Norman Greenshields – Borough Engineer
by Linda Ayres
Norman Greenshields was an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a Member of the Institution of Municipal and County Engineers and a Member of the Sanitary Institute. For some 30 years, he was the Borough Engineer for Bedford and during that time, he instigated many changes to the town. The Bedford Council named Greenshields Road after him to honour the vast amount of good works he carried out in the town.
Norman’s Early Life
Norman was born on the 7th November 1867 in the small village of Kirkoswald in Scotland. He was the second son of Amelia and William Greenshields. His older brother was William Crouch Greenshields, born in 1862. Their mother was born at Catsfield, near Battle in Sussex on the 18th January 1835. She was the daughter of William Crouch, who was a Wesleyan class leader. Their father was born in Berkshire in 1835.
When Norman was about seven years old, the family moved to Berkshire and made their home in Fishers Cottage in the village of Bradfield. William’s father worked as a gardener while they lived in Scotland, but after moving to Bradfield, he became a market gardener. Shortly after the family moved to Bradfield, a third son, Archibald, was born in 1870 and then in 1872 the only girl, Amelia, was born.
Boys will be boys
On Saturday the 29th October 1881, Archibald Greenshields and his friend Albert Edward Swain both appeared before the magistrates at Reading County Court. The charge was one of setting fire to a pile of hay two days before. Their solicitor said that the boys had been burning out wasps’ nests, and not finding any more they got too near the hay and set fire to it. They raised the alarm at once and went to the police for help. As they were of good character, were said to be clean and well-mannered and had done little damage, their solicitor hoped they would not go to prison. The magistrate gave them a telling off and fined them each one shilling (5p) which their parents paid.
William the Farmer and Water Cress Grower
At some point, the family moved to Lower Frogmore where William, Norman’s father, ran his own farm and created watercress beds. His wife, Amelia, also played a large part in the running of the business. They became well known and they supplied watercress to many places up and down the country. However, running watercress beds was not without its problems and William lost some of his watercress to theft. To put a stop to more thefts William employed three men to keep watch on his watercress beds. At midnight on the 26th April 1899, while a raid was taking place by six men on the watercress beds, William’s men caught Alf Scales, who was one of the thieves. The other five men ran off. The thieves had cut large amounts of watercress enough to fill three hampers – but in their haste, they had left the hampers behind.
Reading County Magistrates Court 31st April 1899
The charges against Alf Scales, of Silver Street Reading were that he had stolen a quantity of watercress that was the property of William Greenshields. Alf Scales said that he had been out of work for a week or so. He had fallen in with the other men, who had given him something to drink, and said that they would pay him if he would come and help them. He unfortunately agreed to do so. William said he did not like to prosecute but he felt that in taking these proceedings he was only doing his duty. The Magistrate said that there seemed to have been a systematic robbery attempted and a great deal of damage done. He sentenced Alf Scales to one month in jail with hard labour.
Norman Greenshields’ Career
After Norman left school, he gained a second grade for freehand drawing at the Reading School of Art. On leaving Art School, he became a pupil to the Borough Surveyor at Reading. Once qualified he joined the City Engineer’s Office at Leicester as an Engineering Assistant and, within a short time, became Assistant Chief Engineer.
In 1893, Norman married Kate Webster at Leicester. Their first child Elsie Amelia was born in 1894 and Sidney Norman was born in 1896. Soon after Sidney was born, the family moved just a few miles from Birmingham to 25 Edgbaston Road, Kings Norton in Worcestershire. Norman joined the Surveyors Office at Birmingham as the new Superintendent Engineer.
On the 11th June 1902, the Bedford Borough Council appointed Norman as the Borough Engineer, Surveyor and Waterworks Engineer. He was one of 161 applicants. By October of that year, he had moved to Bedford.
Detailed below are some of the works that Norman was involved in during his time at Bedford Borough Council.
Norman acquired a nationwide reputation for road building. He advised the Town Council to carry out tests to find the best means of laying tarmacadam (which had only recently come into widespread use)) and to stop using wood block paving. As a result, a way of laying slag tarmacadam was agreed. Norman designed four wheeled tanks fitted with furnaces that softened the tar while on the move to the site ready for spreading the tar on the roads, which saved time. Special mixtures of granite chippings, chinks, sand and slag grit used for top dressing did away with the slippery surfaces and stopped wet tar spreading onto the pavement.
He made a large number of road improvements such as those at Ampthill Road, Elstow Road, London Road, Clapham Road, and Goldington Road, as well as widening the several approach roads to Bedford Town. Bedford owed much to him for his work on the town roads which compared favourably with any in the country.
