Shakespeare Yard

Everyday life from 1893 to 1911

by Jay Mather


“Shakespeare Yard.. a small court; around are a few small hovels.. stairs led to a house.. of a single room about 12 feet by six. Absolutely nothing in the room but a heap of rags in the corner on the floor. There 3 human beings actually lived – a man, his wife and his child.. The darkest cell in Newgate would be preferable. But these hapless wretches paid 2s rent for it. The husband could earn 6s 6d a day when he had work, but he had work only 2 or 2 ½ days in the week.. He had bronchitis- he had been ill most of the previous winter..”
“Six in family, 2 rooms, no fire.. not a particle of furniture; a poor child under rags ill. Neither man nor wife nor children had eaten anything that day. Earned 5s 6d to 6s a day; but worked only 2 or 3 days a week.”

‘There was no dole and if poverty or sickness assailed, the very poor had to rely on the Workhouse or on charity.. the Chesterfield Charity Organisation Society was founded.. They had much to do in the great distress year of 1893..‘
T P Woods 1936 Almanac quoting and referring to a newspaper article of 1893. 1

Who were these people? Where did they live?

The area around the Donut Car Park is at the junction of two very old roads – Saltergate and Holywell. The old Inns and some houses had Yards at the back with stables and pig sties as well as a few cottages. When industry and coal mining expanded in the 1800s, the population of Chesterfield increased rapidly and the Yards were often filled in with poor quality housing. Chesterfield became very over-crowded as it could not expand beyond the township’s narrow boundaries until 1892. Child mortality in some Yards was the highest in England – more than 20% of children died before they were 5 years old.

Conditions in Shakespeare Yard were bad with over-crowding, poor housing and cramped, stuffy conditions. Though the privies had been converted to water closets by the 1930s, they were still shared not just within the Yard, but with some of the properties on Holywell as it was their back yard too! Dustbins were emptied by the Council in the 1930s, so the ashpits no longer contained festering rubbish. In 1891 the ashpits and privies were rarely emptied as there was nowhere to put the contents. There were no drains from the houses even in 1932, so no inside plumbing, not even a sink; just a few shared outside water taps.

roadsThe position of Shakespeare Yard around 1900.


map-finalThis map of Shakespeare Yard dates from 1878, with some house numbers added. Some of the privies and ashpits are marked in orange; WT means a water tap. The dashed red lines represent the line of sight of the photo below.

IMG_20150817_130035The present day photo shows the same area – it’s taken with Broad Pavement behind to the right – in front is the Old Post Office and the Chapel plus, behind the bus, The Volunteer Inn building.

Shakespeare Yard was at the back of the Shakespeare Inn on Saltergate, just opposite Broad Pavement, but the entrance was on Holywell Street, opposite Devonshire Street near the present day Chapel building. The Yard covered roughly the same area as the car park visible in the photo.  In that very small space, 59 people lived in 1911 – only 20 years earlier than the photos – and children had died in many families. 2

CNV00005Three cottages on Holywell St, the gennel to No7 Court and the entrance to Shakespeare Yard on the right

Let’s start at the entrance. These cottages on Holywell were built in the late 1600s or early 1700s as reasonable tradesman’s cottages with a backyard.  They went downhill 100 years later when Shakespeare Yard was filled in. They were run down even in the 1930s – the ‘Wardrobe’ was probably a 2nd hand clothes shop. A stable was visible through the narrow entrance to the Yard on the right. Until these 3 cottages were knocked down in the 1930s the entrance was about the width of a cart.

Court No7

Even worse, down that gennel behind 26 Holywell – labelled No7 Court – were cottages facing the tiny, tiny Court which was originally completely walled off from Shakespeare Yard. The end house on the 1878 map is perhaps where the ‘small worn, shaky stone stairs’ led to the little single roomed house in the T P Woods newspaper report.

CNV00003A cottage with the back of 28 Holywell and a little bit of 26 Holywell. It shows the gennel from No 7 Court through to Holywell. The cottage was part of Shakespeare Yard in 1932, but had earlier been part of No7 Court.

The end cottages had been knocked down and the Court opened out by the 1930s. There’s a manhole cover for the outside WCs which were in the Court for these cottages and the houses on Holywell. Just imagine what these cottages would have been like in 1891 when they faced a tiny enclosed yard opposite an earth closet, privy or ash pit – that was rarely emptied!

