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The old English name for Sawley was Sallé, meaning "hill where willow trees grow". This ancient parish on the borders of Leicestershire is situated near the junction of the Rivers Derwent and Trent. It is clear that the early development of the village of Sawley was due to its command of a river crossing. A search of the National Archives by one of our website visitors, found this little snippet of information: "Subject: the continued provision of a stoop or landing place on the south bank of the River Trent at Sawley for the ferry boat which crossed from the plaintiff's land to the defendant's." The date of this item was in the year 1690, and the case was between Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield versus De la Fontaine. For many years however, travellers on the road to Birmingham had to cross the River Trent either by ferry or by ford, and it was not until 1790 that the Harrington Bridge was built. This was a toll bridge, and charges were levied on all except the Lord of the Manor, his servants and the inhabitants of Sawley and Hemington. The bridge continues to be an important river crossing and still retains part of the original 18th century structure.

The first settlement of Sawley around the church of All Saints was built on rising ground above the normal flood plain of the River Trent. A ford across the river shallows to the west of the Harrington Bridge was lost following the creation of the weir near Redhill in 1792. The basic layout of the village, including its twitchells, still exists today.

The church, All Saints, dates from the 13th century, with Saxon and possibly Norman work. The embattled stone screen behind the altar is exceptional, and probably enclosed a vestry. The most notable features of the church are the restored mediaeval stalls in the chancel, monuments to the Bothe family, and a fine pulpit dating from 1636. Many of the Rectors of Sawley became famous. Among those were two Cardinals, a Bishop of Hereford, and a Bishop of Winchester.

Opposite the church is Bothe Hall, which stands in its own grounds. The building was probably built between 1660 and 1680, and has an interior that contains some exposed ceiling beams and a regency staircase. Other buildings of interest in the area include Church Farm, which stands on its ancient site, and the Sawley Baptist Church, which was built in 1800.

Up until the 19th century, Sawley was the most important village in the area; it commanded the first river crossing of the River Trent above Nottingham, and it had an extensive ecclesiastical parish, which included Breaston, Draycott, Hopwell, Long Eaton, Risley, Wilne and Wilsthorpe. The tithes of this large parish, the third most valuable in Derbyshire, became the entitlement of the Prebend of Sawley (a method of paying a member of a Cathedral chapter) during the early 12th century and it is known that some of the Prebends, including the important Bothe family, were resident in Sawley during the 15th century.

On June 2nd 1259, a charter was granted to Roger, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, to hold a market on Tuesday (changed to a Thursday in 1301) and a 3-day fair at Michaelmas. Originally associated with the Annual Parochial Feast of Dedication of the Church of All Saints, the fair was held sometime between November 12th and 18th. Stalls were set up in what is now the junction of Wilne Road and Tamworth Road (Sawley Cross). Publicans supplied free bread and cheese with the ale they sold. At this time, the Wilsthorpe area was administered by Sawley and grain grown by the villages was milled at the windmill situated in the middle of Hawthorne Avenue.

Until the expansion of Long Eaton, the district was mainly agricultural and although there was stocking-making in the village before 1680, it never became an extensive occupation. Many people from Sawley worked in the mills at Wilne, which were spinning cotton by water power towards the end of the 18th century and people from both Long Eaton and Sawley worked on the waterways.

In 1787, the Sawley Enclosure Award apportioned land to 35 people while just over a quarter of the 800 acres in total was held by the Lord of the Manor, the Earl of Harrington. By 1827, only two families involved in the land share were farming in Long Eaton. At that time Sawley had 14 farms. The population was higher than that of Long Eaton until around 1850 when Long Eaton grew at an amazing rate.

Families with long farming records in the village were: Bowmer, Grammer, Harriman, Ironmonger and the Smiths, of which there were three branches. Agriculture was the chief occupation of most people in Sawley around 1851, but there was also a wide range of other skilled workers, including blacksmiths, shoemakers, a miller, joiners and carpenters, dressmakers, tailors, basket-makers, machine fitters, a bricklayer, an engineer, a wheelwright, and a rope-maker. There were many tradesfolk, but few were professional people. Sawley had a perpetual Curate, a general practitioner, two schoolmasters and three schoolmistresses.

The first survey of Sawley was made in 1879-80, but several revisions were made between then and 1921, when the village was expanding into New Sawley. The first new development in Hey Street and north of the railway station near the lace factories off Wilsthorpe Road, linked the old village with neighbouring Long Eaton at the Royal Oak public house. The surviving network of footpaths and tracks to nearby villages can be seen on an Ordnance Survey map of the time. Also visible on the map would be the newer network of canals and railways, serving local industry. The county border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire still follows the old course of the Trent around the ox-bow lake to the west of Sawley.

In 1894 along with changes to the administrative bodies, Sawley was grouped with other local villages to form the Shardlow Rural District Council. After parts of Sawley were merged with Long Eaton, in 1934 the rest was split up between Breaston and Long Eaton.

The national census returns for 1901 gives the population of Sawley as 1,751, mainly living around the then new housing area known as "Monkey Park", near Sawley Junction. In the old village, there were about 200 houses, nearly all brick-built, but 30 or so had thatched roofs, one of which survived until the mid-1950's.

