THE WESTFIELD FOLK HOUSE MANSFIELD by The Late Arthur Froggatt
The other day I stood at the entrance to the drive to the house and recalled from my memory how it had looked when I was a young boy. The large horse chestnut tree that had covered all the area at the gates has long been gone, but a hollow in the ground still marks the place from where the stump had been removed. In the 1930’s it was a leafy drive with sycamore and beech trees. When the Catholic Church was built all the trees had to be trimmed so that no branches overhung their pathways. Every Sunday in May all the congregation would have a procession around their garden as part of the evening service. Now the only trees giving shade to the drive are the sycamore trees growing in the church grounds. The house is a large square stone building, built most likely in the early years of the nineteenth century. It has four main rooms on each of the three floors. I believe that a Mr & Mrs Redman had occupied the house before it was purchased by Miss Manners in the 1920’s. It was then used as a guest house for six ladies, they were called “The boarders”. On the first floor was Miss E Royce, the welfare and personnel officer from the Shoe Co, Miss Wainwright who worked for Dr McNamara as his pharmacist and Miss Doig. On the second floor was Miss M. Ford, head at Rosemary Infants School, Miss S E Fish, Maths Mistress at Queen Elizabeth’s Girls School and Miss Bing who worked at one of the town banks. On the ground floor were the kitchen and the boarders dining room. At the front of the house the two rooms were called the “Restroom” and the “School Room”. These last two rooms were used for meeting rooms and let out at times to sundry users. At the entrance to the drive there were the stables and a coach house with store rooms above. These were behind three small cottages that were numbers 2,4 and 6 Westfield lane. These dwellings had only doors to their fronts, a small window at the rear looked into the yard between the stables and coach house. Number Eight Westfield Lane is the Folk house. The grounds had been a very pleasant town garden with ornamental ponds and a large kitchen garden with glass houses and fruit trees. The rose gardens were all lined with clay at a depth of about twelve inches below the surface. In the grounds at the back of the house a hut had been erected, this had been one of the ex-army huts from the Clipstone Camp and used during the 1914-1918 war.
It was sixty feet by twenty feet with an annex on the side for use as a kitchen area.
In the annual report of 1942 it had an asset value of £320.12s.3p. In this “Hut” or small theatre the Robin Hood Players produced their plays, they were directed by Miss E Royce and stage managed by Miss R L Manners. The hut was used on at least four evenings every week for various classes of English Folk Dancing. Mondays two groups, first for the young children followed by a class for the teenagers. Tuesdays it was Morris Dancing, Thursday Sword Dancing and on Fridays more dancing for the teenagers and adults. I know that teams of dancers went all over the country to festivals and on demonstrations and wherever the teams travelled Miss Manners insisted that they were known as the Westfield Folk House Dancers. She would not allow them to be called Nottinghamshire Dancers even when they represented Nottingham at the London Festivals.
The house had many users, it was used by Girl Guides, Rangers and Brownies, St Johns Nursing Division and their cadets, a Chess club, Health and Strength group and a Club for the Deaf, these are just a few of the organisations that made use of the buildings. I must remind you of the environment of this part of Mansfield. It was adjacent to a very large area of the local population. The Rookery, Mount Pleasant and the Keirs Buildings were all just across the lane. In Wood Street about twelve courts, all named after trees of which only Thorne Court still remains, each of these rows had about seven houses in each.
Then there was another row on Clumber Street. This produced a large number of children with no safe place to play. Miss Manners allowed young children to play in the grounds between six and seven each evening on payment of one half penny on Fridays. There was a sand pit behind the Hut, swings and a seesaw, a large grass area and certain trees to climb. In winter or when it was wet, one of the rooms in the house would be used for games. The children that joined in these were called “The Folk”. As time went by the young children naturally became older, they were incorporated into the other activities that were in being at the time, most of them were absorbed into the Folk Dancing classes. It is to be remembered that during the 1930s when low wages or no wages were the norm for a large number of the local people, a low cost activity was very welcome. In the mid thirties Miss Manners had the two ornamental ponds removed and a concrete paddling pool constructed in the area at a cost of £75. The only drawback from this venture was that the local water authority installed a meter to charge for the water used. After the first filling it was left to nature to maintain the supply.
All the activities at the house were managed by Miss Manners through the help of a large number of voluntary helpers. She had been an expert at finding the right person to do the work, she could not have managed on her own. From sewing and making things for the plays, to giving talks and running classes and in many other ways she found voluntary workers.
At the annual meetings each section had a part of the show to give a view to their achievements. The various clubs, Keep Fit. Drama, Weight Lifting, Dancing and the Girl Guides were all on show. Such an event was presented when Lady Victoria Wemyss, the president of the Westfield Folk House came for a visit.
In 1939 as with most other activities, everything came to a brief halt, but after a short period it became obvious that the Westfield Folk House could, and did contribute to life on the home front. Classes restarted and as other venues in the town were taken over for government use, so some organisations that had lost their meeting places found room at the house.
The Mansfield Branch of the Y.H.A was one of these clubs.
Early in the wartime period Miss Manners introduced Mr Randal Keane to the Folk House.
He started a Junior Boys Club to add to the other activities. Then he formed a Sunday Mixed Club, this involved three evening institute classes. They met for two hours, with paid instructors. The classes were Drama, Plastics and a choir, some of the objects made from plastic were sent to the juvenile Organisations Exhibition in London and Manchester. After the classes on the Sunday evenings all the youth would meet in the “hut” for the last hour. They would have talks or play organised games, the evening would close with a hymn and a prayer.
It was from these drama classes that the first pantomime, Babes in the Wood was produced in January 1942.
