A look back at days long gone 
 
Formidable figure
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about local entrepreneur and businesswoman Mrs Emily Blagg (1863 - 1935) who came to be known as "Newark's Lady Builder". It was a soubriquet richly deserved.

In the early years of this century she was responsible for the construction of a considerable number of buildings in Newark which even today remain as some of the town's most distinctive and ornamental constructions.

In the years after 1903 she became responsible for developing not only the residential areas known as The Park and Lime Grove, but also for creating the town's first purpose-built cinema, The Kinema on Baldertongate (now Suite Inspirations) and, somewhat later, the Palace on Appletongate.

The sheet metal working firm of Blagg and Johnson, on Massey Street, still bears her name to this day, commemorating her role as co-founder of the business in 1921.

Emily Blagg certainly made a considerable impression on the town and - if the memories of those who knew her are anything to go by - on anyone who met her face to face.

In her youth she is said to have been a particularly striking woman, dark eyed and dark skinned, with a mass of black hair.

A number of Advertiser readers have written in with their own memories of Mrs Blagg, some concerning her work at Blagg and Johnsons and some relating to her extraordinary building projects.

While, for instance, she may have employed professional architects to draw up the plans for her buildings, she always insisted on overseeing their construction at first hand.

When the Palace was built on Appletongate during 1919 and 1920, Mrs Blagg acted as her own clerk of works and, at the age of 57, was a familiar sight climbing up ladders and inspecting the roof.

The Palace, incidentally, is said to have been built of bricks made at her own brickworks in Newark.

According to documents held at Companies House in Cardiff (where, by law, all limited liability companies have to be registered), Mrs Blagg did not form her Newark Brickworks Company until 1925 - five years after the Palace was opened. It has been suggested, however, that the bricks used to build the theatre were actually made by an earlier brickworks operated by Mrs Blagg on Clay Lane.

From around 1903 she had also held a large number of shares in a brickworks at Dinnington near Sheffield, and it may even be that the Palace bricks came from here.

Other of her bricks, meanwhile, are said to have been used to build a holiday cottage at Sutton-on-Sea for her friend and business associate, the Newark coal merchant, Mr J. C. Kew.

Other memories of Mrs Blagg have come from those who worked under her at Blagg and Johnsons.

The company was founded jointly in 1921 by Mrs Blagg and Mr Frank M. Johnson to manufacture guttering and other so-called rainware for export to America and the war ravaged areas of Europe.

One woman who used to work in the office at Blagg and Johnsons in the late Twenties recalls that the working day began at eight in the morning when the first job of the day was to dust the desks and sweep up.

Mrs Blagg - hatted and almost always dressed in black - would arrive on her bicycle at about 9.30am. It was then the job of the most junior member of the office staff to unlace Mrs Blagg's black boots and put on her slippers.

The boots were worn over very thick home-knitted stockings which smelled strongly of embrocation. Mrs Blagg spent the rest of the day working in her slippers but never removed her big black hat.

The process of business, meanwhile, was punctuated throughout the day by periods of knitting, smoking, and consuming large quantities of tea.

At 3.30pm each day it was the office junior's job to remove Mrs Blagg's slippers and help her back into her heavy black boots for her cycle ride home. Following her departure, one of the last jobs left for the office staff to do was to make up and post all the day's invoices and correspondence.

Mrs Blagg made it a rule never to pay postage on any letters addressed to local people. These had to be delivered by hand with office staff cycling around the town to businesses such as Cafferatas on Beacon Hill, over the river to Farrars and Nicholsons and down Millgate to Tullys and Wakes and Lamb.

When the weather was bad, however, and it was time for monthly statements to be sent, the staff would often buy 1/2d stamps out of their own pockets and post them with all the other letters.

While Mrs Blagg is generally remembered as a hard task-master, those who worked under her often came to value the office skills she instilled in them. She remained at the forefront of business in Newark for more than 20 years but, surprisingly, there would appear to be no photographs of her.

If any Advertiser reader can help in this respect I would be very interested to hear from them. The original factory building of Blagg and Johnson Ltd on Massey Street in Newark. The business, which still flourishes today, was co-founded by Mrs Emily Blagg in 1921.


 

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