Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of the Gard, the Beast of Vivarais (it did get around)

From 1809-1817, the Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of the Gard or the Beast of Vivarais,(a creature which obviously ranged far and wide) was just one more in the long, long series of creatures, beasts, monsters, feral or hybrid dogs, wolves with completely atypical behaviour or sexual psychopath serial killers who have ravaged different areas of France from around 1550 until the present day. Here is the  Cévennes region:

Carte-cevennes-france

Here is the Vivarais area, in red, in the centre:

vivarais

And here is the Gard area, famous for the Pont du Gard. Again, it is in red:

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Once again, I have looked at a number of French cryptozoological websites and you can take your own average between them. “Vampire Dark News” provides a solid, simple introduction to the latest killer:

“This particular creature spread panic in a vast region comprising Lozère, the Grand Gard and the Ardèche from 1809-1817. It killed, however, comparatively few victims compared to the eight long years when it was active. There were only 29 victims, almost exclusively women and children, six of whom were decapitated. On the other hand, the monster was brave enough to venture into the very houses where people lived. Their descriptions said that the beast was a wolf the size of a donkey with brown fur, a black mane and large udders. Perhaps it was an animal which had escaped from a circus. This creature was never killed.”

(My own translation)

How many wolves fit that description? A black mane? The size of a donkey? Large udders?

The French version of Wikipedia, provides a slightly more developed tale. It begins with the story of how :

«  The Journal du Gard on Octobre 21st 1809 announced the attacks by this animal in these terms :
« In just a few days, a ferocious animal has spread terror in the region of the Gard. Just like the Beast of Gévaudan of days long past (1764-1767), the Beast of the Cévennes is ravaging this part of the “country.”

2653590908_1Wikipédia then goes on to say:

“The Beast killed 29 people, including 19 children, but the list might actually be longer, because the Death Certificates do not always mention the reason for the death. A child called François Marcy, seven years old, was devoured on September 8th 1812 next to his house. Augustin Colomb, aged eight, was carried off on January 9th 1813. Only his head was ever found. In the middle of October, little Rose Henriette Dumas, aged seven, was devoured in the woods.  The attacks went on from 1809-1816, and the audacity of the creature recalls the famous affair of the Beast of Gévaudan. A woman of 34 was attacked just coming out of the church and the beast even attacked villagers inside their own houses.  The rumour was current that it had even eaten the hands of a child who was being rocked in his cradle.  Despite numerous beats and traps set by the people of the different villages the creature remained uncatchable. The attacks came to a final end in 1816 but the affair was never cleared up. It is unknown if this animal was killed during a beat, whether it changed its area of operation or if it was a question of crimes which had been carried out by human beings but were then disguised as being the work of a monster.
Several theories are offered about the origin of this aggressive animal. According to certain people it was a female wolf from Spain even though its behaviour did not resemble that of a wolf in any way whatsoever. The pins in the clothing of certain of his female victims had been removed (hardly the behaviour of a wolf) and six corpses were found decapitated, their necks seemingly having been cut by a blade. The very act of decapitation, of course, is not one which is done deliberately by any animal.

Mont Lozère seems to have been the epicentre of the whole business and had already experienced widespread attacks by wolves in the seventeenth century.

mont lozere

The descriptions which were given by witnesses at the time are extremely variable. Some people talk of an immense wolf, the size of a donkey with a mane and a coat of brown or red fur. Other witnesses describe a creature, or a wolf, the size of a calf, with a grey and red coat. In the majority of the descriptions, the witnesses agree on the presence of a huge belly covered in white fur which almost dragged on the ground. The beast had large ears, a long muzzle and a thick, heavy, tail.”

(My own translation)

What animal was this?  An immense wolf, the size of a donkey with a mane and a coat of brown or red fur? A wolf the size of a calf ? A huge belly covered in white fur almost dragging on the ground? A creature, or a wolf? This is beginning not to make any sense at all. The French peasants in this area, just like those in Gévaudan, all knew a wolf when they saw one. And white fur underneath its body means it cannot have been any species of wolf known today. And the Beast of Gévaudan explanation, based on crazed killers who used hybrid creatures to kill on their own perverted and vengeful behalf will only stretch so far. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I am beginning to have my doubts even about Jean or Antoine Chastel and the rest of the local lunatics who were supposed to have masterminded the Gévaudan outrages.

BETE VIVARAIS

Another website relates how :

“The Beast of Vivarais (or of Cévennes) killed many women and children between 1809 and 1817 within the departments of Lozère, Gard and Ardèche. The animal is described as having the form of a wolf, but with longer ears and black hair bristling over the entire length of its back.  Another report, dating from 1813, speaks of a wolf the size of a calf, with grey and red fur, with a dangling belly covered in white fur with “roudeaux” (a word I have been unable to find in any dictionary, but they are tabby or tiger striped with white).  The head and muzzle are long, the tail is long and sticks up at the end. The official number of victims is twenty-nine.  However it is likely that the list is actually longer because Death Certificates do not necessarily mention the cause of death. In an article on the Beast of the Cevennes, Guy Crouzet details all of these killings, some of which say a great deal about the horror and helplessness of the local people in trying to overcome events which had left them completely out of their depth. And so near the village of Brahic: “was interred the body of François Marcy of Vénissac, seven years old, eaten by a wild beast on September 8th 1812, just a few steps from his home. Vézian, minister of the church.”
“ January 9th, 1813, the death of Augustine Columbus, aged eight. Devoured by a wolf, only the head was found. The boy was abducted on January 8th at five o’clock in the evening in the place called Beaujeu.”
On October 23rd 1813 at Saint-André-de-Cruzières, before the authorities there appeared: “Jacques Dumas, a farmer by profession, the uncle of the deceased, who lived in Chazelles and also Monsieur Graffand the Imperial Solicitor, who lived in Pierregras. They stated that Rose Henriette Dumas, seven years old, the daughter of Louis Dumas, a builder and Marie Maurin, from Chazelles has died from having been devoured in the woods by a ferocious wild beast yesterday, October 22nd, The remaining fragments of the deceased’s body were collected up, inspected carefully and then wrapped in the blood soaked skin of the little girl. They were recognized by her father Monsieur Dumas to be those of his late daughter Rose Henriette.”
Guy Crouzet also made a good point about Mont Lozère, which seems to have been the focus point of the Beast’s activities. Mont Lozère has already played host in the past to other monsters of the same type: in the seventeenth century, attacks by wolves on human beings were reported in the region of Saint-Julien-du-Tournel. And don’t forget that that the very first attacks by the Beast of Gévaudan were reported in Langogne, on the very edge of the Vivarais region. The Beast of Vivarais finally disappeared from the region in 1817, without ever being found. Perhaps it was killed during one of the many organized beats. Nobody knows.

