John Marshall’s grandfather, Humphrey Marshall, was born in 1800 in Heage. He was at one point in the 1850s listed as a framework knitter, but most of his long life seems to have been a farm labourer. He married in 1829 in Duffield to Elizabeth Neaden ; they had at least 6 children before she died in the 1840s. Humphrey never remarried, though he lived until 1886.
Of his children, John seems to have died young, in the 1840s, and James and Joseph were miners who continued to live in Heage, Mary married in the late 1840s and Martha in the 1850s.
Richard, the youngest, born in 1842, was also a miner in 1861, probably at Heage pit, or maybe Belper Lawn or Marehay. He married Ann Matkin in 1866 and by 1871 was still a miner, living in Pickard Lane in Heage with his father Humphrey, brother-in-law Richard Matkin, and three children, Elizabeth, John and Richard. In the 1871 census there were five households in Pickard Lane, all of them headed by miners.
In about 1870 or 71, Richard’s family moved to Clay Cross. (There seem to have been connections between Heage and Clay Cross, both on the old road North). Richard started work in one of the pits, but very quickly he left the pit to become a watchmaker and clock repairer.
This was an extraordinary move: like many miners, Richard must have had an interest in mechanical things and possibly some training with a local watchmaker, but to make the move to running a shop, first in Danesmoor Road, then in Thanet Street, was a big jump. In a biography in 1916, he said he made his first cycle in 1868, in Heage, copying “an iron velocipede”: it is clear that from early on he saw working with mechanical devices as a way out of the pit. This move seems to have been the defining point in the family history, and begs many questions like how he learned watchmaking and where the money to set himself up in business came from. One thing is certain: the entrepreneurial spirit was strong in the Marshall family.
Not only was he a watchmaker, but he also set himself up as a photographer, an interest his son John inherited. He only gave up the photography side of the business when he moved to making and repairing motor cycles and motor cars in the late 1890s. When he died in 1922, the listings of his effects included a Benz 10-12HP car.
His daughter Mary was born in 1873 in Clay Cross. His son John was by 1881 an assistant watchmaker; William was born in 1875, Henry in 1880, Emma in 1882, Herbert in 1886 and Mabel in 1889.
John’s brothers prospered in Clay Cross : Richard Junior was by 1891 a cyclemaker and watchmaker, and later a cycle repairer. He was granted a patent in 1899 for “improvements to pneumatic tyres”. Richard was also friendly with Jack Cupit, who was a miner and part-time watchmaker (and possibly their teacher) who also invented things. These included, in 1909, an aircraft (a model, I think) which is said to have flown one and a half miles. This was the year Bleriot flew the channel, and in September of that year there was an exhibition of flying machines at Doncaster, where Jack is said to have met and worked with Bleriot.
Henry became a jeweller, but also constructed a few motorcycles : one of them, the “Lily” (named after his wife) is still in existence.
His sister Emma was said to be Derbyshire’s first woman motorcyclist : there is a photo of her posed with a 1906 machine reg no R1111.
The Marshall business in Clay Cross continued in to the 30s : in 1930 there was an advert for Marshall’s cycles, wireless and gramophone at 24 High Street, Clay Cross. And another in the 1950s, by then with TV added !
There was only room for so many Marshalls in one town, so John had to move, and in 1888 he moved to Ripley, to open a watchmaker’s business at the bottom of Oxford Street. He was 19.
A year later, in 1889, he married Sarah Walters on Christmas Day in Ripley. By 1900 or so, business was good enough to move to two shops higher up Oxford Street, an ironmongers and a jewellers. There was also a sweet shop run by Mrs Marshall.
By 1897, he was even looking at buying more land in Grosvenor Road, though nothing came of it. He was a hungry entrepreneur.
In 1902, he came up with another project. Ripley was a bit of a boom town, attracting a lot of unattached labourers. He worked with the architect (and Borough Surveyor) G.W. Bird to build a working mens’ hostel in Booth Street. According to the Licence for a Common Lodging House, there were 8 rooms on the First Storey housing between 1 and 8 lodgers each, 2 rooms on the top floor housing 2 each, and a dormitory housing 36, a total of 75 places. Prices were 4d, 5d and 6d per night. How successful it was I do not know, though in the first years it was fairly full.
In 1908, John Marshall combined two of his interests : the natural world and (trying to) making money when he opened Ripley’s one and only zoo. To be fair, he later said that it never made any money.
It was situated on the roof of the shops in Oxford Street, and included an aviary, a monkey house and lots of stuffed specimens. John’s obituary claimed that it had “a performing bear, a “talking” alligator, a performing seal, parrots, fish and rarer creatures from all parts of the globe.”
It also had (supposedly) a piece of the Thorn Tree that once grew in the market Place, under which John Wesley was supposed to have preached. They even had tea parties on the roof ! He took a lot of photographs of the zoo, kept on glass plate negatives. The Zoo closed after only 7 years in 1915, because they could not get food for the animals in wartime.
Another of John Marshall’s hobbies was photography, again probably taught by his father. He took still photographs of local events, and some early movie films, which unfortunately have either been destroyed or are in private hands and inaccessible. They included one of the factory fire in 1921 and the unveiling of the war memorial in 1923.
He often took pictures from the roof garden of the zoo, especially of parades in Oxford Street, like the Band of Hope parade and a circus parade, with a coach and six, and a stilt walker. He also took local landmarks like the Peasehill windmill, and the canal at Hartshay.
In 1911, John Marshall bought the White House (the sales record of which went back to 1770!) on High Street and applied for permission to knock it down and build a cinema. The Empire had already opened, and his application was opposed by the management of the Empire, so a petition was raised to support Marshall’s application. We still have it.
The original plans, drawn up again by G.W. Bird, were for the “Picturdrome”.
It opened on July 28th 1913. Initially, of course, it showed silent films, so had to have an orchestra to provide an accompaniment. It also had live music hall acts, which were hired in for the week and contracts for a few of these acts survive like this one from 1921 between John Marshall and The Mystic Saxbys and Wallus, two variety acts.
In 1919 Marshall acquired more land and built a second Hippodrome at the back of the first, turning the original into the foyer. The new one opened in 1921, and in 1926, the balcony was boarded off and became the Elite Dance Hall. (John was ever on the lookout for money-making innovations!) There was also a Turkish baths on the premises !
He was also a generous supporter of good causes, though: he gave to the RUDC relief fund for the striking miners in 1926, and put on a free matinee performance for the miners at the Hippodrome. A famous photograph shows hundreds of miners queueing for the show, whilst a solitary copper looks on.
By 1932 or so, the programme at the Hippodrome changed every few days as more and more movies (now with sound) came in.
John Marshall died in 1939. His first wife had died earlier in 1926, and he remarried in 1928 to Beatrice Martin of Longton, Stoke, who was a local councillor, quite a rarity for a woman in those days.
Wilf, the youngest son, took over the running of the businesses, swapping the location of some of the shops, the ironmongers going into No 43. He sold his interest in The Hippodrome in 1947. He died in 2006, having retired in 1960 which was when the businesses were sold. One of his hobbies was clock repairing !!!
His daughter, Valerie, followed a family tradition in opening a business: Ripley’s first travel agency, Safeway Travel, which she opened in 1963. She sold the business in 1978.
A remarkable family story came to an end.