quote from page 70 of Duncan Gray's "Nottingham - Settlement to City":

...a block of land was built up on all four sides with narrow courtyard in the centre, and entrance to the courtyard was by a tunnel about six feet high, and three feet across through the body of the block.

The separate houses were one room wide and three rooms high. The rooms being eight to ten feet square and the front door led directly from the courtyard into the ground floor room. There were no conveniences whatever excepting a cupboard under the stairs for coal. The general water supply was a tap in the open at one end of the yard - the lower end - and near to it were a group of privies on the basis of one privy to twenty persons. Each block of such enclosed houses backed onto similar blocks, preventing any possibility of adequate ventilation.

My great aunt Annie Fox hated it. She had no part with the other occupants in Clifton Place and lay in bed in fear at the week-end when they returned home at night the worse for drink, and shouting and quarrelling and reeling against her door. The light came fitfully into the yard in daytime and her little front room seemed always dark.

She worked in a factory in Castle Boulevard until she was 70 and became eligible for an old age pension of ten shillings a week. My mother helped in what ways she could but she was tough and independent. She did her shopping late on Saturday evening in front of the Old Exchange in Market Square. Once when she was scurrying from getting her meat in the Shambles across to the greengrocery stalls opposite, she went through the stationary rank of taxis and was caught by a passing vehicle on the other side. I remember seeing the string bag in which were her purchases, and that there was little in her house apart from an old round-faced clock with chains and weights which ticked in the living room, and a few odd pieces of furniture and a bed.

The Parish Rooms were the former St Peter's Schools. I remember teaching in the Sunday School there and trailing up Lister Gate with them to the Church in time for morning service. We left before the sermon and sat at the western end of the south aisle.There were about forty Sunday School children, but I was told that in Victorian times the crocodile stretched from the Parish Rooms to the church door. St Peter's had Church Army Sisters who worked in the Broad Marsh area and sold the Church Army magazine with great gusto and success. I thought we had Church Army Sisters at St Peter's because Mrs Hale was a niece of Prebendary Carlisle, the Head of the Church Army. I remember him preaching in St Peter's and calling on us all to stand up and be saved. I was much too terrified and as I was sitting at the back I continued seated. One of Mr Hale's daughters has told me that on this occasion her father was seen to be weeping. It was certainly very moving.

Allan Derry, January 1993
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997