Shopping in the Borough – a story told through photographs

This week one of the small displays in the Blab (Landing Gallery) will explore the Borough’s retail history.

A short film will show photographs from our collection taken of shops in Nuneaton and Bedworth. The photographs provide a fascinating glimpse into how the towns used to look and the changing nature of shopping in Britain. Some shops have disappeared from our streets but others are still recognisable today. Here are a couple of our favourite photographs from the film.

Nuneaton Market Place, 1920s.

Nuneaton Market Place, 1920s.

Shopping in Bedworth, 1970s.

Shopping in Bedworth, 1960s-1970s.

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A treasure in our stores

Last week in the Blab exhibition we presented the story of the train crash of 1975.

On 6 June 1975 a sleeper train travelling between London Euston and Glasgow derailed on its journey here in Nuneaton. Six people were killed and 38 people were injured.

The crash took place just before 2am. The train entered a temporary speed restriction too fast. There had also been a faulty light on the railway line as the train travelled towards Nuneaton.

This story was on display in the Blab for a week. During this time we collected feedback from visitors to help us decide if this is a story we should tell in the Local History Gallery. The story of the train crash was really well received so we placed it in the Blab’s story vault for safekeeping.

We were pleased that the story of the train crash resonated with visitors but we also had a problem. We didn’t think we had any objects in our collection that could help us to tell this story in the Local History Gallery.

Then, quite by chance, we discovered a real treasure in our stores. Our volunteer Marion was working on our ongoing collections audit when she came across an old sign from Nuneaton Railway Station. We believe it dates from the mid 20th century but would be interested in receiving more information about it.


Most museums have a documentation backlog and with the help of volunteers we are working hard to clear ours. The sign is a fantastic object but has probably never been accessioned so we weren’t aware of it. We now have a bit of research to do before we accession and catalogue the sign to make sure visitors can enjoy it in future.

The Nuneaton railway sign has been added to the story vault and will be on display on the Landing Gallery until 11 December 2016.

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Life in Miniature

Inspired by our exquisite collection of miniature portraits by May B. Lee, November’s Hands on History session explores the world in miniature.

One of May B. Lee’s beautiful miniature portraits of a young girl called Barbara will be presented for visitors to view.

I love the tenderness with which this portrait appears to have been painted and how carefully the artist has captured Barbara’s serenely thoughtful expression. The portrait offers a glimpse into a private moment of contemplation and as its viewer, I enjoy imagining what thoughts might be passing through the girl’s mind.

Born in Lahore, Northern India in 1884, May B. Lee grew up in luscious, colourful landscapes, summering in Simla, high up in the mountains of Northern India. The daughter of an acclaimed barrister and an accomplished artist, she had a contented and privileged early childhood.

The young May B. Lee’s life changed dramatically when, having lost her mother at age seven, she was sent to boarding school in England. By the age of fifteen, she was unable to continue her schooling as financial misfortune struck her family.

The artistic talent May B. Lee displayed at school, now became her means of supporting herself. She earned money copying Old Master paintings from The National Gallery and painting miniatures on ivory to embellish snuff boxes. Attending Lambeth School of Art in the evenings, she was encouraged to submit her work for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

In 1905, The Royal Academy first accepted one of her miniatures, a self portrait. In 1907, the Salon des Artistes in Paris first exhibited one of her works. Throughout her life, she continued to exhibit at the Salon des Artistes and in 1950, she received the Salon’s high accolade, a Mention Honorable.


As her artistic renown developed, May B. Lee was able to earn a living from the growing number of portrait commissions she received from wealthy people, to paint either themselves or their loved ones. She also continued to paint her family, friends and people she saw in everyday life, whose faces inspired her.

In 1935, May B. Lee married Sir Phillip Stott, an architect and engineer and the title of Lady Stott was bestowed upon her. Her husband died only two years after their marriage. Lady Stott continued to live in London and to paint commissioned portraits, often forming friendships with her sitters.

In 1972, five years before the end of her life, May B. Lee, chose to entrust her personal collection of 36 miniature portraits to Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery. A selection of these is permanently displayed in our Picture Gallery.

