The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 7 - September 1992

Holy Trinity Benefactor: W.G. Player

Elsewhere in this issue we provide readers with a brief account of Francis Wright, Holy Trinity's chief benefactor at the time of the church's construction. Now we turn the spotlight on William Goodacre Player, the church's main benefactor in more recent times.

Courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service.See in Lightbox
A 1922 aerial view of the Player's factory complex in Radford,
photo courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service

At the age of 23, John Player, the son of a Saffron Walden solicitor, came to Nottingham in 1862 in order to take up a position as a draper's assistant in a local business. His interest in this particular trade ceased when, a year or so later, he set himself up in a shop on Beastmarket Hill working as an agent for Prentice & Company's agricultural manures and seeds. One of the sidelines John Player began to offer customers was the sale of loose tobacco. He found the pre-packing of particular blends of tobacco sold well and this sideline subsequently became his main line of business; to such an extent that by 1877 Player had resolved to go into tobacco manufacture for himself.

He purchased a tobacco factory, based in the Broad Marsh area of Nottingham, founded by a William Wright back in 1823. At the time of his purchase the factory employed 150 people and produced sufficient tobacco to supply the local markets. John Player, however, had plans to expand this business so that it could cater for a much wider demand. He also wanted to develop a range of ready-made tobacco products that customers would instantly recognise and thereby encourage brand loyalty. The constraints placed on the business by the size of the Broad Marsh factory inevitably meant John Player would need new premises. In 1881 he bought a large undeveloped site out in Radford and had three factory blocks erected there. Initially he only required one of these blocks for his own business so he leased out the other blocks to lace manufacturers with the proviso that he could regain occupancy when required. In April 1884 the Broad Marsh employees transferred to Radford and the 'Castle Tobacco Factory' commenced operations.

The opening of the new factory was undoubtedly a proud moment for John Player; the first stage in his ambitious plans for the business. He was not, however, destined to see these plans come to fruition. A few months later he was taken ill and died at the early age of 45. His two sons, William Goodacre and John Dane Player, were only 18 and 19 respectively and in no position to assume the mantle of control. So for the next nine years a small group of family friends ran the business until the two brothers took over in 1893. In 1895 the business was converted into a private limited company, John Player and Sons Ltd., and the two brothers became its managing directors.

(Left to Right) Back Row : Mr. Shaw, Mr Kingdon, Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith, Mr. Pollard,
Mr. Rossington.
Middle Row : Mr Heald, Mr. Hemsley, Rev. A.H. Watts (Vicar), Mr. Harvey, Mr Dickinson,
Mr. Clarke, Mr. Oldham.
Front Row : Rev. M.P. Tiarks (Curate), Rev. W. Clements (former Curate), Mr. Frederick
Wright, Rt. Rev. Bishop Hoskyns (Bishop of Southwell), Mr. W.G. Player,
Rev. C. Westwell (Curate), Mr. Davies

In 1896 W.G. Player submitted plans to the City Council for the erection of a private residence on Adam's Hill, Derby Road. This was to be 'Lenton Hurst'. Once it was completed he and his wife, Mabel, vacated their existing house on Forest Road and moved into Lenton Hurst (now part of Lenton & Wortley Hall on the University Campus). They remained there for some thirty years during which time W.G. Player, a devout churchman, maintained close links with Lenton Parish Church.

The demand for Player's products continued to grow and by the turn of the century the second and third factory blocks were now required. One of the lace manufacturers, a Mr Meats, proved so reluctant to yield up his tenancy that Player's were forced to take the matter to court. They won the case and once Mr Meats had vacated the premises Player's expanded their production line and were soon employing in the region of 1,000 workers. At about this time the British tobacco industry came under attack from the United States. James Buchanan Duke, head of the American Tobacco Company, owned the exclusive rights to a new mass production cigarette making machine which had quickly come to dominate the American market. Now he was looking towards Britain for fresh conquests. He arrived here in 1901 and immediately acquired Ogden's of Liverpool. As a defensive measure thirteen of the country's leading tobacco manufacturers, including John Player & Sons, combined together to form the Imperial Tobacco Company with the Player brothers included on the board of directors. This large combine was then able to resist the American takeover, yet allow the constituent businesses to preserve their own names and individuality.

