A look back at days long gone 
 
Early entrepreneur
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the noted local historian of Newark and Nottinghamshire, T. M. Blagg.

The name Blagg, of course, continues to be well known in Newark today with the steel business of Blagg and Johnson, founded in 1921, still operating on Massey Street.

The founder of that firm was a most remarkable businesswoman by the name of Mrs Emily Blagg (1863 - 1935) who in the early years of this century became one of the town's most successful - if unlikely - property developers.

As Miss Emily Stevens she first came to Newark in 1883 from Altrincham in Cheshire and worked at Coopers for 20 years until 1903 by which time her excellent taste in colours had enabled her to rise through the company to become a buyer and modeller of clothes.

She made frequent trips to the continent, particularly Paris, buying silks and other fabrics for the company's garments, becoming well acquainted with all the best families in the Newark area.

At around the time of her departure from Coopers she acquired a large number of shares in a brick works at Dinnington near Sheffield and became involved in the construction of a number of houses for the colliery which was being opened there.

In an age when many professions were still closed to women and when sufragettes were resorting to extreme measures to highlight inequalities in society, Emily Blagg appears to have encountered remarkably few impediments in furthering her own business interest.

Following her departure from Coopers in 1903 - still unmarried and acting entirely on her own resources - she appears to have moved smoothly into her new-found role as Newark property developer.

She bought a parcel of land off London Road immediately adjoining the town cemetery and, over a three year period, built a series of fine and sturdy residences in the area now known as The Park.

In 1905, at the age of 42, she married Mr William Blagg, a Newark butcher, and together they took up residence at 2 The Park where they remained for about eight years.

Newark at the turn of the 20th Century was a town which was rapidly expanding with new industries such as Ransome and Marles and Worthington-Simpsons (both of which arrived in the area in 1900) creating a ready market for housing of all types - small terraced houses for the workers and larger villa residences for the managers.

Emily Blagg's next housing project, designed with both these requirements in mind, was again focused on an area of land to the south of London Road.

Initially known as The Shrubberies, the site was quickly renamed Lime Grove and Emily went on to create what is still considered to be one of the town's most elegant and sought-after residential areas.

She built 131 Lime Grove, The Lodge, for herself and she and her husband lived there the rest of their lives. Building work in Lime Grove began in 1912 but even as the bricks were still being laid Emily was already investigating new opportunities elsewhere.

Her next incarnation, a year later, saw her take on the apparently unlikely guise of cinema proprietor.

Motion pictures at this time were enjoying their first rush of popularity and through judicious purchases of existing premises in Baldertongate and Barnbygate, Emily succeeded in becoming the owner and developer of Newark's first purpose-built picture house, the Kinema.

With its main entrance on Baldertongate (in the shop now occupied by Suite Inspirations), the Kinema opened its doors to the public on December 20, 1913. It continued in operation under a succession of names and owners until 1958.

With accommodation for 1,000 in the new-style tip-up seats, the Kinema was an instant success, attracting the best films and being much better equipped than its rivals, the Picturedrome on Sherwood Avenue (a converted skating rink) and the Cinematograph Hall on Cartergate ( a shortlived alternative use for the Corn Exchange).

A second foray into the movie business led her into even more ambitious waters when, eight years later, she and a number of local businessmen, planned and built the Palace on Appletongate. Here, development was made possible by Emily's successful purchase of the old 17th Century Chauntry House which was demolished to make way for the new venture.

The Palace opened in July, 1920, but once again Emily Blagg was already preparing to move on to pastures new.

Within a year she had sold her interest in the Palace and Kinema to a new company, Newark Cinemas Ltd, which had been formed by a group of local businessmen and existing cinema proprietors from Sheffield.

Emily's withdrawal from the Palace at this time may seem unfathomable, but it was undoubtedly based on sound financial reasoning: the money she received from the sale financed her next venture which, once again, took her into an entirely new area of investment.

In April, 1921, it was announced that Mrs Blagg, and Mr Frank M. Johnson were to found a new business on Massey Street which would deal in the production of metal pipes and guttering. The business was named Blagg and Johnson Ltd which remains an important employer in Newark to this day.

Associated with the works was a further industrial enterprise named the Newark Brick Co. and this, together with a more in-depth look at the work of Blagg and Johnson, will form the subject of a future article in this series.

Mrs Blagg remained in control and a principal shareholder of Blagg and Johnson until her death at the age of 72 in April 1935. There were no children and her husband had died a few years previously. (He is listed on the Electoral Register in 1907, but not in 1911).

As a result, Emily's personal estate, valued at more than £10,000 was divided between her brother, Mr Walter Stevens of Victoria Street - a director of Blagg and Johnsons - and her sisters, Harriet and Annie who had continued to live in the family's home town of Altrincham.

Emily Blagg, the 'Lady Builder of Newark', was buried in Newark cemetery adjacent to The Park - her first, and perhaps her most noteworthy addition to the town's architectural heritage. In compiling this article I am indebted to Mrs Joan Stephenson of Newark.

ABOVE: Housing in The Park area of Newark, developed by Emily Blagg early this century.

 

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