This is a personal view, but I think there are three different aspects to researching the history of our house:

  • 1. The house (essential sources – plans and deeds)
  • 2. The garden (maps and observation)
  • 3. The people involved with the property: the architect, the owners and the people who have lived in the house (trade directories, electoral rolls and the usual family history resources of censuses, parish records of baptisms, marriages and burials etc.)

These three things make one unit they are so inter-related. This unit will be affected by events in Mapperley Park, Nottingham, England, and the wider world, so this will form my background reading. Your sources are only as good as the questions you ask, and often the background reading supplies those questions.

We moved into 27 Mapperley Hall Drive in October 1986. “We” being my husband, Bobby, and myself, our four children: Jared, aged 9, Russell, aged 6, Bekky, aged 4 and Vincent, aged 1½, and my mother. My father had died in the April of that year and my mother came to live with us straight away. When we decided to look for a new house for us all, the one thing she stipulated was that she did not want a granny flat; she wanted to be part of the family, and help by looking after the children and doing jobs. Bobby and I planned to stay in the new house until our children were grown up, so we needed room for seven adults in about sixteen years time. However, in 1986 I needed to be near the children, and my mother in the night, in case anyone was ill, so we wanted a large, but not a rambling, house. 27 Mapperley Hall Drive was perfect for our family, it was spacious but compact, and we loved the house. Every time we looked at a potential house, we had a secret vote when we got home to see which was the favourite. No. 27 was always first choice with the whole family.

I had a friend who had been an archivist, and her gift when we moved in was a plan of the house and a list of everyone who had lived here. When I asked how she had found these things she explained that the plans came from Nottinghamshire Archives, as did the photocopies from the Trade Directories, which were useful for finding out where people lived in a particular year.

Two things became apparent straight away. I could see that Richard Inger Dexter was the architect, but also that in 1907, when our house was built, he lived at ‘Roseneath’, now number 23 Mapperley Hall Drive. In 1920 he had moved to our house. A few years later I went to no. 6 Sefton Drive, and noticed they had a similar fireplace to ours. The owners said the architect, Dexter, who was a cigar manufacturer, lived in their house. Strange; that did not fit in with what I knew, but the Dexter’s were cigar manufacturers. When the deeds arrived last autumn and showed that Frank Ernest Dexter had bought the land at the corner of Mapperly Hall Drive and Sefton Drive, it was clear I would need to find out more about the Dexter family.

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It was also clear that our semi-detached house, attached to number 29, was part of a group of eight semi-detached properties built on the corner of Mapperley Hall Drive and Sefton Drive between 1905 and 1907. Our two were the last to be built. To understand our house I had to see it in the context of the other houses that had been built at the same time.

For quite a few years I was too busy looking after the family to do any formal research and realised how much more I would discover when we received the deeds in 2007. However, there was quite a lot I could pick up from observation. It seemed to me that the houses that had been built first: 4 and 6 Sefton Drive and 23 and 25 Mapperley Hall Drive, were more Victorian in style. They had sash windows, whereas we had casement windows, and each of our windows seemed to take up most of the outside wall, in keeping with the Edwardian love of light. I remember going inside no 25 and seeing that the hall was corridor style with the rooms leading from it, like most Victorian houses I had seen. Walking back to our house I thought the architect had learnt about Voysey before designing his last houses. I looked up and cut out of the wood of our porch I noticed a heart, which seemed to say, “You’re on the right track!”

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There was one thing that fascinated the whole family during our first years in our new home – air raid shelters!

Our house is set into the hillside, so at the very back of the house, where our present day kitchen is sited, the garden level is only eighteen inches below the level of the kitchen ceiling. To access our back garden we have to go up steps at the side and back of our outhouses. In the middle of the back wall of the kitchen was a small door, and if you went through the door you were in a large air raid shelter. When you were in the garden you could stand on the thick concrete roof, and be completely unaware that you were standing on an air raid shelter, although behind you was what looked like a brick chimney – the escape route, in case the house was bombed.

The day we moved in to no. 27 our neighbour at no 21, Mrs. Dobbin, came for a recce, went back home and then returned with a tray full of mugs for our family and the removal men, and the biggest tea pot you have ever seen. She became our first friend, and I told how surprised we were to have an air raid shelter. She told me she had one too in the same situation. Would I like to see it?

Mrs. Dobbin opened the door for me to look in. There was not a light but I could see it was empty, and didn’t think it was cheeky to step inside for a better look. Mrs. Dobbin saw what I was about to do and quickly put out her arm to stop me. She soon explained that during the forty years she had lived in the house there had always been six inches of water at the bottom of the shelter. It was very clear and impossible to see until your eyes had adjusted to the light.

