Tag Archives: Dame Agnes Mellers

More and more water, most of it under Trent Bridge (1)

In a previous article, I wrote about the flooding of Nottingham during  the modern era, and the ways in which we have learnt lessons from the floods of 1947 and constructed concrete embankments and sluices so that the River Trent is nowadays, to all intents and purposes, relatively tame. (“relatively” being the operative word.) If you walk down to Trent Bridge and look underneath the bridge on the City side, directly beneath the Riverbank Bar and Kitchen, however, you will see how the flood levels of previous years of watery disaster have been recorded. They are scarily impressive and well worth a visit:

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The very first records of floods in Nottingham are more a case of inference than anything else. According to the (Royal) Journal of the Statistical Society, Volume XLI and “The Insurance Cyclopaedia” by Cornelius Walford (I need to get out more):

“29 A.D. There was a great overflow of the River Trent in England”.

In 214 A.D. the entire River Trent was again in flood and overflowed its banks by some 20 miles on each side from the normal course of its flow. Many people were drowned as the whole Trent valley was awash and there was great destruction. Both of these dates are during the Roman era, although Nottingham was not, as far as I know, a Roman town. Perhaps they knew that an underlying band of hard rock could be used to ford the river and its adjacent marshes. Just to establish our dates firmly, here is a Roman. Like every single Roman, he is a legionnaire, although he doesn’t look particularly ill to me, but that hat is really something: Centurion_2_Boulzzzzzzz In 525 A.D. the entire Trent again burst its banks and a great number of cattle were drowned. The locals at his time may well have been Celts since we know that Nottingham, in the Brythonic Celtic language was called “Tigguo Cobauc”, meaning “The Place of Caves”. The Welsh may have been aware of Nottingham’s existence since they called it “Y Ty Ogofog” and even the distant Irish had a word or two for it, namely “Na Tithe Uaimh”, “The Cavey Dwelling”. Here are some Celts, managing to appear very, very fierce indeed, although admittedly, there is more than a dash of Village People in the overall look, especially the one at the front who may have no clothes on at all: gug7 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Whoever the locals were in 530 A.D., they would certainly have got extremely wet at some point. The mighty River Humber is known to have flooded extensively onto adjacent low-lying ground and most of the region’s cattle were drowned. Much of that excess of water, of course, was bound to have come from the River Trent, which feeds into the Humber. It is difficult to see how Nottingham, at the side of the River Trent, of course, could have escaped floods of such severity. It was slightly after this date that Nottingham, by now a small group of wooden huts and a line of washing, came under the sway of the wonderfully named “Snot”, an Anglo-Saxon chieftain. The place where “The Mighty Snot” lived was immediately called “Snotingaham”, the “home of the people of Snot the Magnificent”. At this time, “Snotingaham”, was part of the Kingdom of Elmet. Here is an Anglo-Saxon chief and his friend. What impressive elmets they are wearing: saxnb zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I just couldn’t resist that!

Next time, we will see what happens when Ragnar Lothbrok and his pals arrive in Nottingham on a seven-day-cruise in 867AD.

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

Last time, we had left Sir John More, the pious and God fearing father of England’s second Catholic martyr, making his choice about what coat of arms to have, now that he had come up in the world, and become first a lawyer and then a judge.  He was offered a completely free choice of design. He had no doubt been told of the possibility of having a visual pun on his shield. There is an heraldic bird called a moorcock, which is based on the male black grouse, a bird of the moors, and is characterized in heraldry by its two projecting tail feathers. Eventually, Sir John made his decision:

arm oooooooooooooooooooooo0000000oooo

A quite amazing result. Clearly, a direct hommage to Thomas à Becket, better known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury. There is no way that pious Sir John would have been ignorant of the Becket arms. He may even have been on a pilgrimage there himself.  Here is the coat of arms of the first Saint Thomas:

Becket-arms

Clearly, Dame Agnes too had felt the same attraction to those three black birds. For some still unknown reason, three black birds were beginning to have very strong connections with Catholic piety and Catholic saints.