(My own translation)

A wolf, but with longer ears and black hair bristling over the entire length of its back??  A wolf the size of a calf, with grey and red fur?? A dangling belly covered in white fur?? A tail that is long and sticks up at the end? For a wolf?
The “Midnight Forum” possibly isn’t quite the kind of website you might have expected, but it provides many of the details we have previously noted:

“The Beast of the Vivarais was also known as the Beast of the Cévennes or the Beast of the Gard, This monster killed 19 children. This creature first appeared in the regions of Ardèche and Gard in 1809. The descriptions of the monster vary widely. Some say it was a huge wolf the size of a donkey, with a thick mane and a coat of brown or red fur.  Others said that the creature was completely black, or that it was a wolf the size of a calf with a grey and red coat.  In most descriptions, however, witnesses spoke of a big belly covered in white fur, which hung almost to the ground.  Many thought it was a she-wolf that could have come from Spain, even if the behaviour of the animal was in no way whatsoever like that of a wolf.  It had big ears, with a long snout and a luxuriant tail.”

(My own translation)

This last one may well be a rehash of other accounts, but it is equally possible that it may be the firstborn account which all the others have rehashed.
Nobody could accept without question that this animal was an everyday, common or garden wolf. These French people two hundred years ago knew wolves.

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From 1818-1829, supposedly 14,000 wolves were killed every single year in France. Even in 1889, around 500 wolves were trapped or shot nationally. The last wolf was killed as recently as 1937. It is, of course, a different question to explain exactly what the Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of the Gard or the Beast of Vivarais may have been. And at this distance in time, it is not really very likely to happen. Having said that, I am working on it, even as we speak….

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Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Wildlife and Nature

School Sports Day, 2.30 pm, Wednesday, April 5th 1930

On Wednesday, April 22nd 2015 at 1.00pm, yet another High School Sports Day will begin. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to purchase, in an online auction, the aging programme which was sold (not given away, as they are now) to spectators who turned up at the School Ground in Mapperley at 2.30 pm on Wednesday, April 5th 1930. The programme was priced at 3d, which is around 2p in decimal money. We have already seen the long walk along Mansfield Road to the sports ground. Look for the orange arrow. The High School is in the bottom left corner of the map, near the meeting point of Mount Hooton Road and Forest Road East. The school is the incomplete beige rectangle which is outlined in black:

Untitled 2

I found it extremely difficult to scan this aging document. I have therefore divided it into a long series of smaller scans where, hopefully, all of the print will be large enough to be legible. An unknown parent has gone through each event and added the order of the finishers, and, in some cases, the performance they achieved. I taught at the High School for almost forty years, and how familiar are some of the boys’ names! I suspect that they may have been the grandfathers, or even great grandfathers of some of my own erstwhile pupils.
Here is the top of the front cover. The school badge is the same as nowadays, and so is the Latin motto. What I do not understand, though, is the presence of two swastikas. And they are proper swastikas, right-facing ones and not Hindu good luck symbols or badges taken from the horse bridles of the Lakota Sioux. And I don’t know why they are there. Perhaps the event had a secret sponsor:

cover top half

This is the bottom of the front cover. Three pence from so many different spectators must have been a nice little earner:

cover bottom  half
Here is the second page, with the  names of the two track judges. Nowadays there are twelve of them. but in 1930 things were a lot more sedate. The Brewills were a family with at least two famous athletes (G.F. and G.W.) who, in the latter years of the Victorian era, had both achieved a number of triumphs at national level in both sprinting and hurdling . A.S.Brewill had been the commander of the 7th Sherwood Foresters throughout most of the Great War. Almost thirty years previously, on the afternoon of Saturday, July 25th 1903, our current track judge, E.Brewill, had participated in the School Sports held at the same venue. Along with G.F.Brewill, he had been a member of “The Past” (Old Boys) tug of war team against “The Present” (Masters and Boys). The latter were a team of  three boys, namely R.Marrs, W.Oldershaw and H.A.Watson, and three masters, Messrs Hughes, Jones and Yates. The Old Boys soon pulled the School over the line, but were found to have included a seventh member of the team, J.Johnstone. (Cheats!!!) The result was overturned, and the School soon won a fair contest by 3-0. (Hurrah!)
Tinsley Lindley was a very famous figure in High School history and in the history of Nottingham itself. He will perhaps warrant his own blog post one day:

intro page 1

I have been unable to find any background information about J.H.Scothern, although there was a “Scothern” who played amateur football internationals for England before the Great War. As a frequent team mate of the High School’s Olympic Gold Medal winner, Frederick Chapman, both for Oxford City and for England, he would certainly have known him, and probably Tinsley Lindley as well. This bottom half of the page, with its list of House Colours, attests the presence of boys from both the Main School (the four on the left) and the Preparatory School (the four on the right):

intro 2

Here are the first two events, with winners and times, the latter expressed as fractions (much more of a challenge than those silly decimals):

