Remembering Alfred Charles Shaw of Park Farm Mapperley
Alfred Shaw ("Alf") and his parents came to Park Farm, Mapperley Village near Ilkeston, Derbyshire aged six and a half, on March 26, 1937, the day after Lady Day. Park Farm had until then a long association with the local coal industry, with its buildings sited at the bottom of the pit lane to Mapperley Colliery.
In the mid-1800s, the farm was home to 18 shire horses employed to transport coal and materials on the tramways between the Blue Fly pit (complete with landsale wharf, South West of Mapperley Village), the small Simonfield pits (West of Park Hall Mapperley), and the Nutbrook Canal wharf some two and a half miles to the East. From here the coals from these and other local pits found their way to various markets by barge. The Park Farm stable boy inhabited a small two-story projection, which can still be seen at the Western end of the main Park Farm dwelling.
Alf's father took up the Park Farm tenancy in 1937, at that time with just a few dairy cows. Alf recalls that when his father and uncle came to view the farm in February of that year, they were confronted with 5-foot snowdrifts on their journey to "Cow Flat", a parcel of Park Farm land on the Eastern (opposite) side of Mapperley village.
Although the new tenancy at Park Farm meant that it no longer had a direct association with providing for the ponies of Mapperley Colliery, its position meant that Alf and his family had direct exposure to the ongoing employment of these animals.
The ponies would be taken from the pit at the end of May, the commencement of a two-week holiday period for the men. Underground animals would only have 10 days freedom in the open, as it would take some time to bring them to the surface and let them acclimatise as best they could. Likewise, there would be a period of roughly two days to round them up, and to get them back underground. These animals were naturally very boisterous with their change of environment.
Many people might imagine that these few days in the open would have been the highlight of a pit pony's life, but Alf's father viewed it as cruelty. The animals were so conditioned to life underground, with so little lighting that they would emerge half-blind into the sunlight. Temperature and humidity, being relatively constant underground meant that if the surface weather was cold and wet they were unaccustomed to it and so suffered. If dry and bright their vision difficulties were exacerbated. Grazing fresh grass would also cause them to scour terribly. Other than these transient problems, Alf recalls that the ponies appeared very well cared for - or at least this was the case at Mapperley Colliery. Generally their coats were very thick, and this could be attributed to the fact that there was no natural moulting cycle.
With the onset of WWII, things began to change rapidly within the coal industry. Demand increased massively, and there was a huge increase in mechanisation, including the pony's predominant role of haulage. Mapperley Colliery modernised rapidly, and soon had electric winders and underground machinery. By 1940 pit pony numbers were decreasing rapidly. Alf recalls pit ponies being culled by shooting at 20-30 at a time in the fields of Park Hall Farm. This was done on a Saturday afternoon when production had stopped, with most workers were out of the way. Nobody really cared, and there were no rescue organisations or sanctuaries in those bleak war days.
(Much of the above was written by Joe Henshaw of Mapperley village)
Alf never married. He was always busy running the farm with his parents and later when on his own after his parents had passed away. He would also look forward to his regularly visits to Derby Livestock Market but Alf never had a car so would go by bus. He would do his shopping in town whilst there then catch the bus home. It is quite a walk from West Hallam Crossroads to Park Hall but in more recent years Alf was not well enough to do the trip.
He would regularly travel down to the village shops bringing some of his hens on the tractor with him. Alf would like nothing more than to end the day with a pint at The Old Black Horse and chatting to his friends. I have known Alf all my life as my parents ran the pub for over 30 years. He was a character and will be sadly missed.
Rest in Peace Alf.
Tribute to Alfred Charles Shaw given by Rev. Ingrid Owen-Jones at his funeral service on 6th January 2016 in Holy Trinity Mapperley. This was then followed by cremation at Bramcote.
Alf was described to me by more than one person as ‘a character’. It seems fitting then, to have a look at his life and what it was that made him a character.
Alf was the only child of May and Thomas Shaw, and the family came to live in Mapperley when Alf was six and a half years old. Before then they had lived near Ashbourne.
From a very early age he had to help his father milk the cows. This was obviously the beginning of his passion for farming and his love of gardening. But it wasn’t the only interest he had in his life. Cricket was his great love. And he was obviously good at it. He played for the West Hallam Cricket club, and it is thought that at one time he was the opening batsman. And the club itself was considered to be a very good one in the area. Alf played for them for as long as he could, and when he wasn’t playing cricket any more, he still went to watch the Club play every Saturday afternoon; and he contributed to their new pavilion when that was being built.
But when Alf wanted to play cricket it did not go down well with his dad, who thought he should be on the farm and working. In fact when Alf once went on a cricket tour to Holland, his father was so annoyed that he did not speak to him for a couple of years. That at least is the story.
From Holland he sent one postcard only to his Auntie Elma, who he liked very much. And she must have had a soft spot for him as well, because she kept this postcard to the day she died, and it was then returned to Alf. She also knew that Alf liked toffees, so she always had a bag for him when they met- and not just when he was a child.
While on a cricket tour to Yorkshire, he also went to the seaside, the first time in his life. Thirty years later some friends took him to Whitby, so that he could see the sea again, for the second time in his life. They took him to Robin Hood Bay while there, and he loved seeing the sea and investigating rock pools. And as we all have to do, he visited the toilets there and was impressed with their décor.
As he often did, he spent the night thinking about his previous visit to the seaside and the next morning he informed his friends that he had remembered that he had been to the same toilets some 30 years earlier. Unbeknown to them, they had taken him to the very same place that he had visited so many years before.
When Alf was about 65 years old he had the chance of buying the house he had been living in as a tenant. This was a big step for him, as he had always been under the impression that he would never be able to purchase a house to live in. But he managed to purchase the farm cottage and consequently he was very proud of this achievement.
His claim to fame was the appearance of a picture of himself in front of his house in a book with the title: The mysterious disappearance of Thomas Severn.
During his working life, Alf had dairy and beef cattle and hens. The animals that he farmed - and also his dog Flossie (the 7th Flossie!) were always very well looked after by him. He was also very much interested in the wildlife, and he could tell you on what date precisely the swallows had arrived last spring. When someone picked some holly from his tree, with lovely red berries, they were reprimanded, because those berries were for the birds. Also for the birds he always left some apples on the tree.
His garden too was important to him. The year he was 60 years old he planted 60 broad bean seeds on his birthday. And every year he would plant one more seed, according to his age, until he was 80 years old.
He would plan very carefully – and involve a neighbour to help him – when the bean rows had to be put up. He and his neighbour giving him a hand, arranged a day and precise time to do this job.
In contrast when his neighbours one morning suggested to him to come with them to a particular pub that he liked that evening, his response was: I’ll tell you later. It’s no good to plan too far ahead.
Alf was a well-liked man. As he got older and less able to do things for himself, friends and neighbours cooked for him, took him to the doctor, did his shopping for him, even got library books out for him from the mobile library. Alf liked reading, especially about WWI, farming and of course the countryside.
Invitations would come from friends and neighbours to spend Christmas Day with them.
He was regarded as a kind man and a real character, who loved talking to people.