Six Streets: A successful project comes to an end

September 9th, 2016

Working on Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War, we have been lucky enough to witness a great many wonderful projects across the county which brought together local communities to remember and commemorate their involvement in the Great War.

One of these is the Six Streets Project in Derby.  The Six Streets Group already existed, a community of friends and neighbours from an area which, as the name suggests, covers six streets in Derby. The group were awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund to, over a two year period, explore the impact of the First World War on the ‘Six Streets’ neighbourhood. The project is now coming to an end (although of course the Six Streets Group itself continues).

As well as researching the stories of the men who went away to fight, they also looked at the effect the war had on the families still at home and how the war affected the neighbourhood and Derby itself .  The range of stories discovered was indeed varied, including involvement in many different regiments; people who served in the Royal Navy or the Royal Navy Volunteer reserve; men who trained as pilots in the newly formed Royal Air Force. They found stories of individuals such as the German immigrant who joined the British Army in 1911 but was found “surplus to requirements” in 1915; the conscientious objector who went on to serve with the Non-Combatant Corps and the boy of 17 who tried to join up several times despite being under age. They also looked at how local women volunteered for the Red Cross, working at home knitting and sewing hospital supplies, or volunteering at the local Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital for wounded soldiers on Duffield Road.

To do their research the group used resources such as newspapers and parish magazines, and the results show just how much you can find out from this kind of material. Diane Moss of the project writes:

In the course of looking for evidence of how our local community reacted to the war effort I decided to look at local church magazines to see what they were saying about the home front. I was lucky to stumble upon a full set from a neighbouring parish – St Anne’s in Derby’s West End.  The magazines give a wonderful glimpse into the life of the church community during the war years – as well as touching upon national events the Vicar’s letter talked about the Zeppelin raid on Derby in January 1916.

I also found the initial plea for a local response to the Belgian Refugee crisis – I had been unaware of the numbers of Belgium refugees that fled to this country – an estimate in the Derby Daily Telegraph at the end of the war put the number of refugees housed in Derby as over 270 – but the local magazines gives details of how much was raised, the names of the family cared for and an approximate location of the house that was rented for them, as well as appeals for furniture and equipment for the house. In all the church raised over £268 (worth about £12,485 today) for the family – for a parish in a deprived area this was a considerable commitment.

I also found a number of magazines from St Michael’s Church in Derby – like those from St Anne’s they list the names of those who have gone to fight, report on letters home received by the vicar describing fighting and living conditions all over the world. Regular prayers and masses were held for the troops away and local priests were kept busy corresponding with soldiers who were away from home. Parishioners helped keep morale high by sending books and magazines to the troops and the children of local churches gave up their annual Sunday school prizes to send parcels to Prisoners of War held in Germany. Other interesting snippets include the difficulties they had keeping scout troops and other organisations going as leaders were conscripted for the war effort.

Survival of magazines is patchy but you could also try minutes of meetings – for the Church of England there is a statutory requirement to place such documents in the care of local archive offices. From minutes of meetings I found information of the response to the Belgian Refugee Appeal;  evidence of church rooms requisitioned for war use by billeted soldiers;  and using one church school room as a National Kitchen in 1918. A question that vexed many church committees was whether they were able to pay the extra premiums to insure against damage by enemy aircraft and whether they should alter the times of church services to make the implementation of lighting restrictions easier – what would come to be known as the Blackout in World War 2

One highly amusing account of the role of local scouts toward the war effort was found in the St Andrew’s Parish Magazine for July 1917:

SCOUT NOTES

“Several new recruits have joined the Troop, and things are going as well as can be expected with two assistant scoutmasters and a troop leader in France. Patrol-Leader Robinson and some others rendered useful assistance to two members of the R.F.C. [Royal Flying Club] who descended close to the Athletic Ground; in fact, they tied the aeroplane to the ground so effectually that there was some difficulty in releasing it the next morning”

You can see the results of the Six Streets project on their website www.sixstreetsderby.org.uk/sixstreetsworldwar1.htm and download their History Guide,
a copy of which was delivered to every house in the Six Streets area.

Although the project is now at an end, the group will still be carrying on their research on a more informal basis.  There is, no doubt much more still to be learned about this very typical, but nonetheless fascinating area of Derby.