Hanging Thomas à Becket’s choughs over the mantelpiece would not have been a problem in the early days of the sixteenth century when England was Roman Catholic, and owed its ultimate allegiance to the Pope in Rome. With the coming of the Reformation, however, things suddenly became very different. The Head of the now Protestant Church was now the King himself.

Henry VIII would not have wanted any reminders whatsoever about a prominent member of the now hated Catholic Church, who was murdered at the behest of a king called Henry, but who, eventually, was destined to triumph over him. Only three and a half years after the dirty deed, on July 12th 1174, the other Henry, Henry II, had had to carry out a public penance at Becket’s tomb and at the nearby church of St. Dunstan’s. The two churches became the most popular sites for pilgrims in the whole of England. King Henry VIII would have wanted absolutely nothing like this in his own reign.

And, clearly, he must have been scared stiff of exactly the same thing happening. And with good reason after the amazing coincidence of Sir Thomas More, a second prominent and pious Catholic done to death by a wilful monster of a king called Henry. The last thing Henry VIII would have wanted would have been the beginning of a new martyr cult among the overwhelmingly Catholic  population of England:

thomas more

Dame Agnes’ favourite coat of arms would now have become much more of a problem, not for Dame Agnes herself, because she had died well before 1527, the year when Henry first asked Pope Clement VII for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Instead, it would have been the fledgling school which might have faced problems. After all, those three black birds are a bit of a giveaway. Nobody was ever going to be mistaken about whose coat of arms they really were.

hery

Over the years, I think that the red legs and red beaks of Becket’s three choughs would probably have been allowed slowly and gradually to be forgotten, most likely once Dame Agnes herself had passed away, in probably April or possibly May, of 1514. In an area where choughs have probably never nested, namely the East Midlands, local people may not have considered their bright red legs and beak to be particularly important. Furthermore, in many cases, the birds would have been seen in a grayscale context where bright colours were totally absent, such as a carving in stone on a wall, or a drawing in pen and ink on a manuscript.

Certainly, in Heraldry, it has never been particularly difficult for birds’ legs to disappear. In actual fact, there has always been a black bird which has no feet or lower legs. It is called a “martlet” and is, more or less, the heraldic version of the barn swallow. And here is a barn swallow:

550px-Barn_Swallow

It is never represented with feet, the legs terminating in the feathers which cover the upper parts of the leg. Furthermore, many heraldry books also state that the “martlet” has no obvious beak, a useful detail if you are trying to tone down a large long bright red one.
Interestingly, some experts in Heraldry see a family tree which fits in quite neatly with my argument. In French heraldry, therefore, a blackbird may be a “merle” because that is the ordinary French word, even nowadays, for a blackbird. When the bird on the shield loses various bits of its body, it is called by a diminutive form, namely “merlette” and this then  becomes the “martlet” of English heraldry. The martlet in fact became commoner and commoner as it was used to indicate the arms of  the fourth son of any particular nobleman.
Here is just one “martlet”:

MartletSable

And here is a small flock of them:

522px-Argent_chevron_azure_three_martlets_sable_crescents_Or_svg

In French Heraldry the “merlette” has become an even stranger bird.  Although closely connected to the English martlet, it is always depicted with a swan-neck but without a beak, wings, feet or forked tail. It looks, in fact, worryingly like a duck in a car crash:

merlette3
For me, this may be where the confusion between “Mellers” and “merles” has
arisen. The choughs of Thomas à Becket have, over hundreds of years  on a wall a long way from Canterbury, gradually lost their bright beaks and legs and people have thought that they must be “martlets”.
As a word, of course, “martlet” is not a million miles from “merlette”, and “merlette” is not a million miles from “merle”. “Merle” is not a million miles from Mellers. It is this pure and total coincidence which has led people, always looking for logical explanations, to invent the story about the “merles” representing Mrs Mellers, creating an explanation that is historically and heraldically impossible. There have never been any “merles” in English Heraldry, either in this century or in the sixteenth.