A few years later, when Mrs. Dobbin was selling her house, the new owner was very concerned about this water, both because he had young children and because it didn’t seem right to have water in your house! He asked if a water diviner could come and find out where the water came from. The man came with his dowsing rods, and started walking towards the back garden and the hillside. He said there was an underground stream that came down the hill. He then followed the stream down Mapperley Hall Drive to the Tennis Club, where he said the stream had gone into a large pond.

I was interested to know if there were any sources that could verify this. Chris Weir, the head archivist, who has been involved with Mapperley Park Tennis Club for many years, wrote an article on the club. He explains, “…a plot of land lying at the corner of Carisbrooke Drive was undeveloped for many years, possibly because it was badly drained and prone to flooding…Apparently this corner plot included a pond, ….the tennis courts have been prone to being waterlogged, even to flooding.”

Last autumn when we received the deeds to the house, they included a map of the northern area of Mapperley Park. At the top of the hill behind our houses is a small pond, and on the site of the present tennis courts is a very large pond.

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Towards the end of our first summer here I noticed something interesting. I was mowing the lawn at the bottom of the garden, which is a few feet higher than the lawn below, and was aware that an area of grass was drying out more quickly than the rest, and in the shape of a perfect rectangle, about 4 feet x 3feet. It disappeared with the autumn rain, but reappeared the next summer. I showed it to the children and explained that it meant something that shape was close to the surface, and wasn’t it interesting that it was the shape of a treasure chest. The children began digging where it was easiest just off the edge of the lawn, patiently putting the soil in a bucket and taking it to the place I’d allocated. It eventually became clear that the rectangular object was a slab of concrete, but Jared persevered with the digging and found he was looking into a huge hole. We fetched torches, and when we saw corrugated steel we realised we were looking into an air raid shelter. Bobby helped Jared take the Bulwell stone from the dry stone wall that had hidden the front, and we saw that the shelter was perfectly preserved. There was a considerable amount of rubble inside that had to be removed, but we also found a lovely National Trust sign for the Peak District and a lot of marbles. A picture and article appeared in the Evening Post, and when it was completely cleaned out we had an official opening ceremony, with Tamsin as our honoured guest, cutting the ribbon.

It did intrigue us to know why we had two air raid shelters, and we would have loved to talk to Charles Smith who was living here at that time. Were the Smith’s helping out the family at no. 21, who would have thought they were prepared for the war, but who were finding their air raid shelter filling with water? We also know a bomb dropped at the top of Mapperley Hall Drive, and although no one was killed there was a large crater and shrapnel covered a wide area. Perhaps the Smith’s thought it was safer to move the shelter further away from the house. It has also been suggested that the Anderson shelter was for the servants.

An article in the Mapperley Park News caught my attention. It was by a lady who had lived on Mapperley Hall Drive during the Second World War. Fifteen-year-old Gwynneth describes being alone in her house with her brother when there was a big bang outside. A military lorry, with soldiers standing in the back, came down the hill too fast and crashed into a tree on the bend outside our house. There were bodies lying all over the road. There was no one there to help and the ARP man said he couldn’t help because it wasn’t a bomb! Gwynneth helped as much as she could while her brother phoned for help. Six soldiers were killed and many injured, yet not a word of the accident appeared in the newspaper. Newspaper records for Nottingham Newspapers are in the Local Studies Library, but obviously it’s no use looking there.

I have contacted Gwynneth, and had a fascinating half an hour talking about our area at that time. Gwynneth lived at number 25, our neighbouring house. She did not know why we had two air raid shelters, but remembered that her family had an Anderson shelter in the garden. All the families were deeply affected by the war in one way or another.

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Sometimes you obtain information by luck. A visitor to the house asked who the architect was. When I told him it was Richard Inger Dexter, he said, “I know where the family gravestone is. I’ll send you a photograph.” You can understand why our family are convinced that Stephen Best knows everything. Bobby and I went to see this gravestone at the Rock Cemetery recently; it would be visible through the railings on Forest Road. I transcribed the memorials on all four sides and it has helped me understand the family relationships.

When the 1881 census came out on disc I looked for the Dexter’s and found mother, father, nine sons, mother’s two sisters and two servants living at 10 Park Drive, near Standard Hill. What an appropriate address for a tobacco and cigar manufacturer!

Richard Inger Dexter senior was the son of Benjamin Dexter and Mary Ann Inger, who had married at Basford in 1836. Like his father and uncle, Richard became a warp lace maker. By the time of the 1871 census he is a cigar manufacturer, employing one man and twenty-nine girls.