Sawley village had a well and a pump, which were still evident at the beginning of the 20th century. The well was fitted in about 1930, and was situated in Towle's Close (now Towle Street), and the pump was near the entrance to the Manor Yard in the Cross Place (Market Place). Stocks and a whipping post had survived, and these stood in what is now Tamworth Road, just opposite the White Lion Inn. There was even a pen, where stray animals were kept, until being claimed by their owners. Next to this was the fire station, a stone building housing the village fire engine. It is not known as to whether this was hand or horse drawn, but it was apparently sold in 1929, and the village then had to pay for the services of the Long Eaton brigade. Bate's Farm in Wilne Lane boasted a fire plaque, which indicated that they were covered by fire insurance.

Over the years, a lot of occupations have disappeared in Sawley. No one hires out horses and carts, or breeds donkeys. There are no thatchers or blacksmiths; there is nobody to make rope or twine. Two blacksmiths used to be situated in Sawley. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Sawley was the centre for boat-building, and there were many warehouses for this purpose, situated around Trent Lock. Sawley Cut was made before 1793. You can still see the importance of boats in Sawley when visiting Sawley Marina, just over the Harrington Bridge. The toll charges were valid for 24 hours, but evasion of paying brought about a fine of 20/-, which was considerably more than the actual toll. There was a story of a man, not having the money to pay the charge, attempting to swim across the river, and was drowned.

The waterways brought boatmen and boatwrights from further afield. The furthest travelled inhabitant was Gaetino Amabilino, a victualler, who was born in Palermo, Sicily. The village is on the main route from Birmingham to Nottingham and there are three long-established public houses: the Nags Head, The White Lion, and the Harrington Arms. These were first developed as hostelries to serve coaches travelling through the village.

Sawley was well provided with public houses - there were five within a distance of about 200 yards, as well as a shop selling beer and spirits. In addition, various homemade wines were produced. The Railway Inn began life as a cottage in Wilne Lane. The Harrington Arms was a turnaround for coaches on the Lenton to Sawley turnpike road. The New Inn on Cross Street gave up its licence many years ago. The proprietor of the Nags Head around the turn of last century operated a horse cab from stables behind the inn. Bicycles were not normally ridden on Sunday, but men would cycle for three miles to buy a drink, because on Sunday the pubs could only provide refreshment for travellers!

In the 19th century Sawley boasted four or five factories. There is a report of a lace factory being next to the White Lion pub, which was burnt down when an adjoining cottage caught fire. It is also believed there was a hosiery factory adjoining a Mr. Shaw's house behind the White Lion Inn. There was also a factory opposite the Baptist Chapel on Wilne Lane, and some remains of a stocking factory can be found in the Little or Middle Twitchell area.

Throughout the whole of the 19th century, there were two principle land owners. The Earl of Harrington and William Bennett. In 1879, it was recorded that the fields near the River Trent were not to be ploughed, but kept for pasture, because it was thought that better cheese was produced from natural rather than cultivated grass. These fields are still used for grazing today. It is also recorded that the farms in Sawley had pigeon houses, and the pigeons were kept for meat. A feature of village life at this time was the way in which peculiar names were give to people and places. Pantile Row, Golden Row, The Brooke, Staple's Row, Finney's Row, and Blood's Row were some of the names used for houses. Dr. Clifford was born in one of four houses known as "Bugle Bunch". Some people were known by nicknames associated with their occupations, such as "Lamplighter Peggo", and others had curious names like "Humming Jimmy", "Long Jack", "Roacher Smith" and "Billy No-neck".

On what is now Chantry Close, there was the site of the jail yard. This yard opened out into a square containing some houses, a few of which were derelict, with the old jail or detention house in one corner. This was just a one-room structure, with a single window high in the wall. Any offenders were detained there overnight before being taken, often on foot, to Derby. By 1900 the jail at Long Eaton had superseded the one used in Sawley. The village had its own policeman, but prior to this local men had to be employed to patrol the streets at night for a small fee.

Parents in the village had the choice of sending their children to either the Baptist School, or the Church of England National School. Most children began school at the age of three and left at 13. They had a month's holiday in the summer, and a few days at other times. The Baptist School is no longer used, and the Church of England School was later converted into a garage.

It is not known what happened to the stone cross which used to stand in the Cross Place. When gas lighting was installed in the village an ornamental lamp, often referred to as the "Big Lamp" took its place. A three-storey building known as the "Manor House" stood next to the Nag's Head pub facing the Cross Place until about 1940. In the fields to the east of the village centre the site of a Roman camp provides further historical interest. Sawley and its surrounding fields were designated a Conservation Area on 1st July 1982.

One of Sawley's most notable sons, Dr John Clifford, was born at Sawley on 16th October 1836, at number 52 Wilne Road (formerly Back Street). He rose from a twelve hour per day child apprenticeship in a large factory through university exams in arts, science, and law to become an outstanding leader in the Baptist Church. Among his fellow Baptists he was considered a progressive influence theologically.

Socially, he frequently sided with radical movements, and was a member of the Fabian Society. Politically, he had a great influence on several education laws and was a supporter of David Lloyd George.

Every year, usually around the time of the August Bank holiday, Sawley All Saints holds a Flower Festival with themed floral displays inside the church, special services and organ recitals. The Sawley History Society arranges a display of old photographs and documents in the church hall, where refreshments are served. You can find out more about the flower festival on the Sawley All Saints page.

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