Tag Archives: Derbyshire

A good man doesn’t stand by (1)

Some time ago, I showed you a picture of the England football team all making their Nazi salute at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on May 14th 1938:

England-Germany 1938 nazi.xsderftgyhb

They were not the only foreigners to greet the Führer with a cheery “Sieg Heil”. Here, just a year later, is the Republic of Ireland football team engaged in pretty much the same behaviour:

Ireland-Germany-1

Let’s just leave that for a short while, and move westwards to the English Midlands. To South Derbyshire, and more precisely, the little village where my Dad, Fred, grew up.

During those long sunny summers and cold snowy winters after the Great War, Fred’s home was at Number 39, Hartshorne Lane, Woodville. The house was called “Holmgarth”, and it was the very last house in the little village of Woodville as you went down the hill towards the neighbouring village.

After Fred’s house, the only dwellings were just a couple of very large detached houses set well back from the road, either side of a small, shared, lake. This was just a few yards beyond the massive blue brick railway bridge, which carried the old passenger railway line from Woodville Station towards the neighbouring town. Here it is, being demolished in the early 1980s:

demolition

Hartshorne Lane in the 1930s was made of gravel, and there was so little traffic that it was perfectly possible for boys to play football or cricket all day long without any interruption whatsoever. Boys, including Fred, regularly knocked their cricket stumps into the soft surface of the road:

hart road 2 START HERE

Indeed, the whole area was still so countrified, that one day in 1929, 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 fear. Fred though, thought that this was a good example of somebody getting their just deserts.

Fred’s father, Will, used to work at either Wraggs or Knowles clayworks, a couple of miles away. He would finish his working week at lunchtime on Saturday, and then return home immediately to make sure that he did not miss the football match at Derby, which started at three o’clock:

aerial 1

First of all, though, he would always strip to the waist and wash off all his grime in the kitchen sink.

When Fred was too young to accompany him, Will would walk to the match at the rather strangely named Baseball Ground in Derby. His knowledge of shortcuts, and his willingness to walk over the fields, meant that he could reduce the usual distance by road of twelve or thirteen miles to a walk of only some ten miles or so.

This all came to an abrupt end, though, when Will began to take his young son Fred to the match:

AD with grandma 3

Everything had to change. They would both stroll the short distance down Hartshorne Road until they reached the so-called Lovers’ Walk, a path, complete with romantic tinkling brook, which ran as a well-known short cut, up to the end of Station Street. From here father and son would take the train together from Woodville Station to the Baseball Ground at Derby, hiding away in the middle of a thousand terraced houses.

baseballground_ssssssssssssssssssssssss

Sometimes, though, they preferred to catch the ordinary bus in Hartshorne Lane. There was, in actual fact, great competition between the train and bus companies, with occasional, but regular, price wars. The usual fare was one shilling and a halfpenny, but first one, and then the other, company would knock the halfpenny off in a bid to steal a march over their rivals.

Whatever method of transport they used, Fred and Will always left for the match around one o’clock or half past one.

In the early 1930s, Derby County’s goalkeeper was a man called Jack Kirby. He came from Newhall, a mining village just the other side of Swadlincote from Woodville. Kirby had joined Derby County, a professional soccer team in the top division, from a little amateur team, Newhall United, in April 1929. He made his debut for Derby at the top level in the 1929-30 season:

kirbhy

In those days, footballers did not assemble for a pre-match meal at some prestigious hotel. Indeed, Jack used to travel to every Derby home game on his bicycle from his terraced house in Newhall. This was a distance of some thirteen or fourteen miles.

On alternate Saturdays, therefore, Kirby would come slowly past Fred’s house on his bicycle at around one o’clock.  He still had, perhaps, an hour and a half to travel the twelve or so miles to Derby. Fred and his father Will would watch out for him, have a quick chat, and invariably joke that Jack was going to miss the start of the game. Kirby never hurried, though, keeping always to what Fred and Will both considered to be a worryingly snail like pace.

