Tag Archives: british public school

My latest book

snip-of-coverThose of you who follow my blog will be familiar with the many stories I have told about Nottingham High School; its Founders, its coat of arms, its war heroes, its caretakers and its one or two villains. I have recently finished compiling these stories, and many more, into a new book called Nottingham High School: The Anecdotal History of a British Public School, published with Lulu.com.

My history is an entertaining one about the people behind the institution – what they thought, said, and did from the reign of Henry VIII up to the modern era. I want to tell the stories of the ordinary people whose actions changed the history of Nottingham forever, and those whose lives had much wider influence on the history of our country and on the lives of people across the world. I tell the tales of all people connected with the High School – teachers, support staff, boys, alumni… from caretakers to kings!

image_update_72e24141db868b82_1348683417_9j-4aaqskThe book is written in diary form and runs from Thursday, June 30th 1289 to Thursday, July 12th 2012. It’s an easy read that you can dip in and out of as you wish. Find out about the antics of the boys, the excesses of the staff, the sacrifices of the alumni, and the castle-like school building in all its majesty.

My book contains new and previously unpublished research into the lives of some of the most famous ex-pupils of the school. Read about the childhood of scurrilous author D.H.Lawrence, whose controversial books were still banned 50 years after he wrote them. Read about the disruptive antics of Albert Ball V.C., the daring air ace who always fought alone. Read about American Old Boy, Major General Mahin of the U.S. Army, a man whose power and authority in the Second World War rivalled that of General Patton, until he was killed (or was it murder?).

The tone of my work is interesting and light, but at the same time, as you know from my blogposts, I can show my more serious side when occasion demands. A very large number of former pupils from the High School died in the two World Wars and their sacrifices are reflected in my book.

I have really enjoyed writing this new history book, and I hope that you will find it an entertaining and intriguing read. If you would like to give it a go, then it is now available from my page on Lulu.com.

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Filed under Aviation, Criminology, History, Literature, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Writing

Where did those three “merles” come from? Part One

Not many people would be able to answer this question.

What exactly is “Ermine a Lozenge Argent charged with three Blackbirds rising proper on a Chief Gules an open Book also proper garnished Or between two Ducal Coronets of the last.” ?

Well, it’s one of these, more or less. What’s a lozenge between friends?:

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

The origin of the High School’s coat of arms has always been, to me, a major enigma. Apparently, there has always supposed to have been a connection between the arms of Dame Agnes’ family, namely “Mellers” and another family called Mellor, who lived in Mellor, a village between Stockport and Glossop.

(Where?)

(Well, let’s put it this way. in either town you can easily get a bus to Manchester. It’s a distance of some seven miles and twelve miles respectively)

Here is their coat of arms:

0mellor coat of

To me though there is quite a difference in spelling between Mellor and Mellers, although the Mellor coat of arms is obviously a reasonable fit with the school’s crest.

This theory, though, does rely almost totally on the supposition that Richard Mellers was related to this “Family in the North” whose coat of arms displayed three black birds. In actual fact, there is no reason to suppose any proven link whatsoever between the two families. After all, it’s a very long way between Nottingham and Stockport in late medieval times. More than ninety miles, in fact. The best part of a week on foot, not counting any unexpected meetings with Robin Hood and his Merrie Men.

Let’s look at a small number of other likely coats of arms. Let’s start with Mellers. It should be said that Dame Agnes herself always spelt her name as “Mellers” (but never as “Mellor”):

For “Mellers”, we find very few coats of arms, but there is this one:

meller_c

Let’s try “Meller”. We do find this one, and furthermore, the very same shield is listed elsewhere as “Mellers” :

meller_cThat’s not the answer, though,, because we also find this shield for Meller, as well:

meller-ireland

And this one:

meller_large irish

And this one:

Smeller red

Clearly, something, somewhere, is not quite right. It may even be very wrong. There are problems here, and the first major one may well be connected with the simple issue of the spelling of Dame Agnes’ surname. Despite her own insistence on Mellers, mentioned above, a quick look at “Google Images” will reveal that Mellers, Mellor, Meller and probably Mellors, appear to be disturbingly interchangeable.Coats of arms just seem to come and go. They are different every tine you look at Google. This is because, I suspect, they are connected less with accurate heraldry than the desire to sell tee-shirts, mugs, key rings, ties and even underpants with your family crest on them.

