Monthly Archives: April 2016

Another good day for a hanging: Wednesday, August 10th 1864

In the nineteenth century and before, the Master (what would now be the Headmaster) of the Free School in Stoney Street, often acted as Chaplain to the Town Gaol which was housed in the same building as the current Galleries of Justice:
DCIM100MEDIA
This meant that every time somebody was hanged, the Master was required to attend. In a previous article, I have already told the story of how the Reverend William Butler attended the execution of one John Fenton, a blacksmith and publican, who was hanged at the age of thirty-seven for the murder of Charles Spencer at Walkeringham on March 6th 1860.

In actual fact, William Butler was not to stay in his job as Master for very much longer. He was not a well man, having had his health weakened by a huge scandal in the town about the Sir Thomas White’s Loan Money, which had not been used properly over the previous few years. Once again, the well tried defence of “The money was just resting in my account.” was not accepted. Worse still, the Reverend’s son had died in 1858. Butler was a tired man, and was replaced by Frederick Cusins, who actually worked as temporary Acting Headmaster for an amazing seven years. This is the Free School:

free school
On 8 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, August 10th 1864, it was Frederick Cusins’ turn to witness a fellow human being put to death. The man who was being hanged on this particular day was Richard Thomas Parker, aged twenty-nine:

gallows
Parker was born in Thurgarton on October 26th 1834, the only son of his mother’s second marriage. Surprisingly for this era, she must have been in her mid to late forties when she gave birth to him. Parker was initially apprenticed to Mr Bee the Butcher of Sneinton Street in Nottingham. When his apprenticeship finished, he set up in business in Fiskerton where he again worked as a butcher, but not a particularly sober or upright one.  He was publicly declared bankrupt in November, 1862 at Newark-on-Trent. Here is a map of the area. Look for the orange arrow:

fiskerton

Not helped by an entire lifetime of being thoroughly overindulged and spoilt by his parents, and in particular his mother, who had waited so long for this unexpected child, Parker was dissolute and never slow to turn to physical violence. One day in 1864 he went to a cricket match at Newark-on-Trent, and in his attempt to drink the beer tent dry, consumed, as was his wont, too much alcohol. Always quarrelsome and confrontational after even the slightest amount of drink, he then returned to the family home in Fiskerton and had a violent drunken argument with his father, Samuel Parker, who promptly left the house and set off down the road. His wife, Elizabeth, rushed out of the house to warn her husband that “Tom’s got a gun”. Firing from the window of the house, Parker shot his father, Samuel, and his mother, Elizabeth as she tried to protect her husband. One internet source said that she was “formerly Miss Tutbury”. It took me far longer than it should have done to realise that, in actual fact, this was referring to her maiden name, rather than her career in the beauty pageant business. I must confess, I did actually Google “Miss Tutbury”. I think I found “formerly Miss Tutbury and the current Miss Tutbury” or perhaps they are “Miss Tutbury and Mrs Tutbury, her Mum”:

asdqerty ccccccccccccccccccccccccc

Anyway, Samuel Parker, the father, recovered from his wounds, but his seventy-six-year old wife did not quite pull through. She lingered on for several weeks but finally died on May 16th 1864. Her favourite son finished up here, in the gaol in Nottingham:

P1120126
Richard Parker’s trial duly took place at Nottingham Crown Court in the Shire Hall in Nottingham, in the building which is now the Galleries of Justice Museum. Proceedings began on Monday, July 25th 1864. The presiding judge was Mr Justice Blackburn. I couldn’t find a photograph, but here is a contemporary caricature:

220px-Colin_Blackburn,_Vanity_Fair,_1881-11-19

Not surprisingly, Parker was found guilty by the jury. There was only one possible sentence, which was pronounced by the judge, as:

“Richard Thomas Parker you are sentenced to be taken hence to the prison in which you were last confined and from there to a place of execution where you will be hanged by the neck until dead and thereafter your body buried within the precincts of the prison and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul”.