1 & 2

H.W.Bellamy was a misprint. It should be H.W.Ballamy. Even here, more than ten years later, the Great War’s foul tentacles stretch out. Harold Ballamy came from a poor family. His father was a commercial traveller. Harold won many school prizes such as Silver Medals for Mathematics and Science, and Dr Gow’s Prize for Geometry. He was Captain of Football, Secretary of First Team Cricket, the School Librarian, the Colour Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps and the Captain of the School.
At Cambridge University, he won the Bishop Open Exhibition for Natural Science. He obtained a First Class Degree in Mathematics. He then changed to Natural Sciences, where he was placed first in the whole University of Cambridge. What more ideal choice, what better qualified man, to put in charge of a pile of mud near the village of Passchendaele ? And then he was killed:

ballamy 1234

And now, Events 3, 4 and 5. I have taught a Wildgust and a Weinberg:

3, 4 & 5
And I have taught a Sharman and a Lawrence. I wonder who the latter was related to. And why don’t they have “Throwing the Cricket Ball” any more? Health and Safety, I wouldn’t wonder:

6, 7, 8,

Notice that the High Jump was an Open Event with no age restrictions. I think the pencil mark means that the winners both achieved equal heights:

9 and 10

And here are the next events, except that another foul tentacle reaches out and grabs another victim. Captain Frederick Cuthbert Tonkin lived at 13 George Road, West Bridgford. He represented the High School at football, cricket and athletics. He interrupted his Dentistry studies at Guy’s Hospital to enlist and was killed on November 4th 1918, only seven days before the end of the war. He was just 24 years old:

medium

There were two long jumps, sensibly based on height, rather than age:

11 and 12

Why don’t they bring back the Sack Race? H.C.Wesson, by the way, had been Captain of the School in 1928:

13, 14 & 15
I just don’t know how the Tutor Set relay races worked:

16-18

Another Open Event, with no age restrictions:

19

An obstacle race. Much more fun than boring old athletics!

20  21

And another Sack Race. You can’t have enough of them, I say. Have you noticed how the parent has gradually began to lose interest. Fewer pencil marks. Fewer performance times.

22-24

Two more tug of wars. Or should that be tugs of war? Or just tugs? Sounds like fun for everybody, though. W.H.B.Cotton was a hero, a genuine hero, as well as a record holding athlete. Spending his holidays in Glamorgan in Wales in 1928, he had managed to rescue two sailors from a ship which was sinking, just offshore from Porthcawl:

25-27

The back of the programme is a grid where all the keen and interested parents can keep the inter-house score, event by thrilling event:

scan seven

And that’s it! The Annual Athletic Sports were over for another year. And, indeed, the days of holding them at Mapperley were over for ever. The Valley Road Playing Fields had been purchased for £5.600 in 1929. The ground had been levelled, the marsh had been drained and they were ready for athletic action by Thursday, April 30th and Saturday, May 2nd 1931. But that, as they say, is another story.

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Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham, The High School

Sports Day in the Victorian era

Nowadays, School Sports are held in April and can be, just occasionally, on the rainy or even the chilly side. The first School Sports I have been able to find any information about took place over two days, well over a hundred years ago…and not in April.

Instead, they were on Wednesday and Thursday, September 28th and 29th 1870, at Trent Bridge. (not for the first time, apparently). Events included the popular “High Leap with a Pole”, won by Woodhouse with a jump of 7ft 6ins, “a good jump for a man”. A total of 36 boys entered the stone gathering race, and the sack race was won by Darby, who had the bright idea of inserting a toe tightly into each corner of the sack, and then “shuffled along capitally”.
On the second day there was a “Stranger’s Race” with people not directly connected with the school allowed to compete. There was general reluctance to enter this race, because of the presence of Mr Sam Weller Widdowson, the famous captain of the Nottingham Forest Foot-ball Club:

weller

Named after the character in Dickens,  Widdowson was the inventor of the shin-pad:

shinguards

A number of gentlemen finally took part in this race, running in top hats and overcoats. As expected, Mr Widdowson was in first place, with Mr Frederick Rothera second. There was a “blind donkey race” with large boys blindfolded, and small boys riding piggyback, giving them directions. It was won by “Purchase and Brown”.

The next School Sports I can trace were on Monday, April 8th 1878, at Trent Bridge, in front of a “numerous gathering”, entertained by the playing of the Sax Tuba Band. Events included throwing the cricket ball, a 220 yard football dribbling race, a 100 yard three-legged race, a 100 yard sack race, a one mile bicycle race, and an Old Boys’ race.

One of the highlights was the 220 yards running race when the course had been marked out wrongly. One of the eleven runners, Sulley, took the wrong turning, and “effectually disposed of his chance”. The other runners also went wrong, but because they were trailing so far behind Sulley, they were able to run back, and get onto the correct route. Unfortunately, Small was knocked over in the confusion, and eliminated from the race, which was eventually won by G.F.Chalcraft. His prize was a handsome desk, donated by the teaching staff.
In the final of the sack race, F.Bailey finished second behind “the younger Walker”, having decided not to jump inside his sack, but instead, to lie down and roll along the ground.
Most interesting, though, was the “Bumping Match”, the exact rules of which, unfortunately, have not survived. It was surely one of two scenarios. Either a huge circle was marked out by a rope, and the last boy left in it was the winner, or it was some kind of sumo type pushing contest, where boy after boy fought in round after round, until only one remained as the victor:

“The contest caused great merriment among the spectators, who greeted the overturned combatants with roars of laughter. Finally two, varying greatly in size were left in, and after a prolonged struggle, W.A.Walker, who showed great quickness and dexterity in avoiding the attacks of his tall opponent, R.E.Fletcher, succeeded in knocking the latter over the line, amidst loud applause.”

