Tag Archives: england

Vive l’Empéreur !!

I watched a fantastic programme, or rather series of programmes, last winter on BBC2, I think it was. They were so good that I bought the book:

cover

They were all about Napoleon.
I had always wondered why the British hate Napoleon so much and the French love him. Why the British call him names and the French name streets after him.
Both the programmes and the book were by Andrew Roberts:

andrew-roberts
He did a great job at explaining exactly why this situation has arisen.

It was because on the one hand, the England of the Napoleonic era had always prided itself on being full of free men, free to say what they wanted, to go where they wanted and so on. With a parliament and a monarch beloved by all, bless him, who never interfered in the running of an almost perfect society. Deep down though, the English knew that this portrait of their land was a complete load of rubbish.

They knew that Napoleon was a child of the Enlightenment, the fullest and finest flowering of ideas in the history of Mankind:

stamp-napoleon-france

Napoleon wanted to export the values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And the British wanted none of it. That’s why they coughed up £65,000,000 over the years, paying for countries such as Austria and Russia to attack and annihilate him, without any English lives being lost:

wallpaper_cossacks_2_
The British saw Napoleon as a direct threat to “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”.

A “Green and Pleasant Land” where the rich seized the poor’s common land and called it their own.

Where Corn Laws prevented hungry poor people from eating bread made from cheap imported foreign wheat, so that rich English farmers could stay wealthy.

Where all of the people in charge of anything, the army, the navy, the government, everything, was a nobleman and had a title:

house-of-lords4[1]

And parliament was full of greedy men elected by unbelievably tiny numbers of voters. This practice made use of “Rotten Boroughs” and Pocket Boroughs”. Here are two of the “Four Prints of an Election” by William Hogarth.  You can see them in greater detail here.

This is the “Election Entertainment“:

chairing

This one is called “Chairing the Members”:

election enter
Next time, we will look at the achievements of Napoleon. They are many and apply to so many different fields, from giving a mole catcher a more important job to making the arrangements to educate young women:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Criminology, France, History, Politics

What do you do with your freed slaves? (4)

Sooooo.

Not only have you managed to compose the sentence:

All men are created equal …….endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But you have understood it.

And then you have decided to act upon it. Unless you do this, there’s very little point in expressing these fine sentiments anyway:

slaves

But in practical terms, just what do you do with all these people who are, at a stroke, suddenly given their liberty ? The only figure I have been able to find on the Internet comes from the History Channel, who say that there were four million or more slaves suddenly granted their freedom. And the USA wasn’t the only country to have this problem to deal with.

Tsarist Russia called them “serfs” but they were to all intents and purposes no better off than the slaves in America. In this photograph, lucky Russian women are doing the work of an English horse, pulling a coal barge up a river, probably the Volga:

serfs

The serfs were all freed in 1861 but were then discouraged from moving away from their owner’s  estates. Indeed, they had to stay and work for the landlord in the normal way for two years.

The land, too, was divided up. The nobility were allocated almost all the meadows and the forests. The state paid all their debts.

The poor old serfs, though, they had to pay over the odds for the land they were allocated. On average, it was 34% extra. In the north, it was 90% over the odds and it was 20% more in some of the so-called black earth regions in present day Ukraine and southern Russia.  In what is now Poland, the Tsar wanted to harm the Polish landowning classes, so the peasants paid nothing extra for their land.
None of this worked, of course. The poor old serf farmed his land but saddled with huge debts, he couldn’t make ends meet. He only received 50% of his total income from his own usually tiny farm. The rest he got by continuing to slave away on his landlord’s farm. As a result of this stupid, short sighted iniquity, many of the serfs moved to the cities to work in the factories there. And that process did end in tears:

Lenin-Hooray

In England, slaves were kept but really only as domestic servants. It was too cold to grow cotton. Within the British Empire, though, slaves were used in very, very large numbers to cut sugar cane in the West Indies:

west injdies plantation

Britain, of course, was a country owned and run by the extremely rich, for their own benefit, and in a way which would ensure that they remained extremely rich. Many of them were large scale slave owners. How could they possibly be made to free their slaves and impoverish themselves?

hogarth1

In the next article, all will be revealed.