There was more to Jack, though, than just banter about the speed of his cycling. Jack really was the good man who refused to stand by and do nothing, so that evil might prosper. For now though, here is Jack in action against Newcastle United:jfk0072211209 - Copy

The English First Division could be a really rough place in 1934:

jfk0072210208

Jack was a handsome devil, and like all proper goalkeepers, his doting old mum always knitted him a nice warm pullover:

jfk0072210208 - Copy

He was very good at latching on to the heavy, invariably wet football of the era, with hands as big as buckets:

jfk0072209207

The secret was practice, practice, practice. Even if people in the house next to the ground keep spying on you as you train:

jack again

Soon, we will all hear the story of how Jack proved to the whole world that he really was the good man who refused to stand by and do nothing.  Jack was not prepared to let evil prosper.

 

 

 

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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:
DCIM100MEDIA
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:

P1120126
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:

220px-Colin_Blackburn,_Vanity_Fair,_1881-11-19

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

Last time, I posed a number of questions about the three black birds on the school crest, the so-called “merles”, and the coats of arms of a number of different families with the surname Meller, Mellers, Mellor and even Mellors:

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

If you remember, I was far from convinced that there was any connection between Dame Agnes and any of these families, the closest of them a minimum of a week’s journey away in Manchester. I was equally doubtful about the existence of “merles” as a bird in English heraldry. Indeed, overall, in English, the word “merle” does not really seem to relate particularly strongly to birds at all.

Wikipedia, for example, states that “merle” is a first name used by both men and women, a surname of French origin, a rather beautiful pattern in dogs’ coats, another name for the wine grape Merlot, a German glider originally built in 1938 for the 1940 Olympics gliding competition, a Crusader fort near Tantura on the coast of Israel and finally mentions the fact that the MS Phocine, a ferry, was originally named MS Merle.

In the bird world, Wikipedia states that it is a name for the “Icterid varieties of which the male is predominantly black, especially the Common Blackbird, Turdus merula.” The first word is the Latin for thrush, and “merula” means Blackbird.
I need to say here that “Icterids” are exclusively American birds such as grackles, orioles, cowbirds, meadowlarks and bobolinks:

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Back to Wikipedia, which continues with the fact that “merula” gives the French their word “merle” and also gives the Scots their word “merl”. According to Wiktionary, it is also an “English 19th century bird name from merle, blackbird, possibly also a variant of Muriel”. That is in itself quite interesting as many common birds in Merrye Olde Englande had their own human names. Jack Daw. Mag Pie. Jenny Wren, Robin Redbreast. Sparrows were called Philip because of their chirping call. A modern equivalent would be the Soviet ruler, Joe Starling.
Very tenuous links between Dame Agnes and merles therefore, made all the more tenuous by another, etymological, dictionary,  which states that “merle” is a late fifteenth century word which nowadays “owes its survival in modern times to its use by Scottish poets.” And how many fifteenth century Scottish poets can you name? Or any living, modern ones come to that?
Scotland, of course, is even further away from Dame Agnes than Manchester. And just in case you see a possible link between Dame Agnes and the “late fifteenth century”, don’t forget that the alleged Mellers’ coat of arms wasn’t ever used by her, and first appeared only in 1808.

Sooooo, where did that coat of arms come from?

Well, just for a moment, let’s go back to that idea that Dame Agnes was a lifelong staunch Roman Catholic with a very real fear of Hell for wrongdoers, especially those who might have cheated their customers a bit, perhaps when they were flogging them very large and very expensive bells.

One evening, sitting comatose in front of our TV set, I happened to see this coat of arms on a documentary programme as the camera panned down the High Street of a famous city:

Canterbu
The city was, of course, Canterbury. But where did the City of Canterbury find those striking and exciting  black birds? Well, it’s not a huge surprise:

Becket-arms

The shield above is that of Thomas Becket also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket. Born in December of 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.

Here is an account of the slaying, written by eyewitness Edward Grim. Edward must have been an extremely brave man. Completely unarmed, the young clerk stood up to four knights dressed in chain mail, all of them equipped with the heavy savage swords of the era. Edward was gravely wounded in the incident, as he tried in vain to protect Becket (Reader discretion is advised):

“The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown of his head. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral:

Murder_of_Thomas_BecketThe same clerk who had entered with the knights (not Edward Grim) placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.”

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Soon after this famously gory death, Thomas was promoted to sainthood by Pope Alexander III. Canterbury Cathedral subsequently became the most important centre of pilgrimage in England, most famously for Geoffrey Chaucer.