badge

Months and months after I wrote these words, I found an online auction where a High School “Silver and Enamel Badge”, dating from 1935 was for sale. Interestingly enough, the three so-called “merles” on the badge have all been depicted with forked tails. In other words, they are not blackbirds, but black birds. And these black birds are clearly, because of their tails, martlets. This motorists’ badge must hark back to a mid-way period in the heraldic evolution from Becket’s chough to the erroneous, “merle”:

martlet badge

A very similar badge is in evidence in the Wills Cigarette card series of 1906, which depicts the coats of arms of England’s top public schools. I have always had visions of eleven and twelve year olds all smoking forty cigarettes a day just to get the complete set of cards. Anyway, here is the High School card, with the requisite “three Blackbirds rising proper”. Again, they have a forked tail:

three merles.jpg aaaaaa

Finally, here is a photograph of the old Stoney Street school, possibly the only one still extant:

stoney st

Look at the coat of arms (four o’clock from the word “stationer”). It doesn’t look very much like the present day badge. It is perhaps closer to being the missing link between Thomas à Becket’s choughs, martlets, merlettes and merles:

stoney st enlarged

The beauty about my ramblings is that they do explain away, quite effectively, a completely unrelated incident which has puzzled an admittedly tiny and fairly sad group of people over the last few decades.

In the school archives, there remains an account of how a long forgotten Old Nottinghamian discovered what appeared to him to be Dame Agnes Mellers’ coat of arms, carved on the roof of the cloisters at Durham Cathedral.

Durham_Cathedral_

This was the only coat of arms in the whole cathedral which the local experts in the north east had failed to identify. The only link of any kind which could be established between Durham Cathedral and Nottingham was the fact that Richard Barnes, Bishop-Suffragen of Nottingham in 1537, eventually became the Bishop of Durham. No connection whatsoever was discovered though, between Richard Barnes and Dame Agnes Mellers.
My supposition is that whoever carved the mystery coat of arms in the late twelfth century when the cloisters at Durham Cathedral were being constructed, was displaying his own allegiance to St Thomas à Becket. Certainly, from a historical viewpoint, the timing is just about right. Thomas à Becket was martyred in Canterbury Cathedral on December 20th 1170. Precisely the time when the cloisters  were being built, namely the latter part of the twelfth century. Perhaps the coat of arms was carved as an act of ecclesiastical defiance against King Henry II, rather like the people who chalked letter “V”s on walls in Nazi-occupied Europe. I couldn’t find a picture of that, so here is the next best thing:

Churchill_V_sign_HU_55521

And as a conclusion, let me add that, during their investigations on behalf of Durham Cathedral, the Heralds’ College could not find any indication whatsoever that either Richard or Agnes Mellers had ever used those particular arms with the three birds, the ones which the Old Boy had immediately recognised as those on his blazer pocket all those years ago.. The ones he had himself seen, carved on that stone fireplace, by someone, another lifetime before that:

badge cccccccc c

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

Last time, we looked at this shield which is that of Thomas Becket also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket.

Becket-arms

Born in probably 1118 or 1120, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 but was then martyred in Canterbury Cathedral on December 20th 1170 by followers of Henry II, namely Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton.

Surely this coat of arms is the easy and direct link with the “merles” of Dame Agnes Mellers?

badge

If you were scared stiff that your husband was on his way to Hell, then what better saint to recruit to your aid than the Numero Uno of English saints, the Head Honcho of martyrdom in England?  As one expert TV commentator recently said, in that original programme (to which, by now, I was giving my fullest attention):

“The most important English saint, by a wide margin.”

I think that Dame Agnes, like so many ordinary football supporters nowadays, did not have her own coat of arms or badge, but instead she was very attached to those of her hero. Not Nottingham Forest or Notts County for her, of course, but Thomas à Becket.