The following year, on Tuesday, April 29th 1879, again at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, “a numerous and fashionable assemblage” was entertained by the Sax Tuba Band, under the conductorship of Mr J.Hindley. There were 22 events, including throwing the cricket ball and a 100 yards race with a Gladstone bag as first prize, presented by Sir James Oldknow. This is Trent Bridge  at the time, during a Test Match:

trent-bridge-cricket-ground

There was a half mile handicap race where the prize was a silver watch, presented by Captain W.E.Dennison  M.P., and the M.P., Saul Isaac.  J.E.Woolley led for nearly six hundred yards, but Barlow overcame his ten yard handicap about 120 yards from the finish, and went on to win. Woolley eventually finished third, and C.Cullen was second. The prize in the long jump was a luncheon basket, presented by the Borough Members. There was a three-legged race and a 400 yards race with only two competitors, G.B.Chalcraft beating E.H.Wells by ten yards. In actual fact, there should have been three runners for the race to start at all, but it was “run through an error on the part of the starter.” The one mile handicap bicycle race was won by A.V.Paton, and F.Bailey won the sack race. This event “…as usual, afforded great amusement.” C.Cullen won the 220 yards football race. His first prize was a cabinet Shakespeare, presented by the Dame Agnes Mellers Club. E.Thornley was doing very well until he kicked the ball out of his lane, and Cullen then went on to win.

H.R.Bramwell won the 100 yards hurdles, which was over six flights of hurdles. His prize was a writing desk, presented by Messrs J & J. Vice. In the 220 yards, C.Daft won a pair of binoculars presented by the Assistant Masters. “The most exciting race”, was the Old Boys’ race over 220 yards  won by F.F.Cleaver in 24 seconds.  At the end of the day came the “…usual bumping match and two consolation races”, won by Thornley and Butler.
Mr Charles Daft was the starter throughout, and Herr Altdorfer and Mr W.H.Bailey were the judges. The prizes were presented by Miss Lindley, and the President seconded a vote of thanks to her for her kindness. She was given a small bouquet of flowers, and three cheers by the school. Her father offered thanks for this kind gesture, and then called for three cheers for the President. With this, the day came to a happy close.
One interesting detail about the competitors in these sports is that there was a small fee payable to enter any of the events. At least one Old Boy in later life was to state that this cash payment did much to limit the number of competitors.

School Sports then seem to have died a death until, during his first term in office, in March 1885, the new Headmaster, Dr James Gow, started an Athletics Contest for senior boys. This soon evolved into a full School Sports Day. Over the years, the school magazines have given us a series of snapshots of the event has changed.

On Friday, June 29th 1888, for example, the School Sports, “…for many years in abeyance”, were revived, and were held in “very unfavourable weather” on the Castle Grounds. I am not really very sure, but I would presume that the Castle Grounds are the area of flat ground at the side of the Castle:

castle grouundszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

There was a good attendance of spectators, and among the more usual events was a three-legged race, won by W.A.Möller and C.P.S.Sanders, a sack race won by J.Blake, and a bicycle race over one mile, won by W.A.Möller in 3 minutes 45.4 seconds. F.Bramley won the “Throwing the Cricket Ball (for boys under 14), with a distance of 57 yards.
The Masters’ Race was won by the Reverend T.W.Peck, with Mr W.T.Ryles in second place, two yards behind. There was also an Old Boys’ Race which was a handicap, run over 220 yards, and a Tug of War, won by Team No 1, who defeated Team No 2 in the final. Again many prizes were in evidence, all presented by Mrs.Gow.

This staff group shows Mr W.T.Ryles in the back row, fifth from the right. His nickname was “Nipper”. His brother, Mr W.E.Ryles, “Jumbo” is on the front row, second from the left. The Headmaster, fourth from the right on the front row, is Dr Gow:

staff 1901

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 3rd 1890, Sports Day was again held at the Castle Ground in dull and windy weather. Nevertheless, a large crowd attended, and enjoyed a day of “very fair sport”, and a selection of music played by the Nottingham Borough Police Band, under the leadership of Bandmaster Redgate. The prizes were presented by Miss Goldschmidt. Most of the events were similar to previous years including the 220 yards football dribbling race, throwing the cricket ball, an Old Boys’ bicycle race, a sack race and a whole series of running races, all of them with varying handicaps for the competitors .

The most interesting event, though, was the hundred yards Medley Handicap. In this, boys competed in a number of heats over one hundred yards, and the handicap consisted in the means by which they had to cover the distance. The methods included skipping, sack race, three legged, pick-a-back, on all fours, and, most spectacular of all, perhaps, on stilts. The final seems to have been a normal foot race, as the winner’s time was fifteen seconds.

On the afternoon of Friday, March 29th 1901, the School Sports took place at the brand new sports ground at Mapperley Park. We already know how to get there. Look for the orange arrow. The High School is in the bottom left corner of the map, where Mount Hooton Road and Forest Road East meet. It is the incomplete beige rectangle which is outlined in black:

Untitled 2

A large number of boys, friends, parents and Old Boys were in attendance, but the day was spoiled by the bitterly cold weather,

“…the turf was naturally affected by the overnight fall of snow, which made the going heavy.”

Two years later, on the afternoon of Saturday, July 25th 1903, the weather was beautiful, although not too warm, and there was another large crowd,

“including many ladies, whose bright, summer dresses amidst the pretty surroundings of trees and shrubs, made the scene most picturesque”

The spectators were entertained by “the lively strains of a band, and a hospitable tea tent.”
The numerous prizes were presented by Lady Blain and events included the one mile walking race, won by B.G.Saywell and an U-11 obstacle race won by C.F.Brasher. L.W.Malton won the potato race and a tug of war was held between “The Past” (Old Boys), and “The Present” (Masters and Boys). The Old Boys were G.C.Allsebrook, W.Allsebrook, G.F.Brewill, E.Brewill, S.Hoyte and H.A.Wootton. Their opposition contained three boys, namely R.Marrs, W.Oldershaw and H.A.Watson, and three masters, Messrs Hughes, Jones and Yates. The Old Boys soon pulled the School over the line, but were found to have included a seventh member of the team, J.Johnstone (Cheats!). The result was overturned, and the School soon won a fair contest by 3-0. I could find no photographs of this event, but here is the tug of war at the 1904 Olympics in Los Angeles. I’m sure it will give you the rough flavour:

