Collections and Archives Assistant Ian Gregory reports on a 19th-century visitor to Chatsworth.

In the 1840s, people were visiting Chatsworth from many different places in the UK. On May 28 1844 a man called Joseph Keeton signed into the visitors’ book. He gave his home town as New Lenton, which was then a town near Nottingham but is now part of Nottingham. The history of this settlement reflects dramatic changes in the wider world at that time.

In the 1790s Lenton was a sleepy village. Then the Nottingham Canal was built and it passed through the settlement. This lead to rapid industrialisation. The population of Lenton grew from 893 in 1801 to 3077 in 1831. New Lenton was built to accommodate the growing industrial and residential needs of the area. No occupation is listed for Joseph, but he could have have worked in or owned a new factory or business. Lace making was the dominant industry in Nottingham at that time.

In 1877 Lenton and New Lenton became part of Nottingham. All over Britain towns and cities were expanding. Green fields disappeared as they grew. Many people moved from rural areas to urban ones. Some were concerned for the future of nature and the countryside even then. The National Trust would be founded, to offer our heritage some protection, in 1895. Nevertheless industries and conurbations continued to grow. Today we often view this era with misty-eyed nostalgia. It’s easy to forget that for the Victorians it was the unstable present day, or even the uncertain future.

In 1885 what would become the Raleigh Bicycle Company was founded in Nottingham. It was, for a time, the largest maker of bicycles on the planet. It had a large factory in Lenton. We don’t know how old Joseph Keeton was in 1844, but if he was young then he may have lived to see the bicycle industry established in his home town.

Today much of the Raleigh factory has been demolished. One of the few remaining structures is now a community centre. The rest of the site is occupied by part of the University of Nottingham. Lenton has a large student population. It is home to the Queen’s Medical Centre, one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe. Joseph’s home town continues to be a centre of innovation, and a mirror of a changing society.

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