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Story of popular Victorian tea rooms in Mapperley where widow owner was targeted by thieves

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In the late 1800s the town of Nottingham was still very crowded and people escaped to the country side when ever they could. The introduction of the bicycle and later the trams lead to excursions into the surrounding areas in ever increasing numbers.

Mapperley, with its views over the area and closeness to the city, proved to be very popular. Many of the local gentry built houses in the area and soon workers too were moving to the town to get away from the pollution of the city. With more visitors, shops and other amenities sprung up to cater for these visitor.

One of these establishments was the Porchester Pavilion on Porchester Road. It was owned by Thomas Bull who was the local carpenter and joiner by trade who supplied wood, path boarding, rustic seats and green houses to the well-to-do who were building in Mapperley.

Thomas had been born in Nottingham and christened at St Mary’s on September 23, 1823. By 1894, Thomas was now 70 yrs old and unable to work as well as he had but his wife Harriett was a lot younger at 52. They had married only seven years before in 1887.

Harriett decide to supplement the family income by opening a tea room for all the visitors to the area. The undertaking as a great success and the building being large enough ( thanks to the skills of her husband ) to take dances, whist drives and meetings as well as the cafe.  It was the only venue of its type in Mapperley at the time. As well as lunches, dinners and teas they provided hot water and drinks of all kinds to visitors who had came to walk the surrounding hills. Cigars were also stocked for their better off clients.

The premises included a small museum which fascinated many visitors. This museum attracted some attention in 1894 when there was a claim that it contained an auk’s egg which was dismissed in the local press. The great auk (Pinguinus impennis) was a flightless bird that became extinct in the mid-19th century.

The work of the cafe was successful and so Mrs Bull had to advertise for a laundress to help with all the table cloths and other items. Thomas was still working in 1905 advertising his products but the main business had now become the Mapperley Tea rooms as the premises were now called.

On November 7, 1908 Thomas died aged 84. The opening of the cafe appeared to have been a wise move as it provided Harriett with an income for many years even after her husband death.

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In September 1913, one of the visitors to the tea rooms in Mapperley was a pretty 15-year-old girl called Ivy Withers. Ivy claimed to have been born in the Basford workhouse in 1898, although there is some evidence to suggest that she was born there two years earlier.

Although Ivy appeared to be without any profession, she ‘was very well dressed’  – perhaps hers was that oldest of professions!

Ivy called at the tea rooms along with a middle-aged man and another girl. They expressed great interest in the tea rooms and   Harriet agreed to give them a conducted tour of the whole establishment. After they had left, Harriet discovered that a gold  watch and chain belonging to her late husband were missing, she immediately informed the police. The girl that who was later  identified as Ivy could not be found, but a fortnight later Ivy and her friend again visited the tea rooms. This time they were  accompanied by two young men. Harriett did not notice them but when clearing up, after they had left, she found the remains of a photograph on the floor. Recognising the girl in the picture she passed it to Detective Sergeant Hames who was able to identify the  suspect from the picture as she was known to him.

On September 2nd, Hames saw Ivy on Wollaton Street and told her that he suspected her of stealing the watch and chain. At first  she denied any knowledge but when he threatened to search her bag she admitted she had the watch. She  stated however that it must have been the man with her on their first visit that had stolen the items, as he had given them to her as a present.  She would not or could not name the man. Ivy said that she had travelled to London two days after her visit to Mapperley and pawned the watch for 12/- although the watchalone was valued at £7/10/—. She handed Sergeant Hames the pawn ticket she had received.

Asked about the chain, Ivy stated that she had given this to her friend Minnie Rose. Ivy was arrested and her friends and acquaintances were questioned. Another friend of Ivy’s, Gertrude Thomas, stated that Ivy had told here that she had stolen the watch and chain from a man on the forest to finance her trip to London. When the case came to trial, in spite of Ivy’s denials, and on the evidence presented, the magistrate, C.G Hill of Arnot Hill Park, sentenced her to be bound over for two years under the probation act. As Ivy was under age she was sent to a Home for Girls with the understanding that she would be sent to a reformatory if she misbehaved again. Only her age allowed her escape a prison sentence.

But had Ivy lied about her age? Was she really 17 at the time of the offence?

The watch was recovered from the pawnbrokers and the chain from Minnie, so Harriet got her watch and chain back. Harriett was more suspicious of showing visitors around in future, especially pretty young girls. What then happened to Ivy Withers is unknown.

The tea rooms were still being advertised during the First World War but trade must have been greatly reduced. Harriett died in 1920 aged 78.

With Harriet’s death, the tea rooms passed to other hands and Mr C Gilbert continued throughout the 1920s with whist drives dances and social gatherings of all types. Music was from local bands and entertainment was provided by local talent including songs from Madame Bonnington, Miss Turners troop of juvenile dancers, and Mrs Cotterils recitations amongst others right up to the start of World War Two.

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  1. Mapperley was a popular destination for visits and picnics in this era. There was more than one tea room. The later one was on Woodborough rd but this one was on the corner of Porchester rd. The two are often confused.


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