FEATURE: Proud heritage at the centre of Barlborough

Tony Bak, project manager at Barlborough Heritage Centre.
Tony Bak, project manager at Barlborough Heritage Centre.

“There is no greater feeling for us than telling people information about their own lives that they didn’t know.”

As I arrived at Barlborough Heritage Centre, project manager Tony Bak, his wife Teresa and volunteer John Tipper are working on their next project; a pictorial book on the history of Barlborough.

“The book will probably take between 18 months and two years,” Tony says. “People have been asking about a book for Barlborough so we want to do it.”

A quick look at the visitors’ guide and it is clear that the heritage centre is in safe hands.

There are comments such as “fantastic exhibition” and “great experience” from people who live as close as Renishaw and Eckington, and as far away as Australia and Mexico. One is from a young boy, aged just eight, who wrote: “It was outstanding.”

Tony tells me: “We’ve got a woman coming to visit us from America next month.”

The heritage centre, set in the grounds of Barlborough Primary School and formerly the school master’s house back in 1870, was officially opened in May 2011.

Previously, it had stood empty for a number of years before, in January 2000, a group of residents representing local businesses, community groups, school governors and parish councillors came together and formed a trust.

In 2003, a small local history room was opened and, due to it being such a great success, Heritage Lottery funding was granted and the centre was opened.

“Me and my wife have built it up over the years,” Tony says.

“We started with barely nothing and now we have cabinets full to the brim.”

Tony offers to give me a guided a tour and we explore books dating back 400 years, correspondence, pictures, old buildings and family histories.

He shows me a precious portrait, believed to represent Sir Francis Rhodes, 3rd Baronet (1647-1675) of Barlborough Hall, dressed in military attire, including his buff leather coat with silver bullion laces. It is thought the portrait was painted to celebrate him becoming High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire in 1670.

Tony, who lives in Worksop, then walks me over to one of his exhibitions on former miner Andrew Bradley, from Barlborough, who passed away at New Year. Mr Bradley was jailed for nine months after ‘sabotaging’ an 11,000 volt electricity power cable at Stanfree, blacking out a coal plant and 400 consumers in Clowne and Shuttlewood, according to a newspaper cutting.

Mr Bradley also published historical books about the village, its families and coal mining in Derbyshire.

He left behind his legacy of hundreds of photographs covering changes which occurred in the village over the years. Mr Bradley was said to be seen often walking his dog with his camera around the village, which he loved,

“Exhibitions can take anything up to two months,” Tony says. You have to go to local libraries and do your research.

“We’ve done exhibitions on World War One, sporting exhibitions, farming and mining.”

I dig deeper and try to find out more about why Tony, aged 65, who used to work in the antiques business and has two other part-time jobs, is so enthused about local history.

“You get that involved you feel like a detective,” he says. “One thing just leads to another.

“It doesn’t stop here, I am always working on things back at home.”

Income generated from Barlborough Pre-school & B.O.O.T.S, which is located above the heritage centre, allows it to remain open - but the centre is always in need of extra funding.

I walk over to Tony’s wife Teresa who is deep in concentration.

“We like helping people with their family trees, that is one of the best bits,” she says.

Across the table from Teresa is John Tipper, who started working at the heritage centre two years ago.

John said: “I started researching my grandfather’s history and I came here for some information and I ended up staying.”

Before I leave, Tony tells me of a time when a woman who he had previously helped with her family history, brought a friend along to the centre who was trying to trace information on her German father.

Tony added: “I managed to get in touch with a place in Germany which said they would be able to help her. That’s what makes it all worth while.”