 

 

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Filed under History, Politics

The Wolves of Paris

I have always thought that France was fairly unlucky as a country to have been ravaged over the centuries by various Beasts, the majority of which nobody has been able to identify with 100% certainty.  They have all been dismissed as merely oversized wolves, perhaps with attitude problems, but, somehow, I just cannot agree with that. Too many people who saw wolves perhaps three or four times a week were completely puzzled when they saw the Beast of Gévaudan, for example:

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Or when they saw the Beast of Benais or the Beast of Sarlat or the Beast of Auxerrois/ Trucy or the others whose individual blogposts I have not yet launched out into “Le Monde du Blogging”. Creatures such as the Beast of Lyonnais or the Beast of Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais or the Beast of Caen and Chaigny or the Beast of Orléans or the Beast of Veyreau. The Beast of Cinglais or the Beast of Gâtinais. The blood splattered list goes on.
What I did not realise, though, is that there are completely documented and wholly accepted  historical accounts which detail attacks on Paris by wolves. And not just one wolf or even one pack of wolves. These were a whole series of large scale attacks by animals which broke all of our present day rules of how to be a politically correct wolf. They gleefully attacked and ate people. French people. Parisians:

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f

The first wolf invasion came during the winter of 1419-1420. Over Europe as a whole, the weather that winter was unbelievably cold. In the east, in what is now Turkey, the Bosphorus was completely frozen over and it was possible to walk over the ice from Üsküdar to Istanbul, which was then called Constantinople.

In Western Europe, virtually all of France had already been made wretched by the debilitating effects of the Hundred Years War which was to last, rather inaccurately, 116 years, from 1337–1453:

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The winter of 1419-1420 was equally severe over the whole country with very low temperatures and copious amounts of snow falling for prolonged periods. Paris was occupied by the English and the famine there was so great that unfortunate Parisians spent all of their daylight hours wandering around just searching for food. Numerous packs of wolves, as hungry as the people, advanced into the suburbs of the capital, which was now just a vast, frozen wasteland. The River Seine froze over and people could cross over from one side to the other without problem:

hiver-paris-1891

Two years later, in 1421-1422, there was another winter of  almost unbelievable severity. Wolves again entered the city. Every night they roamed around the streets of Paris, dug up recently buried corpses in the local graveyards and ate them. Anybody who tried to intervene was ripped to pieces and eaten, presumably, as a second course. Any wolves which were killed were strung up in the streets by their back legs the following morning, as a perhaps, slightly over optimistic warning to the rest.

It was so cold during this winter that bottles of wine, grape juice and vinegar froze in the cellars of Parisian houses and in some cases icicles formed on the vaults of cellar roofs. The River Seine, which had previously been in spate, froze over in less than three days and the ice quickly became firm enough to walk on. On January 12th 1422, there began in the French capital what was considered at the time to be the most severe spell of cold ever experienced by man.
The River Seine froze completely throughout its entire length. Wells froze after four days. This harsh cold persisted for almost three weeks. To compound Parisian misery, a couple of days before the beginning of this extremely cold weather, there had been a heavy snowfall. Because of the severity of this snow and the subsequent extreme cold, people were completely unable to work. Instead, they resorted to jumping games, playing ball and other vigorous activities to keep warm. The freezing conditions were so intense that the ice in the streets and public squares persisted until March 25th. It was so cold that on the heads of cockerels and hens, their combs froze:

cockerel

Equally surprisingly, there were no wolves reported in Paris during the extremely harsh winter of 1433-1434. The big freeze began on December 31st 1433 and then lasted for nine days short of three months. After this, another severely cold period followed, from March 31st 1434 until April 17th 1434. Just as a comparison, during this particular winter, the entire River Thames in England had frozen completely solid from December to February and remained completely impassable to shipping.
The wolves, though, were back with a vengeance in the second Parisian “Winter of the Wolf”, “L’Hiver du Loup”.  This came in 14371438, when the weather was equally, if not more, glacial.
The River Seine again froze over completely and packs of wolves wandered into the French capital, roaming the streets in search of food. Here is an anachronistic photo of the River Seine, frozen over in 1437.  How can you tell that, mon cher Sherlock?

