Little Eaton Local History Society

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Thomas Bates 1844 – 1903


W. Hutchison and Lynne Siddons 2017

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In any discussion about who might be considered “Little Eaton's greatest son" few would look beyond Thomas Bates. He was very much the country boy who “made good” in the city but he never forgot his family roots or the village in which he was born and grew up. Thomas was born on the 29th June 1844 and thereby Little Eaton's connection with the cross keys logo/symbol was born. The 29th of June is the Feast of St Peter and St Paul and it is written in the bible (Matthew 16 v15-20) that Christ entrusted Peter his disciple with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Therefore the symbol became associated with St Peter and it is on monuments, graves and buildings around the village to this day all because of the Thomas Bates connection. The park is of course St Peters Park and visitors to the village have often pondered on the fact that the park is St Peters and the nearby church is St Pauls. When the village hall opened in 2010 there could only be one name for the main hall and it is now referred to as the TBH (The Thomas Bates Hall).

On the 29th June 1844 George and Hannah Bates had a son whom they named Thomas. George Bates was a tenant farmer and lived in the house which is 62 Eaton Bank and still stands today as a residential property. It is believed that Thomas was born in the house and he was the eldest of 8 children born to George and Hannah, the others being Mary Jane, Eliza Ann, Hannah Elizabeth, Catherine, George, Robert Arthur and William Henry.  Sadly Catherine died aged 3 years but the others survived into adulthood creating the extensive Bates family that exists to this day.  

The house today is not large but extensions have been added since the nineteenth century when it was smaller and it must have been quite crowded with mum and dad and 8 kids in residence. Research has shown that the house was built some time before 1728 with stone ridge tiles on the roof which are still there today. By 1779 it had been extended. It became part of the Duffield and Little Eaton Estate owned by the Duke of Devonshire and on 16th  February 1866 it was put up for sale by auction along with other properties in the estate, one of which was the nearby Bridge Inn. The auction took place in the Kings Head Hotel in Derby.  It seems likely that Thomas had left the family home by this time. He would have been 21 years old but his parents and some, at least, of the remaining siblings moved to the village their new home being the Stone House which still stands today in the Town at the bottom of Barley Close.

Thomas was christened on 28th July 1844 in Little Eaton Church and as a child he was educated at the National School in Vicarage Lane, now the Parish Rooms, built some 10 years before he was born. Under the guidance of his teacher, Mrs Frances Cocker he was a keen and bright student. In his later years at the school he taught as a student teacher and this experience may well have imbued him with a desire to encourage others to become educated as will be seen later.

Subsequently Thomas moved to London where he worked as a “commercial clerk” for his uncle Robert who had moved to London some time earlier. His uncle had a successful career of his own and became Under Secretary in the Office of HM Customs. Tragically some time later in 1892 Robert was killed in a railway accident.

By 1871 Thomas was lodging in a house in Forest Hill Lewisham. Around this time he met Martha Jane Brazier and eventually on the 20th January 1875 they were married in St Saviour's Church in Brockley Hill Lewisham. By 1881 Thomas was a clerk in a Merchant office and his career was clearly on the rise. Eventually by 1891 he was in charge of the shipping office of Messrs Savage and Hill  of Bow Lane, Cheapside London. The company had interests in South Africa and he travelled abroad extensively, notably to the Province of Natal.

Thomas and Martha acquired a house of their own. It became St Peters House (naturally) North Street Carshalton Surrey. By now they were enjoying an affluent lifestyle and were wealthy enough to employ 2 servants. Despite his success and wealth Thomas never forsook his Christian beliefs and principles. His desire to give others the same opportunities as himself made him bring two of his nephews, Arthur George and Ernest to London to be educated at a school near his home. The regime that they encountered was a strict one with early morning swimming and close attention to lessons. Unfortunately both boys became ill and eventually returned to Derbyshire. Thomas also purchased books and sent these back to his nephews and nieces in Little Eaton. Another act of kindness was that he left food in his garden every morning for poor children passing on their way to school.

Clearly Thomas had become a very successful and prosperous man. He was, by all accounts, a smartly dressed individual who enjoyed a glass of claret from time to time. He regularly returned to Derbyshire to visit the increasingly popular spa town of Buxton to “take the waters” which had become famous and were said to provide health benefits. When journeying to Buxton he always took the opportunity to spend time with Bates family members in Little Eaton and Coxbench.