According to the 1911 Census, a 49 year old blacksmith and his wife, Joseph and Mary Thompson from Lancashire, lived in 2 rooms in the first cottage in No7 Court. They had no children and would have a little spare money, but they would worry about their old age. The 5/- pension had been introduced in 1908 for those over 70 with only a few assets, but what if Joseph couldn’t do his heavy job in his 60s? Who would look after them or would they end up in the Workhouse – still a feared place?

Earlier in 1901 three cottages were occupied in No7 Court. In one lived the Marriott family where William was a miner, mother Eliza a charwoman, son Peter a drayman and the 16 and 14 year old daughters, Eliza and Eva, worked in a tobacco factory.  They would have had a terrible time during the miners’ lockout of 1893 with a choice between near starvation or the Workhouse. In the 1891 census this family, including an elder daughter, lived in one of the 4 room houses in Shakespeare Yard itself.  Perhaps they moved down market after getting into difficulties in 1893? Perhaps they were even one of the families referred to in the newspaper article? The children’s physical and mental development would have been affected for life after the terrible deprivation of their childhood. In the early 1900s 15 year olds from working class families were, on average, 10cm (4”) shorter than upper class 15 year olds – due to poor diet, poor housing and susceptibility to illness. 3

Next door was a hawker with his family, William and Annie Ellis with baby Sarah. He would have had a very insecure income walking from door to door or travelling round local markets in all weathers. Would he have been able to afford good enough clothes and boots to keep warm, dry and healthy? In the 3rd cottage in 1901 was 69 year old Isaac Eden from Oxfordshire, still working as a gardener as there were no state pensions for a few years yet. If he was lucky his employer would allow him to bring home a few spare vegetables, as there was nowhere to grow anything in the Yard. Living with him was 50 year old Emma Wall who was first described as a housekeeper, but then corrected to ‘charwoman’. Ten years earlier they’d lived together on Church Alley. Both were widowed so it’s possible that after her husband died she was encouraged to move in with Isaac, if he was a relative – partly because it was considered a bit odd for a woman to live alone, and partly to pool their resources. 4

They would struggle on Isaac’s wage of about 15s (75p) a week, so Emma would need to earn a few extra shillings going charring. To give an example, in 1907 a childless couple in Derbyshire each week spent 3s (15p) on rent and rates, around 6s10d (34p) on food, about 9d (4p) on odds and ends like starch, pegs or ink and even 5 ½d (2p) for horehound, liquorice and aniseed from the Chemist -if someone had the flu! That didn’t leave much for coal, candles, clothes, boots, bedding and furniture. In the days before sickpay and the NHS, this couple had to find 3s4d (17p) a month to pay the Friendly Society which, if the husband became ill, would pay for his medical treatment plus just 8s (40p) a week for the family to live on! 5

Earlier still in the 1891 census, 2 of the 3 heads of household in this tiny Court were widows from Ireland. Annie Green was a 2nd hand clothes dealer, another very insecure source of income; in bad weeks her 6 children wouldn’t have eaten much. They all squeezed into a small 2 roomed cottage. The third household head came from Newmarket and was a drayman – a connection to horses! George Wheatcroft was a widower who lived with his 13 year old son who was at work as an errand boy. George had a more secure job, but would have to get up a good hour early to prepare his horse and spend another hour bedding it down at the end of the day. Working days were very long; at that time a wagon maker was out of the house from 5am to 8pm.  6

Eleven men in the Court and Shakespeare Yard worked as miners in 1891; they would have been hit very hard in the lock-out 2 years later.  Others who depended on them spending money, like 2nd hand clothes dealers or hawkers, would have suffered badly too. Even the drayman could have been on short time if there was less money about.
Miners in this area hewed coal with a pick-axe on their knees for hours, or even worse lying on their sides if the coal seam was only 18 inches high (45cm). Some pits were wet with water dripping from the roof and on the floor.  In the 1893 newspaper article quoted above an 18 year old boy had rheumatism due to ‘working in a wet pit’. Often miners had to walk hundreds of yards in the mine to get to the coal seam. Not surprisingly most miners preferred to live close by as they were exhausted at the end of the day. Miners were only paid for lump coal; small coal went to the tip. During strikes or short time their families would sift through the tip looking for bits of coal – it could be dangerous.

Now to move into Shakespeare Yard itself.

