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Mr Straw’s House

Mr Straw’s House
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A side turning into the quiet tree-lined suburban road a mere half mile from Worksop town centre gives no hint that Number 7 Blythe Grove is a time capsule where nothing has changed for almost seventy years.

No. 7 Blythe Road, Worksop was the home of a well-to-do tradesman, William Straw, a Worksop provisions and seed merchant whose premises in the Market Place was one of the town’s premier shops, well placed to serve not only the local population, but also the ducal estates surrounding Worksop.  Born in 1864 in Sutton-in-Ashfield, William moved to Worksop with his brother Benjamin where they set up shop in 1886 with a capital of £700 loaned by members of their family.  Despite being the younger brother, William was the better businessman and after only three years he was able to buy out his elder brother.  Steadily prospering, he bought the shop premises he was already renting in 1903, together with two public houses and several cottages, and was well on the way to becoming one of Worksop’s wealthier merchants.

On 15 September 1896, William married Florence, the daughter of David Wall Winks, a butcher and local councillor whose shop stood opposite William’s.  The couple had three sons: William Jnr., in 1898; Walter, in 1899; and David who died in infancy in 1903. William Straw Senior’s business continued to prosper and, in 1920, the family moved from a flat above the shop in Market Place where they had been living, to the semi-detached house in Blythe Grove which was being developed as a residential area for professional people on the outskirts of the town. To avoid being overlooked by neighbours, the Straws bought the vacant plot opposite which became an extension to the family garden and also an orchard.

As befitted the sons of a successful businessman, William Junior and Walter were well educated, both attending King Edward VI Grammar School in Retford.  The First World War interrupted their education, with both boys conscripted into the army.  Luckily both survived the horrors of that war and on being demobilised in 1919, Walter joined his father in the family business, while William studied English at King’s College London, which he later taught at the City of London College.

William Straw, the father died suddenly in 1932 while gardening and Walter continued to run the grocery business unaided.  His brother, William was the more astute of the two and from his £30 a month salary as a teacher was able to invest in the stock market, buying amongst other investments, shares in the newly fledged Marks and Spencer Company.  So successful was he in this venture that in August 1937 he was able to resign his post as a teacher and live a more leisured existence, daily visiting the National Gallery and the British Museum reading room.  A creature of habit, every Friday he caught the 1:40pm train from London to his home in Worksop.

Life for the younger Straws changed irrevocably when their mother died in 1939 and William moved back to live in the family home, settling into a mildly eccentric but not totally reclusive life that was not to change for the next 40 years. William and Walter began a routine where William looked after the house and garden, while Walter cycled every day to the shop in Worksop’s Market Place.

Choosing not to modernise the house, they never threw anything away, or items that had belonged to their parents. This was probably continuing a trend set by their mother, for she seems to have kept the house as it was on her husband’s death in 1932, down to the calendar on the Dining Room wall.  William, the more dominant of the two, resisted any attempts to change things, refusing to have either a telephone, radio or television.  Even when Walter bought a car in the 1960’s, he had to keep it at the shop and cycle home, but not before visiting his cousin to listen to the six o’clock news on the radio.

Both brothers were pillars of the community and every Sunday put on their blue serge suits, black bowler hats, to sit in the same pew in St John’s Church.  This was followed by their invariable Sunday routine of a walk up Market Street after lunch, to inspect the shop and their other properties in Worksop.  Both were keen gardeners, Walter specialising in cacti which he grew in his greenhouse in the back garden; both were also interested in local history, with William especially also being public spirited.

It was probably William who began to catalogue even the most mundane household items and private mementoes, giving them a potted history which he stuck to the bottom of such things as tea pots.  This meticulousness was to be of great use when the National Trust inherited No 7 Blythe Grove.  Rather than sell off the house and disperse its contents throughout their other Edwardian properties, the National Trust decided to keep it as it was, a capsule of life in the 1920s and 30s.

Entering by way of its neighbour, No 5, each room in No 7 is exactly as it was when the Straws lived them. Gents’ raincoats from around the 1950s hang beneath old trilbies and caps to greet visitors as they enter No 7, and a 1932 calendar, the year of their father’s death still hangs to the right of the living room mantle-piece, near to his pipes and tobacco pouch.  Only two electric lights burn in a three-bulb ceiling fitting since one fell in William’s dinner one day, and firebricks save coal in the old fashioned fireplace.  Two armchairs stand on either side of the fire, the left being William’s which he never gave up, with his brother Walter having to defer his to visitors.  Upstairs, the stark bathroom must have been a cold place in winter, for it is  without any semblance of  heating, or comfort, as was the kitchen which overlooks the backyard, and ‘modernised’ in the 1940s.  Bedrooms are much as they were when used by the family, with many of them holding such things as piles of local papers, a foot-operated vacuum cleaner, there are even wartime ARP helmets, and dust sheets cover their parents’ bed.  Cupboards on the second floor are filled with Mrs Straw’s preserves and everyday tinned foods, all leaving a hint of two bachelors who could not bear to change anything put there by their parents.

A tour of No 7 leads up to the attic where unexplained scratches on the top landing rail are mirrored in No 5.  Rather than return down the flights of narrow stairs and the obvious jostling with anyone climbing them, the way out of No 7 is by a ‘secret’ door into No 5 where a museum of local and Edwardian memorabilia completes a trip back over 60 years in time.

Mr Straw’s House, No 7 Blythe Grove, Worksop is a National Trust property.  Due the confined nature of the building, admission is by pre-booked timed ticket only.

Open daily (except Sundays and Mondays), from April until October.  For opening times and bookings, telephone (01909) 482380.

There is a car park and picnic site opposite in the Straw’s garden extension.

National Trust volunteer guides on hand in most of the rooms are most knowledgeable and with anecdotes bring alive this fascinating piece of local history.

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