During this part of the trial, Mr Justice Blackburn would have been wearing his black cap as the sentence pronounced was one of death:

balck cap

I did not realise that this famous item of legal wear was based on court headgear from Tudor times. Likewise, I did not know that, even since the permanent abolition of the death sentence in 1969, High Court judges still carry the black cap, but only when they are required to wear their full ceremonial dress. Perhaps some judges still harbour secret hopes of “Bring back the Cap”:

black cap

Parker was executed on the steps of the Shire Hall.  This was the very last public execution in Nottingham, and building the scaffold was carried out by a local architect, Richard Charles Sutton.  I have been unable to ascertain if the days of clothing with the sponsors’ name had yet been thought up. I suspect not, but this would have been a splendid way to bring your architect’s business to the public, as photographs of the hanged man were known to be very popular souvenirs of events like this.
And it was a really “Good day for a Hanging”:

A crowd of more than 10,000 spectators was in attendance. Perhaps lower league football teams should examine these figures more carefully. Apparently, there was a wooden board more than four feet high to prevent the crowd from seeing the hanged man’s dead body once he had taken the fateful plunge. Again, this may well have been a sponsorship opportunity missed. As the moment drew near, Parker was praying earnestly. A white hood was put over his head and when the Chaplain finished the sentence “In the midst of life we are in death”, that was the exact moment for the bolt on the trapdoor to be drawn. Parker then suffered, as they say, “the extreme penalty of the law”:

hanging-at-shire-hall

Twenty or more years later, in 1886, in one of life’s great ironies, Mr Sutton the Architect was to stand as the Liberal candidate for the Sherwood Ward of Nottingham Town Council. And of course, he won.

Today, the executioner was Mr Thomas Askern (1816-1878) who had arrived from York. Details of the, literally, ups and downs of his career can be found on “English hangmen 1850 to 1964″ presumably one of Mastermind’s yet-to-occur specialist subjects.

After being left hanging around for an hour, Richard Thomas Parker was cut down and buried inside the gaol.  This usually involved extensive use of large quantities of quicklime inside the coffin. In Lincoln Castle, the hanged man was interred with a very small gravestone which might well carry just his initials and the date. Traditionally, they would also have their feet facing in the wrong direction. Apparently in Nottingham, the bodies were buried under the flagstones of the yard behind the building. Slabs with the barest of identification details, usually just the hanged man’s initials were then placed against a side wall:

Yard at Shire Hall with headston
The whole brutal process was too much for temporary Acting Headmaster Mr Cusins. An old boy reminisced how, just like William Butler had done on a previous occasion, Mr Cusins, looking very pale, staggered into the classroom and said:

“Boys, I have just seen a man hanged. I cannot teach you today. You may all go home.”

It may have been the frequency of attendance at public executions by Masters of the School which led to the rather grim tradition that every time a criminal was executed outside Nottingham Gaol, only some two hundred metres or so from the Free School, the boys were all given a holiday.
The very last execution in Nottingham took place on April 10th 1928. This was in the privacy of Nottingham Prison, which, at the time, was called Bagthorpe Prison. The map shows the area now occupied by a much enlarged prison,  more in keeping, perhaps, with these lawless times:

prison

The last man to be hanged was called George Frederick Walter Hayward. He was 32 years of age and had worked as a commercial traveller. He lived at the White House, Little Hayfield, Derbyshire.

Hayward was found guilty of the murder of Mrs Amy Collinson, aged 36, the wife of Arthur Collinson, who kept the New Inn in the village. Just to be sure, Hayward battered her to a pulp and then cut her throat. He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint. The motive was theft and the full story is told on two pages of the website “Peakland Heritage”.

If you enjoy blood and guts, just read the first page.

If you want to see where poverty and unemployment can lead a weak and stupid man, try the second page as well.

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Filed under Criminology, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

Was it suicide…..or was it………………..murder ?????

The period when the seventeenth century turned into the eighteenth was not the easiest of times for the Nottingham Free School, the ancient predecessor of the present day High School.  You only have to look at the wooden board behind the school receptionist’s desk at the High School, and the list of names and dates that is up there. During this period, some three hundred years ago, Headmasters come and go, thick and fast. Just to refresh your memory:

Edward Griffith              1691 – 1707
Richard Johnson           1707 – 1720
William Smeaton           1718 – 1719
William Saunders          1719
Thomas Miles                  1719
John Womack                 1720 – 1722
John Swaile                      1722 – 1731

Let’s look at the diary of these turbulent and potentially disastrous twenty years. Edward Griffith, the first Headmaster on the list, seems to have been an astonishing man. He could have talked his way into so many jobs in our own time, most of them probably in politics. Or maybe even financial advice:

August 1697

Edward Griffith, the Headmaster for the last six years, was summoned to court “for neglecting the school, whereby the school is much decayed in its reputation.” Griffith promised to concentrate on the school and never to work again as a full-time clergyman as well as his main job as the Headmaster.

early 1698

Griffith took up a lucrative post as the new Vicar of Stapleford.

Friday, December 19th 1698

The Town Council gave Edward Griffith the sack, alleging that

“…he has very much neglected his duty, whereby the said Free School is very much decayed and lessened, ….. the School Wardens do give him a discharge, which they have done accordingly. And if he shall refuse to leave the said Free School, that they shall withdraw his Salary.”