When Norman arrived in Bedford, he discovered that from 11pm to 5am the town’s water supply was cut off. This was due to low water pressure as the water main was too small. Acting on the instructions of the Town Council in 1906, he sank new wells and built a new pumping station at Hoo Farm off Clapham Road. He improved the town’s water supply by holding back the wastewater. He gave special attention to water filtration and this in turn improved the health of the people of Bedford. He completed this work just before the First World War and this meant there was a constant flow of filtered water to supply the 20,000 soldiers from the Scottish Highlands who came to Bedford in the lead up to the First World War. If he had not completed the work when he did, then the War Office would have had to send the soldiers elsewhere.
The Ministry of Health made it a condition in the Bedford Corporation Act to chlorinate all water before it passed through to the town. On the instructions of the Town Council Norman designed and built the chlorinating and de-chlorinating tanks at the Waterworks off Clapham Road. By 1930 the tanks were up and running.
House Refuse Collection and Disposal
Norman built and designed a new refuse furnace to burn waste material at Summerhouse Hill Cardington.
This put an end to the need for dumping untreated sewage onto the local fields.
A Senseless Joke
On the 11th February 1903, Norman went home for his lunch at 28 St Augustine’s Road, Bedford. There he found a letter. He was astounded at its contents. It read, “Sir, it has come to my notice about you and Mrs or Miss Eaton. I believe you promised to meet her last Thursday and addressed a letter to the Post Office (to be called for), which letter you wrote on the 3rd of February. If you do not comply with what I am going to say, I shall have to inform your wife and family. Please let a boy wait tonight at the top of St. Michael’s Road with five shillings (25p) in cash. I will meet him there at 6 o’clock without fail. If you comply with my directions, I shall not trouble you again. If you do not, well, we shall see.”
About 5.15 pm that day, Norman went to see the Chief Constable to show him the letter. Within an hour, P.C Nisbet arrested one Ernest Frederick Carlton and went with him to Norman’s house. Norman asked him why he had sent the letter. Ernest said that he had intended it as a practical joke. Norman said that it was a funny kind of practical joke and asked why he had chosen his name and address to send the letter. His reply was that he simply opened the directory and took the first name he came across. Ernest begged Norman not to proceed with the case and was told that if he could write an apology withdrawing all statements, as far as Norman was concerned, he was quite willing to overlook it.
Ernest’s letter to Norman
9 Gladstone Street, Bedford.
“Sir, I beg to withdraw all statements contained in a letter, which I sent to your address, No. 28 St Augustine’s road, this day, such statements being absolutely untrue.
The letter referred to was brought by me as a practical joke, and I hereby apologise for the unwarranted liberty I have taken in bringing the letter to your address.
I will undertake in the future not to send any more letters of this character, either to yourself or anyone else, as it will be a lessen to me in the future.”
Ernest Frederick Carlton
In spite of Norman not wanting to press charges against Ernest Carlton, the police thought his attempt to blackmail was too serious and sent him for trial.
The Bedfordshire Assizes
On Friday 21st June 1903 at the Shire Hall, Bedford, the Judge Sir Edward Ridley, held the Assizes. He told Ernest that he thought the best place for him was prison as he could not play practical jokes like this without punishment. He sentenced him to six months in prison with hard labour.
In 1906, Norman’s wife Kate went to stay with her family at Leicester to have their third child. On the 24th January, she gave birth to a daughter, who they named Margaret Florence. Sadly, eleven days later on the 3rd February, Kate died. She was 43 years of age. Her burial took place at Leicester.
Just under a year later, on the 3rd January 1907, Norman married Blanche Emily Andrews at Lewisham, London. She was one of six children born to Emma and the Rev. James Andrews of Woburn. Blanche had taught Classical French and German at the school that her father ran for boys and girls, aged from eight to fourteen years, at Leighton Street, Woburn. When her father died in 1900, she went to live with her friend at 26 Kimbolton Road, Bedford.
In 1909, their only child Norman was born. Sadly, Blanche died after a few weeks of illness on Thursday 10th August 1911, aged 47 years. The funeral service took place in the Cemetery Chapel.
In August 1915, Norman (by now aged 52) married his third wife, Beatrice May Pedly, in St. Firmin’s Church at Thurlby in Lincolnshire. Beatrice had been born on the 24th April 1873 at Great Barford. She was one of eight children born to John and Harriet Pedly. Her father was a Corn and Spirit Merchant of Green End Farm, Great Barford. The Pedly family had farmed at Great Barford for over two hundred years.