The open drains in the yard were disused by the 1930s and the cottages had recently been repaired as some had new roofs and some walls had been re-pointed.  But water would be still have to be fetched from the shared taps and waste water disposed of down the drains or WCs. Houses of this poor quality would have thin walls, no damp-proof course and quarry tiles would be laid straight onto the earth downstairs. 7

Numbers 1-4 all backed onto the shops on Holywell and Numbers 5 -7 backed onto the Flour Mill wall, so there was no through ventilation and no way of ‘airing’ the cottages properly. The Yard itself was enclosed by mostly high buildings with a narrow entrance, so not many refreshing winds blew in there. In winter the cottages would be damp and cold, in summer stuffy with no fresh air – germs could thrive whilst children didn’t!

CNV00002The cycle stores are on the right, people are looking out of Numbers 3 and 4

In 1932 No 1 and No 2 were just cycle stores, but in 1911 they were occupied.

1 – In 1911 in a one up, one down cottage facing the entrance lived Sam Barnett, a 24 year old coal hewer from Chesterfield, his wife Sarah Jane from Sheffield, plus a visitor – a married sister. They’d been married a year and had a child but it wasn’t with them that night, perhaps staying with grandparents. From June 1912, Sam would earn a minimum of 6s6d (32.5p) a day, but he wouldn’t necessarily have work every day. Even with a miner’s wage food could be short. My mother said her mining family of 2 adults and 8 children in the 1920s were ‘alright as we kept pigs at the end of the garden’, but the boy next door came in to ‘dip the heel of a loaf’ in their bacon fat and ‘that was his breakfast – he didn’t get much more for his dinner.’

2 – Next door in another 2 room cottage lived 32 year old Tom Ellison with his wife Amelia, 29.  They had been married 9 years, but their eldest child was 10 – Victorian morality wasn’t too strong in poor working people.  They’d had 6 children, but only 3 had survived – Alfred, Alec and William. In 1891 Tom lived in Outbridge with his parents and 7 siblings, including a brother called William; perhaps his son was called after Uncle William? The adult males had all worked making rasps in 1891, but Tom was now a coal hewer. It was a heavier, more dangerous job, even though the working day for miners had just been limited to 8 hours in 1908. But when times were good Tom could earn good money. If a coal miner was able to work 6 shifts in a week, he could earn £2 a week or more, as much as a skilled operative in a foundry. But injuries and even deaths were common – there were the tragedies in 1933 when 14 were killed at Grassmore Colliery and in 1919 when 6 were killed at Oxcroft.

3 – Six adults and a baby lived in 3 rooms! In 1911 Augustus Lewis, 23, was a Stage ‘Maneger’ who was in the ‘theatretical proffes’.  His writing was beautiful, but his spelling was less so. Thirza, his 24 year old sister, and her husband lived there too. This poor couple had had 3 children in 5 years of marriage, but only baby ‘Cycril’ had survived.  There were 3 more sisters – a 12 year old at school, a charwoman for the Board of Guardians (for the Workhouse?) and a servant in a Milliner’s shop. The Shops Act in 1911 had limited working hours to 60 hours a week for shop assistants, and given them an afternoon off as well as Sundays, but this didn’t apply to servants. A live-out maid would work from 6am to lay the fires and prepare breakfast to late evening after she’d finished the washing up after dinner – with only short meal breaks and just one afternoon off a week. 8

In 1901 the Lewis family had lived in the Yard with their father, a painter and decorator. The family had moved around as the eldest 2 children were born in Middlesex, the next in Birmingham and the rest when the family had settled in Chesterfield.

4 – In 2 rooms lived a couple in their 20s and their 2 daughters in 1911. Edwin Mosely was a plater’s help in the iron works. He came from Borrowash and Clara from Derby.  The girls, Clara and Gladys, were born in Derby but they must have only just moved to Chesterfield, as Gladys was only one. If he had some family connection with the railway, a skilled man like Edwin might be able to move on to a more secure job with a railway company, though the pay could be low. There was still trouble there; in the railway strike of 1911 the Riot Act had been read at the Midland Railway Station and there had been a charge with bayonets by the military and with truncheons by the police! But it was a Saturday night, so there might have been others involved.

CNV00004The 3 tall cottages had one room downstairs, one on the next floor and one on the 3rd floor.

These cottages backed straight onto the Steam Flour Mill, so would have been noisy and dusty. Again there was no through ventilation. The house in the tight corner must have been terrible before the toilets were converted to WCs as in the dead end there was a privy or ash pit right outside the single downstairs window – the wall can just be seen on the left.

