Mansfield Past and Present
The Old Mansfield Society has a
new book, Mansfield Past & Present. Published
by, and now on sale at, W.H. Smith's. This book gives a fascinating insight
to the dramatic changes that have taken place in Mansfield over the past 100
years. The pictures record many aspects of the changing character of the town.
Areas covered are Trade & Commerce, Main & Back Streets, Transport,
Social Life, Industry and Church & Education. Most of the archive photographs
are matched with modern views of the same scenes in order to record the transformation
that has occurred.
. . . Not only in extent has the town changed over the past hundred years, Its appearance is much different too. Many of the photographs in this book illustrate this more eloquently than words can describe. Certainly, a good number of old buildings survive but all too often they are isolated examples and while this isn't always a bad thing it can be detrimental to the townscape if the replacements are ill-designed or of unsympathetic materials. Happily, towards the end of the century more thought has been given to the conservation of interesting buildings and to the appearance of new ones. White Lion Yard is a good example of this. This Church Street property consisting of an inn, shops and dwellings had clustered around a small courtyard for centuries. The oldest part dates back at least to 1584. Over recent years its condition had deteriorated to such an extent that it looked a prime target for the bulldozer. In the past this may well have been its fate but in these more enlightened times it has fared much better. The whole block has been carefully restored and now provides accommodation for a restaurant, two shops and storage facilities while three small caves, hewn from the indigenous sandstone, have been set out as a visitor centre. Now both townspeople and visitors can see how this part of old Mansfield has evolved through four centuries and discover who lived there and the work that they did. . . .
. . . Although vestiges of its agricultural past remained and although it was still regarded as a market town, Mansfield in 1900 was essentially an industrial centre. Long looked upon as its staple industry, framework knitting may have been in decline but textile mills lined the banks of the River Maun and foundries, engineering works, maltings, a brewery and sundry other factories were dotted about the town while, as if waving farewell to its agricultural past, several windmills still turned their sales to face the prevailing wind. They may have been survivals of the past but signs of the future were also apparent. Coal mines had been drawing closer to Mansfield from the west and north but in the opening decade of the 20th century, colliery headstocks could be seen from the town itself. In 1902 Sherwood colliery was sunk just within Mansfield Woodhouse to be followed two years later by Crown Farm colliery at Forest Town. Work for many towns people was in the factory, mill, workshop or down the mine. Although hours were long, labour often grindingly hard, safety standards some-times lax and pay poor, there was a feeling of permanence in such employment. Work, however onerous, even unpleasant, would always be there. . .
. . . How different is the situation a hundred years later. Both coal mines have closed, their only visible survivals are grassed over waste tops, a few tubs in public parks and occasional winding wheels marking the entrance to the one time collieries. Other industries, long regarded as fundamental to the town's economy have fared no better. Textile and hosiery mills have closed, the building of the last working maltings is now a night club and the premises of the Mansfield Brewery are currently up for sale. Not all have gone though. The Sherwood Foundry is still in business, Barringer, Wallis and Manners, later the Metal Box Company and now Carnaud Metalbox Speciality packaging continues in production and Boneham and Turner, precision engineers, attract custom throughout the land. There are others, of course, but the closure of the more traditional and more labour intensive industries has created problems of unemployment that are proving difficult to overcome. Attempts are constantly being made to attract new industries to the town and while some success had been achieved, too many townspeople are still without work.
In 1785 William Smith converted an old corn mill into a cotton spinning mill. Field Mill was one of one of seven water-powered spinning mills built betwen 1790 and 1800 along the River Maun between Little Matlock Mill and Bath Mill. It had the largest waterwheel in the town. For most of the nineteenth century it was occupied by Messrs. Greenhalgh. Other manufacturing activities were also carried out, including leather working. The mill was virtually derelict by 1900; the wheel was removed in the early 1920's and the building was demolished in 1925. The Master's house remains as a public house.