The-Olympic-1904 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

On Saturday, June 24th 1905, it was very fine weather at Mapperley Park. Spectators were entertained by the band of the Robin Hood Rifles, under the directorship of Mr A.Pounder. The sports should have taken place the previous Saturday, but the rain was so torrential that this was completely impossible. Events included the usual ones, such as the 220 yards football dribbling race (R.B.Wray in 35 seconds) and the U-11 race over 75 yards (F.C.Tonkin, 10.8 seconds). There was a one mile bicycle race won by H.E.Mills (3 minutes 9.6 seconds) after the other two competitors, S.S.Parkinson and P.H.Hart collided with each other and both fell off. H.E.Mills  also won the potato race this year. J.H.Simpson won the U-11 obstacle race where competitors had to crawl through barrels and under pegged down clothes. The event created “much amusement”. The Old Boys won the tug of war against the Masters & Boys.

As war clouds slowly gathered, on the afternoon of Saturday, June 15th 1912, the Athletic Sports were held in splendid sunshine, again at Mapperley. The attendance was very large, and great interest was generated. Harold Ballamy ran 100 yards in 10.6 seconds, a marvellous performance on grass and wearing, presumably, ordinary pumps. There was again a football dribbling race, won by R.L.W.Herrick. This latter event was by now the only survivor of the many unusual and interesting events which had previously characterised the Victorian and Edwardian sports days. Now, virtually every event was a serious sporting trial.

The following year, 1913, was, of course, the very last Sports Day before the thunderstorm that was the Great War carried away the best of this talented generation of young men from the whole of the continent of Europe. Ironically, it was this bittersweet occasion that has bequeathed to us the only photographs that we have of a Sports Day of yesteryear. It is such a pity that they are of comparatively poor quality. This year, of course, marked the 400th anniversary of the school and both this day of athletics and the photographs themselves came as part of this occasion. Here is the huge crowd:

the crowd 1913

Here is the start of a race:

start of race

…and the exciting finish:

end of race 1913 handicap size runners

These are two exhausted athletes:

sports day 1913

The Headmaster, Dr Turpin, is the gentleman in the very middle of the picture, as the prizes are distributed:

give out prizes

And here he is again, this time making a speech. Look at the policeman and how impressed the little boy is:

prizes 1913

It should still be possible to establish the exact location of the majority of these events. I am sure that the all large Victorian houses in the background will still be there.

 

 

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The Great Storm of 1703. Get your kite!

The Great Storm of November 1703 was reckoned to be the most severe storm ever recorded. The hurricane that struck the English Channel and the south of England was beyond anything in living memory:

_44175913_wind_patterns

Unlike today’s storms, when we have advanced warning and can prepare for the worst, the poor souls of 1703 had very little idea about what was about to hit them, other than the fact that the country had been buffeted by a persistent south westerly wind for quite a few weeks. Sailing ships could not sail against it and had therefore been confined in great numbers to whichever port they happened to find themselves near. Inland though, people were largely innocent of the catastrophe they were about to experience. Furthermore, the Great Storm persisted not just for a few shocking hours, but for nine terrible days. How could anything, buildings, ships, farm animals or men stand up against well over a week of wind speeds like those recorded in the eastern part of the English Channel or East Anglia? They would have approached 100 mph for long periods.

It has been variously estimated that between 8,000 and 15,000 people were to perish. John Evelyn, the seventeenth century diarist, described it in his diary as:

“not to be paralleled with anything happening in our age or in any history … every moment Job’s messengers brings the sad tidings of this universal judgement.”

The inhabitants of London felt the first strong breezes during the morning of Wednesday, November 24th 1703, (December 5th 1703 in our current calendar). By four o’clock in the afternoon the winds had noticeably increased. In London, recently out of prison, Daniel Defoe, the journalist, pamphleteer, spy, trader, writer and author, of course, of “Robinson Crusoe”, had a narrow escape in the street when part of a nearby house fell down and luckily missed him. On Friday the 26th, the wind began to blow with even greater ferocity and when the Great Man checked his barometer, he found the mercury had sunk lower than he had ever seen it. After midnight the gale increased to such strength that it was almost impossible to sleep. The noise of the chimneys of surrounding houses crashing into the street made the whole family afraid that their own solid brick townhouse might collapse on their heads. When they opened their back door to escape into the garden, they saw roof tiles scything through the air, some landing thirty or forty yards away, embedding themselves eight inches or more into the ground. The Defoe family decided to stay in their house and trust in the Lord.

That night of November 26th-27th was catastrophic for the Royal Navy which lost 13 major warships, which were, for the most part, moored along the south coast.  HMS Resolution was driven onto the shore at Pevensey but the ship’s company was lucky and all 221 sailors were saved:

HMS%20ResolutionNot so fortunate were the men on board HMS Restoration, HMS Mary, HMS Northumberland, HMS Stirling Castle and the quaintly named HMS Mortar-bomb, who were all shipwrecked on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast:

Sandbanks_Credit_Ben_Salter

In the aftermath, when the tide fell, the sailors of the wrecked vessels who were able to find a foothold on the huge sandbar, were all wandering around knowing that when the tide rose they were certain to be drowned. It was said that a man called Thomas Powell, a shopkeeper in Deal, organised the rescue of some two hundred of them. Supposedly Powell was so appalled by his neighbours’ reluctance to help that he gave them five shillings each for their support. Certainly, the greedy citizens of Deal were widely accused of being more interested in plunder from the unfortunate ships than in helping to rescue the crew members. Indeed, some sources say that only three fortunate individuals survived the Goodwin Sands catastrophe. Supposedly, about 1,500 sailors in total were left to die.
Lots of other naval ships were driven through the Straits of Dover and out into the storm tossed expanses of the North Sea where some survived to return days later but many others were lost without trace:

stormb_1703

Ships were so driven by the wind that not only did sails have to be lowered but the masts had be cut off level with the deck. Well in excess of a hundred merchant ships were sunk in the North Sea, many of which were colliers from the fleet which at the time was used to transport cargoes of coal down the east coast from Newcastle to London. Some of these ships would have been empty, moored or at anchor when the incredible tempest struck, casting them out into the open sea. Most were ill-prepared and foundered, and their crews perished to a man:

