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Unearthing a Hidden Gem

Updated: May 18, 2022

The new Stanley Biggs store is located on the Nottinghamshire Derbyshire border, in the heartland of Britain. Surrounded by history, from Roman hoards to the old canals of Industrial Britain, we are delighted to have unearthed our own hidden gem.

As we open our new store, "The Old Library", we investigate the history and heritage of the surrounding area and community.

The rich seams laying deep in the earth of this area, dictated how many generations of people lived and worked here. From the miners at the coalface, to the navvies building the canals that would transport the coal, to the ironworks that demanded thousands of workers, the local area was a huge draw for people from all walks of life.

Many towns were created to accommodate the tens of thousands required to mine the coal from the earth; no wonder it became known as ‘black gold’.

With each miner, he brought his family; his family needed schooling, clothing, and feeding. They needed banks, pubs, social clubs, churches, and transportation. All these components created new occupations and livelihoods. These communities in turn then began to settle and forge their own path and aspirations.

Jacksdale, the most westerly town of Nottinghamshire (cross the road and you're in Derbyshire), was one such town that was born from the industrial era.

Before 1890, there were literally a handful of cottages and farmhouses surrounded by open fields. With the founding of several local collieries, ironworks, canals and railways, a new bustling community was soon established. By the 1910s it had reached its peak. It had also gained a reputation as a stopover for tourists heading North to the Derbyshire Dales and the National Peak District that lay beyond. At one point it had four rail lines crossing nearby. It is easy to envisage how busy the area must have been.

Amidst all this expansion there was in fact another evolution taking place. A social evolution that resulted in the birth of the consumer. The latter part of the 19th and early 20th century saw the introduction of some of the vast social changes we take for granted today. Many of these changes were brought about thanks to the working-class communities, whom rightfully demanded a better life for themselves and their dependents. The two day "weekend" for instance is a modern phenomenon and was only introduced thanks to this social change.

Better wages and formal education were slowly introduced also, and with that other avenues of work became available. The idea of travelling to where work could be had was also more commonplace than our contemporary outlook allows us to believe. In fact, people in the 1910s had better train services and connections than we do today.

Hardwick's Aspirations

It was in 1911, that work brought a George Hardwick and his young family to Jacksdale where he had high hopes to start his own business. Initially, he set out as a hairdresser, but had aspirations to open a clothiers and outfitters. Like many others of his class, his shop was situated in the front room of his house, with the family living upstairs. It was a busy street, with other a local stores alongside.

These early days must have been quite a challenge and he must have been just getting into his stride when war broke out. The impact of a global crisis on local businesses is sadly not alien to any of us, so we can all emphasise.

Not much more is known of this young man and his business leading up to The Great War of 1914-1918, but we can presume that due to ill-health he did not serve in the Armed Forces. Instead, George remained in the town and by 1919, he had acquired a plot of land a few yards down the road. This plot was shared with another, friend and veteran, Harry Cheetham. Together they set out building new property on the land and by 1923, the first building had been completed. With its mock Tudor facing, it was situated opposite the local Picture Palace (built in 1919).

So, after 12 years and despite the various social and global challenges, George had been able to realise his dream and opened his own store; a Clothiers & Outfitters, called Hardwick's.

George Hardwick became a highly respected member of the community. Not only was he the Chairman of the local Royal British Legion branch, he was also a keen supporter of the mining families who would have been his customers and friends. Above the store, he fashioned an open (and free to used space) called the "Elite Hall". During the General Strike the Hall was used by the miners to raise valuable sums of money to feed their children and families. It is with this Philanthropy that many other good causes were supported, his obituary stating that he never refused to help a worthy cause.

Such was his popularity, the entire town attended his funeral which came far too soon in 1929. Sadly the ill health that had saved him going to war, finally cut his life short at only 42 years of age. His legacy continued however, when the shop was gifted to the Council to become a County Library.

Until this year, his name and his store had been all but forgotten. Since the 1930s, the Council had covered all evidence of the former Clothiers, painting over the beautiful glass signage bearing Hardwick's name.

Fast forward 90 odd years, and the slow and arduous task of scraping away multiple decades of lead paint began. Though we have been residents of the town for several years, and familiar with the building being a library, little did we know of the building's lineage as a Clothiers when we took it on. We had been told it was a Greengrocers, so we're expecting to reveal a sign confirming this. This was in fact the occupation of George's friend and joint builder, Harry Cheetham. Cheetham actually completed the second building behind the shop in 1928 and made this his own home.

We can't help but think that fate has led us to be the new custodians of such a unique and appropriate building. The sign will remain uncovered, in remembrance to George Hardwick and his legacy and to show the building is once again a Clothiers & Outfitters.



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