On 7th December 1931, Norman resigned, as he could no longer meet with the demands of his job. He sent the following letter of resignation to the Finance Committee.
The letter read. “I feel that the time has now arrived when I should place my resignation of the appointment of Borough Engineer, Surveyor, and Waterworks Engineer in the hands of the Council. As owing to the great increase in the work appertaining to this position I am feeling the strain and shall esteem it in favour if the Council will kindly allow me to retire on a date to be agreed upon. During the time I have filled the position referred to me I have always studied the interests of the Council and ratepayers and endeavoured to carry out my duties conscientiously. I remain your obedient servant, (signed) N. Greenshields.”
At the Town Council Meeting in December 1931, Alderman Horn said that he did not think that anybody other than those who sat on the Streets and Buildings Committee and the Housing Committee would recognise the value of the work that Mr Greenshields had done. The Council suggested that Norman should take on the role of Consulting Engineer and Surveyor at a salary of £400 per annum. They offered him a yearly contract of Newnham Farmhouse at 192 Castle Road, where he lived, at a rental of £5, tenant-paying rates. (Newnham Farmhouse was later renamed Bradgate House).
From The National Archives Currency Converter:
£400 per annum in 1930 in 2017 = £18,314.16. £5 in 1930 = £228 in 2017.
Norman replied that in view of the national economic situation, he would rather the rent be set at £25 instead of £5. He thought that was a right gesture and one, he suggested, that the Council should accept.(£25 in 1930 in 2017 = £1,144.64)
Mr. Larman of the Council disagreed with the suggestion of appointing Norman as Consulting Engineer. He thought the appointment was just an excuse for the payment of a pension towards which Norman had never paid and which he had never expected. It involved a question of principle in as much as others would expect the same consideration. Another Council member said the proposal was not extravagant in any way and it was not a halfpenny more than Mr. Greenshields deserved. On the recommendations being put to the vote, only Mr. Larman voted against them.
On Norman’s retirement he was presented with an inscribed silver salver and a silver rose bowl by the senior officers of the Town Council.
During the three and a half years of his retirement, Norman suffered from severe bouts of depression. Sadly, he died unexpectedly on Monday 11th June 1934 aged 67, at his home in Bradgate House. At the inquest, his sister Amelia told the Coroner that overwork was part of the cause of her brother’s death. She went on to say that he should have retired earlier.
The funeral service took place at the Bunyan Meeting in Mill Street. After the service the cortege made its way slowly to the cemetery and he was laid to rest in a grave close to the circular wall in front of the Chapel. (Grave 8A SPS)
His only sister, Amelia, never married and had been living with Norman and his family for some time. She died on the 30th November 1961 aged 89 years at 2A Russell Street, Bedford. His wife Beatrice died on the 31st December 1971 at The Grove, Bedford. The remains of Amelia and Beatrice were buried in the grave with Norman. His second wife Blanche, who died in 1911, was buried in an unmarked grave (D.479) a few yards from where Norman is buried.
Norman and Amelia’s children
Sidney Norman went to live at Melbourne in Australia.
Elsie Amelia went to St. Andrews School where she gained a Grade 2 in practical and theoretical piano examinations. After she left school, she was an apprentice to a milliner. She never married and died aged 36 in Leicester in 1929.
Margaret Florence was the curator of the Higgins Museum and the author of ‘The Siege of Bedford Castle’.
She lived to a great age, dying in 2006 aged 100 years.
Norman and Blanche’s child
Norman, like his father, became an Engineer. He married Eileen Marie Turvey in 1931 at Bedford. After their marriage, they moved to High View, Whalley Avenue at Penkhull in Staffordshire. Norman was an Engineering Assistant in the Stoke on Trent City Engineers Office. They had two children, Roderick Norman born in 1933 and Michael born in 1935. Sadly, Eileen died aged 31 years on the 9th August 1939 in North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary. After the funeral service at Bunyan Meeting on Saturday 12th August, the cortege slowly made its way to the Cemetery. Grave Ref: G7.250
Norman married his second wife Winifred Gregory at Stoke in 1940. They had three children Norma born 1943, Judith born in 1949 and Philip born in 1951.
The Berkshire Chronicle 6th May 1899.
Reading Observer Saturday 4th November 1882.
Reading Observer Saturday 23rd December 1893.
Bedfordshire Mercury 13th February 1903.
Luton Times and Advertiser 26th June 1903.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, Friday August 12th, 1915.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent Friday 18th December 1931.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent Friday 15th June 1934.
The Bedfordshire Times 1939.
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