5 – In 1911 coal hewer Stephen Langton, 26, and Caroline, 31 lived in 3 rooms and had been married 5 years. Ten years before he’d lived in Barrack Yard with his family and was a pony driver in the pit, so he’d moved to a better paid job as he got older. Caroline had a nine year old daughter, Cissy – perhaps from a previous marriage. But all 3 of Stephen’s children with Caroline had died; they had lost baby Stephen just before the Census was taken. How did people bear it? 11

6 – Next door lived the Hanson family. Abel was 28 so would have been at school from 5 years old to 10 or even 11; his writing looks quite shaky with several errors.  He was a coal hewer from Featherstone in Yorkshire. His wife Laura was 23 and had been married 7 years, so she’d had her first child young. They were lucky, all their 4 children were living; the eldest was 6 years old and was born in Wenthorpe, the next in Featherstone and the youngest two in Ferrybridge. Abel must have moved from pit to pit to find work.  They had just moved to Chesterfield as the youngest was only 10 months old.

Being a housewife was a hard, physical, full time job in those days. Washing Abel’s clothes would be a heavy load for Laura almost every day as he’d be caked with mud to the knees, or even all along his sides if he worked in a narrow coal seam. She’d have to fetch heavy buckets of water from the outside tap, transfer it to the range to boil, then ladle the boiling water to the dolly tub and use a ploncher and wash board to clean them – you can see a dolly tub at the side of the houses in the 1930s. She’d also have to wash nappies for the baby almost every day. The family wouldn’t be able to get near the fire on winter days for drying pit clothes and nappies in that single downstairs room. 9

7 – This is another sad family where 2 children had died. When Arthur Watson filled in the form in 1911, he got a little confused and included the names of their dead sons, Charles and Arthur. They lived in the last 2 up and 1 down cottage which was very over-crowded with not only their family of 5, but also another couple and their 2 children!

Arthur was 31 years old and worked as a coal carter, his wife Charlotte was from ‘Stafficher’ – you can almost hear her accent.  They had 3 surviving sons, Albine, Roland and Freddie, which were unusual names for the time. They used to live in Spa Lane as the 2 eldest boys were born there – Arthur was very specific when he filled in the form – but the youngest, a baby of a year old, was born in ‘Holywell St’.

Their lodgers were Charles and Harriet Lomas with their 2 babies, Willie and Lallion. (Arthur perhaps spelt the name phonetically and the little girl was called Lillian.) Charles was a coal hewer. Both Charles and Harriet came from Chesterfield, but they’d moved to Dalton in Yorkshire as one year old Willie had been born there. They’d just moved back as 4 months old Lallion was born in Chesterfield.

In 1911 only about 75% of men had the vote in Parliamentary Elections. Arthur would have been able to register to vote as he was a ratepayer and he had lived in the house for more than a year.  Charles couldn’t as he had not lived there for a year and even worse, if his lodgings cost less than £10 a year he still wouldn’t be eligible to vote! Working men often moved house looking for work, or lived in cheap lodgings, so were disenfranchised. Not until 1918 were all men – and women ratepayers over 30 years old – given the vote.  Suffragettes also wanted votes for women at this time; the Crooked Spire was locked in 1914 as it was feared militant Suffragettes would burn it!

In 1901 in one of the tall cottages lived John Harrison, music hall artist, with wife Mary and 3 children. Their 14 year old son was a labourer.  Did musicians live here as it was close to the theatres?

The next 2 were tiny, even for one up and one down cottages.



Numbers 8 and 9 were very small indeed – one tiny room downstairs. Where could they keep food cool in summer and store the baby’s milk ‘safely from contaminating influences’? 14

8 – In 1911 Joseph Marriot, 20, a coal miner from Staveley lived with Treasey Tupperman (lovely name – short for Theresa). Treasy was 21 and his housekeeper. The scandal – both young and not married!  Treasey was taking a big risk because if they had children and she later died, Joseph could deny responsibility for his ”housekeeper’s children” and they would be taken to the Workhouse. Mothers were wise to warn their daughters to be careful.  However, Treasey could trust her Joseph as they married in the summer of 1911. Perhaps Joseph’s family would not give permission for them to marry and they had to wait until he was 21.  10, 11

9 – James Boardman and his wife Sarah Jane were in their 50s and sadly had lost 3 of their 5 children. He was a labourer in the iron works and had previously been a bone horn presser in Sheffield. Their 13 year old daughter, Lillian, was already working long hours as a cardboard box maker, as the school leaving age was only 12 years old. There was also a baby grandchild Doris Barnett – probably the child of their married daughter.