The birds on Thomas à Becket’s shield have red feet and red beaks and they are nowadays called “choughs”, although apparently in medieval times, they were often referred to by pilgrims as “beckitts”.

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

I feel sure that there is some kind of clue here:

columbo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eagles in Nottinghamshire

One of the more interesting issues in the area of local Natural History concerns the occurrence of eagles in Nottinghamshire in centuries gone by. In the era of the Anglo-Saxons, for example, the white-tailed sea eagle was called the Erne. This, supposedly, gave the town of Arnold its name.

More problematic is the Golden Eagle, which certainly occurred in England much more frequently in the past than it does now. Between 1800-1900, there were at least twenty records nationwide with seven different birds in Yorkshire:

zoaring_golden_eagle zzzzzzzzz

In books about local ornithology, there are some really old records of Golden Eagle. In “The Birds of Derbyshire” which was published in 1893, F.B Whitlock quoted an earlier, eighteenth century ornithologist, Mr Pilkington, who wrote about a Golden Eagle which was seen in Hardwick Park, a large estate right on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Hardwick Hall itself is within less than half a mile of the county boundary and in the absence of an exact location for this particular bird, it seems hardly unreasonable to suggest that it must have ventured into Nottinghamshire at some point during its stay. Both Hardwick Park and Hardwick Hall are easy to spot on this map. I have marked the county boundary between Derbyshire (top left) and Nottinghamshire (bottom right). Look for the orange arrow:

hardwick

That particular Golden Eagle occurred as far back as 1759. A second Golden Eagle was shot in the same area around 1770. Twelve years later, in 1782, two Golden Eagles were seen “in the out-lying portions of Sherwood Forest, near Hardwick”. It was obviously a suitable habitat with a good supply of food.
In his “Ornithology of Nottinghamshire” published in 1866, William Felkin stated that “The eagle has twice been seen near Beeston: once by myself.” As a man, who, unfortunately, had no digital camera or mobile phone to record evidence of what he had seen, Felkin could have been no more definite than that.

I have recently become addicted to acquiring those reprints of Victorian Ordnance Survey maps and they do reveal that the outskirts of Nottingham were unbelievably countrified as recently as 1901 and even more so in 1866. Perhaps a stray eagle is not quite an outrageous bird to have seen, if only just passing over.

Felkin also noted that a Golden Eagle had been killed in an unrecorded year long ago at Castle Donington. This village, of course, is nowadays on the border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire, although it is reasonably close to Nottinghamshire. Felkin considered that this bird had occurred on Nottinghamshire’s “south-western border” and as such, was therefore worthy of inclusion in his important book about the county’s avifauna:

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Modern birdwatchers would say that all these observers were simply mistaken, but that has always seemed a rather strange attitude to me. Just because they lived in the eighteenth or nineteenth century does not make people less trustworthy or more stupid than us. Certainly, in the case of the Golden Eagle which was shot around 1770 near Hardwick Hall, it would have been seen by a great many people once it was stuffed and out on display. They would certainly not have been slow to speak up about any identification errors committed by his Lordship or, indeed, his bird stuffer:

goldeneagle soaring zzzzzzzz
Joseph Whitaker mentions a number of eagles in his “Birds of Nottinghamshire” published in 1907, but these were all considered to be White tailed Sea Eagles, spending their winters further south than their summer breeding areas. His first account was:

“It was in the winter of 1838 that the bird appeared in Welbeck Park. Mr Tillery says :–
“The lake was frozen over at the time, except in one place, where a flush of warm water entered from a culvert which drained the abbey. The place was covered with ducks, teal and widgeon, and I saw his majesty swoop down once or twice to get one for his breakfast, but unsuccessfully, as the ducks saved themselves by diving or flying off. The park-keeper got two shots at him with a ball on a tree but missed him each time, and he gradually got wilder, so that he could never be approached again near enough for a shot. After levying blackmail on the young lambs, hares and game in the neighbourhood, he took himself off after three weeks’ sojourn”

White-tailed%20Eagle flying zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

In 1857, a single White tailed Sea Eagle was shot at Osberton near Ollerton on a date several days before January 13th. According to F.O.Morris, the nationally regarded author of “A History of British Birds”, he was informed of the occurrence by Sir Charles Anderson, Baronet, a gentleman who was presumably known to George Saville Foljambe Esquire on whose estate near Osberton the event took place. Sir Charles wrote thus…