Griffith made no reply whatsoever to this decision. Sit tight and it will all blow over.
May 1699
The Town Council issued a second decree that Griffith should quit his post. He took absolutely no notice of this one either.
January 1700
It was agreed by the Town Council that Griffith should keep his job and salary until further notice. Result!!
January 1705
The Town Council told Griffith that he was “discharged from being Schoolmaster any longer”, an order which, not surprisingly perhaps, he again ignored completely. He did, however, make a promise to depart in the very near future.
June 1705
Griffith was again told to leave his job, and that his salary would henceforth not be paid.
March 1706
The school wardens were told by the Town Council to pay the £85 of Griffith’s wages which had not been paid to him over the past two years. Once he had been given this cash settlement, Griffith had promised to leave.
March 1707
Griffith at long last departed, a mere ten short years after being told to do so. And now, Richard Johnson…..

1707
The new Headmaster, Richard Johnson, seems to have been, for the first five years or so of his reign, a vast improvement on his predecessor. Johnson was the author of an impressively long Latin poem describing a horse race on the Forest Recreation Ground, which was then called “The Lings”. Here is the site nowadays:

forest
Race meetings used to take place in July of every year, and they attracted prominent people from miles around. Here is the Racecourse in the late nineteenth century:

racecourse zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

In 1708, the race was won by the Earl of Cardigan on his horse, Carlessus. Johnson’s long Latin poem mentions the Duke of Rutland, Sir Thomas Willoughby of Wollaton Hall and Sir Thomas Parkyns of Bunny. It refers specifically to the fact that, because of the recent outbreak of smallpox in the town, comparatively few women were present…

“Now, to enhance the glories of the race,
See, many lovely women bring their grace.
Yet others, eager for the festive day,
With tearful prudence choose to stop away,
Lest swift and dreaded pestilence arise,
And desecrate that loveliness they prize.”

Here is another, mid-Victorian view of the Forest Racecourse with two boys, who may well have been members of the new High School. Notice the distant footballers busy playing in the middle of the racecourse:

forest and boys zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

1708
The newly appointed Headmaster, Richard Johnson, gave so many promises about how well he would perform in his new job at the Free School that it was decided to improve his living quarters and to build extra classrooms for all the new pupils who were bound to be attracted by the extreme excellence of this new Headmaster. Plans were already afoot to appoint two more members of staff, namely a second Usher and a visiting Writing Master, giving an overall staff of four. That should cope with the almost countless hordes, all eager for a free education of a very high standard.

(This won’t end well. It all sounds like pie in the sky to me.)

June 1718
Very little is known about what happened in the school in the years between 1711-1718, but, as an expert on the subject, I was 100% right about the pie.

The Council now sought to sack Richard Johnson, given that they thought he was a madman:

“…for all or most of the time…he very much omitted and neglected to teach and instruct the Sons of Nottingham….For the space of three Months and upward, he hath been, and is now, Delirious and Non Compos Mentis. He is incapable of performing and executing the Office of the Headmaster of the said school.”

Certainly, Johnson had fallen ill in 1714. He wrote ….

“I suffered such pains in my limbs that for a whole year I could not sleep without the aid of opium.”

(A drug addict running the school. That’s just what we need.)

More seriously, though, Johnson does seem to have suffered from a certain amount of ill health. The Town Council’s motivation for removing him from his position, though, may have had more to do with politics than any touching concern for his welfare or the school’s success. They conceivably exaggerated the Headmaster”s medical problems to create a trumped up charge of incompetence, which could then be used to remove a political thorn from the Town Council’s side.

Inadmissible circumstantial evidence it may well be, but Johnson’s difficulties certainly seem to have begun not long after the national Jacobite rebellion in 1715, which was led by the so-called “Old Pretender”, James Stuart. Here he is in his younger days:

(c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Nottingham was a Whig town, and Johnson may well have been a Jacobite. Around this time many other schoolmasters throughout England lost their jobs because they were Jacobites.

For whatever reason though, madness, drugs or politics, the Town Council tried to throw Johnson out. Johnson may well have spoken to his predecessor, Edward Griffith, though, because he decided that the best policy was, quite simply, to refuse, point blank, to leave.

(If that happens, just ignore the situation, and bring in another Headmaster of your choice)

August 11th 1718

The Town Council appointed William Smeaton as Headmaster.

(In that case, Jacobite Johnson, just ignore them. Take no notice whatsoever)

August 12th 1718

Johnson refused physically to leave the school.