Those black birds on the High School shield have always been regarded as Blackbirds, an everyday bird species in England:

blackbird

The theory is that the heraldic word for a blackbird is “merle”, taken from the French, and this gives us a devilishly funny pun for the surname “Mellers”. Such side splitters are called “Canting Arms”. They are used to  establish a visual pun, as in the following examples:

canting
I am just not sure about this word “merle”. Just because a coat of arms contains a number of black birds (as opposed to green ones), that does not automatically mean that we are dealing with canting arms, even if the French word “merle” refers to our familiar back garden bird, the Blackbird, aka turdus merula, and the name “Mellers” sounds perhaps, possibly, maybe, slightly, conceivably, like it.

What is more disturbing, though, is the discovery that “merle” appears to mean absolutely nothing whatsoever in English Heraldry. On Amazon, the search for “Heraldry” reveals five books, all with the same title. It is “A Complete Guide to Heraldry” by A.C.Fox-Davis:

fox daviesThis rather old book is the standard work on English Heraldry and has been for quite a considerable time. It is a book of some 645 pages, but there is not a single “merle” on any one of them.  And more important still, if merles did actually exist in Heraldry, then why did the Heralds’ College, known also as the College of Arms, call these birds “blackbirds” when they made that formal grant-of-arms to the school as recently as 1949? Why didn’t they call them “merles” and thereby preserve the “Laugh, I nearly died” visual pun?
And don’t think that the College of Arms are just a bunch of fly-by-night door-to-door sellers of heraldic key rings and underwear. They were founded well before Dame Agnes Mellers, in fact as far back as 1484. To quote the definition on the Heraldry Society website:

“The College of Arms is the only official English authority for confirming the correctness of armorial ensigns — Arms, Crests, Supporters and Badges — claimed by descent from an armigerous ancestor, or for granting new ones to those who qualify for them.”

In other words, if they say it’s a blackbird it’s a blackbird. You can’t just decide to call it a “merle” because you feel like it, or because it seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s just not allowed. Here is another blackbird, just to refresh your memory:

Blackbird-01

In 1920 at least, nobody called it a “merle”. In June of that year, the new school magazine, “The Highvite” contained a “Sports Chorus”, including appropriately vigorous music. The words were…

“Score our High School / ye Highvites now score for victory.
Our High School / For Highvites, never, never, never shall be beaten
By any Worksop / Newark & c. team
At the Sign of the Blackbirds three.”

No “merles” there then. It is equally interesting to note that in “The Nottinghamian” of December 1921, the school’s emblem is again referred to as containing blackbirds, rather than merles. This overturning of tradition, however, does not mean that the use of three black birds does not connect us directly with Dame Agnes. Let’s look at it from a different angle, just for a moment.

Many people have believed over the years that it was only when the school changed its site from Stoney Street to Arboretum Street in 1867 that the three black birds were first adapted. But this was definitely not the case since photographs from the mid-nineteenth century show quite clearly that a badge with three birds was displayed on the wall of the Free School building. In this case, though, their wings were folded rather than the modern version, flapping and ready for immediate and dynamic intellectual and sporting take-off:

stoney st enlarged

Indeed, it is thought that the three black birds were in evidence as an unofficial badge for the school from at least June 16th 1808 onwards. On this date, an unknown but apparently very bored clerk has decorated the title page of the funky new volume of the Schoolwardens’ Annual Balance Sheets with the traditional three black birds, so it has clearly been known as a symbol connected with the school for a very long time.