Thomas and Martha did not have any children of their own but adopted a daughter who became known as Carmen de Tresca Bates. Carmen's origins and the circumstances of her adoption are by no means clear and adoption was not made legal until the Adoption Act of 1926. It seems likely that before that date Carmen's adoption was not confirmed. However she was married in 1904 and her marriage certificate states that she was the adopted daughter of the, by then, late Thomas Bates.

Sadly Thomas's health began to deteriorate around the turn of the century and he died on 26th March 1903 after suffering heart related problems for at least the last two years of his life. He died at his home at North Street Carshalton aged 58, a comparatively early age even in those days. He was brought back to his native village (as he had requested) and buried in St. Pauls church yard on 1st April 1903. Thomas's parents George and Hannah are also buried in St. Pauls church yard as well as his grandparents.

About a year before his death, by which time he was probably in failing health and keen to put his affairs in order, Thomas purchased a piece of land in Little Eaton known as the Long Roods from the Strutt family for £659, 7 shillings and six pence which he gave to the village to be converted into a recreational area. The area of the land was approximately 6 and a half acres thus equating the price to be £100 an acre. He also provided money (£1,000) for the draining, levelling and fencing of the resulting public park to be known as St Peters Park.

After his death the significance of Thomas's will to Little Eaton was revealed. The bequests that he left to the village are shown. Clearly Thomas Bates was a very wealthy man and despite the fact that he spent the greater part of his life living elsewhere his love for his native village and his family was plain to see. The amounts involved in his bequests were considerable amounts of money in 1903 and to put it into perspective would equate to several hundred thousand pounds today.

St Peters Park (as it became known) has been enjoyed by generations of Little Eaton residents over the last 100 years and its relatively central position in the village has been much commented on. The park has a cricket pitch, a football pitch, a bowling green, tennis courts and a childrens' play area and to date it has been the venue for 91 carnivals. The village hall stands on the edge of the park and many visitors who stand on the balcony cast envious glances at the panorama that greets them. All due to the generosity of one man.

The coronation of Edward VII took place on the 9th August 1902 a few months before Thomas died and the latter was already thinking of a suitable tribute not only to the new king but to the staff by whom he was educated in the nearby school building. He therefore commissioned the erection of an obelisk by the park gate with the names of the individuals involved.  It was typical of Thomas that he insisted that his name did not appear on the monument. Over the years a couple of other plaques were placed on the memorial and in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of his death and against his original wishes the Parish Council had a plaque erected on the memorial in his memory.  There is also a bench under the memorial erected by present day members of the Bates family.

One of the bequests of Thomas Bates generated much discussion among Parish Councillors of the day and that was the provision of a “swimming bath”. This probably stemmed from the fact that Thomas viewed swimming as a healthy pursuit and felt that it would benefit the people of the village. This was never followed up after Thomas's death but the issue came up again after the death of his widow Martha. However after a considerable time and much debate the Parish Council decided not to pursue the provision of swimming baths on the grounds that the upkeep would be too expensive. This was reported by the Derby Daily Telegraph in 1931 when the issue was finally “put to bed” and so Little Eaton never did get a swimming pool.

Martha Bates never remarried and outlived her husband by nearly thirty years and died on the 13th of June 1930 at Chiswick. In the interval the values of the bequests changed and in December 1933 a Chancery Division Scheme ordered that a trust be set up and called “The Charities of Thomas Bates” and this to be administered by a Board of Trustees. This board to consist of a representative of the Parish Council, the local vicar, a representative of the Methodist Church (when this closed a URC Church representative came on board), a County Councillor, a representative of the Bishop of Derby, the school headmaster and a local doctor. This arrangement has continued until the present day.  

In 1939 the three alms-houses on Church Lane were built. These are owned, administered and maintained by the Bates Trust and are occupied by persons over 50 years of age and born or previously resident in the village. The occupants are charged a nominal rent and this arrangement has also continued until the present time.

Many of the original bequests have disappeared but the Trustees continue to look after the alms-houses and will donate grants to persons or organisations in the village in need of them.

Thus the legacy and reputation of a man born in Little Eaton lives on. Little Eaton is a much more affluent village today  than it was in the time of Thomas Bates and there are many residents who will not be familiar with the name of Thomas Bates. However even in the present day the village and its people owe much to the man born into the large family of a tenant farmer in a small house on Eaton Bank who went on to be an important cog in the big wheels of London.  

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