This tale comes from a source which I have used quite frequently in the past, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood”.
Imagine. It is December 12th 1786. Less than a fortnight to the Big Day. What will Santa bring you? Better make sure that Santa can get down those Georgian chimneys without a problem:
December 12th. “A remarkable escape from death at the premises of Mr Wilson, bookseller, of South-parade, Nottingham. Mr Stretton, a builder, accidentally met a Mr Ward of Eastwood, and stood on the pavement in front of the shop, conversing with him about Christmas.”
You can go nowadays and stand where exactly these two gentlemen stood, nearly 250 years ago. I have painted an enormous orange arrow on the pavement:
And I also found a photograph of the houses concerned. This was taken in 1874 and although the ground floors are very different today, the upper floors of some of the buildings are still quite similar:
In 2017, it is not just the ground floors which are different. The people are as well. Nowadays, all the people try to dress as much like each other as possible. A 21st century guerrilla army:
But what about Mr Stretton and Mr Ward the builder? Well, they were talking about what Santa was going to bring them, and Mr Ward was just saying that he had been repairing loads of chimneys in this area because all the little kids were worrying about Santa’s arrival, when suddenly…..
“…a violent gust of wind overthrew a stack of chimneys, which in their descent brought down with them a large proportion of the roof and a quantity of the brickwork of the front wall.”
It was a little bit like this…
But a lot more like this…
It was no laughing matter, because…
“Neither of the gentleman had warnings sufficient to run out of danger. An apparently solid mass fell upon the back and head of Mr Stretton, but chiefly upon his shoulders, beating him to the ground, and cutting the back of his coat into shreds . He endeavoured two or three times to get up, but the bricks continually falling upon him, prevented him.”
I think we’ve all seen Laurel and Hardy, or Tom and Jerry, in that situation, as the last two or three bricks of many fall individually and hit them one after another on the head. But it was no laughing matter at all…
“Mr Ward also received serious injuries. The two men were taken away in sedan chairs, and both of them eventually recovered, although not without great difficulty.”
So it all turned out well in the end. Cue a famous Shakespeare play.
Sedan chairs must have been magic. Ideal places for meeting your lover, at least, if you can persuade the servants to go and have a cup of coffee for half an hour. And take that magpie with you…
And here’s the ideal sedan chair for a collapsing chimney situation. That roof looks very well made, very robust. And those top hats would be brilliant. Just like the special zones that crumple up when modern cars crash into each other.
Mind you, I think if they were my servants, I might buy them a pair of shoes each for Christmas. Unless, of course, I could think of a really life changing present to give them.
29 responses to ““Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…””
Merry Christmas John.
Love this story.
Thanks a lot Pierre. I hope you are enjoying the festivities!!
Great story John. Happy Christmas.Your comment about the ‘guerrilla army’ was interesting. I was out with my father the other day. He looked around at the people in the shopping centre and asked: ‘Why does everybody look the same these days? There is no colour left in the world’. It’s an intriguing observation.
I think social media has made everybody too scared to be different. When I
was a teacher there was a huge irony that if a class were told that they could come on an excursion “no school uniform” needed, they would all turn up in a uniform of their own invention. Bizarre!! Incidentally, I hope you are enjoying the Christmas festivities!!
You really can’t account for the contumacious nature of school children! I too hope you are enjoying Christmas John.
An amazing story and love the pictures as well. Merry Christmas!
Glad you enjoyed it and Merry Christmas to you too!!
John, that’s an interesting, though unhappy, Christmas nugget. Thank the gods we live in a subtropical region where Santa should have no fear of injuring himself in a fallen chimney!
It would be interesting to know just how the European s dealt with Santa and the chimney during the days of the old British Empire. Presumably, a
lot of the people were rich and had big houses which probably had suitable chimneys just like they had had back in Europe. Presumably for the poorer ones though, if there were any, Santa hacked his way through the palm leaf roof!!
Good story, John. Something different that the average post, eh?!! Thanks.
“We aim to please!” I’m glad you enjoyed it and make sure you enjoy the rest of the festive season!
Got it in one!!!!
I think hard hats, high viz vests and steel toe-capped boots are in order. The old ‘elf’ and safety man would be having a fit right now. Great story John.
Apparently, nowadays, they won’t let old people in council homes have lights on their Christmas trees and in some cases they won’t allow them to have Christmas trees. God knows what they would be doing back in 1786!!
For goodness sake, the world’s gone mad!
Gerard Hoffnung .The bricklayer.
Thanks for the link but it isn’t working at the moment. It may well be a copyright issue between the two countries, but thanks a lot for the effort you made!
So very well done, John
Thanks Derrick, you’re very kind. I’m glad you enjoyed it
These said chimneys one of them had just been working on?
I don’t think so Lloyd. I took it to mean that the winter wind blew and that that was enough to bring the chimneys down. Back in those days, I don’t think people were too bothered about keeping buildings in a particularly good state of repair.
Thank you for clarifying John. Sometimes my brain goes to power down mode.
Interesting post John, I’ll be sure to have a walk past next time I’m in Nottingham.
Well, if you do, make sure you wear a hard hat! I have bought a lot of those old directories of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire on DVD and both the 1783 and the 1791 list a “Mr M Wilfon as a bookfeller” but unfortunately no exact address is given.
🙂 Bookfeller seems a good profession. Or should that be “profeffion”?
You are right though about people trying to look like the other, especially everyone wearing those skinny jeans even if it looks good or not. Hope you had a Merry Christmas and wishing you a Happy New Year!!!
Thank you and a Happy New Year to you and your family.