A Potted History of Keyworth

The earliest document to mention Keyworth is Domesday, dated 1086, but recent (2001) finds on the parish outskirts, of Roman and pre-Roman coins and other artefacts suggest human occupation goes back at least another thousand years.

Keyworth is a hilltop village in an area of gently undulating boulder clay country, ranging between 200 and 300 feet above sea level. It is situated some seven miles south-east of Nottingham. Until the 19th. Century it was linear in form, with most of the farmhouses and labourers’ cottages flanking a single quarter-mile-long street (now called Main Street); and with, at its northern end, the church, the Manor Farm and a small open space (now called The Square) with village cross, pump and pinfold, all of which have now gone. The village logo is a windmill, but this was demolished in the 1950s.

Keyworth ChurchThe parish was enclosed following the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1798. Before that date land was divided into three large arable fields, which were themselves fragmented into some 3,000 strips farmed under the Open, or Common Field system. In addition, there was a large area of common pasture, which also provided the main source of firewood for the village. In 1801 the population of Keyworth was 325, the great majority of who were either farmers, farm labourers or their dependants.

The 19th. Century saw three radical changes. First, the open fields and common pasture were enclosed, which also involved redistribution of the old arable strips into more compact land holdings, no longer subject to common regulation, and the abolition of all common land. The landscape outside the village was transformed as a network of hedges and ditches covered the parish. But the appearance of the built-up area was little affected: most of the new land­holdings radiated from the village, so farmhouses were not relocated, but remained alongside Main Street and The Square, which continued to be coated with mud and manure well into the 20th. Century.

The second change was a rapid expansion of the domestic framework knitting industry, introduced to the village in the previous century. It became the main source of employment by the 1860s. Numerous framework-knitting workshops, with their characteristic long windows to give maximum light to the knitters, became a distinctive feature of the village. Only two survive today, one of which is a Grade II listed building.

The expanding framework-knitting industry gave rise to a third change: population growth, to a 19th. Century peak of nearly 900 in 1881. Many new cottages were built, housing both agricultural labourers and framework-knitters; they not only filled gaps in the old village, but also led to some ribbon development along roads leading to the north, east and west. It did not occur on the road leading to the south (Wysall Lane), where the old village still abuts directly onto open country.

Two other significant 19th. Century developments were the rapid growth of Primitive Methodism, which, together with an older and modestly flourishing Congregational church, meant that Non-conformists greatly outnumbered Anglicans; and the establishment of a non-denominational Board school in 1872, fought for by the Non-conformists in the teeth of fierce opposition by the rector and his supporters, who had built a church school only ten years earlier. The animosity generated by ‘The Battle of the Board’ took decades to subside. Ironically, the Board school was demolished in 1985, but the church school survives as the parish hall.

Towards the end of the 19th. Century, the two mainstays of the village economy declined: framework knitting was becoming concentrated in town-based factories, and agriculture was entering a long period of depression as cheap imports of grain, meat and dairy produce flooded the domestic market. In 1880, however, a railway station was opened in Plumtree, bringing Nottingham within commuting range of Keyworth, thereby heralding the basis of Keyworth’s future. But to begin with, few Keyworth residents turned to commuting - the station was a mile from where most lived - and many left to live near their work in Nottingham or elsewhere. Population numbers declined and were not to reach their 1881 level again until 1931.

After the Great War, motorbuses replaced horse-drawn vehicles, and as these came right into the village many more Keyworth people began to commute. Few now used Plumtree station, and it was eventually closed to regular passenger traffic in the 1940s, though the line remained in use until the 1960s. Meanwhile, as growing numbers of townspeople sought a healthier life in the country, Keyworth became a focus of inward migration. This was reflected in further ribbon development, much of which took a circular form, following pre-existing roads to the north and east of the old village, leaving a large area of farmland inside the circle.

After the Second World War the rate of inward migration accelerated as people acquired cars and became more mobile. By now planning authorities were directing in broad terms where those who wanted to leave the cities would go, and also regulating in detail where additional houses could be built. A green belt around Nottingham was established to prevent urban sprawl, but ‘windows’ within the belt were selected to concentrate development, rather than have it spread all over the countryside. Keyworth was selected as a ‘window’. Its population was doubled between 1951 and 1961; and doubled again between 1961 and 1971, to bring it to over 5,000. Most of the additional population was accommodated in two areas: the open space inside the circular ribbon development already mentioned (the Wolds Drive estate); and a tract to the north-west of the old village (the Manor Road estate). The result was a settlement more compact than before ribbon development began. The expanded built-up area includes, in addition to housing, schools (three primary and one secondary), a library, four old peoples’ complexes, numerous shops and offices, a health centre staffed by six doctors and a team of nurses, a range of leisure facilities including a swimming pool, squash courts and bowling greens; and a trading estate.

By the mid- l970s, most of the Keyworth ‘window’ in Nottingham’s green belt had been filled, and there was little room for further development. Population growth subsided and then numbers declined as families grew older, children left home and households became smaller. This trend was counteracted, however, when a boundary change in 1984 brought a large part of Normanton into Keyworth and increased its population by 2,000 overnight.

Keyworth is today a commuter village, though by no means all commute into Nottingham In fact, the coming of the British Geological Survey to Keyworth in 1977, to occupy and expand the premises of the short-lived Mary Ward College of Education, brought 500 jobs into the village, generating a significant current of inward commuting. To this should be added several hundred secondary school children who travel to Keyworth’s Southwold School every day from nearby smaller villages.

By 2001 Keyworth’s population had reached 8,000 - enough to support the wide range of facilities already mentioned, and an even wider range of clubs and societies. Yet few live more than half a mile from open country, the old village contains enough old and attractive buildings to have been designated a Conservation Area, and there is a Nature Reserve near the southern parish boundary alongside the Fairham Brook. Meanwhile, Nottingham is within easy reach by car or by buses, which come and go at 15-minute intervals; and not being on a trunk road, the village is spared large volumes of through-traffic. In many ways, it is a pleasant and convenient place to live.