Later on in late 1718 or, more probably, early 1719

Fed up with the whole situation, Sulky Smeaton resigned in an apparent fit of pique, and eventually got out of Dodge, never to be heard of again.

1719

The Council then appointed a local man, William Saunders, but at a much reduced salary. A legal action to eject Johnson from the school was taken, but in court Clever Clogs Johnson did not bother with a lawyer. He conducted his own defence with great skill. He duly won his case:

oldbailey zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Johnson explained to the court how unreasonable it was to leave a man of his advanced age penniless in the world, and asked that he be given a decent reference, so that at the very least he could go elsewhere and earn an honest living. At one point, Councillor Abney, knowing of Johnson’s previous mental frailty, accused him:

“…what has happened to you is what Felix said of St.Paul ; much learning has made you mad.”

Johnson replied to the Councillor

“…you will never go mad from the same cause.”

(That got a lot of laughs)

The school now had, arguably, more Headmasters and ex-Headmasters than pupils. There were only five students left. The Deputy Headmaster, George Bettinson, taught two, and Johnson, gallant to the end, did the lion’s share of the work with the other three. Indeed, there were so few pupils that they could well have had a couple of windows each:

free school

Very soon afterwards, the Town Council was again repeating its charge that Johnson had been delirious for the last eighteen months and that he was, to use the technical terms of psychology, as mad as a fish.

Finally, though, a compromise was reached. Johnson would leave and in return, he would be paid a pension of £10 a year for life.

(Mmm…..Nice)

William Saunders, the Town Council’s very, very recently appointed choice for the job, was now told that he too had to leave town before sundown.

later in 1719

Thomas Miles was made Headmaster.

(Problem solved !! Result !!)

Thomas Miles did not take up the post.

(Oh, noooooooooooooo!)

Amazingly and incomprehensibly, Thomas Miles said he didn’t want to work in an atmosphere of such considerable confusion. There was no confusion with the boys, though. Their parents voted with their feet. Numbers were still exceedingly low. On a good day, classes could have fitted inside a telephone box, if they had only been invented. Here is the site of the very confused Free School. No traces remain nowadays of the original building on the corner of  Stoney Street and Barker Gate. Look for the orange arrow:

free school site

1720

Next up to the plate was John Womack, a Bachelor of Arts from Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University, no less. I have been unable to trace if he was related to Bobby Womack, but this is still a superb soul classic. Enjoy:

Neither John Womack nor Bobby Womack held the poisoned chalice for long. John Womack died in April 1722. By now, the school was well on its way to six headmasters in three years. It was beginning to look like an unsuccessful football club.

But then the knockabout fun of “The Free School meets the Crazy Gang” came to an abrupt end.
Richard Johnson, Headmaster Number Two in a Series of Seven, Johnson the Madman, “Mr Delirious”, “Mr Non Compos Mentis”, “Jacobite” Johnson the Opium Addict, the Drug User, went out one day into the Nottingham Meadows, found a small stream which ran through it, and then, in a fit of despondency, he apparently drowned himself:

Erewash_Meadows_web

A witness spoke:

“of the extreme horror of meeting, one evening as I was walking in the Meadows, a venerable grey-haired man, carried dead on a stretcher. It was Richard Johnson. He appeared to have been sitting on the bank of the river, and was found in shallow water with his head downward.”

2994975_32908d1f

The incident was even reported in London newspapers:

“They write from Nottingham that some days since, the Reverend Mr. Richard Johnson, lately Master of the Free School there, being a little Melancholly, took a walk into the Meadows, and drowned himself in a Pit near the Old Trent.”

Here is the old Trent Bridge of the time, the so-called Bridge of Hethbeth:

old-trent-bridge-1869

Despite his apparent suicide, Johnson was eventually allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. He was probably given the benefit of the doubt, and his death was adjudged to be an unfortunate accident. And indeed, he may have had some kind of seizure or fit, perhaps brought on by trying some of those Ecstasy tablets which contain dog de-worming substances. (Unbelievably, yes, some of them do.) Equally, if Johnson’s death were suicide, then it may well have been decided that he was insane at the time he committed the act.

All of these strange circumstances have led a number of historical analysts to suggest, though, that Johnson’s burial in consecrated ground came about, not because his death was not the result of suicide, but because somebody knew very well that  that his unfortunate demise was actually murder. Consider some more circumstantial evidence. Johnson was an awkward so-and-so as his appearances in court show only too well. He was a political problem as a possible Jacobite, eager to see a different monarch in place and a return to Roman Catholicism. He was a financial burden to the Town Council with his Golden Goodbye of a pension of £10 a year for life.

