Author Archives: jfwknifton

the Reverend Charles Stephens (2)

Last time I showed you some of the photographs left to us by the Reverend Charles Stephens, a keen photographer who captured many aspects of the High School, both boys, buildings and activities. Some of the most striking ones were taken in early 1960 when the new block on the northern side of the West Quadrangle was opened . This was the last part of the extensive school building scheme financed by JD Player, the cigarette millionaire and philanthropist extraordinaire. Pretty much the Bill Gates of the era in England, the nation smoked so many of his cigarettes that the taxes paid on them amounted to £1,500,000 every single day. And in 1960, that single pound was worth £21.66, according to this official website. Another way of representing it was that JD Player was thought to be worth 5p in the pound added to income tax.

We have already looked at the bottom floor and its absolutely amazing block parquet flooring, which was not just shiny but even reflective.  Here’s the top corridor:

Here it is again and yes, you’re right to be afraid. The men in white coats have come to take you away:

And here’s a Biology class, complete with shiny floor:

Not far from there was the Library. It’s very different from today:

It’s very different even from 1986:

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

Fred meets a Flying Circus

My Dad, Fred, spent nearly all of his life in South Derbyshire. In the sunny summers and snowy winters after the First World War, his home was at Number 39, Hartshorne Lane, Woodville. “Holmgarth” was the last house in the village as you went down the road towards the neighbouring village of Hartshorne. Here it is today:

After Fred’s house, further down the hill, there were a couple of large houses near a small lake on the left. They were just a few yards beyond the massive blue brick railway bridge which carried the passenger railway line from Woodville Station towards Swadlincote. A half mile or so further on was the old Saxon village of Hartshorne. Hartshorne Lane itself was made of gravel, and there was so little traffic that it was perfectly possible to play football or cricket all day long without any interruption whatsoever. Boys regularly knocked their cricket stumps into the surface of the road.

Indeed, the whole area was still so countrified, that one day in the late 1920s, a seven year old Fred saw a stray cow walking around in the front garden of the house, and rushed to tell his mother. She was busy with her housework, and just told him that he was being silly and telling lies. Eventually, though, she looked out of the kitchen window and she too noticed the cow which had by now made its way around the house to the kitchen garden. She was very startled and cried out in genuine fear. Young Fred, though, thought that this was a good example of somebody getting their just desserts. Here is young Fred with his bike but just look at the empty field behind him. It used to belong to a farming family called Startin. Nowadays, their field is completely covered in houses:

One sunny summer’s day in the 1930s, perhaps in 1935, an aircraft came in to land in Startin’s field at the back of Fred’s house in Hartshorne Lane. It was an Airspeed AS4 Ferry, a medium sized biplane, and was registered as G-ACBT. It had even featured in a special painting in an aviation magazine:

The aircraft belonged to the famous Flying Circus of Sir Alan Cobham, although it had previously been owned by the popular author, Neville Shute. He had used it as a ferry aircraft in southern Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here’s one of the photographs which were taken of this extraordinary event. The three people are, I think, Fred, the pilot and the mechanic :

Sir Alan Cobham was one of the foremost proponents of the virtues of flying, and with his support for the National Aviation Day, he gave enormous publicity to British aircraft and to the still relatively young RAF. Here he is:

An excited young Fred talked to the pilot while the mechanic went off to find some fuel for the aircraft from a local garage. When he returned, they refuelled the plane and then took Fred for a short flight around the local area.

This adventure, amazing by the Health and Safety standards of the present day, was to inspire Fred, years later, to join the RAF.

Ironically, the year when Fred joined the RAF, 1941, saw G-ACBT being finally dismantled at the scrapyard, in the absence of any potential buyers for this sturdy old aircraft.

15 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Personal

Card Carrying Commies (1)

During the days of the Soviet Union, people frequently joined the Communist Party mainly by reason of their political beliefs or for career advancement. It must have been like joining the Church of England or being a Freemason or buying your way into a top university like Oxford or Cambridge. It was not compulsory, but entirely by coincidence, everybody in the top jobs had done it.
Communist Party members had a booklet to prove their membership, pocket sized at 11 cm by 8 cm. Now that the Evil Empire has collapsed (the Soviet Union, not the Church of England or the Freemasons) you can buy old ones which belonged to previous Party members on ebay. Here is one of the job lot of 10 that I bought years ago. I only paid £3 each so I’m already making a profit from the deal if you have a look at current prices:

The lettering is in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet which is based on Ancient Greek. Here is the Greek alphabet, beloved of mathematicians and physicists, and ancient Greeks, presumably:

The top four words of the red cover of the booklet mean “Proletarians of all countries, unite”. You might recognise the “Pi-Rho-Omicron-Lambda” of the first word. Here is Marx’s phrase printed more clearly:

The second version of the Communist mission statement above is in Ukrainian because, as you will see, both of the Party members in these blog posts are from the Ukraine. Ukrainian is slightly different from Russian. You can always recognise Ukrainian because it has the letters  “ i ” and “ ï ”.