The next block of houses was a bit better as they mostly had 4 rooms and a small, narrow yard at the back with their own outside toilet or ashpit, or shared with just one other house. At least they had through ventilation, but the end one was next to the stable which looked to be in use in the 1930s – an encouragement for mice or even rats?

CNV00006This row of 3 houses had their own backyards, but there is a barn or store –  just visible on the left.

10 – John Henry Hall and Alice were in their late 20s. They’d been married 5 years with children aged 4 and 2, plus the eldest son, Henry Charles Hall, who was 11. Did Henry’s mother die and John Hall re-marry? Or was he Alice’s child before she married?

They also had a boarder in their 4 rooms – Mary Hopkinson, who was a single woman with a one year old baby. She was lucky to be able to find somewhere to stay and was fortunate she hadn’t had to go to the Workhouse with her baby. The Royal Commission of 1907 found that 40% of babies under one year old died in Workhouses! In urban workhouses, many babies never went outside, but perhaps not in Chesterfield with its Industrial School in rural Ashgate.

11 – Thomas and Alice Langton and their 3 girls were all born in Derbyshire. Thomas Indley Langton was 33 and a musician who ‘worked on his own account’ ‘at home’ – in Shakespeare Yard?? Hardly the place for children to come for music lessons! Perhaps he was a street musician, or alternatively worked in the theatre, though that wouldn’t be ‘at home’. Previously Thomas had worked above ground at a coal mine in 1901 and was probably brother to Stephen Langton in Number 5. A mystery!

12 – In this 3 roomed cottage was coal hewer Phillip Lakin, 27, his wife Ada who came from Linconshire, and 2 children – 1 child had died. Phillip would come home from work each day with coal dust embedded in his skin – no pit head baths in those days. Every day Ada would have had to fetch buckets of water from the tap across the yard to boil on the fire to fill the tin bath. There was no spare space in these tiny houses, the tin baths were kept outside even in the 1930s – one can be seen in the photo outside the barn. When Phillip had finished, Ada would have to empty the water – in 1911 probably still into the open drain outside the house where it would run to the centre of the yard before draining away. 12

CNV00001The door on the right led to a tiny cottage at the back of a cottage on Saltergate. The larger cottage on the right had 4 rooms

13 – In the 4 roomed cottage there were 2 adults and 7 children!  Often older children moved out, especially girls to become domestic servants, but these all lived at home in 1911.  Both William Cotterill, 45, a labourer in a Fruiter’s warehouse, and Elizabeth, 40, were born in Derbyshire, as were their surviving children. Twenty years earlier in 1891 they had lodged in a 2 roomed cottage in the Yard with a widow plus another lodger, William Rhodes, who was a 66 year old thatcher. You would think there wouldn’t be much work by then for William Rhodes, but 10 years later he was living with 2 lodgers next door to the Cotterill family in Shakespeare Yard, and still working as a thatcher.

William Cotterill had been a coal miner in 1891 and in 1911 his 2 eldest sons both worked at the pit. Ambrose, 20, was a coal hewer and William, 18, was a labour at the Pit Bank – the tip. The age limit for boys to work underground had been increased to 13 in 1900, but younger boys usually worked with the ponies underground or were surface workers. The next son, 14 year old Henry, was employed as a twine makers’ assistant – perhaps further along Saltergate in the Rope Walk.

The eldest daughter Ann, 16, was at home, maybe helping her mother or perhaps she was ill, whilst the 3 youngest girls were at school. They would be in classes of about 50 children in Council Elementary Schools. The curriculum was fairly limited with learning by rote – Religious Instruction (important in those days), the 3 Rs, a bit of History, Geography and patriotic songs plus a lot of practical skills for future workmen, servants and housewives – gardening, woodwork, sewing, cooking, laundry. By now most families accepted they would wait longer for the children to bring home their sorely needed wages. Even as late as the 1920s a 14 year old working as a live-in maid in my mother’s village was allowed just 2 hours off extra a week to take her 5s (25p) wage straight home to her family.

One child had died, but the Cotterill family touchingly had put her name, Amy, on the census form, but had had to cross her out.