Seine-gelée-paris-1893

In actual fact, there had been five unbelievably cold winters in succession over the whole of the European continent, and this was the last of the five. In England, the famine was so severe from 1437-39 that it was second only to the worst years ever in 1315-1317. These latter years were so wet that virtually all the nation’s crops failed and as many as 10% of the population may have eventually perished, in a decade characterised by crime, disease, mass death and cannibalism.

From 1437-1439, though, the winter cold was such that the English people in the countryside  were driven to attempt to make bread from fern roots and ivy berries. An unbelievably prudent Mayor of London had avoided this situation in the capital by importing a good supply of rye from Prussia. This may have been Mayor William Estfeld (1437) or Mayor Robert Large (1439) but personally I would go for Stephen Broun the Grocer (1438).

The only record of wolves in Paris which I have been able to trace during these three years of 1437-1439 came as early as the last week of the month of September 1439, when a desperate pack entered the city in search of fresh meat. They ripped out the throats of around fourteen people and duly devoured them. This occurred in the area between Montmartre in the north of the city:

monty

And the Porte Saint-Antoine in the east, right next to the Bastille prison:

antony

From 1450-1850, and possibly beyond that, into the early years of the twentieth century, the so-called Little Ice Age held sway over Europe. In 1457-1458 in Germany, for example, extreme cold froze the Danube River to such a thickness that an army of 40,000 men was able to camp on the ice. Two years, later during the winter of 1459-1460, the entire Baltic Sea was frozen and people could cross between Denmark, Germany and Sweden both on foot and on horseback:

basltiv

In France, the most severe weather came right at the beginning of the Little Ice Age during their very worst winter of 1449-1450. During this period the weather in France was very wet, extremely cold, and there were, consequently, huge quantities of snow. Indeed, the winter had begun as early as October 1449, when large numbers of olive trees began to die of the cold across the whole country.

It was during this exceptional winter that Paris became the victim of its most famous attack by man-eating wolves, “des loups anthropophages” (a very useful mouthful, should you ever need the phrase on holiday, or perhaps wish to prove your sobriety to a French police officer).

This pack, “The Wolves of Paris”, (Oh somebody, form a Heavy Metal Band…the name is crying out for it!), “Les Loups de Paris”, are thought to have killed and eaten large numbers of hapless human victims of all ages over the course of the winter. The animals initially entered Paris through the very large holes in its dilapidated city walls, which had been built some 250 years previously in the early 13th century. Of course, the original builder, King Philippe Auguste, had intended the walls to protect the city from human invaders rather than animal predators:

wolf pack one

The leader of the pack was a wolf named “Courtaud” which means “Bobtail”, as he had a tail which had been “docked” or shortened in some unknown incident. The descriptions of “Courtaud” at the time said that he was reddish in colour, not really a pigment that you would expect in a pure 100% common, Eurasian or Middle Russian forest wolf as the subspecies canis lupus lupus is variously known across Europe.  Suggestions have been made that its unusual colour was because it was an Iberian Wolf canis lupus signatus on its holidays from Spain, but there is a problem with that. As far as I can see, the Iberian Wolf is not particularly reddish. Here he is. Just look at that blood:

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f

According to the Wikipedia entry in the link above, canis lupus signatus has a lighter build than the European Wolf, some white marks on the upper lips, dark marks on the tail and a pair of dark marks in its front legs. There is no mention of red.
Don’t get me started, but my explanation for all those various Beasts (bêtes féroces, bêtes dévorantes ou bêtes anthropophages) which ravaged France over the centuries now comes into its own. I believe that they were members of a more aggressive, larger and now extinct species of wolf. If any unusual colour is mentioned for La Bête du Gévaudan, La Bête de Cinglais, La Bête de Caen, La Bête du Lyonnais or La Bête du Vivarais, it is always, exclusively, red. And, as we have just seen, Courtaud too had fur of this colour.