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The storm caught a convoy of 130 merchant ships and the six Men O’ War escorting them as they sheltered at Milford Haven. The warships included HMS Dolphin, HMS Cumberland, HMS Coventry, HMS Looe, HMS Hastings and HMS Hector. By the middle of the following afternoon the losses amounted to thirty vessels. Overall it was estimated that more than 8,000 sailors perished as the storm annihilated the Royal Navy. Around 20% of its sailors were drowned. The first Eddystone Lighthouse was completely destroyed:

Destruction of the Eddystone Lighthouse, 1703

Its erection had been started a mere seven years before, and  its light had been lit for the first time only on November 14th 1698.  Now all six of its occupants were killed, including the brave builder Henry Winstanley.

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This lighthouse was of inestimable importance and stood 120 feet tall,  some twelve miles to the south of Plymouth, one of England’s most important naval harbours. Even the French valued it, when during the period of construction, a French ship took Winstanley and his men prisoner. King Louis XIV, “le Roi-Soleil” ordered their release, explaining that “France is at war with England, not with humanity”, « La France est en guerre contre l’Angleterre, non contre l’humanité! »:

Louis_XIV_of_France

The Great Storm reached its appalling apogee, its catastrophic climax, during the following night, that of November 28th-29th (December 9th-10th 1703). Between the south coast and the Midlands, entire villages from Northamptonshire in the north to Suffolk in East Anglia were devastated  as the winds of the Great Storm rampaged across the country, striking hardest in the south and east of England, sending house roofs flying, flattening barns, razing everything in its path. Both men and animals were lifted off their feet and carried for long distances through the air. Roofs were ripped from more than a hundred churches, the lead was rolled up like a sheet of paper and dumped hundreds of yards away.
Millions of trees were blown over or uprooted; knocked flat in their tens of thousands, they lay prostrate in rows like soldiers mown down in battle. It was said that more than 4,000 oak trees crashed down in the New Forest.  An attempt was made to count the flattened trees in Kent but the count was abandoned at 17,000. The diarist John Evelyn lost in excess of 2,000 trees on his own Surrey estate.
Every kind of building was totally demolished and salt spray was driven almost as far inland as Tunbridge Wells. Animals refused to eat the resultant salty grass.
The maximum wind speeds were similar to those of the Great Storm of 1987 but the bad  weather lasted for much, much longer, well over a week, and thereby increased the enormous loss of life. Here is one of the enduring images of 1987:

1987

People could not decide whether it was safer to stay in their house and risk its collapse or to go into the street where flying tiles killed large numbers.
In East Anglia the wind reached over 80m.p.h. and killed well over a hundred people.  More than four hundred windmills were blown down. Many of them  burst into flames because the friction of their sails spinning round at high speed caused their wooden machinery to catch fire. In Cambridge, part of St Mary’s Church fell down and the falling stones completely flattened the organ. It had only recently been installed at a cost of £1,500. Kings College Chapel was equally badly damaged with stone pinnacles toppled and many of the wonderful stained glass windows destroyed.
In the capital, around 2,000 massive chimneys were blown over. The roof was blown off Westminster Abbey and the Queen, Queen Anne, had to take shelter in a cellar at St James’s Palace to avoid falling chimneys and tiles whizzing off the roof. Daniel Defoe told how the Reverend James King of London wrote him a letter about a chimney which crashed down and buried a maid. She was thought to be literally dead and buried, but she came out the following day from a small cavity in the rubble.

Watersnood_1809

Floods devastated the whole country, especially in the east of England and along the Severn Estuary. In the West Country in general, flooding was extensive and prolonged, particularly around Bristol where just under a thousand houses were totally destroyed. Hundreds of people were drowned on the Somerset Levels, where uncounted tens of thousands of farm animals, mainly sheep and cattle, perished. One lost ship was found fifteen miles inland. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder was crushed when two chimneys in the palace collapsed onto him and his wife, both peacefully asleep in their bed. Part of the Great West Window in Wells Cathedral was blown in and smashed to smithereens. At Fairford the church’s west window, facing the raging anger of the oncoming wind, bulged inward and crashed into the nave. In Wales, major damage occurred to the southwest tower of Llandaff Cathedral at Cardiff.
The storm began to die down around December 2nd, and on December 3rd,  Daniel Defoe visited the Pool of London, where, in the section downstream from London Bridge, he saw more than 700 sailing ships all piled up into heaps one on top of another:

vvvvvv Daniel_Defoe_Kneller_Style

Daniel Defoe told the tale of the captain of a leaking ship who tried to escape what seemed to him at the time to be an inevitable death by drowning, and instead committed suicide—only for his ship to survive. One possibly taller tale related how a sailing ship at Whitstable in Kent was blown out of the foaming sea and then deposited more than a quarter of a mile inland.
Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the Great Storm many special newspapers and publications appeared with information and eyewitness accounts:

the_dreadful_tempest_01b

Conceivably this disaster became “national news” in a way that had seldom, if ever, happened before. It was just like a modern “big story”.
Daniel Defoe himself sought out testimony from as many witnesses as he could find.  When the weather ameliorated, he the whole country assessing the damage. He then produced what was subsequently described as “the first substantial work of modern journalism”, a book of more than 75,000 words, which was called “The Storm”.  It was the first proper book of Defoe’s career.

