Tag Archives: boys

Murder most foul: Chapter Two

A second episode of blood soaked murder in the history of the old Free School was published in a series of “Reminiscences”  in the High School Magazine in December 1929. They came from Mr John Braithwaite, of Bournemouth, who, at the time, was thought to be the School’s oldest Old Boy….

“Schooldays, 1857-1862″

“I went to the old Grammar School in Stoney Street about Midsummer,1857, and left at Midsummer, 1862. The Rev. W. Butler was Headmaster.”

“The old building was very unsuitable, dull and cheerless. The upper school consisted of one large room and one small classroom. There were no cloakrooms or conveniences of any kind, and the sanitary arrangements in the small playground were most primitive.”

free school

“The whole building sadly wanted painting, but no money was spent; the reason given was that the Trustees were saving up to have enough money to build a new school.”

“We began work at 8 o’clock and finished at 5 o’clock, or later, with two hours’ break at midday. In winter we had to use candles… “long eights” I think they were called. One candle was allowed between two boys, and lighting them was the signal for all sorts of play. We amused ourselves by blowing the candles out and in again, making a nasty smelling smoke.”

gallows

“About the autumn of 1859, a man was sentenced to death in the Nottinghamshire Courts for a murder in the northern part of the county.

Our headmaster, the Rev.W.Butler, as Chaplain of the County Gaol, was required to read the burial Service at the execution, which was fixed for 8 o’clock one morning at the County Gaol in the High Pavement.”

The main building on High Pavement, which dates from 1770, is quite imposing. The Normans were the first to use this site, appointing a Sheriff to preserve law and order in Nottingham, and to collect taxes. The oldest written  mention of law courts comes in 1375.

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The cells are below street level. They date back to at least 1449.

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The scaffold used to be erected on the steps in front of the brown columns. There are special square holes cut in the stone steps to hold the wooden beams. They are still there to this day.

hanging-at-shire-hallThe dead hangees were buried in unconsecrated ground around the back of the building, their feet disrespectfully pointing towards Jerusalem.

Yard at Shire Hall with headston

“As usual we were at our desks at 8 o’clock on that particular morning, but the headmaster was absent. We all knew where he was, and each of us was thinking of him and visualising the dreadful scene which was being enacted only a short distance away. Back in school, the Deputy Master read prayers, and we waited, silent and awed. Presently the door was burst open, and poor Mr.Butler, with face white and drawn, stumbled in and staggered to his seat, almost spent. After resting awhile he stood up and said, “Boys, I have just come from….” and then he broke down. After recovering himself, he began again, and then he preached us a more impressive sermon than I have heard from any pulpit. As no one was in the mood for lessons we were sent home for the day…”

3716238The hanged man was one John Fenton, a blacksmith and publican, executed at the age of thirty-seven for the murder of Charles Spencer at Walkeringham on March 6th 1860. This was a public execution, held on the front steps of what is now the Shire Hall in High Pavement.

The crowd, however, was a lot smaller than expected. This was because, even though it was fourteen years previously, the last public hanging in Nottingham had resulted in the crushing to death of seventeen people, almost all of them children.

Given this blood soaked past, it is no surprise to find that the Galleries of Justice have a plethora of ghosts. On some wet Tuesday afternoons, there can sometimes be as many ghosts as living tourists. Here is a selection of the ghosts I saw on my own visit…

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Wooooooooooooo………………………………

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

Boot the Caretaker

Sir Jesse Boot, later the First Baron Trent, was, of course, a very famous figure in the history of Nottingham. In the High School, however, far more famous was Bill Boot, the school caretaker during the middle period of the twentieth century.

The school looked roughly the same in those days as it does now, except it was black and white.

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This photo shows the boys leaving school around this time.  Look at the great variety of means of transport compared to today…

around this time

Bill Boot was a much loved figure as the school caretaker, and in December 1949, the following poem appeared in the school magazine. It was a much modified version of the original, which was written by Lewis Carroll and appeared in his book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, published in 1865.

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It was written by F.Martin Hall and John G.Golds, and was dedicated to Mr.Boot…

“To Bill Boot on his 70th birthday

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your tooth is of marvellous length,
Yet your tap on the door makes the whole building rock,
Where on earth do you find all that strength ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I fought for the Queen,
Frequent exercise, Generals demanded,
I chased Kruger each morning around Spion Kop,
Do you wonder my muscles expanded ?

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your hair has long since turned quite grey,
Yet your voice like a clarion round the School rings,
How d’you manage such volume, I pray ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I served with Lord “Bobs,”
His commands could not travel by wireless
So I bawled them (in code) right across the Transvaal,
And my throat, by this means, became tireless.

You are old, Father William, yet your eagle eye
Seems as bright as the stars high in heaven,
Pray, how does your eyesight thus function so well,
With no help from Aneurin Bevan ?

I have answered your questions, the wrathful Sage said,
And as sure as my name’s William B.,
If you pester me further, my patience will go,
So be off, or I’ll put you in D.

(With apologies to Lewis Carroll. In the last verse it was considered impolite to suggest that Mr. Boot would actually threaten to kick anyone downstairs.) ”

Bill Boot retired as school caretaker only a year later in 1950, after twenty-eight years’ service. He was replaced by Mr.T.H.Briggs, who had previously worked as a policeman in the city.

Bill Boot had been in the British Army and had fought bravely in the Boer War of 1899-1902. He was famous among the boys for his rapid, shuffling gait, and his extremely rapid speech, which, with his accent,  frequently became almost unintelligible.

Bill’s hobby was fishing, and he travelled widely at weekends. When he retired, he received a small pension, but, alas, he did not live very long to enjoy it, as, tragically, he was killed as he was crossing the road on December 7th 1952. As far as I know, no photographs of Bill Boot have survived, and only Old Boys in their seventies would now be able to remember this fine gentleman “of the old school”, as they say.

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Filed under History, Humour, Literature, Nottingham, The High School