Please do join us in the Picture Gallery from 11am – 4pm on Saturday 19 November to explore Life in Miniature.

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There’s no place like home: The story of housing in the Borough

Another two stories go head to head in the Blab exhibition this week. One of these stories explores how housing has developed in the Borough, looking in particular at the impact of the First and Second World Wars.

The buildings we build to live in have changed dramatically over the last 150 years. The First and Second World Wars both had a major impact on homes and house building in Nuneaton and Bedworth. The display asks visitors to consider what type of home they might have lived in at another time in Nuneaton and Bedworth’s history.

What were homes like before 1914?

Tenant's rent card issued by Bedworth Urban District Council, 1939-1940

Tenant’s rent card issued by Bedworth Urban District Council, 1939-1940

If you lived in the 1700s you might also have worked in your home. Weavers’ cottages in Attleborough had a ‘top shop’ on the highest storey with looms for silk ribbon weaving.

From the 1880s the population of Nuneaton grew quickly. The town had occupied the same area for around 400 years – now it needed more homes. You might have lived in a new terraced house in Dugdale, Alexandra or Victoria Streets. Building also took place in Attleborough, Coton and Stockingford. You might share facilities such as an outdoor toilet with your neighbours. Mining villages such as Bermuda were built so that workers and their families could live closer to the pits. If your family was wealthy you may have built an impressive villa, such as those on Manor Court Road. If your family fell on hard times, as a last resort you may have entered the Workhouse.

How did homes change between the wars (1918-1939)?

Conditions of renting a property from Bedworth Urban District Council, 1939

Conditions of renting a property from Bedworth Urban District Council, 1939

The government in the 1920s promised ‘Homes Fit For Heroes’ for the survivors of the First World War. You might have a new house provided by the Council such as the estates close to the centre of Stockingford and Attleborough. Concerns for public health led to slum clearance in Nuneaton and Bedworth in the 1930s. New, low-cost houses were sold to working class families. Houses in Weddington sold for £350. New houses on the roads out of town such as Lutterworth Road and the Long Shoot were popular with middle class families.

What happened after the Second World War?

Many people’s homes were damaged or destroyed in Nuneaton during the Second World War (1939-1945). There was a huge shortage of homes following the war. New houses were desperately needed. Demolition of older, unsuitable housing continued in the 1950s and 1960s with a programme of redevelopment in Bedworth. The Council joined with the National Coal Board to build Camp Hill with houses for miners and their families. Camp Hill was redeveloped again in the 1990s.

Photograph showing damage to homes on Manor Court Road. in 1941.  15 houses and a nurses' home were demolished. A further 27 houses were seriously damaged while 221 houses reported slight damage.

Photograph showing damage to homes on Manor Court Road. in 1941. 15 houses and a nurses’ home were demolished. A further 27 houses were seriously damaged while 221 houses reported slight damage.

After the Second World War more people wanted to own their own home. New private housing continues to be built on the outskirts of the Borough to the present day.

This mini display can be viewed until Sunday 13th November. Come along and tell us whether this story should be part of a future Local History Gallery!

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Shall we dance? The story of the Co-op Dance Hall

Detail from 1950s evening dress.

Detail from 1950s evening dress.

One of the displays going head to head in the Blab this week tells the story of Nuneaton’s Co-op Dance Hall.

Visitors to the museum can learn how to waltz and can even score each other in true ‘Strictly’ style!  They can also learn how to tie a bow tie and enjoy memories of a night out in Nuneaton in the age of rock ‘n’ roll.

The Co-op Hall was the place to be seen in Nuneaton on a Friday and Saturday night from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Built in 1939, it stood on Queens Road, where Lidl is today. The hall hosted dances, charity balls, orchestras, functions and big bands.

Detail from 1960s dress suit.

Detail from 1960s dress suit.

The venue was particularly popular with teenagers. Many friendships, romances and marriages began there. In the 1960s huge crowds came to see bands including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Tragedy struck in 1965 when four people died in a crush on the stairs. The hall never fully recovered, despite attempts to hold dances and later bingo there. It was demolished in 2008.