This means “Communist Party (of the) Soviet Union”.

You might recognise the “Kappa-Omicron-Mu-Mu” of the first word. Soviet Union begins with the non-Greek letter ‘C’ which is our letter ‘S’. You will have seen it perhaps on ice hockey players with their CCCP letters.

The abbreviation at the bottom is “ц-K” which stands for “Central Committee”. “ц” is a non Greek letter which means “ts” as in “bits”. “KПCC” is again “Communist Party (of the) Soviet Union”.

The first page on the inside has some bald bloke on it:

His autograph is at the end, “Ulyanov (Lenin)”. The quote, again with lots of Greek letters, is “(The) Party (is the) Intellect, Honour and Conscience (of) Our Epoch”. The words in brackets are not in the text. Russian does not normally have “the” “a” or “is, are”.

More from “Know your Enemy” next time.

 

17 Comments

Filed under History, Humour, Politics, Russia

the Reverend Charles Stephens (1)

Over the years, quite a few ministers of the church have worked as Masters at the High School. One of the most memorable in recent years was the Reverend Charles H Stephens who arrived at the school in 1945. “Charlie” was a much respected teacher of Geography who served the High School well until 1978. As well as Geography, he taught at one time or another, Astronomy, Divinity, Mathematics and Modern Languages. Above all, though, he was a keen photographer who left behind him a huge number of photographs of the school, both boys, buildings and activities.

In 1990 or thereabouts, I scanned virtually all of them into the computers of the day and produced a couple of CDs of his work. I was told as my reward that I could have my own set of photographs to do with as I wished. So here we are. A quarter of a century later, I’ve finally done something to preserve his legacy in an active way.

Some of the most striking photographs were taken in early 1960 when the new block on the northern side of the West Quadrangle opened for business. This was the last part of the extensive school building scheme financed by JD Player, the cigarette millionaire and philanthropist extraordinaire. Here are the new buildings, just a few days before their opening. Notice the dots on the windows so that the builders don’t smash them:

The new buildings consisted of two spacious geography rooms, two junior form rooms, and four sixth form rooms. At half term, the members of staff moved into their first ever purpose built Common Room, nowadays called the Staff Room. The rooms on the second floor came into use in the half term after this. They were originally designed to be a music rehearsal room, a prefects’ room, a general science laboratory and a biology laboratory. The latter was considered by Mr “Bill” Neville, the Head of Biology, to be the finest in the county. The new buildings were officially opened on September 22nd 1960, by the vice-chancellor of Nottingham University.

What was most amazing about this new section of the High School were the floors. I am no expert on flooring but I think they were block parquet floors and they were absolutely amazing. They were smooth, polished and reflective, a bit like me. They were quite wonderful. And the floors in the new block were not the only ones at that time. Here is the corridor on the ground floor:

And here is the other end with what in those days was the caretakers’ room:

Here it is in glorious close-up:

Don’t forget that I did a series of four posts about the High School’s caretakers over the years. Here’s a link to the first one, and the second, and the third, and the fourth.

Here are the new geography rooms. The chairs are actually reflected in the floor:

And here is the Reverend Stephens, teaching perhaps a Year 10 or Year 11 class:

 

 

19 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 4)

This is the fourth, and final, round of my Grandfather, Will’s, tales about his life in the First World War.

The pinnacle, or perhaps, nadir, of Will’s relationship with the upper classes came when he was given an officer’s beloved horse to look after. This was the kind of thing:

In the stable, the highly strung beast decided it would kick Will, very hard and very painfully. Will, however, was not a man to take things lying down, so he took a run up, rather like a football goalkeeper about to take a goal kick, and kicked the animal very, very hard in the testicles. This would have been honours even, perhaps, but unfortunately, the officer had just returned to the stable to see how his pride and joy was faring, and was actually standing right behind Will as he did the evil deed.