Perhaps Dame Agnes used to display Thomas à Becket’s coat of arms because, as a very pious  and religious person, a vowess of the future indeed, she had  already been on a pilgrimage to see the saint’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral:

camterbury cathedrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Dame Agnes may have done this on her husband’s behalf or she may have done it because it was what thousands and thousands of English Christians had always done over the centuries. Perhaps in the three hundred and fifty years since Becket’s death, a tacky tourist trade had built up, and Dame Agnes was able to buy her very own copy of the great saint’s shield, which she had then hung up over her mantelpiece for all her friends to see. We will never know, but for me, the visual coincidence between the two coats of arms is quite stunning. Black birds, of course, are not particularly common on heraldic shields. Eagles, yes, but not a great deal beyond that. Everybody preferred lions.

Game set and match for my theory is the coat of arms of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), the Lord Chancellor of Henry VIII but more significantly perhaps, the second most important English saint, venerated by all English Catholics as Saint Thomas More. When King Henry wanted to divorce the barren Queen Catherine of Aragon in the hope of fathering a male heir with Anne Boleyn as his new, younger, sexier, more fertile and six fingered Queen, Sir Thomas More “steadfastly refused to take the oath of supremacy of the Crown in the relationship between the kingdom and the church in England.”

More would not retreat from his belief in the supremacy of the Pope over the King. He was beheaded on July 6th 1535. Before he died, More proclaimed to the watching crowd, that he was:

“the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”:

execution

As a young man Thomas had thought seriously more than once of giving up his legal career to become a monk. And now he was a martyr, and well on his way to becoming a saint.

It would be amazing, of course, if his father had had no influence on his growing son. How could the young Saint Thomas have been so pious and so spiritual had his father not influenced him at any point? Clearly, Sir John must have been a very staunch Catholic to have produced a son like Thomas. Here is the only known depiction of Sir John:

220px-Sir_John_More_xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

That pious father of the saint, Sir John More, was born around 1451 and died in 1530. He was a lawyer and eventually became a judge. As he rose in society, he was offered the chance of a coat of arms of his own. He may have been told of the possibility of having a shield with a striking visual pun. There is an heraldic bird called a moorcock, which is based on the male black grouse, a bird of the high moors, and is characterized in heraldry by its two projecting tail feathers:

moorcock-261x300

An ordinary cockerel has a curved over tail, and in heraldry is really much less desirable, quite often being referred to as a “dunghill cockerel”:

cock-265x300

Sir John was left to make his choice. You’ll find out what it was next time.

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“Go straight to Hell ! Do not pass Go ! ” Part Two

In the first part of this article, I demonstrated how Richard Mellers, the husband of Dame Agnes, was, at best, a fairly unscrupulous businessman. I ended by relating how, in 1507, Richard had received a pardon for having committed offenses against the statutes of weights and measures. This charge related to problems with the purity of his bells. The metal, apparently, was just not as valuable as he said it was. Richard’s pardon would have been granted because of his previous position as Mayor of Nottingham. A less prestigious person would have been in very, very, serious trouble:

Church-bells-001

Dame Agnes, of course, may well have known absolutely nothing whatsoever about any of this rather serious matter. Like many, many husbands over the centuries, Richard may have decided, quite simply, to tell her nothing at all about it. And if she did know about her husband’s cheating and double dealing, then, like many, many wives over the centuries, she may perhaps have turned a blind eye to it, hoping that one day her errant husband would rejoin the forces of light.

He didn’t though. At least not for long, because on or about Sunday, June 16th 1507, Richard Mellers died, with the ink on the pardon if not still wet, then certainly recognisably damp. I think Dame Agnes would have seen his sudden demise as a direct consequence of his previous wrongdoing. She must have thought that her husband’s death so soon after receiving a pardon was the true verdict from on high.