Your response to these displays will help us to decide which stories to tell in our Local History Gallery. Come along, share your memories under the glitter ball and tell us whether the Co-op Dance Hall deserves a place in the story of the Borough!

Blab 2 runs from 15 October-11 December and is part of the Creative Museums programme, led by Battersea Arts Centre and funded by Arts Council England.

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Hands on History – It Pays To Advertise

Join us on  Saturday 15th October  when you can get hands on with objects from the Museum collections which follow the theme of product advertising.

We will go back in time to compare and establish the development of advertising over previous decades and see how much the advertising world has changed. From black and white to colour, from reading all about it to seeing all about it on the television screen, we will have on display a variety of products, packing samples and advertisements that you may recognise, even today, including Gillette, Horlicks, Mcdonald’s & OXO.

Below is an example of  two wartime advertisements  promoting two different brands through text and illustration.

Both advertisements were published on Thursday March 15th 1945, a few months prior to the end of the Second World War and in the newspaper that claimed to be ‘The advertising media that gets results’, the Midland Daily Tribune.


Gillette in Battledress implies that even everyday toiletries had a part to play in aiding the armed forces! Here the Royal Navy is associated with the brand.  Gillette has been associated with soldiers since the First World War when they produced razors for soldiers to carry in their kits.


Horlicks was also an important product carried by soldiers at home and on the front lines during the First and Second World Wars due to its high calorie count and its non-perishing packaging. The phrase ‘When Horlicks is scarce, don’t forget that many have special need of it’ implies both its popularity and its significance during wartime, contributing to the recovery of wounded soldiers as well as sustaining those working in heavy industry.

Both prints present an emotional and patriotic perspective in advertising and the ability for advertisements to link with wider events.

We look forward to seeing you in the Picture Gallery on Saturday between 11 am – 4pm, and finding out what advertisements you remember and if they had an influence on the items you bought.


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The story of the Nuneaton Bus Disaster, 1924

blab-imageOver the summer we displayed a series of local stories in the Blab exhibition and asked visitors for their feedback. Our visitors told us that one of the stories they found most moving was the story of the Nuneaton Bus Disaster, which occurred on 30 August 1924.

Seven people died in the Nuneaton bus tragedy on the Cock & Bear bridge. Most of the victims came from Stockingford.

When the 14 seater omnibus ran low on fuel the driver stopped to re-fill the tank. A huge flame burst, burning the driver and causing him to spill some of the fuel.

This fed the fire and flames spread quickly, engulfing the bus. People rushed to the back to leave the bus, but the vehicle was crowded and many were trapped inside.

Herbert Rollason, a miner and father of eight died saving others including his wife, a neighbour’s daughter and her friend. Walter Smith saved his wife and baby son but died alongside his five-year-old daughter.

Although the fire brigade attended quickly, all that remained of the bus afterwards was its frame. The fire was so hot it melted the coins passengers were carrying. Some of the dead were identified by their jewellery and wounds suffered in the First World War.

Nuneaton’s tragedy shocked the nation. As a result, the maximum number of people allowed on buses everywhere was reduced to make sure all passengers could reach the emergency exit.

The story of the Nuneaton Bus Disaster will be displayed again in Blab 2 (15 October-11 December) alongside new stories from the borough’s history. Your feedback on these displays will help us decide which stories to tell in the Local History Gallery. Come along and tell us which stories are most powerful to you!

Blab is part of the Creative Museums project led by Battersea Arts Centre and funded by Arts Council England.


As we prepared to display this story we uncovered more objects in our collection relating to the bus disaster. Nuneaton born artist Charles Jacombs (1876-1926) was involved in the 1924 bus tragedy. He survived but was left with a damaged heart, which eventually led to his death two years later.

'Cock Bear Inn, Wash Lane, Nuneaton' by Charles Jacombs (1923)

‘Cock Bear Inn, Wash Lane, Nuneaton’ by Charles Jacombs (1923)

Our collection contains several oil paintings by Jacombs including ‘Cock Bear Inn’. Painted in 1923 it depicts the pub that gave the site of the bus disaster, the Cock & Bear bridge, its name.


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