In the same tradition of the Robin Hood Players, no acknowledgment of persons taking part was allowed to be published either on programmes or in the local press. So the press report reads in a strange way from how the present day reports read.
All of those taking part in the first pantomime were members of the Youth Club and for most it was the first that they had been on a stage.
Mr R Keane organised a holiday for the club in some huts in Darley Dale in Derbyshire. After that, holidays were taken at the Folk House, the girls sleeping in the rooms in the house and the boys were in the Sports Pavilion. This Pavilion had been bought from the Mansfield Shoe Co. at a cost of £25. After the first pantomime the drama group staged a number of “Concert Party” productions. These could then easily be changed to use the available personnel as the members were called up for their war service
The war had changed the use of the House so much that the Boarders were no longer catered, they became self-catering individuals and the housekeeper cook became the house cleaner. It had been deemed necessary during the war for all young persons at sixteen to be registered for youth service, to belong to an organisation group. The Westfield Folk House youth qualified as a youth service.
After the end of hostilities, life at the Folk House started to change. Miss Manners was getting that she could not give all her time to the organisation of events. In 1944 she had appointed Miss Nita Stevens as Assistant to help with the youth club. It was thought that the time had come for a resident leader to be appointed. Miss Manners with the help of Miss Doris Holloway as her right hand, had both given over fifteen years service to the Westfield Folk House. Miss Manners had made use of a vast amount of voluntary helpers to maintain all the range of activities to which the Westfield Folk House subscribed. Now classes were being arranged through the Education Department and in so doing teachers were employed.
The first full time resident leader was Mr Jack Barker, he managed the club for over two years, then he went to be a leader at Sandown on the Isle of Wight. There he organised a large International youth camp at Freshwater school. He was followed by Mr Fred Wood, he had been a member of the club and he had decided to leave the Revenue and take up a career in youth service. After a few years he moved on to be an Area Youth Officer.
Then Mr Peter Hendron took over as resident leader. It was Peter that had been with a previous youth club to the camp at Freshwater School run by Mr Barker. There he became acquainted with a group from Germany. It was through this friendship that Peter started the exchange holidays with the youth group in Heiligenhaus, this in turn led to the twinning of our town with the town in Germany. During all this time Miss Manners still had her class for Folk Dancing on Monday nights. Monday was taken as the day of rest for the resident leader, he worked all the other six days.
Miss Manners also had her place on the Management Committee, this overlooked all the activities at the Westfield Folk House.
I must explain how it was that I came to know all the inner happenings at the Folk House. It was with living at the shop just opposite the main entrance. I had been sent on numerous occasions at a very early age, to take goods that had been purchased from the shop to the various boarders rooms. My personal involvement in the club started when I was only six.
I was introduced to the Folk by my school friend, Harold Jones who lived at 31 Mount Pleasant, From those small beginnings a host of activities transpired over the next twenty six years.
My father used to have a round of fruit and vegetables with a horse and cart. The horse was kept in the stables at the bottom of the drive. Miss Royce used the coach house to garage her car, it was an Austin Seven. In winter my father kept a fire to maintain the heating in the garage.
From being in the Folk I moved on to Folk dancing and Morris classes. I was in the team that represented the Folk House at the Royal Albert Hall in London, that was in January 1937. We also danced at many festivals in Nottingham, Chesterfield and Derby.
I started work in September 1939 and with a change of life I gave the Folk House a short break. It was Mr Randal Keane who on coming into the shop one day, while at the camp in Darley Dale he took me back to camp, and that recommenced my involvement with the youth club. I had one of the lead parts in the first pantomime “Babes in the Wood” . After that I was more useful doing backstage work and the lighting. I joined the plastics class and two of the items that I made I still use every day. One a paper knife and the other a serviette ring.
It was through my involvement with backstage work and stage lighting that I joined the Penson Players when they were formed and I was responsible for their stage lighting all the time that they were in being. I kept up with Folk Dancing and took my first class in the early 1950s with some of the nurses at Harlow Wood Hospital.
I became a regular member of the youth club. On Friday evenings they had modern dance sessions with a few records that the club possessed, It was thought that they needed some extra tunes. The club had no funds for such purchases so an extra penny was levied from the members, with this money I used to buy the latest recordings of ballroom dance music.
During the periods when there was no leader, I used to avail myself to the opening and being an assistant leader of the club. This continued through the time of all the resident leaders and while I was single.
With some of my friends we used to organise local rambles for the youth club. These were into Sherwood Forest, Hardwick Hall, Newstead as well as into Derbyshire.
The drama group produced a pantomime every January, then a play in the late spring. It became my responsibility to arrange for the scenery to be made, with the help of the youth club. For each of the productions I can well remember, It was while preparing the set for “ The Ghost Train” that the producer came in with Miss Manners to view the work. He was very critical of what he saw, but Miss Manners in her abrupt fashion just said, “ Fools and Children should never see work unfinished. I have remembered that statement ever since and often thought about how wise a remark it was.
Nowadays when talking to old friends, it is often thought why the present youth clubs are so different from those of our youth. Would it be that there is nobody like Miss Manners, she had the premises and the ability to arouse people to become involved to do things for no financial reward save that of being a job well done.
She was a character and had influence on people, you either disliked her or respected her for it. She was always amused when speaking on the telephone, the caller would answer by saying, Yes Sir or no Sir. Must everything have to have a price these days, before it is acceptable to the public in general.
Arthur Froggatt December 1998.
The images are.
1 The shop on the corner of Westfield Lane and Mount Pleasant where Arthur lived.
2 The entrance to the Folk House, I remember a building being at the side of the grey car I believe is where the stables stood.
3 The Original Folk House building.
4 An interesting copy of the babes in the wood Pantomime Press Report from January 1942.
Does Anyone have any photos of this area from the 1950s/1960s?