Shadowy figures might well have decided that their own lives would be easier with one less Johnson in the world. One fewer ex-Headmaster above ground. Scratch one Jacobite. The questions are there to be asked. Why the mysterious drowning? Why did a man racked with pain in all his limbs go for a long walk at the side of a river? How did he then manage to drown in the “shallow water” of a “small stream” ?

If only one sadly missed detective had been around:

columbo-death-jackpot-badge

Whatever the reason, this era marks probably the lowest level to which the school has ever sunk.

For years and years afterwards, wary of appointing another highly qualified and learned man who might  turn out to be a second Johnson, the Town Council limited itself to local men, whose good character was well known, even if that meant that they did not have any university experience.

During this period, in the summer, the classes used to begin at 7 am, and then continued until 11 am The afternoon then began at 1 pm, and finally finished at 5 pm, or even later, if the Master so decided. From October 14th to February 14th, school started at 8 am, and finished at 4 pm. It was a six day week, but the Master was allowed to grant holidays and extra playtimes up to twelve hours per week.

(Not a bad deal. Twelve hours free every single week, if you feel so inclined! Twelve hours!)

A poignant plaque in St.Mary’s Church has always been considered to be a description of the education given at the Free School. I have translated it from Ye Olde Englishe:

“ Here lies interred
Henry eldest son of John
Plumptre Esquire.,

Born 22 July, 1708
Deceased January 3, 1718.

In these few
and tender years he had to
a Great Degree made himself
Master of the Jewish, Roman
and English History, the
Heathen Mythology and
the French tongue, and was
not inconsiderably advanced in
the Latin ”

P1120161

1722

Not quite the end! Let’s not forget,  John Swaile. He succeeded John Womack, and steadied a very shaky ship over the next nine years, 1722-1731. He did, however, have his problems with George Bettinson, the Usher or Second Master , who, after serving under six different headmasters in just two and a half years, was well used to running the school himself, and did not take kindly to some fool of a new Headmaster trying to give him orders. But that, as they say, is a different story…

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The Missing Statue

Let’s finish this series of High School puzzles with a third, and final, enigma. So let’s look at that photograph of the Stoney Street school again:

stoney st

We already know where the pesky little merlettes are hiding, (four o’clock down from the word “stationer”) but what exactly is in the niche near the top of the building? Here is a photograph of nothing, this time seen in close up:

stoney st niche

Now let’s look at the present day High School. This beautiful photograph was taken by Rishabh Motiwale and was used as the cover of the book which celebrated the school’s presumed 500th birthday, “500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthday”:

Rishabh%20Motiwale

And I’ll ask the same question a second time. What exactly is in the niche near the top of the building? Well, here’s that photograph of nothing again…

Rishabh%20Motiwale close up

Do you remember what a “vowess” was?  Of course you do. It’s:

“a woman who has vowed chastity or devotion to a religious life; a nun”.

It’s what Dame Agnes Mellers became after her husband died.

But do you remember Mr. F. J. Snell’s words about a “vowess” in his book “The Customs of Old England” ? Why certainly! He said that:

“a “vowess” would never willingly forgo any opportunity of showing reverence to the Blessed Virgin”.

So what is missing from the niche near the top of both buildings, therefore, is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. An image of Mary, Mother of God, a beloved figure in the Roman Catholic Church but one not enjoying perhaps quite as big a fan base with the Protestant Church over the last 400 or so years:

hytheBVM

I would guess that, perhaps in the very small print, in Clause 42, sub-clause 69, of Dame Agnes’ bequest, acting as a staunch vowess, she had stipulated that this type of Roman Catholic statue should be on prominent display in her new, or perhaps, merely refreshed, school. After all, her school had started its life in a church dedicated to St Mary:

st-marys-church-1846

But then, twenty years later, once Henry VIII had decided that Roman Catholicism should no longer be the state religion, to have a statue of Mary, Mother of God, on display above the door of the school, must have become just “a statue too far”. It would have made the place look anti-Protestant. Anti-Church of England. It might even have reminded ordinary people of the fact that the Glorious King Henry VIII had taken advantage of the Reformation to steal billions of pounds worth of assets and land from the suddenly unwanted Roman Catholic Church.  So one day, the statue of Mary, Mother of God, just wasn’t there any more. And few people noticed and those who did notice, knew that the best thing to do for their own safety was to keep their mouths firmly shut. And nobody ever mentioned the statue again.

Presumably, this centuries old exclusion from the school’s premises of statues of the beatified members of the fairer sex will come to an end very soon. When the first girl crosses the threshold of her new, co-educational school, she will surely walk into the building under a statue of the Virgin Mary, just as Dame Agnes would have wanted. Surely we will not have to wait for the High School’s first Headmistress to put the matter straight?