“It was first seen sitting on a tree near a place where a cow had been buried a few days before and it continued flying about this locality for some days, always returning to the same tree, as if attracted towards it. There was partial snow on the ground at the time.”

white tailed imm zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

William Sterland included in his two main books, “The Birds of Sherwood Forest” (1869) and “A Descriptive List of the Birds of Nottinghamshire” (1879) an account of the occurrence of a second White tailed Sea Eagle in Lima Wood at Laughton-en-le-Morthen. Strictly speaking, this bizarrely named village is in Yorkshire but it is really quite close to the Nottinghamshire border. On this map, Laughton-en-le-Morthen is towards the top left corner and I have indicated the dark blue county boundary with the orange arrow:

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This occurrence was only a few days after the demise of  another eagle, shot on the Foljambe estate near Osberton, and related immediately above. Whether the two birds were connected, male and female, or perhaps siblings, we will never know. It is certainly a very striking story:

“The bird was seen in the neighbourhood of Morthen for more than a fortnight before it was shot. On several occasions it was observed perched in a tree about a hundred yards from Pinch Mill, the person resident there taking it at that distance for a stray heron. Thomas Whitfield, the gamekeeper to J.C.Althorpe Esquire of Dinnington made many attempts to get within range of the bird, but was often baffled by its wariness. It was observed to be much molested by crows and small birds, and frequently, as if to escape from persecutions which were beneath its notice to resent, it would mount into the air with graceful spiral curbs until it became nearly lost to sight, leaving its puny assailants far below, and then would sweep as gracefully down again, with all the ease and lightness of wing of the swallow.”

killie-male-26 zzzzzzzz

“It seems uncertain what its food consisted of during its sojourn for it was not seen to make any attack. At night it roosted on a tree, but still maintained a vigilant watch. When perceived by Whitfield, it was perched on a tree on the outskirts of the wood, but the night being moonlight, it perceived his approach and he had great difficulty in getting within gunshot. At the moment of his firing it flew off and he thought he had failed in hitting it; but in the morning he found it dead in an adjoining field. Its expanse of wing from tip to tip was seven feet six inches and it weighed eight pounds and a quarter. The friend I have mentioned kindly procured the loan of the bird from Whitfield and sent it for my inspection. It is a fine specimen in the immature plumage of the third or fourth year.”

The bird was shot on January 13, 1857, although. clearly, it had been present for some time before this.

Haliaeetus albicilla4

Nearly forty years later in 1896, a single White tailed Sea Eagle was seen in the Deer Park at Park Farm, Annesley, between Nottingham and Mansfield, on November 5th, and for several days afterwards. It was thought to have been attracted to the area by the large number of rabbits present there and indeed, on a number of occasions, was seen feeding on them.
On November 8th, it was shot by Mr George Charles Musters, as it fed on the corpse of a rabbit, and when examined was found to have a total wingspan of seven feet one inch, and a weight of nine and a quarter pounds. It was an immature bird, although not a first winter individual, being considered to be probably three or four years old. It was, of course, preserved by a taxidermist and soon occupied pride of place in the collection of Mr John Patricius Chaworth Musters at Annesley Park.

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In Joseph Whitaker’s own personal copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”,  housed in Mansfield Library’s local collection, he has appended a short note in pencil, written in that punctuation-free style that he always seems to use:

“I was standing on doorsteps one day in August 1907 waiting for carriage to come round it was a clear warm day a few white clouds were passing over very high I was looking up in the sky when I saw a bird pass under a white cloud it was so high if the white had not shown the job I should never have seen it but it was most distinct + I am certain it was an eagle by its size + flight whether Golden or White tailed I do not know.”

sea eagle cliff

In another handwritten account in 1916, Joseph Whitaker tells the following story which, although illegible in places, is clear enough to constitute a valid record:

“A large bird of the (illegible) kind was seen by Mr Henry Smith’s son in Nov 1916 flying over his farm at Cropwell Butler. He wrote to me saying it was a very big bird + had a white tail. I told him it would be a mature Sea Eagle, and as such a bird was shot in Lincolnshire by Mrs (illegible) keeper of the next week. There is no doubt it was the same bird.”