In more modern, medical, terms, Richard may well just have hastened a natural death by continually feeling guilty or by worrying too much about the outcome of the affair. He may, quite simply, have been a victim of early sixteenth century stress. Irrespective of the clinical truth, though, for a devout woman in Tudor times, these events must have seemed like a clear judgement from Heaven.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, it would have been completely impossible for a sincere and devout Roman Catholic to be in any conceivable way ignorant of the rôle played by Hell in the scheme of things. How can Dame Agnes have possibly thought back about her husband’s life, misdemeanours and sudden death, and not have seen him as the proud possessor of a “Go straight to Hell, Do not pass Go, Do not collect a ticket to Heaven” card?

That must have been a very, very real fear in her mind.

Here’s how the Rock Combo “AC/DC” saw the situation, firstly on an album cover:

hqdefault

And then on stage:

More or less straightway after his death, therefore, Dame Agnes, the grieving widow, became a “vowess”. She resolved never to remarry, and instead to devote herself to the service of the church.

A “vowess” is defined in the Collins English Dictionary as:

“a woman who has vowed chastity or devotion to a religious life; a nun”.

Other dictionaries tell pretty much the same tale. One other interesting detail about vowesses is given in “The Customs of Old England” by F. J. Snell. Writing about how a vowess would view her obligations, he states that:

“Whatever fasts a vowess might neglect as non-obligatory, it seems probable that she would not willingly forgo any opportunity of showing reverence to the Blessed Virgin.”

More of this later.

Immediately after her husband’s death, Dame Agnes tried to repay many of his victims. She literally gave them back the exact sums of money which she was worried they had lost to her husband.

She then decided to spend the rest of Richard’s money on charitable causes. Most important of all, she decided to found a school. Or alternatively, she decided to fund a school which was already in existence and was clearly in need of financial assistance. She must have known that this one simple act would benefit the citizens of Nottingham in the long term, and make up for the occasions when, for short term gain, her late husband had cheated them. Here is the grateful city in 1610. St Mary’s church is marked with the letter “A”. Keep looking. It is there:

speed-map

Before the official first day of her school, February 2nd 1513, there had already been eleven apparent references to a “Nottingham Grammar School” between 1289 and 1513. At this point in time, of course, it is impossible to tell what connection, if any, there is, with Dame Agnes’ school. Indeed, we do not even know if the eleven schools mentioned before 1513 have a continuous history, or whether they were all short lived affairs.

Having said that, though, Dame Agnes may well have decided to develop an ancient original grammar school into her own school. This original establishment may have depended solely on fees paid by the pupils. Dame Agnes perhaps thought it would be a good idea to establish a foundation, which would then ensure a much better financial future for the school. Equally, she may well have wished to take personal dcontrol of an older school, and then, as a loyal Catholic, to bring it under the control of St Mary’s Church.

Whatever the details of founding, funding, refounding or whatever, from Dame Agnes’ point of view, the most important thing was that the school  should remain closely linked to St Mary’s Church. This, of course, carries out the words of F. J. Snell. Her efforts with this school clearly showed that Dame Agnes would “not willingly forgo any opportunity of showing reverence to the Blessed Virgin”. Here is St Mary’s Church nowadays:

ch 4

All this sounds like heresy now, of course, after a whole series of celebrations have commemorated the 500th Anniversary of the school, and books have been published, but these ideas are not actually mine own. In “The Nottinghamian” for 1924, for example, there was a clear connection stated in the school magazine between the older schools from before 1513 and the then Nottingham High School. Dr James Gow, the school’s greatest Headmaster, had died this particular year:

dr gow

In his obituary, it was said that:

“he was appointed Headmaster of the Nottingham High School, an ancient Grammar School, already existing in the thirteenth century, and refounded and endowed by Dame Agnes Mellers, under a Charter of King Henry VIII, in 1513.”