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Look out ! It’s a tornado !! Hang on to your hat !!!

So far I have looked at how Nottingham has been affected by too much water, not enough water, weather that was too cold and weather that was too hot. There have never been any earthquakes or tsunamis here, thank goodness. That is not to say, though, that Nottingham has never been troubled by high winds. All right, it cannot rival Texas or Oklahoma. Neither Dorothy nor Toto ever lived here, and we just cannot  compete with things like this:

But we do try our hardest. We do our bit. Or at least we did do, way back in the sixteenth century. Just to continue with our policy of showing you the clothes and the costumes, so that you can work out what time period we are talking about, here are some of my favourite people from the era in question, having a game of bowls while they wait for a decision about the Armada from the European Court of Justice:

005

Back to the story….

On Monday, July 7th 1558, Nottingham was struck by a tornado. All of the ordinary houses within a mile of the city were destroyed. Sir Richard Baker reported in his now forgotten but once extremely popular “Chronicle of the Kings of England from the Time of the Romans’ Government unto the Death of King James”:

“On the 7th of July, this year, within a mile of Nottingham was a grievous tempest with thunder, which, as it came through beat down all the houses and churches, cast the bells to the outside of the church-yards, and twisted the sheets of lead like a pair of leather gloves and threw them four hundred foot into the field. The River Trent, running between the two towns, the water, with the mud in the bottom, was carried a quarter of a mile, and thrown against trees, with the violence whereof the trees were torn up by the roots, and cast twelve score yards off:

After%20the%20Storm_2012-10_uprooted%20tree
A child was taken out of a woman’s arms, and carried up into the air then let fall, had its arm broke and died.  Also, a child was taken forth of a man’s hand and carried two spear’s length high, and then let fall two hundred feet off, of which fall it died.

Five or six men thereabouts were killed yet had neither flesh nor skin hurt. They were slain by the storm, during which, hailstones fell measuring fifteen inches in circumference.”

The “two towns” are thought to have been the villages of Wilford and Lenton which at the time were rural, agricultural villages of roughly similarly size, separated from the main town of Nottingham.

Elsewhere in the East Midlands, on an unknown date in July 1558, in Northamptonshire, there was a storm with immense hailstones some fifteen inches around:

ice
I do not know if these two events were connected or not. Overall in England, it was a very hot summer in 1558 with long periods of drought throughout the whole year. In March of 1558 the country had already seen the “most destructive hurricane in England”, although I have been unable to locate the precise whereabouts of this occurrence, and Nottingham seems to have been unaffected.

Eighty or so years later, on Wednesday, October 13th 1666, there was a similarly violent storm just a little further north. Called a whirlwind at the time, it actually seems to have done enough damage to warrant being called a tornado. How fashion tastes change in only a hundred years:

Cavaliersxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This account comes from “A General Chronological History of Air, Weather, Seasons, Meteors in Sultry Places and Different Times”, which was written by Thomas Short, and published in London in 1749:

“In Lincolnshire, there was a dreadful storm of thunder, accompanied with hail, the stones as large as pigeon or even pullet eggs, followed by a storm or tempest, attended with a strange noise. It came with such violence and force, that at Welbourn, it levelled most of the houses to the ground. It broke down some trees and tore up other trees by the roots. It scattered abroad much corn and hay. One boy only was killed. It went on to Willingmore (Wellingore?) , where it overthrew some houses and killed two children in them. Thence it passed on and touched the skirts of Nanby (Navenby?) and ruined a few houses. Keeping its course to the next town, where it dashed the church steeple in pieces, furiously damaging the church itself, both stone and timber work. It left little of either standing, only the body of the steeple. It threw down many trees and houses. It moved in a channel, not a great breadth. Otherwise it would have ruined a great part of the country. It moved in a circle and looked like fire. It went through Nottinghamshire, where the hailstones were nine inches about. The whirlwind was about 60 yards broad. On Nottingham Forest, it broke down and tore up at least 1,000 trees, overthrew many windmills, overturned boats on the River Trent. In a village of fifty houses, it left only seven standing.”

