Tag Archives: Bagthorpe Prison

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:
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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:

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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:

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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

The Birdwatchers of Victorian Nottinghamshire

In the Victorian era there were hardly any birdwatchers in Nottinghamshire. Most ordinary people seem to have been too busy just living their lives to have a hobby such as watching birds. Among the richer individuals such as the landed gentry and the nobility, their particular interest was not watching but shooting birds:

another shoot

Even so, the very fact that they enjoyed shooting birds would actually have led them to develop some identification skills, however rudimentary, if only to avoid shooting a species which was out of season, or the same species over and over again:

shooting

At this time, there was great interest in having a large collection of stuffed birds or animals. Here again, identification skills would have been important:

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The earliest actual birdwatcher in Nottinghamshire seems to have been a man called William Felkin junior who lived in Nottingham from at least 1845-1870. Like his father, he was a lace manufacturer, but he became a Fellow of the Zoological Society and possessed a collection of stuffed birds of some 313 species. In 1866 he wrote the first ever book about birds in the county, entitled “The Ornithology of Nottinghamshire”. It was incorporated in Allen’s “Hand-book to Nottingham” published in the same year. This, I believe, is William Felkin senior. Hopefully. he looked a lot like his son:

felkin senior zzzzzzz

A contemporary of Felkin was William Foottit of Newark-on-Trent (fl 1840-1860). He was the local Coroner and ordinary people from miles around would bring unusual birds to him. Foottit was a frequent contributor to “The Zoologist” magazine:

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In 1869, clearly an outdoorsman of some competence, William Sterland of Ollerton wrote the marvellously entertaining “Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

sterland book

This book contained many anecdotes, and a number of records of rare birds. Sterland was the relatively uneducated son of a “grocer/ ironmonger/ tallow chandler/ dealer in sundries”, and, when the great man deigned to review it, his book was slated by Edward Newman, owner of “The Zoologist” magazine :

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This was possibly because Sterland was a frequent contributor  to “The Field” magazine, a fierce rival of “The Zoologist”:

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It is more likely, though, that this was a slightly more complex issue. Newman had himself left school at sixteen to go into his father’s business.  Now he mixed with some of the most prominent scientists and zoologists in the land. I suspect that if Newman’s well healed and well connected upper class friends found out that William Sterland still worked in his Dad’s village grocer’s shop, they might well have been strongly reminded of the humble origins of Newman himself.

Unabashed, though, in 1879, William Sterland produced “The Descriptive List of the Birds of Nottinghamshire”. Needless to say, Edward Newman still had quite a few buckets of bile left to throw, but all the local newspapers in the Nottingham area really liked the book.

Sterland’s collaborator in this venture was a young man called Joseph Whitaker, now universally acknowledged as “The Father of Nottinghamshire Ornithology”.  Whitaker (1850-1932), the son of a farmer, was born at Ramsdale House, nowadays a golf centre and wedding venue to the north of Nottingham. Look for the orange arrow:

ramsdale map

Recently this beautiful building received a great deal of publicity as the erstwhile residence of the most infamous dentist in the history of the National Health Service:

ramsdale zzzzz

In later life Whitaker moved to Rainworth Lodge, a large country house with a lake, slightly further north in the county. Look for the orange arrow:

rain ladge

Here, he was known to one and all as the man to contact about birds in Nottinghamshire, whether it be a member of the nobility or a simple farm labourer who had found an unusual bird dead in the road as he walked to work:

rainworth zzzzzzz

Whitaker would travel around Nottinghamshire by horse and trap to see various interesting species of birds, or to talk to people who had seen, and/or shot, unusual birds on their estate.

Whitaker wrote a number of books about nature, including “Scribblings of a Hedgerow Naturalist” and “Jottings of a Naturalist: Scraps of Nature and Sport on Land and Sea”. His finest title was most assuredly “Nimrod, Ramrod, Fishing-Rod and Nature Tales”. I believe that the young lady on the front cover of the book is the maid, rather than Whitaker himself:

nimrod

Whitaker was a frequent contributor to “The Zoologist” and in later years to the newly fledged “British Birds” magazine:

british birds

Before the rise of the pager, the mobile phone and the Internet, this publication was the only way to announce the presence of rare birds.

Whitaker also corresponded with his social betters, the Lords and Ladies whose many estates were the origin of the expression “The Dukeries” to describe north Nottinghamshire. There is a large collection of Whitaker‘s letters in the local collection at Mansfield Library. As well as the nobility, Whitaker also exchanged letters with many of the great ornithologists of the Victorian era, the men who wrote textbooks on birds, either in Britain, or in Europe as a whole. Joseph Whitaker’s greatest triumph, though, was a book entitled “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”,  which he had printed privately in 1907. It contains information about every single species of bird which the author knew to have occurred in the county. In Mansfield Library, we still have Whitaker’s own copy of this book, to which he has had a professional bookbinder add extra pages. In this way, the great man could cut out interesting stories from newspapers or magazines and then just paste them in.  Alternatively, he could simply handwrite in any interesting items of bird news which he had gleaned. Unfortunately, I have been able to trace only four photos of Joseph Whitaker, none of them as a young man. In all of them, he has a reassuringly large walrus moustache:

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Whitaker’s greatest claim to fame was the Egyptian Nightjar which was shot in 1883 in Thieves Wood near Mansfield by a gamekeeper called Albert Spinks. At the time this poor lost individual (the bird, not the gamekeeper) was the first known sighting in England, and just the second in Europe. Even now, a hundred and thirty years later, only one more has been seen in this country. Whitaker erected a stone to commemorate the event but it was smashed to smithereens in the 1980s (to celebrate its centenary, presumably) and replaced by a wonderful modern sculpture costing well in excess  of £8.50:

original mem

The pieces of the original stone were recently found and reassembled, although one little bit does seem to be somewhat of an enigma:

bits of stone

The bird itself was stuffed and, as an item of immense prestige, it went into Whitaker’s enormous collection. After his death, it eventually finished up in the foyer of Mansfield Library, safe behind highly reflective glass.

nightjar2

I thought it might be quite interesting to bring to a wider audience some of the birdwatching anecdotes which Whitaker mentions, both in his original book, and in the very many additions which he made to it. In future blog posts, therefore, I will bring you the true story of the famous Egyptian Nightjar and any number of other notable birds.

One final point is that the Nottinghamshire of the Victorian era was a very different place to the Nottinghamshire of today. The current Nottingham ring-road was just a muddy footpath alongside the Daybrook. Had our own suburban house existed then, there would have been no other private houses in sight in any direction. Just Bagthorpe Prison, Bagthorpe Hospital and the City Workhouse. It is amazing just how few people must have been alive in the county at that time.

A second final point is that many of these early ornithologists would not have had optical aids of any great standard, whether binoculars or telescopes. They may have had nothing beyond the Mark One Eyeball. In addition, they may have had no access to identification books, where they could carefully check what they had seen. This is why, if the presence of a rare bird was to be proven beyond doubt, it had to be shot. That is the origin of that grand old saying, “What’s hit is history, what’s missed is mystery”.

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Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham, Wildlife and Nature