These words are anonymous, but were most probably written by Mr “Sammy” Corner who had been the school’s Deputy Headmaster until his retirement in 1914. Mr Corner had spent much of his spare time researching school history and had become a great expert. Much of this knowledge was to appear in the school magazine which he edited for many years, and which at one point had contained a serialised history of the school. After his retirement, the plan was that Mr Corner would finish writing his history of the High School.

Alas, this popular member of staff was destined never to write his book, as the Great War broke out only a month after he was due to start work, and, despite his advanced age, Mr Corner went off to do his bit for the war effort. At the end of the conflict, Mr Corner moved from Nottingham to Croydon, but his life’s work was to remain forever uncompleted, a source of great regret, as he later told Mr Reynolds, the Headmaster, in a letter. This is the great Sammy Corner in 1913, showing off the school’s charter in the 400th anniversary celebrations in 1913:

sammy corner s

On the afternoon of Monday, November 13th, 1933, similar ideas about the school’s history to those in Dr Gow’s obituary were being expressed by the Duke of Portland, when he performed the formal opening ceremony for two new High School buildings, the Gymnasium and the newly converted Library.

This very same interpretation was obviously still current around this time, when Mr.C.L.Reynolds, the Headmaster, wrote his own brief history of “The Buildings of Nottingham High School”. He described the events of 1513 as “…the re-foundation or endowment of the School by Dame Agnes Mellers.” Here is Mr Reynolds, seen with the prefects, in an unknown year, probably in the 1930s:

reynolds

Furthermore, a document more contemporary to Dame Agnes’ time said that what Dame Agnes was doing was to “…unite, create and establishe a Free Scole” as if there were some definite connection between her school and the Nottingham schools of previous centuries. Similarly, she is referred to in a number of other early documents not as a “foundress” but as a “fundress”, as if she were building and strengthening what was already there.

If this is the case, then it would give the High School a history of some seven hundred years, making it one of the oldest schools in the country. But not the oldest.

How that fear of the “Go straight to Hell, Do not pass Go, Do not collect a ticket to Heaven” card must have haunted Dame Agnes. As well as her wonderful achievements with the school, she also laid down that a service of commemoration for her deceased husband should be held every year on June 16th. This latter date is thought to have been chosen because it was the Feast Day of St Richard of Gloucester. Interestingly enough, St Richard’s shrine in Chichester Cathedral, at this time, was a magnificently decorated and popular destination for the Tudor Pilgrim. Perhaps Dame Agnes had been there herself as a dedicated vowess:

Chichester_Cathedral_epodkopaev

The ceremony which Dame Agnes had requested was, of course, a solemn Roman Catholic mass for the soul of her dear departed husband. It is thought that this mass was probably celebrated for about thirty five years, until such services were abolished by order of the then king, Edward VI. This same type of mass may then possibly have been revived under the Catholic Queen Mary, but it certainly would have disappeared for ever when the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558.

Even in the 1660s though, some hundred and fifty years after Dame Agnes, the students still went every Friday during the period of Lent, with their teachers, to visit St.Mary’s church, and kneel in front of the tombs of Richard and Agnes Mellers, and say prayers for their souls, and the souls of all their relatives. And even nowadays, every year on Founder’s Day, the congregation still says prayers for the souls of Dame Agnes, and more importantly perhaps, her husband, Richard. This is Founder’s Day in 1957, a beautiful backlit day:

founders dfay

This is the Cheese and Ale Ceremony in the same year:

cheese and ale 1933

They’re going to get very drunk very quickly if they fill those tankards too frequently. Here is the traditional Cricket Match on that sunlit afternoon in 1957:

cricket 1957

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“Go straight to Hell ! Do not pass Go ! ” Part One

Having explored the history of the High School for more than twenty five years, I have always thought that the school’s beginnings are shrouded in mystery. For me, the High School has always been very like the Soviet Union:

“a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”

What do we know about the founder of the school, Dame Agnes Mellers, for example? What was she like as a person? There are a very few illustrations which are thought to be her. This is the school’s charter:

charter

And here is a close-up of Dame Agnes and King Henry VIII:

charter001

This is the charter changed into a line drawing:

agnes

For me, there have always seemed to have been two enormously important motivating forces in her character. The first was her staunch religious faith as a Roman Catholic with a sincere love of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Dame Agnes seems in many ways to have been an uncomplicated soul, who viewed the world in a simple direct way. She tried to be a good person, with the sincere belief that we should all try to make things better rather than worse, that we should do good things rather than evil and that we should always strive to be on the side of the Angels.