Attitudes about shooting birds though, were gradually changing: people were well aware that a previously healthy Victorian population of Sea Eagles had disappeared from Scotland by 1900, every single one either shot or poisoned. The very last Sea Eagle was killed on the Shetlands in 1916, an albino bird shot by a member of the clergy.
These new, more conservationist, ideas were reflected in an account included in the Ornithological Records of the now defunct Nottingham Natural Science Field Club. It was included by one of the club’s most prominent birdwatchers, Frank Hind. Even nowadays, his handwriting is still recognisably angry:

“A Sea Eagle was shot by some bounder at Grimesmoor and sent to a taxidermist at Grantham in February of 1920. Mr Turton saw it there. It measured seven feet from tip of one wing to the tip of the other.

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This rare visitor had shared the fate of so many noble birds which were frequently to be seen in the British Isles before anyone with a few pounds could buy a gun to destroy whatever his few brains had prompted him to shoot at.”

Nowadays, the positive attitude is the one which has prevailed. Even as I write, there are reintroduction schemes for this magnificent raptor in Ireland, eastern Scotland and many other areas of Great Britain. Many people would like to see it reintroduced to England and the debates rage about whether to select Norfolk or Suffolk. In the Inner Hebrides in western Scotland, of course, these charismatic birds are worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the local economy. Listen to just a few hundred quids’ worth of camera in this wonderful video by Brianpwildlife:

And no, they can’t carry off children or adults or small cars or large cars or vans or lorries or even what appears to be a young man equipped with perhaps a camera on a tripod or maybe a specially adapted hover mower for ice covered lawns:

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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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When the mighty Trent turned into a tiny stream…

In a couple of previous articles, I have mentioned two different extremes of weather at Trent Bridge, namely freezing ice and snow and then, quite frequently straight afterwards, horrific floods, when a sudden melt of huge snowdrifts overfills the river. Such a sequence of events may raise the water level by twelve or fifteen feet above normal and increase the rate of flow to a situation when 45,000 cubic feet of floodwater go past the bridge every second, as opposed to the more normal figure of 3,000. What I have not mentioned so far though, is a complete lack of rainfall and the consequent drought.

Almost a thousand years ago, in 1101, Nottingham experienced a terrifying earthquake. Here are some people in 1100. Can you spot Robin Hood? (He is wearing a cunning, yet comfortable disguise in his traditional Lincoln Green.)

1000-1100,_Norman_

Bizarrely, once the earthquake had stopped, the River Trent dried up and then ceased to flow for several hours, presumably as it drained into, and then eventually filled up, a huge crack or cavern in the ground that the earthquake had created somewhere upstream from Nottingham. Once that was done, the waters returned to normal.  Another source gives the date of this amazing event as 1110 and says that the River Trent was dry at Nottingham for 24 hours. Strictly speaking, though, that is not a genuine bona fide drought.

Two hundred years or so later though, in 1354, the weather was extremely dry in the whole of England:

“This year, the country was affected with a great drought, in which Nottinghamshire, from its peculiar geographical position, suffered extremely; in both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire no rain had fallen from the latter end of March until the close of July.”

It is difficult to believe that this prolonged lack of rain would not have affected the amount of water flowing under Hethbeth Bridge. Here are some people in 1354. It looks like the start of a football match to me:

participants in mediaeval costume on field at the Corsa all'anello in Narni Umbria

The four years of 1538-1541 produced extreme drought throughout the whole country, with three successive fine and hot summers from 1538-1540. In the latter year, cherries could be picked and eaten by the beginning of June. Grapes were ripe by early July. Both 1540 and 1541 were exceptionally dry years overall, and in both summers, the River Thames was so low that sea water backed up above London Bridge. It would be interesting to know what effect such amazingly hot and dry weather must have had on the River Trent. Here are some people of this period, waiting for a shower of rain, but looking a little worried that global warming has perhaps started five hundred years too early. I wouldn’t have liked the hat with the feather:

tudor

That dry summer of 1540 was the warmest until 2003, and countries in Western Europe christened it the ‘Big Sun Year’. Very high temperatures prevailed from Germany to the Netherlands and no rain fell in Rome for at least nine months. Many people died of heat stroke and heart failure. Reportedly the waters of the River Rhine were so low that the river could be crossed on horseback. People could walk across the River Seine in Paris without getting their feet wet. In England during these four years:

“rivers and streams were drying out in parts. A remarkable series of droughts, with a burning sun during the summer”.

