Following an initial suggestion in May 2005 made by The Beeston and District Civic Society, in conjunction with the Beeston Local History Society, the Cottage Grove area (to the East of Beeston town centre) was designated a Conservation Area with effect from 1st October 2008. The Conservation Area comprises of Park Road (both sides), the Hop Pole Public House, Ceder Road (both sides), North Road (both sides), Grove Avenue (both sides) and Dale Lane (the North-East side only).
The “Cottage Grove” area has a distinct character with tall mature trees, roadside hedging, narrow streets with no footpaths, and a variety of late 19th and early 20th century housing of a pleasing piecemeal architectural development, many with fine detailing. Cottage Grove fulfills the broad criteria for the designation of a conservation area, namely; a) historic layout of property boundaries and thoroughfares, b) characteristic materials, c) vistas along streets and between buildings, d) historical development, e) relationship of buildings, trees and other green features.
The Cottage Grove estate was acquired in 1845 by an organisation called the Land Savings Bank, in reality a consortium of Nottingham businessmen with nonconformist leanings and a desire to help ‘the poor’. It had nothing to do with the Nottingham Enclosure Act (1845). While the inspiration was, the Rev James Orange, the area was never owned by the “Labourers’ Friends Society”, nor was it laid out on cottage garden principles.
It was then laid out in November 1848, as one of the first Freehold Land Estates in the country — the first being in Birmingham in 1847. The thirty acres they had acquired were laid out in 122 plots each of approximately one rood (there were four roods to an acre). Working men were encouraged to buy plots, as this would give them the vote in Parliamentary elections for representatives of the county. The land could be used as a garden, on the principle that it would produce potatoes and other vegetables which would feed the owner and his family for one-third of the year.
If the owner wanted to build a house on the plot, he could, but only according to the rules laid down in 1848. Some of the original cottages can still be seen, particularly those built on Park Road before the scheme in its original form was abandoned. To fund the house, the plot owner could borrow the capital from the Nottingham Building Society, another organisation inspired by James Orange, and founded in January 1849. Subsequently, Orange was behind a further freehold land estate, this time on land released in 1851 under the terms of the Nottingham Enclosure Act, in the area around what is now Southey Street, in Hyson Green.
Orange had long been a supporter of plots of land as gardens for working men, and although he appears to have accepted the freehold land society principle, the fact that both the Chilwell and Nottingham schemes quickly turned into lower middle class/skilled working class private housing enclaves seems to have persuaded him that these were not quite what he intended. His concern was with the poorest members of society, and they simply were not in a position to benefit from the scheme. Orange does not seem to have been involved in other schemes.
The impact of the freehold land society scheme can still be seen on the Cottage Grove estate to this day, and other Freehold Land Societies were subsequently set up in Beeston. Over time they merged into building societies and lost their separate identity, but here in Chilwell in 1848 one of the first steps was taken towards the movement which was to become critical to the whole process of ‘middle class’ people owning their own houses. Freehold Land Societies spread rapidly through England and to other parts of the English speaking world — reaching Australia by 1853.
What makes the Cottage Grove so remarkable is that it is one of the earliest examples of a movement which is still with us today, and from which I would guess many of us have benefited when it comes to house purchase. The principle of borrowing from a Building Society which existed for the benefit of its members may have suffered some tarnishing in the credit crunch, but with the setting up of the Cottage Grove estate in 1848 it was first being tentatively worked out.