The_Storm_by_Daniel_Defoe_cover_page
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http://historicaltrinkets.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-great-storm-of-1703-eyewitness.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Storm_of_1703

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/great-storm

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Letters carved in stone, sixty years ago

How many times have you walked out of the school’s Forest Road gate, and quite simply, failed to notice the extensive collection of carved initials on the left hand pillar? And if you did notice them, did you disregard them as being just more of the pointless graffiti that we are now forced to accept in the society of the early twenty first century? Or did you carefully look at the dates? But just wait awhile, gentle reader, and imagine the scene to yourself…

It is late 1942.  In Europe, Hitler stands on the opposite side of the English Channel, watching Dover through his binoculars.

Not A Chance

Great Britain remains resolutely defiant, but largely unable to press home any significant advantage. The British  armed forces are quite simply, not strong enough. There have been hardly any significant victories so far for the British, and there seem to be few obvious ways forward to rid the continent of what will eventually become known as “The Scourge of the Swastika”. Only the victory by Montgomery at El Alamein in North Africa lights up the Stygian gloom. And how many British people actually realise at the time the real significance of the telegram General Friedrich Paulus sends his Führer, telling him that the German Sixth Army is now completely surrounded?

stalingrad_dead_germans_ww2_

These dark days are recalled on the Forest Road entrance of the High School, where boys, or, more likely, young men, have carved their initials more than seventy years ago. And some dates, and even a slightly misunderstood swastika.

first one

Judging by the physical height of this insolent vandalism, they may well have been in, say, the Fifth orm, literally, upwards. They include what appears to be “WH 1942”, “DP” and “DP 1942”, along with what may possibly be “SS 1940”, and the undated “MB”, “HE”, “HS” and “PFP”. Indeed, the only problem with these initials is that they are extremely difficult to photograph, because, like other interesting acts of vandalism, they are hidden away from direct sunlight, and the subleties of the various shades of stone have proved beyond the capabilities of my camera, even though it does have quite a decent lens. Only Photoshop has dragged the past out into the present.

P1220254START VHERE

My subsequent researches, and best guesses, have revealed a few likely suspects. “WH” and “DP” may conceivably have been young colleagues in the Fifth Form A with Mr.Whimster during the academic year 1941-1942.

William Norman Hill was born on November 23rd 1927, and entered the High School on September 20th 1938 at the age of ten. His father was Mr F.Hill, a School Master of 8, Lexington Gardens, Sherwood. He left the school on July 31st 1945.

Dennis Plackett was born on October 22nd 1927. He entered the school on Monday, September 25th 1939, at the age of eleven. His mother was Mrs.Ellen Plackett, a housewife of 7, Anthill Street, Stapleford.  Dennis was a gifted young man, a Nottinghamshire County Council Scholar, and he left the school on August 1st 1944.

Another interpretation is that “WH 1942” was William Jack Harrison. This young man was, quite simply, outstanding. He was born on December 5th 1924, and entered the High School on September 19th 1935 at the age of ten. His mother was Mrs E.M.Harrison of 53, Burlington Road, Sherwood.  He would have been in the Upper Fifth Form with Mr.Palmer in 1941-1942, and then in the Mathematical and Science Sixth Form with Mr.Holgate during the academic year of 1942-1943. William stood out in two separate areas. In 1940 he was initially a Lance-corporal in the Junior Training Corps, but he soon became a full Corporal. In 1941, he won Mr Frazier’s prize for the most efficient Junior NCO or cadet, and was then named Commander of the Most Proficient House Platoon. At some point towards the end of the academic year of 1941-1942, he promoted to be the Junior Training Corps Company Sergeant Major.

In addition, in the sporting world, by the time the School List for 1942-1943 was published, William had won his First XV Colours and his Cap for Rugby and had been named as Captain of Rugby. In the Summer Term, he went on to be the Captain of Cricket, and to be awarded his Cricket Colours and his Scarf. He was also, by dint of his sporting position as Captain of Cricket, a School Prefect. William left the school on December 19th 1942.

The reason that I myself would prefer this interpretation is that “DP” and “DP 1942” may well be David Phillips, who was in the Economics Sixth Form with Mr Smyth during the two academic years of 1941-1942 and 1942-1943. He may well have been carrying out some kind of school tradition when he carved his name on the pillar, thinking that he was going to leave the school in 1941-1942, but then having to repeat the process all over again the following year, after he had unexpectedly stayed on for another year. David finally left the school at the end of that Christmas Term in 1942.

7ngttrrrrr

David was born on May 2nd 1923, and entered the school on January 13th 1935 at the age of eleven. His father was Mr P.Phillips, a Factory Manager of 45, Austen Avenue, on the far side of the Forest Recreation Ground.

austen a2

We have relatively few details of David’s career at the High School, but we do know that by September 1941, he was a Corporal in the Junior Training Corps. In the Christmas Term of 1942, he was awarded his Full Colours for Rugby, and he became a School Prefect. David was also awarded his Rowing Colours for his achievements with the Second IV.

I have a very strong feeling that these two young men were friends. Austen Avenue, of course, is arguably, on the same cycle route home as Burlington Road, Sherwood, where William Harrison lived.

burlington a2

 

Perhaps the two walked down together across the Forest Recreation Ground, and David would then get on his bike and cycle slowly off towards Austen Avenue. William would continue down what would have been at the time an undoubtedly more traffic free Mansfield Road, towards Burlington Road in Sherwood.

David Phillips shared the very same interests as William Harrison. They were both in the same rugby team, and both seemed to have loved sport, whether rugby, cricket or rowing. They were both in the Junior Training Corps and clearly were attracted to the military life. As regards their academic classes, they were a year apart, but I feel that their common interests would have overcome this difference, especially when the two rugby players, or Junior Training Corps members, realised that they could walk down across the Forest together every evening after a hard day at school.