There was considerable expansion on the Radford site in the years prior to the First World War when the workforce grew to 2,500. Further growth took place after the war and by 1926 the workforce had reached 5,000 employees. This year saw the retirement of both Player brothers from the board of Imperial Tobacco and in 1932 they gave up all active participation in the running of Player's itself.

Both brothers were very rich men and had always given generously to a range of charitable causes. In particular they favoured hospitals and churches. J .D. Player gave the greater part of his munificence to the Nottingham Children's Hospital while W.G. Player added over £180,000 to the coffers of the General Hospital.

Some time before the First World War W.G. Player acquired an estate at Ednaston near Brailsford in Derbyshire. Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to design a new house there and according to Pevsner this was completed 1912-1914. Despite being considered by one architectural commentator as 'perhaps the most perfect country house that Lutyens designed' Mabel Player took against the building and refused to accept it as their principal home. So Ednaston Manor, as it was known, remained in the Player family but William and Mabel Player continued to live at Lenton Hurst. W.G. Player did, however, make frequent visits to Ednaston in order to enjoy the pleasure of fishing in the trout stream there. Eventually in the late 1920s W.G. Player and his wife did leave Lenton. There is some uncertainty as to quite when they left as the directory for 1928 still has them resident at Lenton Hurst while the next to appear, Kelly's 1932 Directory, records them as living at Whatton Manor, out near Bingham.

Even though he had left the area William Goodacre Player continued to support the parish of Lenton. The Vicar of Lenton, the Rev. Rainald Skipper, had come to the conclusion in the early 1930s that Wollaton Park and Lenton Abbey, with their large municipal housing estates, should have their own churches. He therefore launched an appeal and W.G. Player immediately heeded the call. He bought a site and then paid for the entire building of St. Mary's Wollaton Park, plus the church hall and curate‘s house. Not unnaturally Mrs Player was asked to lay the foundation stone which reads 'This stone was laid by Mabel Player, wife of William Goodacre Player J.P., who built this church in the year of Our Lord, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Thirty Seven'.

William Goodacre remained at Whatton Manor until his death in June 1959 when he was 93. He left £1,606,739.


A 1992 view of the Horizon Factory, Lenton Industrial Estate
Photo by Paul Bexon

Prior to their retirement in 1932 the Player brothers had overseen the construction of the No. 2 Factory by the local building firm of William Woodsend Ltd. This six storey building, fronting on Radford Boulevard, was used solely for the manufacture of cigarettes. The Bonded Warehouse on Ilkeston Road was added in 1939-40, as was the No. 3 Factory situated to the rear of No. 2. In the years after the Second World War the workforce continued to grow until it reached an all-time high, in the late 1950s, of 11,000 employees. At this time Player's were producing fifteen brands of pipe tobacco and eleven different brands of cigarettes. New head offices were opened at Radford in 1967 but Player's major development came a couple of years later with the acquisition of a 45 acre site here in Lenton. Their £14 million 'Horizon' Factory was opened in November 1972 and when it went on stream it was considered the most advanced factory of its kind in the world.

Full production was still required at Radford but only until 1974 when the No. 1 Factory was closed down and a similar fate awaited the No. 2 Factory in 1976. Player's eventually revealed in 1983 that the whole Radford site was now considered surplus to requirements. Part of the No. 1 Factory was demolished in order to create a car park and the demolition men moved in to No. 2 and No. 3 factories in 1986. That year found Player's also becoming part of the Hanson Trust when they acquired Imperial Tobacco. The workforce had fallen by this time to 2,700 and underwent a further reduction to 1,900 in 1990. As most readers will be aware the site of the No. 2 and No. 3 Factories is now the 'Castle Retail Park' and home to the likes of Texas Homecare and the Aldi supermarket chain; while the head office building has been acquired by National Westminster Bank. The hundred and five year connection with Radford totally severed, Player's have now put all their eggs in the one Lenton basket out at the Horizon Factory.

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