The second motivation for her was the love she had for her husband, Richard, which seems as sincere and unswerving as her love for the Church. Richard was, as his name suggests, a rich man. He was at one time or another, Sheriff of Nottingham (1472-1473), Chamberlain (1484-1485) and Royal Commissioner and Mayor of Nottingham (1499-1500 and again in 1506). In 1499, he is known to have given twenty shillings to help repair the Hethbeth Bridge, as Trent Bridge’s predecessor was called. Here is one of the last photographs ever taken of the old bridge before it was superseded by the present Trent Bridge. You can certainly see why it was easier for the river to freeze up in those days:

old-trent-bridge-1871xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is all that remains of the Hethbeth Bridge nowadays:

771942beth heth xxxxxxxxxxx

It is in the middle of a road island to the south of Trent Bridge. If you decide to take a look at it, be very careful of the traffic and use the proper crossings. Look for the (camouflaged) orange arrow in the centre of the (red) road junction:

trent

Richard Mellers was a brazier, and probably a potter, and he had certainly dealt in metal pots and dishes. Most important of all, he owned the largest church bell-foundry in the region. The site of his premises has long disappeared, but its exact location is still known today.

From 1888 onwards, just a very few yards north of the city centre, steps began to clear away:

“a curious V-shaped slice of slum property…a most unhygienic and immoral neighbourhood and nothing good could be said for it”.

This slum clearance took a number of years, and resulted in the formation of King Street and Queen Street, the latter being opened on June 22nd, 1892.

During this time, it was inevitable that, along with all the slums and all the undesirable features, a few other more reputable premises were destined to disappear. Among these was Richard Mellers’ Bell Foundry, which is known to have stood more or less exactly on the site of the present day Queen Street Post Office. The orange arrow points to the general area, and the letters PO stand for the purple edged Post Office:

king street

Perhaps it was working so close to such an “immoral neighbourhood” that deflected Richard away from the straight and narrow. He had, for example, already paid out £20 to be the Mayor of  Nottingham for twelve months. There wasn’t really much of the democratic process involved here, or indeed, much evidence of any genuine interest in the workings of democracy. That payment of £20, a rather sizeable sum of money by modern standards, may well have been the reason that, in the very same year, Richard had been so keen to do a good deed by paying  for the upkeep of the ever ailing Hethbeth Bridge.

Richard was certainly widely known as a fairly unscrupulous businessman. During his lifetime, in his efforts to acquire great personal wealth, he certainly seems to have cheated many of his bell buying customers. In 1507, for example, we know that Richard had received a pardon for having committed offenses against the statutes of weights and measures. This charge is believed to have related to problems with the purity of his bells and the metal they contained. The pardon would only have been granted because of his previous position as Mayor of Nottingham. A less prestigious person would have been in very, very, serious trouble. These bells, though, are all 100% the real peal:

100911_Lowell_bells_147.jpg

To be continued……………………….

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Water, water everywhere, especially past Trent Bridge

In a recent blogpost, I mused about the cold past of our city, and how the River Trent had frozen over on a number of occasions in the nineteenth century, the last being in 1892. Previous years when similar brass monkey weather conditions had occurred were 1682, 1814, 1838 and 1855. In all of these winters, the River Trent at Nottingham had literally frozen over from one bank to the other. I found these extremes of weather really quite interesting, so I continued to do further research of my own. I duly found some extra details, such as, for example, the sad fact that:

“on 10 January 1814, seven boys drowned in the River Trent in England by the breaking of the ice.”