The factory was on Wilford Street, later moving to Queen Street. His success was such that he opened another factory at Hucknall with the Queen’s Road factory still in production. The Hucknall factory continues into the 1940’s. I looked at a free site on the Internet called ‘Picture the Past’ to see if there was a photograph of the factory. There was, and I also found a picture of Park Drive in 1909.

Most of us will find owners of Nottingham businesses have lived in our houses, and it’s always worthwhile looking on this site for illustrations. For example, Edwin William Campion, a director of Campion Cycle Company, was the first person to live in no. 21 Mapperley Hall Drive. We all know what a cycle is, but could we ever imagine a Campion special motor tricycle! In the photograph from ‘Picture the Past’ Mr. C.W. Campion is actually driving it.

Our architect, Richard Inger Dexter was born in 1873, and I believe he is married by the time of the 1901 census, as are three of his brothers. His father died in 1895, his mother in 1900, so in 1901 the five unmarried brothers are living at 10 Park Drive, now called Havana House, with Harriett’s two sisters, four servants and a lady’s companion.

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All the brothers are described as cigar manufacturers, although I believe they have an income from the factory, but are not necessarily going to Hucknall every day to run the factory. They may well have been looking at ways in which to invest their money, which would account for Frank Ernest Dexter, cigar manufacturer, buying the corner plot adjoining Sefton Drive and Mapperley Hall Drive on 6th April 1906 from Samuel Patrick Derbyshire and Job Nightingale Derbyshire, who were chartered accountants. Frank Ernest acts as trustee to Richard Inger Dexter and Archibald Glen who are in partnership. Archibald Glen is a valuer from Glasgow. In 1908 Richard Inger Dexter buys Archibald Glen’s half of the property, and in 1919 he pays off his mortgage of £1,400 to Annie Charlotte Matthews, and his wife becomes the owner of the property. William E.G. Dexter, a younger brother of Richard, lives at 6, Sefton Drive from 1933 to 1937.

Richard Inger Dexter and his wife Jeanie Morton Dexter, an underwear manufacturer, move from 41 Ebury Road to our house in 1919 when Richard sells the house to his wife.

Before I leave the Dexter family I want to use them to tell you about an interesting and useful site. The eldest of the Dexter brothers was Arthur Harry, who married Catherine Gertrude and lived at 3 Holles Crescent in the Park. Their youngest son was Eric Inger Dexter, who was in the Royal Air Force during the First World War. He was killed at the age of 22 and is buried in Nottingham Church Cemetery.

Walter John Dexter married Constance Sneath Woollatt, and their son, Keith Inger Dexter, was in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was killed during the Second World War at the age of 32. The War Graves Commission, who are best known for their wonderful care of the cemeteries and graves of soldiers who have been killed in war, have a wonderful internet site, which is free to use. This has a lot of details about the soldiers who have lost their lives, and their families, parents or wife, sometimes including their address.

I had waited a long time for our deeds to come to us, so last autumn I was very excited when they arrived. I had expected to spend a lot of free time going through them, as they are fascinating. However, I was booked to give a talk on the creation of Bromley House in January ’08 and knew it was going to take me a lot of time to prepare for this. The talk was divided into three parts, George and Mary Smith who built Bromley House in 1752, the house itself, and the question of whether Sir Robert Taylor, the leading architect of the time, had provided the plans for the building.

I wrote that houses by Sir Robert Taylor were spacious but compact. My mind wandered to the fact that that was what we had said of our house when we moved in. I wrote that this was because he used a central staircase well that went from the ground floor to the roof, where it finished in a cupola. Our stairwell went from the ground floor to the roof where a window brought in a lot of light. I wrote about the staircase at Bromley House having wide treads and low risers, so did ours, and the staircase was the same shape. I wrote that the fireplace in the hall was the heart of the home, and so it was in our house. Just to be clear, I’m talking about the architect using ideas from Bromley House, ideas which obviously worked well.

I was keen to find out if there was a connection because I wondered if I had gone dulally after spending so much time on my Bromley House research. Before our house was built, Richard Inger Dexter lived at ‘Roseneath’ number 23, and in the adjoining house was James Ainsworth. The first person to live in our house was Ralph Whitehead Ainsworth , who married Alice Dorothy Nicholson on September 21st 1907.

I looked at the Committee meeting reports for Bromley House Library and found that James Ainsworth and his son were both members of the Library. Ralph Ainsworth was a stockbroker, working for Beeby and Ainsworth at Clumber Chambers, 8 Thurland Street, according to Wright’s Directory of 1915. He went on to buy a house called ‘Riverlyn’ at Hoveringham. It must be a big house because in the 1891 census it is used as a boarding school. The gardens there open this summer, and so I’m interested to see where the first occupant of our house went on to spend the rest of his life.

© Elizabeth Robinson