For his crimes, Will was charged, court martialled, found guilty, and given Field Punishment Number One, which consisted of being handcuffed, fettered and then tied to a gun carriage wheel for twenty-four hours. This picture is the closest fit I could find:

In similar vein, I remember as a teenager, talking to another veteran, an old man who used to spend all day, every day, sitting on the bench seat, watching the traffic go around the Tollgate roundabout in our small mining village, Woodville. This man had been gravely wounded on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. When a shell went off in that disastrous attack, he had been knocked unconscious, coming round to find that he had lost both of his legs in the explosion.

Luckily for him, as he acknowledged later, he was found by the Germans, who saved his life. He was always to say that the levels of care among the German forces were so much better than those in the British Army, where the officers’ horses tended to be better looked after than the men. This is a German military hospital:

Much to my very great regret, I have forgotten the name of this man, but I will never forget the bitterness or the truth of his words. Sharply resentful, he told me how every day, for almost sixty years, he had no choice but to put on his two artificial legs. He began with leather straps under each groin, and then the large strap around his waist. Then came more straps over both of his shoulders.

Even after all these years, he had persistent sores wherever the rough leather rubbed into his skin, particularly on his shoulders, and the poor man was in constant pain. Many people in Woodville thought that he was just a moaner, but he had a lot to moan about. Like my grandfather, he was not much of a fan of Field Marshall Haig either.

At the end of the Great War, Will returned from France directly to Woodville, and the life he had known before he emigrated to the New World. He went back to his church in Church Gresley, where everyone was delighted to see him. So much so, in fact, that they presented him with his own copy of “The Methodist Hymn Book”

Inside the front cover, it was inscribed…

“Wesleyan Church, Church Gresley

Presented to Mr.W.H.Knifton as a token of gratitude to God for his preservation while on Active Service during the Great War, and as a momento of the hearty good
feeling with which he is welcomed on his return.

On behalf of the Church and Sunday School,

L.GREGSON
W.WILTON
A.DYTHAM ”

Will never seemed to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the war certainly affected some aspects of his thoughts and behaviour. In the trenches, for example, there was a seemingly permanent shortage of sugar. For this reason, long years after the conflict had finished, Will would never fail to celebrate the existence of the delectable white powder. If you visited him and he made you a cup of tea, he would normally put between six to eight spoons full of sugar in it, and even when there were objections, nobody ever escaped with fewer than four spoons full.

Another fear which Will brought back from the trenches, beyond that of running out of sugar, was the much more real one of rats. There were certainly plenty of them about. Here is a French military ratcatcher, “un dératiseur” and his dog:

Will knew very well that besides an entire suite of unpleasant, and occasionally sickening, behaviours, rats carried Weil’s Disease, an ailment which even now, as I write, has no known cure. In 1941, during his ab initio training for the RAF, Fred was to experience the same fear as his father had known twenty or so years previously, as rats, bold and unafraid, ran over his chest and feet as he camped out in the winter woods.

Incidentally, a lot of people nowadays want to think that the First World War was a “war for democracy”. It wasn’t. It was a war for power and empire. Just to knock the democracy idea firmly on the head , the figures I found on the Internet were that 7,694,741 people were eligible to vote in 1914. The population of the United Kingdom and its colony of Ireland was approximately 46 million. That is 16.72 percent who were able to vote. And who do you think did most of the fighting? The 16% or the 84%?

 

23 Comments

Filed under Canada, Criminology, France, History, Personal, Politics

A strange photograph (3)

In 2009, we were on our annual holiday in Cornwall, staying in a cottage near Penzance.  Here is Penzance, the last town in England and still plagued by pirates. Look for the sun tanned arrow:

On ‎August ‎17th , ‏‎around half past eleven in the morning, we arrived at Men an Tol, one of the most famous landmarks in this part of the world. Here’s  its location, right out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other megalithic sites and lots of place names in Cornish. Look for the orange arrow again:

Men an Tol is a megalithic monument, supposedly, and we set off along the rough path out to the moors:

It was a nice day, lots of heather in bloom:

Standing stones are so plentiful in Cornwall that farmers even used them to build dry stone walls:

Here is a decidedly average photograph of the monument we were going to see. It  is a uniquely arranged Stone Age structure, although I have always felt that if it is uniquely arranged, that may be a negative feature rather than a positive one:

Here’s a better one:

Just for scale, the stones are perhaps three or four feet tall. I didn’t dare try to crawl through the hole, for obvious reasons.
There were a number of buzzards circling in the blue sky. This is a Common Buzzard:

The birds were all little dots high in the sky but I took some photographs, thinking that I could perhaps blow them up later on.
It must have been a couple of months later, as I worked my way through far too many mediocre photographs of our holiday that I noticed something a little out of the ordinary. Here is a full size photograph and the buzzards are still just tiny dots. Note the bracken though, because that will prove where I took all the photographs:

Here it is blown up. There are three buzzards in shot and the bracken is still there. Notice the tiny white cloud because that will reappear.

I started to try and look at the buzzards by blowing the picture up a little more. The little white puff of cloud is still there:

I immediately noticed something strange off to the right so I blew it up yet again. The white puff of cloud provides continuity of evidence:

What on earth is that? I blew it up again :

And again:

And this is the best I could do. I used “unsharp mask” on it this time:

I do not know what this object was. At the time I did not even know it was there.  It may have been an inflatable balloon or something from a pop concert or a festival of some kind, but that really is clutching at straws. No events like that happened in the area during our stay there. And it must have been quite big. A buzzard’s wingspan is around five feet and it is certainly bigger than that. I have never seen a children’s balloon that big. You could argue that it was a lot closer than the buzzards. But surely then I would have noticed it. Sooooo….by definition, it must have been a UFO. I just wish I’d seen it!

Incidentally. I have done very little with Photoshop to these pictures. They have been cropped, resized and may have had their brilliance and contrast levels changed to make the images clearer. These photographs are completely honest, in other words.

15 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 3)

My Grandfather Will, as we have already seen, spent approximately two years four months in a Canadian Army at war. At the end of the conflict, an officer stood at the front of the men on parade, and made a speech about what would happen when they all returned home. With his optimistic words, delivered no doubt in all sincerity by this upper class young man, Will became one of an unknown but enormous number of soldiers who, in 1919, were promised “a home fit for heroes”. Politicians were quick to jump on the bandwagon, of course:

In actual fact, before his return, Will was already very cynical about whether he would receive his just rewards for fighting in the war. Indeed, after just a short time back home in England, he became certain that he was destined never to be given what was due to him. These were the days, of course, when injured ex-soldiers would beg in the streets, unable to find employment. It affected both the victors and the vanquished:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overall, Will had very little time for high ranking officers. He did not like the way that they refused to visit the front line with its ever present smell of rotting corpses, but preferred instead to stay in the palatial comfort of country houses miles behind the fighting troops:

As a boy, I remember him telling me never ever to buy a poppy for the Haig Fund because he hated Earl Haig so much. He thought that Haig had no regard whatsoever for the casualties among his men, and that he did not care a jot about their eventual, and dismal, fate. Thank God that Will had no access to the Internet and never found out that Haig was Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE. Will did not realise either that Haig’s wife, Maud, was a maid of honour to Queen Alexandra, wife of King George V, and that that, supposedly, was how he got his job, in charge of the armies of the British Empire. Years before, in 1905, Haig had put his hat in the ring for a plum job at the War Office but his efforts had all been in vain because he was accused of “too blatantly relying on royal influence”.  (Groot). Here are Queen Alexandra and her daughters at “Maud’s wedding”:

For Will and a very large number of his fellow soldiers, the establishment of Haig’s post-war charity was merely a means for a guilty butcher to salve his blood soaked conscience:

Instead, Will urged me to give any money I had to the Salvation Army, who had always been on hand, ready and willing to help the ordinary soldier.

One final tale. In later years, Will told me how, in the Great War, Gurkhas were sent out at night, to make their way over to the German trenches and to kill as many of the enemy as possible. The Gurkhas were paid one shilling for every German’s right ear that they brought back, threading them carefully onto a piece of wire carried on the front of their chest. The problem was, however, that the Gurkhas were extremely efficient and brought back so many ears that the whole process became a very expensive one, so expensive, in actual fact, that it was discontinued. Fierce little chaps. Every time they get their kukris out they must draw blood, even if it is their own:

The senior officers also seem to have considered it vaguely disquieting to kill the enemy in this very direct, but rather brutal, or even unsporting, way.

21 Comments

Filed under Canada, France, History, Personal, Politics