Child mortality was high in the late 19th Century – even in better off areas of Sheffield 15 babies out of every hundred died, but in poor areas the death rate was higher still.13 The death rate for babies in Chesterfield was so bad that the Chesterfield Infant Life Protection Society had been formed to educate mothers. A trained nurse visited families or groups of women to give advice on ‘fresh air, refuse disposal, care of infants, summer diarrhoea, etc’ as it was hoped education would solve the problem. The causes of the very high child death rate were also given as ‘old property, over-crowding, defective and primitive sanitary arrangements, etc’ – these wouldn’t be solved until the Council was willing and able to spend on improving sewers, refuse and housing!14

In these cottages in Shakespeare Yard ensuring ‘fresh air’ and preventing ‘summer diarrhoea’ was difficult for mothers; solving the problems of efficient refuse disposal, old properties, over-crowding and poor sanitary arrangements was completely out of their power!

14 – There was another cottage in the 1911 Census – 2 2 Shakespeare Yard. A double number can mean the house was shared, but it was actually Number 14. This 3 roomed cottage backed straight onto a house on Saltergate so there was no through ventilation – and there was little light or fresh air from the front as it was hemmed in by buildings at the front and side.

Here lived a mother and daughter, both widows. Emma was 68 and Jane, who worked hard as a charwoman, was 47. A charwomen would scrub floors on her hands and knees using caustic soda in hot water, or clean iron saucepans using abrasive Monkey Soap or bathbrick sand. It played havoc with their hands, backs, knees and elbows, all for a few shillings – around 12p a day. (However, some soap was gentler, my neighbour washed her hair in Persil in the 1920s!)

CNV00001The stable between Number 12 and 13 was used as a store in 1932.

The diagram shows the houses before they were demolished in 1932.

30, 32 Holywell Street

These cottages were on Holywell but their outbuildings and privies were in Shakespeare Yard. The Housing and Health Acts in 1848 and 1880 meant privies had to be accessible from gennels and eventually back lanes – so they could be emptied without going through the houses. The cottages in this area were built before this.15

Numbers 1-4 Shakespeare Yard backed onto 30 and 32 Holywell Street. These houses had lost their backyards when Shakespeare’s Yard was filled in, so their WC was in the Yard–no inside toilets back then. It’s likely the WC in the photo of No3 and 4, by the buildings which became the cycle stores in 1932, was shared by them (and probably by the original No 1 and 2 Shakespeare Yard too).

In 1911 No30 Holywell was a sweetshop run by Mrs Ibbottson and her daughter Miss S Ibbotson– they hadn’t got the idea of the Census!  Next door in No 32 Holywell were confectioners William and Emma Lomas. They weren’t very well off as their 18 year old son was a coalminer and 14 year old daughter worked in the shop. Both houses had 3 rooms, so the 4th room would be the shop.

holywell-street ‘The entrance to Shakespeare Yard was behind the man in shirtsleeves with the bucket. Numbers 30 and 32 Holywell were behind the man in the white hat.’

No 34 Holywell had kept its backyard, which was at the far side of No3 and 4 in Shakespeare’s Yard – the entrance can be seen in that photo. Fish dealer and fryer William Hancock, wife Emma who ‘assisted in the business’ and child Rosanne had a bit more money and lived in 6 rooms at No34. Their servant, 14 year old Bella Robinson, lived in. Bella would have had one afternoon off a week plus the occasional Sunday afternoon to see her family. As a 14 year old live-in servant with all meals found, she’d earn perhaps 3s (15p) a week in 1911. She’d be up before 6am and would work most of the day until bedtime. However, in a working family like this, Emma would probably do the same!

The Donut Area

The area around the Donut Car Park was quite industrialised in 1898 – there was a timber yard, a rope walk, a steam powered flour mill and the Albion Saw Mills.  It could have made the area unpleasant with smoke and noise.

Did Henry Cotterill, the 14 year old twine maker’s assistant, work here at the rope walk? He would walk backwards and forwards for miles in a long working day, but at least it wasn’t dangerous work and was on his doorstep.

rope-walk 1

Shakespeare Yard in later years

Although the houses in Shakespeare Yard were demolished back in the 1930s, some bits lasted until the Donut area was cleared in 1972, as these photos from Picture the Past show.

This shows the remains of the ‘cycle store’ – originally Nos1 and 2 Shakespeare Yard – against the back wall of 30 and 32 Holywell. The roof and gable is the same in both the 1932 photo of No3 and 4 and this one. The toilet would have been left as it still belonged to the houses on Holywell.


