Heanor’s own ‘history man’

Frank Bacon was only one when he had his first brush with history.

As a baby in his mother’s arms he saw the R100 British airship fly over his home in Langley Mill in September 1930.

The craft was one of two airships built in a bid to develop a commercial airship service for the British Empire, but a month later the scheme was scrapped when its sister ship crashed near Paris .

“I cried to touch it,” the 84-year-old historian said. “My dad used to say ‘You’ve been touched ever since!’”

Since then Frank has been in love with local history.

He has every historical date at his fingertips but ruefully admits that “it’s the things that happened last year I have trouble with.”

He became an apprentice joiner at Vic Hallam’s in Heanor, signing a pledge not to go to the pub or consort with women.

“He employed anyone,” said Frank of his old employer.

“He never turned anyone away - he was a wonderful person.”

Luckily for Frank, a man of avowedly ‘outspoken’ views, there was plenty of work around.

He said: “The old chaps used to say the building trade was the most democratic trade in the world. ‘You can say what you want. You might get sacked but you can still say it!’

“In those days you could come down one ladder walk over the road and climb up another.”

Frank, of Huften’s Court, Marlpool, met his wife while on National Service with the RAF in Germany and returned to Vic Hallam’s where he helped construct prefab buildings in the Derwent Valley before landing the job of ranger at Shipley Country Park in the early 1970s.

He moved into a property in the park and was given a German shepherd dog with the unfortunate name of Satan.

“As soon as I got in the Land Rover I said, ‘Your name’s ‘Sabre.’ I couldn’t imagine myself standing in Shipley Country Park shouting ‘Satan!’

On one occasion there was a report of something frightening the ducks and Frank investigated: “There was man walking round playing bagpipes at five in the morning. I asked him what he was doing - he said, ‘My wife won’t let me play at home.’ So I thought ‘why not?’”

Another memorable evening saw Frank help local police raid a midnight party of hippies and motorcyclists.

“It seemed a shame to break it up,” said Frank, though he did admit to helping himself to confiscated booze .

However, it wasn’t all fun and games. Frank’s relationship with County Hall was sometimes turbulent, particularly when a new member of staff arrived with a smart presentation. Dernyshire County council runs the park.

“He did a slide show and the first two were of his wife in the nude!” recalled Frank of his unusual colleague.

Another co-worker took to patrolling the park with a shotgun and Frank was obliged to call the police before any shooting started.

On his retirement at 59 in 1988 Frank finally had the free time to indulge his historical hobbies.

“People used to say you’re a bit of a nuisance - but we miss you!”

He became curator of the local heritage centre in the Chapel of Rest in Marlpool Cemetery, where he would regale visitors with fasinating facts and tunes on a wind-up gramophone.

“I had a record for everyone!” he enthused.

He also helped to found Heanor and District Historical Society.

“There were only four or five people at the start, but it grew and grew until it became quite big. Heanor is a wonderful place for history!”

Frank’s favourite fact about the town involves Oliver Cromwell’s little-known stay with Colonel Roper around about 1640.

“What is now the antique centre used to be known as Barrack Yard - and that’s where Cromwell’s troops stayed. A lot of people never believed that - but it’s in the archives at Nottinghamshire County Council. He was on his way to Wingfield Manor which they bombarded.”

He was disappointed when Tony Robinson’s TV Time Team failed to mention the fact that Mary Queen of Scots stayed at Codnor Castle, when they produced a show from there: “He didn’t dwell on that I did write to him!”

Go to our website to see a film with Frank telling more stories about his time on the park at www.ripleyandheanornews.co.uk.