And when the end of 1942 came round, they may well both have left the school on the same day, December 19th. Were they both going into the Army together?

The interpretations above are all based on a combination of informed best guesses, a thorough search of the relevant School Lists and registers and the usual human desire to take purely circumstantial evidence as proven fact. Not surprisingly, though, it has proved impossible to trace any of the other initials in any meaningful kind of way. There were quite simply too many possible “SS”s in 1940, and “MB”, “HE” and even “PFP” have all proved equally beyond my powers. Even so, this must be among the oldest graffitti in Nottingham.

one

 

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Staff v Prefects Football Match Christmas 1980 (3)

These are the last four of the ten photographs I found recently of the Teachers v School Prefects football match.  This keenly fought fixture took place probably just before Christmas in 1980, give or take a year either way. My beautiful new wife was watching the game, armed with my camera, if I remember correctly.
This first photograph shows myself and Ron Gilbert, the ex-Chemistry teacher who retired recently. We look as if we are holding a quick debate about who is going to chase after the ball:

PHOTO A

The second photograph shows the then Head of Music, Stephen Fairlie, and the red shirted referee, Richard Willan. Red Fourteen is a Prefect playing in a staff shirt to make up the numbers. Incidentally, the staff are playing in the shirts normally worn by the school Second Eleven Football Team. These, in their turn, were, for reasons that must surely remain unknown now for ever, the second, change, strip of Sunderland A.F.C.

PHOTO B

The third photograph shows three members of staff. Number Three on the right with his back to the camera is Paul Morris, the now retired Physics teacher. I myself am Number Two in the middle and Number One is Andrew Ayres, a native of Hartlepool if I remember correctly, a young teacher of Chemistry and a colleague of Ron Gilbert. Andrew moved on to Wisbech Grammar School in Cambridgeshire, where he became the senior tutor and examinations officer as well as continuing as a chemistry teacher. He retired in July, 2014. Once again, the Prefects will have to remain nameless:

PHOTO C

The final picture shows Stephen Fairlie, the then Head of Music, as Number One on the left, and Bob Howard, Geography teacher and Best Man at our wedding, as Number Three on the right. In the centre is Number Two, Phil Eastwood, who was the then Head of Chemistry. Phil is a very keen supporter of Manchester City and that is where, I would imagine, his socks came from:

PHOTO D

I would like to finish these three blog posts with a piece of medieval poetry. Medieval French poetry, no less. Well, from 1533. It was written by François   Villon. (You can click on both names)
The days when I knew about such things are very distant, but ironically, that is the whole point of the poem:

Dictes moy où, n’en quel pays,

Tell me where, in which country

Est Flora, la belle Romaine ;

Is Flora, the beautiful Roman;

Archipiada, né Thaïs,

Archipiada, born Thaïs,

Qui fut sa cousine germaine;

Who was her first cousin;
Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine

Echo, speaking when one makes noise

Dessus rivière ou sus estan,

Over river or on pond,

Qui beauté eut trop plus qu’humaine?

Who had a beauty too much more than  human ?

.

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!    

Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

 

Où est la très sage Heloïs,

Where is the very wise Heloise,

Pour qui fut chastré et puis moyne

For whom was castrated, and then made a monk

Pierre Esbaillart à Sainct-Denys?

Pierre Abelard in Saint-Denis ?

Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.

For his love he suffered this sentence.

Semblablement, où est la royne

Similarly, where is the Queen

Qui commanda que Buridan

Who ordered that Buridan

Fust jetté en ung sac en Seine?

Be thrown in a sack into the Seine?

 

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!    

Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

 

La royne Blanche comme ung lys,

The queen Blanche, white, as a lily

Qui chantoit à voix de sereine;

Who sang with a Siren’s voice;

Berthe au grand pied, Bietris, Allys;

Bertha of the Big Foot, Beatrix, Aelis;

Harembourges qui tint le Mayne,

Erembourge who ruled over the Maine,

Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,

And Joan of Arc the good woman from Lorraine

Qu’Anglois bruslerent à Rouen;

Whom the English burned in Rouen ;
Où sont-ilz, Vierge souveraine ?

Where are they, oh sovereign Virgin?

.

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!         

Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

 

Prince, n’enquerez de sepmaine

Prince, do not ask me in the whole week

Où elles sont, ne de cest an,

Where they are – neither in this whole year,

Qu’à ce refrain ne vous remaine:

Lest I bring you back to this refrain:

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!         

Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

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Staff v Prefects Football Match Christmas 1980 (2)

These are three more of the ten photographs I found recently of the teachers playing the School Prefects at football, or soccer as some might call it. The photographs show a game from the early 1980s, when my wife took a few pictures of the match.

This photograph shows the Staff goalkeeper kicking the ball downfield. This is the legendary Chris Mann, a young chap from Liverpool with the accent to match. He eventually left the High School to go to teach at Staffordshire University, where he remains to this day, as far as I know. The last time I heard, he was doing very well as the Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering (Maths & Statistics) in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Sciences:

PHOTO A

This photograph shows myself shielding the ball against a defender. In just a second, I will pass it on to the other player in blue, who is Paul Morris, the now retired Physics teacher:

PHOTO B

This final picture shows proceedings when players are perhaps beginning to get a little tired. There are four blue shirted members of staff on view. I am Number Four counting from the left and Paul Morris is Number One. Number Two is the then Head of Music, Stephen Fairlie, a young man far too gentle to be playing football. Not long after this game, in 1985, he was to found the Nottingham Youth Orchestra which still continues in existence to this very day:

PHOTO C

Player Number Three is Ron Gilbert, an ex-Chemistry teacher who retired recently, and whose first love was actually Rugby Union, but he was always a very good sport, and willing to turn out for the staff when the occasion arose.
Yet again, I am not able to recognise any of the Prefects who, by now, must be in their early fifties with not just children but, conceivably, grandchildren.

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Filed under Football, History, Humour, Nottingham, Personal, The High School