This is a bit further along the back of No30 Holywell, showing the gable where No 1 and 2, had been removed.  No30 Holywell was partly stone and built much earlier than the poor quality infill in Shakespeare Yard


This shows the front of No30 Holywell and the entrance to Shakespeare Yard – the same doorway is on right side and the same window and gable end at the back. The wall of the old Flour Mill is just visible in the background – No5, 6 and 7 were built against this wall. The entrance to the Yard is much wider as the cottages on the other side had been demolished with the rest of Shakespeare Yard in 1932


Acknowledgements and Thanks

Picture the Past for the photos at the end of the article showing Holywell in the early 1900s and Shakespeare Yard in the 1970s.

Chesterfield Local Studies Library staff for their help with the maps and T P Woods Almanac 1936. I asked for anything they had on Shakespeare Yard – and relevant maps and the T P Woods Almanac were out waiting for me!

Janet Murphy for also pointing me in the direction of the 1936 T P Woods Almanac through her interesting article on the Yards.

Peter Maycock & Barry Bingham for the photos of Shakespeare Yard.


Useful books

A Child in the Forest, Winifred Foley – fascinating and easily read account of a happy childhood in a mining family in the Forest of Dean in the 1920s.
Lemon Sherbert and Dolly Blue, Lynn Knight – interesting family history in Chesterfield
Tuppenny Rice and Treacle, D Coates – old family recipes and some financial accounts in the early 1900s.
Nell Last’s War – though a bit later – gives interesting comments about social conditions
Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

Census – 1891, 1901 and 1911In the 1901 Census, between No26 and No40 Holywell St, there were 13 houses given the address Shakespeare Yard and 3 houses given the address of Court, Holywell. The houses weren’t clearly numbered. In the 1891 Census it is not clear which house was which. It’s necessary to look along the streets on the Census. –
Index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales

The maps (in Chesterfield Local Studies Library) show the area in the late 19th Century
The car-park drawn on the 1878 map was lined up with the existing old buildings, streets, etc, and the number of car parking spaces counted!
On the 1878 map the privies, earth closets or ash pits are the little buildings with walls on the map plus a couple of the small blocks. Water taps were marked WT

Money   20 shillings or 240d (old pennies) to £1,   12d to 1 shilling, 1/- or 1s = 5p,     5 shillings, 5/- or 5s = 25p, 2d (and a bit) = 1p.


  • T P Woods 1936 Almanac (printed late 1935) quoting a newspaper article from 42 years earlier in The Sun (a very serious paper then). The newspaper article was written during the strike and lock-out of the miners from June – Nov 1893
  • 1911 Census summary book
  • In the mid 19th Century the difference between teenage boys of the Marine Society who came from an ‘Oliver Twist’ background and upper class army cadets at Sandhurst was 22 cm! (so the difference in height was due to diet and living conditions as change cannot be that rapid) Independent March 2011 and University of Munich
  • Nella Last’s War cites a similar case
  • Tuppenny Rice and Treacle – D Coates
  • Reported in criminal case 1890 Sheffield Newspaper
  • Houses with floors like this existed when I was young – they were very chilly, needed lots of rugs. People still lived in cottages with ranges for cooking and hot water plus outside earth closets even into the 1960s and 70s.
  • Marion Kent’s first job as a teenager – as a domestic servant she worked from 6.30am to 10pm with some short meal breaks and a half day off a week – Agricultural History Review.
  • Child in the Forest, Winifred Foley
  • Lemon Sherbert and Dolly Blue, Lynn Knight
  • Free BMD site
  • Cresswell Pit baths opened in 1933 – T P Woods 1939
  • – Debates in Population History
  • Google books – Journal of the Sanitary Institute 1899 – Miss Ashwell’s report. She visited ‘each house where a birth had taken place’. Chesterfield also produced a cheap baby’s feeding bottle without a tube – so it was much easier to clean and saved many babies.. Miss Ashwell called it a ‘practical difficulty overcome’
  • English Local History, K Tiller
  • Other reforms were introduced 1908-1912 such as some unemployment insurance and limited health insurance and life for working people began to get a bit better.

Jay Mather

Jay Mather trained as a History and Geography teacher many years ago. She’s very interested in local history, historical geography and social history. She says, “Perhaps some of us have an idealised view of the past. Though life was simpler and calmer, it was tough for working people, many children died and it was very, very hard work just to be a housewife or a working man”.


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