Interestingly enough, another slightly more modern place where the birds’ wings can be seen as folded dates from 1936, when some new stained glass sections were put into the windows at the back of the recently built Assembly Hall:

assembly hall

And nowadays, of course, this folded wings version forms the badge of the Old Nottinghamians’ Society. Presumably, that is why they appear in this guise on a car badge being sold off on ebay:

car badge

Next time, I will attempt to answer the question of where did those black birds come from? In the meantime here’s a clue. Not all black birds are Blackbirds:

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

 

 

 

 

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

“500 Happy Returns” Now on Sale!

500 happy returns nottingham high school's birthdayI am thrilled to announce that my new book, 500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthday, is now available for purchase. Over the past month or so I’ve been working on the finished publication, and I’m delighted that it’s now ready to be presented to customers. The proof copies arrived about a week ago, and it was very exciting to see a giant word document transformed into a real, physical book. Now I’m getting excited all over again when I see the book listed on Amazon!

This book is the culmination of a creative writing project to commemorate the school’s half millennium milestone. I invited all the staff, pupils (from age 4-18), cleaners, and support staff to write a hundred words about their day, preferably linking their entry to a specific time. I had the idea that these entries could tell the story of the school day minute-by-minute from a broad perspective. Participation was entirely voluntary, and I was really pleased to get around 800 contributions from members of the school. The good news is that these entries cover the whole day and now you can pick up a book that charts a typical school day in a top British public school at the turn of the twenty-first century. It’s great to be able to see such a tangible product at the end of a school project, and I hope that all staff and pupils involved really like what has been achieved, and enjoy seeing their contributions in the book.

Hopefully, a lot of people will enjoy reading this volume, especially as it commemorates the 500th birthday of the school and all the profits are being donated to the school’s bursary funds. So here’s hoping that this publication will provide a lasting legacy for the education of gifted children years down the line!

Now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

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New book sent to the press!

cover of bookJust a quick announcement to say how happy I am that we’ve managed to secure a publisher for our school project. In February the school celebrated its 500th birthday, and we asked each member of the school – staff, boys (aged 4-18), cleaners, support staff, and caterers – to record what they were doing at any part of their working day in 100 words. I’ve finished editing all the reports, and I’m pleased to say that we have a minute-by-minute snapshot of the school on its 500th birthday from over 800 perspectives.

I was originally planning on releasing the book just on Kindle, but I am very pleased to be able to tell you that there will be a physical edition of the book as well! You will be able to buy paperback copies of the books from Amazon, or download it straight to your Kindle.

All proceeds from the sale of this volume will be donated to the school’s bursary funds which provide crucial financial help to children from all backgrounds.

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Publishing a New Book – Cover Just Finished!

We’ve just finished working on the cover for the Kindle release of our new book – check it out!

The Lady in Waiting

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been preparing a new book for publication on behalf of my Dad. John Knifton has been editing a commemorative volume as part of the celebrations of Nottingham High School’s 500th anniversary (the school was originally opened way back in the days of Henry VIII). All profits from this book will be donated to the school’s bursary funds, which enable gifted boys from all backgrounds to attend the school.

500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthdayis a unique celebration of the school’s anniversary, recording the events of the day from a huge range of perspectives. A few weeks ago, on February 1st, everybody at Nottingham High School was invited to write a short description of what they had done in any given part of their day. This included all the teachers, all the support staff and all the boys, from the very youngest…

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New Book Coming Soon!

John Knifton blog picSometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll be publishing my new book about the 500th anniversary of Nottingham High School.

500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthday is a unique celebration of the school’s anniversary, recording the events of the day from a huge range of perspectives. A few weeks ago, on February 1st, everybody at Nottingham High School was invited to write a short description of what they had done in any given part of their day. This included all the teachers, all the support staff and all the boys, from the very youngest in Lovell House (aged 4) to the young men of Year 13.

I have now finally finished collating the results, which total almost 800 individual contributions. It has produced a fascinating, and perhaps poignant, minute-by-minute snap shot of life in a public school at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

As soon as the book is published I will post details of how to get a copy on this website, so please come back soon.

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