One or two more examples of extreme cold have since come to light, in years of which I had previously been completely ignorant. During the winter of 1092-1093, for example, when William Rufus was king:

“the River Thames and all the English rivers (were) heavily locked in with ice”. There was severe frost in this winter. English rivers (were) frozen so hard that horsemen and wagons could travel on them.”

When warmer weather finally came, however:

“drifting ice on the rivers destroyed bridges, and mills were carried away”.

Here is William Rufus, who was to be killed by an arrow in the New Forest:

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Four hundred years later, the River Trent was frozen near Nottingham in the winter of 1485-1486. When the thaw finally came, “the bridge at Newark-on-Trent was swept away.” In 1766, on February 15th, a great snowstorm hit Nottinghamshire, which lasted fifty hours. That is a lot of snow!

Our old friend “Wikipedia” provided a great deal of historical detail about this kind of event, not all of it totally fascinating, although the word “palaeochannel” was new to me and it does contain three unusual vowels in a row. Here’s one I photographed earlier:

paleo chanaell zzzzzzz

I knew that Giant Floods generally follow any Big Freeze but it was interesting to see that, in the modern era, the worst flooding experienced in Nottingham came very soon after the vast snows of the winter of 1946-1947 had melted. This melt was extremely sudden because of continuous heavy rain throughout March. The result was extensive and severe flooding all along the valley of the Trent. During this flood the peak flow of the Trent was 39,100 cubic feet per second, thirteen times the norm. As many as 9,000 houses were flooded and almost one hundred industrial premises were awash, with floodwater up to the height of the first floor. Here are one or two photographs of the flooding. These are of West Bridgford:

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Here is Arkwright Street next to the railway station:

arkwright st

This is the aptly named Canal Street:

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Here is a picture of the River Trent near the present day Harry Ramsden’s and Toys-r-us. On the left is Wilford Power Station, demolished in the 1980s, and on the right, Clifton Colliery which disappeared even before this (possibly through flooding?):clif colli wilf power station

Here is Beeston, looking remarkably like Venice:

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This photograph is just about recognisable as Melton Road in West Bridgford:

220px-Melton_Road_in_the_floods_of_March_1947_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1537395

This natural disaster in 1947 was the beginning of our modern attempts to tame the river, by building concrete embankments and sluices in an effort to avoid the surging floods which had devastated Long Eaton, Beeston, the Meadows area, Colwick and West Bridgford on more than one occasion during this period. Here is the Trent, with early concrete steps visible only on the far side of the river, and just a grassy slope on this, southern, side:

before concrete

This photograph was probably taken in the 1950s, with concrete embankments on both sides. Trent Bridge is in the background, so we must be looking north:

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Nowadays, the concrete steps near Wilford Suspension Bridge would stop a Soviet tank. Well, perhaps make them feel a little motion sick:

nearcounty hsall

Here’s the other side, looking north towards Trent Bridge and the green roof of County Hall:

concrete zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

These are the sluices on the river between Holme Pierrepont and Colwick, designed to hold back excessive flood water so that it can be released gradually at sensible intervals. By the way, firm promises have now been given that the next time they release fifty billion gallons of floodwater, not only will they look first to see if any anglers are fishing at the riverside, but they will also sound a warning klaxon:

colwick sluives zzzzzzzzzzz

This huge construction work of the modern era seems to have been completely successful. During the Millenium Flood of November 2000, the peak flow of the Trent was 36,000 cubic feet per second, around twelve times the norm, and certainly comparable to the conditions experienced in 1946-1947. But this time, the 15,000 homes at risk were completely unaffected and there was none of the widespread flooding seen in 1947 within the city:

flood 2000

In this photo the flooded Trent is, for the most part, still contained within its banks, although Nottingham Forest’s pitch does look as if it may be somewhat waterlogged.  All of the floodwater in the background, by the way, is, for the most part, lying harmlessly on playing fields.

 

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