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Noted People

(As well as this page, see also the pages on Henry Garnett and on the Suffragette Movement.)

William and Mary Howitt

William Howitt was born in Heanor in 1792 to a well-connected Quaker family. He married Mary Botham, also a Quaker, at Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, in 1821, and for a while lived in a house named “The Dene,” at the top of Mansfield Road, Heanor.

Both William and Mary were well-known writers and poets. William was perhaps best known for his travel-writings, while his wife wrote mainly for children. They are now almost forgotten, but at the time ranked alongside the other literary figures with whom they were acquainted, such as Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and William Thackeray. Mary Howitt was the first to translate the tales of Hans Christian Andersen into English.

Although they started life together in the English Midlands, they travelled all around the world, before finally settling in Rome.

Their names live on, both in a street name and in the name of a local primary school.

See below for Mary’s poem “The Spider and the Fly.”

Sergt William Gregg VC, DCM, MM (1890-1969)

William Gregg was born at Tag Hill, Heanor, and joined the 13th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade in 1915. He was the first British soldier ever to receive the three highest awards for gallantry.

He received the Military Medal on 26 March 1917, for crawling between the opposing lines under the eyes of the enemy to establish the identity of a dead German soldier.

On 26 November 1917, for carrying messages between different sections of his battalion while under heavy machine gun fire, he received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Finally, on 28 June 1918, for “most conspicuous bravery and brilliant leadership in action,” taking a German machine gun post after twice being forced back, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. The photograph above shows him receiving the VC from King George V at the British Army headquarters at Doullens in France.

After returning to England, he went back to work as a miner, until retiring in 1959. Sergeant Gregg died in 1969, and received full military honours at his funeral at the Heanor Free Church on Midland Road, prior to cremation at Markeaton. The Times newspaper ran an obituary for Mr Gregg, which perhaps goes some way to show how significant an achievement his was. He is remembered not only by a street name, but in the name of the town’s Leisure Centre, opened in 1970.

Samuel Watson (1662-1715)

Samuel Watson was baptised at Heanor Parish Church on 2 December 1662. Nothing is known of his early life until he was apprenticed to Charles Oakey, a London Carver, subsequently working at Badminton House and Burghley House.

In 1691, he moved to Chatsworth, where he became the principal carver to the Duke of Devonshire, working in wood, stone and marble. His fine work can be seen on the north front of Chatsworth House, and in many parts of the interior, especially in the chapel.

Ill health caused him to give up the post and he returned to Heanor in 1710. He died in 1715.

A memorial was set up in Heanor Church by his grandson around 1820. When the church was rebuilt in 1981/2, the memorial was taken down and put into storage. After a long fund-raising campaign, spear-headed by the Heanor & District Local History Society, the memorial was restored and rededicated in 2003.

John Holmes (1820 – 1919)

Known as Heanor’s “Grand Old Man,” John Holmes was a cousin of William Howitt. His father was a soldier who later became head turnkey at Worcester county gaol, but gave that up and returned to Heanor and worked as a framework knitter. John started in this trade too, but later set up as a grocer and became a pillar of the local community.

Prior to the establishment of the Police Force, John Holmes served as Parish Constable for 9 years. During the second half of the 19th century, he served on virtually every town and chapel committee that was set up.

The crowning glory of his life, perhaps, came in 1914 when he was presented to King George V on a royal visit to Heanor. The picture above, taken around 1910, shows Mr Holmes (right) talking to his son-in-law, Edward Bonner, and a police officer.

Billy Bestwick (1875-1938)

William Bestwick, a native of Tag Hill, Heanor, worked at Coppice pit from the age of 11. In 1898 he turned professional with the Derbyshire Cricket Club (though he stayed down the pit in the winter months!)

Certainly the best cricketer to be produced from Heanor, and is probably the best fast bowler Derbyshire has ever seen. His 10 wickets for 40 runs against Glamorgan in 1921 remains the best bowling analysis for a Derbyshire player, and only two Derbyshire bowlers have taken more wickets than him.

With a sporting ability of this standard, he would probably ended up playing for his country, were it not for his unpredictable nature and his alcoholism. In 1907 he killed a man in a fight after a night’s drinking, but a rapidly arranged inquest at the local pub the next day brought in a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide.’

George Bissill (1896-1973)

George Bissill’s father was a railway worker from Langley Mill. George was born in Fairford, Gloucestershire, but the family was back at Langley Mill a couple of year’s after his birth, living on Elnor Street. George was educated at Heanor Secondary School, and on leaving became a miner. He fought in the first World War, where he suffered the effects of gas attacks. After the war he studied for a year at the Nottingham School of Art, and then moved to London, where, for a time, he was a pavement-artist. He later became a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy.

Known for his landscapes, his most powerful work is that which depicts his roots in the mining industry. Below are two of his paintings, “Loading the Coal” and “Removing the Props”.

A.B. Williamson (1916 – 2004)

Next time your hands are mucky with oil and grime, and you reach for a tub of Swarfega© to clean them, think of the Heanor connection!

Swarfega was invented by Audley Bowdler Williamson (normally known as “AB”), who was born in Heanor in 1916. His father and two uncles, who had operated a horse-drawn haulage business for the Nottingham silk trade, returned from the First World War convinced that motorised transport was the future. They started with lorries and soon moved into buses, running the business from the yard beside their home, and so young Audley was familiar with the oily business of motor mechanics from an early age.

He attended Heanor Grammar School and in 1934, at the age of 18, he joined a local firm, Dalton’s, known to all as Silkolene for its lubricants, as a trainee chemist. In 1941 he set up his own company, Deb, in Belper, taking the name from “debutante” to signify that both the company and its products, all developed by him, were new to the market. Swarfega came along in 1943, deriving its name from “swarf” – the fine, oily tangle of metal shavings produced when machining components, and hence unwanted oil and grease in general – and “ega”, as in “eager to clean”.

Mr Williamson, who supported a number of charitable initiatives in the Belper area, died in November 2004, aged 88 years.

The Spider and the Fly

by Mary Howitt

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly:

“Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;

The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,

And I have many curious things to show you when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little fly, “to ask me is in vain,

For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”

“I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;

Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the Spider to the Fly.

“There are pretty curtains drawn around, the sheets are fine and thin,

And if you like to rest a while, I’ll snuggly tuck you in!”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “for I’ve often heard it said,

They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!”

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly: “Dear friend, what can I do

To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you?

I have, within my pantry, good store of all that’s nice;

I’m sure you are very welcome – will you please to take a slice?”

“Oh, no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind sir that cannot be,

I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”

“Sweet creature,” said the Spider, “you’re witty and you’re wise;

How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!

I have a little looking glass upon my parlour shelf,

If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”

“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you’re pleased to say,

And bidding you good morning now, I’ll call another day.”

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,

For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again;

So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,

And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.

Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing, –

“Come hither hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;

“Your robes are green and purple, there’s a crest upon your head;

Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!”

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,

Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by:

With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew, –

Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue,

Thinking only of her crested head – poor foolish thing! At last

Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast;

He dragged her up his winding stair; into his dismal den

Within his little parlour – but she ne’er came out again!

And now, dear little children, who may this story read,

To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you, ne’er give heed:

Unto an evil counsellor close heart, and ear, and eye,

And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

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