The original place names are given as Welbourn, Willingmore and Nanby. I have taken a quick look at the map and I think that Thomas was writing down the names of the places from a person who was talking to him. I can just imagine a local peasant of the time calling Wellingore, Willingmore and another slack jawed local pronouncing Navenby as Na’nby. As always, look for the orange arrow:

Untitledmap

Here is St Chad’s Church in Welbourn, which survived the tornado more or less intact:

St.Chad's church, Welbourn

Here is the road near Welbourn:

nar welbourn

That road takes you to Willingmore AKA Wellingore. Here is All Saints Church on a nice day and then on a Meteorological Office Severe Weather Tornado Risk Warning Day:

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If Na’nby was Navenby, then this is St Peter’s church:

navenby_st_peter

The “next town”, and I am merely guessing here, may have been Boothby Graffoe, which has its own ruined castle:

lincoln-somerton-castle-boothby-graffoe-engraved-print-1770-13812-p

….and a church which over the course of the last 350 years seems to have recovered from what must have been, judging by Thomas’ account, a very bad hair day:

Boothby Graffoe St Andrew

Here is a slightly better overview of the area to refresh your memory. All of my three best guess place names of Welbourn, Willingmore, and Navenby are in a nice, more or less straight line, as the tornado flies. It would be possible to argue that, if the fourth location is a genuine town sized town, then it might be Waddington, or even (less likely perhaps), the county capital of Lincoln. Boothby Graffoe, though, is a lovely village name. Perhaps not as striking as Norton Disney, but cute nevertheless.

Just take a look at this second map, showing clearly the path of the tornado through the three villages. I  rest my case, as they say:

navenby

From my point of view, of course, the most interesting detail is the fact that:

“On Nottingham Forest, it broke down and tore up at least 1,000 trees.”

I have already written about the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham in a blogpost about a highwayman being executed on the gallows near St Andrew’s Church. Here is a map:

forest

How do I know that this is the same place as Nottingham Forest? I know because of what used to be situated on Forest Road East, to the south of the green area marked “Forest Recreation Ground”. Here is an old, and no doubt, valuable oil painting of them. These are clearly what Richard was talking about when he mentioned that the whirlwind “overthrew many windmills”:

(c) Nottinghamshire Archives; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Enormous damage was occasioned in Nottingham:

“On Nottingham Forest, it broke down and tore up at least 1,000 trees, overthrew many windmills, overturned boats on the River Trent. In a village of fifty houses, it left only seven standing.”

In my opinion, this was because the tornado came from the south west, travelled, broadly speaking, to the north east, and was therefore much stronger in Nottingham than it was in Lincolnshire. This weather event may even be the reason that the Forest Recreation Ground was initially created. Having so many trees cut down together in what was then a heavily wooded part of Sherwood Forest itself, may have been the first step towards the vast open space that we all enjoy today. This map shows the general north easterly path of the tornado. The orange arrow points towards the Lincolnshire Three:

big navenby

It is always difficult to prove a negative, but this map shows why mention of the tornado came only from Nottingham and the three small villages in Lincolnshire. Even now, 350 years later, there are comparatively few people living between the two localities to tell the story. And equally, there would have been, centuries ago, virtually nobody to tell it to.

Could somebody in England have recognised a tornado in 1666? Well, yes, he could, if he described the storm he saw as “attended with a strange noise”, as well as being “in a channel, not a great breadth”, “about 60 yards broad” and, most convincing of all,  “It moved in a circle and looked like fire.” And don’t forget, it is always very difficult for a human being to describe something which is not within his terms of reference or his own personal experience.

Just compare those three hundred and fifty year old descriptions with this:

And watch out for Dorothy and Toto:

Dorothy-And-Toto-

 

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Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Call me Ishmael

A few years ago, I asked a group of young people if they had ever read the finest novel ever written in English. They thought that they had probably read it, but asked me if I could be a little bit more precise about its title. I said it was called “Moby Dick”.
And they were wrong. None of them had ever read it.  One person even said that the book could not be considered because it was written by an American. The author’s name, of course, is Herman Melville:

Herman_Melville

Once he had finished with whaling and the sea, Melville came to live safely on land. Here is his house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts:

dick housezzzzzz

A lot of people, of course, are put off by the sheer size of the book. In the three volume British first edition, there were 927 pages. In the American first edition there were 635. (Bigger pages, presumably?).
Help, though, is at hand. I have prepared a handy guide as to which of the CXXXIV chapters can be missed out without causing any real damage to the story, or to your understanding of the plot. The problem was that, at the time the book was written, around 1850-1851, there were no television documentaries. Almost nobody had ever seen a whale. Many people had never even seen the sea. More or less nobody knew anything of whaling:

humpback

The reader, therefore, had to be informed about the Natural History issues involved, and that, dear reader, is the reason for the great number of the, as it were, “non-fiction” chapters.
In my humble opinion, therefore, do not trouble yourself too much with:

Chapters 24, 31, 32, 44, 54, 55, 56, 59, 61, 62, 64, 67, 73, 74, 75, 76, 79, 81, 82, 84, 85, 87, 88, 89, 91, 94, 101, 102, 103 and 104.