In 1541:

“At Nottingham a remarkable drought; almost all the small rivers dried up, and the River Trent diminished to a straggling brook. Many cattle died for want of water, especially in the county of Nottinghamshire, and many thousands of persons died from grievous diarrhoea and dysentery.”

“Trent a straggling brook”

I could not find any pictures of the Trent as a “straggling brook”, but this is close. And no, the hot weather did not attract any elephants to Nottingham:

elephsnts

Forty years later, in 1581 the River Trent apparently “dried up completely” but further details of this event are not very much in evidence, beyond the rather strange date when it was supposed to have occurred, supposedly December 21st. Perhaps a build up of ice higher upstream brought the river’s flow to a stop.

Ten years later, in 1591,

“A severe drought destroyed practically all the crops and vegetation in the areas around Nottingham. The rivers Trent and Erewash, plus other rivers, were almost without water.”

People actually remarked how like Texas the landscape had become:

cow

There was another “uncommon drought in Nottinghamshire” in the spring of 1592. In the summer there were strong westerly winds to dry the land even further, and hardly any rain fell.

“The Trent and other rivers were almost without water. In summer, the Thames was so shallow that horsemen could ride across near London Bridge & the River Trent was also said to be almost dry.”

This is the old London Bridge of this period:

london bridge zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

After this, there is then a hiatus of some three or four hundred years until the twentieth century. I have been unable to trace any other noticeably dry periods during this intervening time. The next striking piece of dry weather comes in the mid-1970s, with an absolutely scorching summer in 1975. This initial heat and drought was followed by a very dry winter, and then the unforgettable drought conditions of the summer of 1976. These periods of extreme weather saw the River Trent during the end of the month of August 1976 at its very lowest level in modern times. Indeed, this summer produced what was called the Great European Drought with the lowest soil moisture readings in London since 1698.

Unfortunately nobody in Nottingham seems to have thought of preserving this amazing weather with their camera. Instead, I will just show you one or two typical scenes. Here is an unknown reservoir which should have been a vast lake. Flap those flares:

_72775633_1976-drought

Here is a reservoir at Huddersfield in Yorkshire:

hudd ressser

Here is a lock on what should have been a brim full canal:

foxton lock

This is the River Thames at Kew near London. The River Trent at Nottingham would presumably have been comparable:

r thames kew

And finally, here is Walton Reservoir in Surrey, being monitored by the least appropriately dressed man in 1976:

reser at walton thsame ssurrey

 

 

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Gunpowder, treason and Nottingham

Not many people would connect the High School and Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot, but the link is there, if you trace it through carefully……

…..Brian Garnett, or Garnet, is thought to have been the Master of the Free School during some unknown period between the years 1564-1575.

free school

It is considered most probable that he took up the post between 1564-1567, and then retired in, probably, 1575. He may then have lived in Beeston, but he was certainly buried in Heanor in Derbyshire on December 21st 1576, as the “Late Skoolemaster of Nottingham”.

With his wife, Alice Jay, he had at least three sons, Richard, John and Henry, and three daughters, Margaret, Eleanor and Anne,  all of whom became nuns at Louvain.

Of the sons, Henry is the most notable, because eventually he was to become the Superior of the Jesuits in England, and, allegedly, an active member of the Gunpowder Plot which, in earlier centuries, often used to be called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason. In general terms, the plot, of course, was a failed assassination attempt to blow up the Protestant King James I of England and his entire Parliament, by filling the cellars of the building with gunpowder. lighting the fuse, and retiring quickly and sensibly to a minimum distance of at least fifty yards.

GunpowderPlot dddddddddGarnet was not quite tasked with carrying the barrels of gunpowder into the cellars, but rather, he was deemed to have been guilty of knowing all the details of the assassination attempt, but then doing nothing to save either the King’s life or those of his courtiers. Here he is….

google 2 zzzzzzzzz
In recent times, some doubt has been cast on the extent to which Garnet was actually aware of the dastardly plot, because all the details he knew were revealed to him through the plotters’ confessions. Of course, by the strict rules of his Catholic religion, Garnet was automatically prevented from informing the authorities by the absolute confidentiality of the confessional.