Wow!! If that doesn’t attract you, nothing will. In addition, these chapters could be missed out, but they may add a smidgin to your understanding of the book. These are:

 Chapters 39, 40, 41, 83, 93 and 100.

You must read absolutely all of the last thirty chapters, which tell the story of what happens when Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod finally set their eyes on a rather angry Moby Dick. (It doesn’t go well.) If you have ever read the book of the film “Jaws”, you will find this last section very reminiscent indeed of that modern classic.
Even if you have doubts, it is not difficult to give it a go. You can download Moby Dick to virtually any type of machine from Amazon, including some of the more modern lawnmowers.

It is free.

For a small fee, you can even download a version with pictures.

And then, away you go!

whale rtyuu

The book is stunning. Pay careful attention to what the characters say and the events which befall them.  You will often find that the author has skilfully linked them together. Perhaps he has provided echoes of words and events as the plot unfolds chapter by chapter. This foreshadowing throughout the book creates great tension, because the reader is given broad hints of what catastrophes are in store for the protagonists (who themselves often refuse adamantly to heed these warnings and carry on regardless to their eventual destruction). Here is Captain Ahab:

gregory-peck-as-ahab-2

And Starbuck. The coffee chain is named after him:

starbuck

Originally, it was going to be called Pequod’s after the ship:

clipper

They’re probably lucky it wasn’t named after the whale. Here is Queequeg, one of the three harpooners:

moby-dick_queequeg-stare

And here is his coffin, floating in the sea:

coffin
D. H. Lawrence, the greatest English novelist, called Moby Dick:

“one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world”

“the greatest book of the sea ever written”

wale tale

Here are half a dozen quotations to whet your appetite:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

giphy

 

“That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

whale

“…mastering his emotion, Starbuck calmly rose, and as he quitted the cabin, paused for an instant and said to Ahab: “Let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.”

Moby_Dick_final_chase

“Tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles; haggardly firm and unyielding; his eyes glowing like coals, that still glow in the ashes of ruin; Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl’s forehead of heaven.”

moby-dickzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

“Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed. It was rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.”

Moby-Dick-3

“There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”

Moby_Dick_p510_illustration

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Moby Dick

And don’t forget, of course, Moby Dick has the most famous beginning of any novel:

“Call me Ishmael.”

The quotations from the end are good, too, but I won’t spoil it for you!

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Filed under History, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

April Fool? Maybe yes! Maybe no!

Here are today’s football results for April 1st 2016…

AS Adema    149       Stade Olymique L’Emyrne 0

burun

Akurba FC 0       Plateau United Feeders    79

Bon Accord Aberdeen 0       Arbroath     36

Micronesia 0       Vanuatu    46

Australia    31       American Samoa   0

Arsenal   26     Paris   1

Preston North End     18       Reading   0

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Australia    0    England      17

Germany   16     Russia   1

England     15       France 0

Manchester United     14       Walsall   0

Clapton 0       Nottingham Forest     14

Tranmere Rovers    13       Oldham Athletic    4

Stockport County    13       Halifax Town   0

Newcastle United    13       Newport County   0

Newcastle United captain Jimmy Nelson leads his team out

Borussia Mönchengladbach    12       Borussia Dortmund   0

dortm

Chelsea    13       Jeunesse Hautcharage    0

Athletic Bilbao    12       Barcelona    1

Derby County    12       Finn Harps    0

Luton Town   12       Bristol Rovers    0

Corinthians    11       Manchester United    3

man-united-1905

Real Madrid    11       Barcelona    0

ronaldo-bale-519878

Tottenham Hotspur   10       Everton     4

Barcelona    3       Notts County     10

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Notts County    1       Southwell City    10

Notts County    1       Queen’s Park      10

Bournemouth    10       Northampton Town     0

Sunderland       9      Newcastle United    1

Charlton Athletic    7       Huddersfield Town     6

Huddersfield in possession in the photograph below:

(L-R) Huddersfield Town's Alf Whittingham takes on Charlton Athletic's Jock Campbell

Brazil    1    Germany     7

Atlético Madrid    6       Athletic Bilbao   6

Manchester United    0       Huddersfield    6

hudders

Barcelona     2       Notts County     4

Barcelona    1       Notts County      3

Kenya Breweries Mombasa    2       Notts County    1

Brazil   3     Exeter City    3

Derby County    8       Tottenham Hotspur   2

And what’s so strange about all these scores?

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Filed under Derby County, History, Humour, Nottingham