None of this alters the basic fact, though, that Henry Garnet was executed for treason, on May 3rd 1606. At his trial, the jury had needed only fifteen minutes to reach their verdict.

Where the tiniest of doubts still exists, however, is whether Henry was ever a pupil at the Free School, as no registers of this period are still in existence. It is certainly true, though, that he was educated in Nottingham, and the national rules in place at the time allowed only one school in each town or city. In any case, it is surely beyond credibility that he was not associated with the Free School during his father’s tenure of the position of Master, that is to say, the only teacher who was working there.
Indeed, at least one source says that young Henry came to the Free School during Henry Cockrame’s time as Master (most probably 1563-1564), possibly a year or so before Cockrame left in 1565 and was replaced by Henry’s father, Brian Garnett of Heanor, Derbyshire. Henry is supposed to have studied for two years under his father’s tutelage, before leaving for Winchester College where he was elected as a scholar on August 24th 1567 and duly entered the school in 1568.

WinCollege1_ccccccccccccccccc

Henry had been well taught in Nottingham, and proved to be an able student at Winchester. According to “The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”…..

“His love of music and “rare and delightful” voice were complemented by an ability to perform songs without preparation, and he was reportedly also skilled with the lute.
Father Thomas Stanney wrote that Garnet was “the prime scholar of Winchester College, very skilful in music and in playing upon the instruments, very modest in his countenance and in all his actions, so much that the schoolmasters and wardens offered him very great friendship, to be placed by their means in New College, Oxford.”

Instead of the delights of New College, Oxford, however, when he left the school in 1571, Garnet moved to London to work for a publisher. Shortly afterwards, in 1575, he travelled to the continent and joined the Society of Jesus. Garnet then moved to Rome to study for the priesthood with the Jesuits. He was finally ordained as a priest around 1582. (Note the ear of corn which will be important)

henry again xxcccccdxdx

Whatever happened in his life during the next twenty three years in the service of the Lord, by virtue of the events of May 3rd 1606, Henry Garnet must surely remain the only Old Nottinghamian ever to have been convicted as a terrorist, and, indeed, one of the very few ever to have been hanged, drawn and quartered, and then to have had his severed head placed on a pole on London Bridge.

Froissar txxxxxxxxx

(That’s going to hurt)

Heads_on_spikes xxxxxxxxx

(This engraving will be next month’s Caption Contest)

Thankfully, the more lurid details of his execution have survived in Antonia Fraser’s book, “The Gunpowder Plot”…..

“Garnet said his prayers, and was then thrown off the ladder and hanged.

beforfe execuion xxxxxxxxxx

Before the executioner could cut him down alive, many in the crowd pulled on his legs, and as a result, Garnet did not suffer the remainder of his grim sentence. There was no applause when the executioner held Garnet’s heart aloft and said the traditional words, “Behold the heart of a traitor”.
His head was set on a pole on London Bridge, but crowds of onlookers fascinated by its pallid appearance eventually forced the government to turn the head upwards, so its face was no longer visible.”

From this peculiar pallid appearance of course, came the widely held belief that Garnet’s head did not suffer any signs of decay or change.

nov 4th heads xxxxxxx(Can you spot Garnet’s head?)

Nowadays, of course, we are a lot more civilised and the heads of traitors are no longer placed on a pole on London Bridge. Instead, we have just two or three of the more unsuccessful Premier League managers.

modern cddddddddddd

(Why is nobody taking any notice?)

The final, and a slightly more serious thing to be said about Henry Garnet is that way back on May 3rd 1606, according to those who were there, a miraculous portrait of him apparently appeared on an ear of corn onto which drops of his blood had fallen at the moment of his execution. This particular ear of corn was later credited with achieving a number of miracles. At one point, it was taken secretly out of the country into the possession of the Society of Jesus, before, with its size surely playing a part, it was lost, rather appropriately, during the French Revolution.

-Portrait_of_Henry_Garnett zzzzzzzzz

The Roman Catholic Church, of course, has a large number of saints who have done far less than Henry Garnet to earn their sainthoods. Names which spring to my mind would include St.Buriana, St.Erc, St.Ia and any number of Cornish villages named after other dimly remembered saints.

Perhaps one fine day, Henry Garnet may yet become the only Old Nottinghamian ever to be canonised.

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