That is why I just do not believe that ordinary wolves were responsible for these blood spattered killings. And anyway, aren’t ordinary wolves a friendly looking bunch of chaps? They would not dream of eating anybody:

621166__the-wolf-pack_p

At first, there were around twenty wolves in the Parisian pack and they killed dozens of people. Gradually, wolf numbers built up, and the list of victims grew longer and longer. In the first month, supposedly around forty people perished, with a total kill for the whole winter of several hundred. They included, for the most part, anybody the wolves found wandering around the city at night, or any individuals who were outside sleeping rough. Inevitably, the inhabitants of Paris in that winter of 1449-1450 were swept by a feeling of total panic. Attempts to kill the wolves in their dens were totally ineffective. The wolves became so self confident that they often enjoyed a sing-song on their way back from the pub:

singing

Eventually, though, Parisians became increasingly enraged that it was no longer safe to walk the streets of their beautiful city. Furious at all the deaths, a brave group of volunteers found a couple of unwanted cows and killed them. Then they set off, dragging the mutilated corpses along behind them on ropes, so that they left a bloodied trail. Eventually, the wolves began to follow the scent, and slowly, slowly,  Courtaud and his bloodthirsty colleagues were lured and prodded into the very heart of the city:

map

When the wolves reached the Ile de la Cité (middle of the map), they arrived at the large square in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame, which is called the Parvis Notre Dame. Here they were trapped, surrounded by pre-prepared wooden barricades. Here is Notre Dame cathedral. See if you can spot the hunchback:Notre_Dame_de_Paris_DSC_0846w

And here is the large square in front of the cathedral, which is really quite extensive in size. I wouldn’t like to have chased a pack of wolves across here:

parvis-Notre-Dame

Finally, the angry Parisians stoned and speared the entire pack, until every single wolf was dead. Courtaud was paraded dead around the city in a cart, pulled by the triumphant crowd. Here is one of those bizarre modern art exhibitions which was held in Paris recently. I don’t suppose it’s Courtaud and his pals from 1449-1450, but I do hope that no real wolves died to make it:

leadership-defaillant xxxxxxxxxxx
I do not really believe that Paris’ historical scrapes with wolves have necessarily finished. Grey wolves were completely extirpated from France in the 1920s and 1930s, but ten years ago they started entering the country again from Italy. There are now around 300 wolves in France and the farmers allege that they have killed more than 6,000 sheep in the last twelve months. The woods around Paris are well stocked with deer and boar and they would make an ideal hunting ground for wolves. Indeed, this year, wolves have been sighted just 40 miles from the city:

wolves
Presumably preparing the Parisian populace for the latest lupine invasion, there are a number of different books available, all of which are all entitled “The Wolves of Paris”:

The first is by Michael Wallace:

“It’s the winter of 1450 and Paris is in a panic. A pack of ravenous wolves is loose in the city, feasting on human flesh. Lorenzo Boccaccio is summoned by a Dominican inquisitor who….”

The second is by Daniel P Mannix and a reviewer promises:

“an extraordinary story with verve and deft pacing. In the reading of what is a tale of high drama, building remorselessly to the climax…”

After that remorseless climax, where next, but the boxset by Lance Roddick, also available in separate sections:

gay wolves of paris

One of the sections has a wonderful review:

“The book started off talking about the hard times France was going through.”

You don’t say!

If you can, always finish a blogpost with a song. And what else could it be except…

 

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Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

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

Not many people would be able to answer this question.

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

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

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

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

(Where?)

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

Here is their coat of arms:

0mellor coat of

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

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

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

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

meller_c

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

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

meller-ireland

And this one:

meller_large irish

And this one:

Smeller red

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

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

blackbird

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackbird-01

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

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

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

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

stoney st enlarged

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

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

assembly hall

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

car badge

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

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

 

 

 

 

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

Notts £100 million striker (1877-1891) (second half)

In my previous blogpost about Harry Cursham, the Notts County superstar, I wrote for the most part about his exploits in the F.A.Cup. At the time, the F.A.Cup was the only official competition in existence for football clubs. Apart from international matches, which, with just four countries, permitted only three games per season, Harry could only play in friendly games until some bright spark invented the Football League in 1888.

Here is an abridged version of Harry’s exploits in friendly fixtures. For me, the most wonderful things are the evocative names of some of those long defunct clubs.

In 1877-1878, Harry scored a hat trick on his début at home against Stoke (4-1), and five goals in an away game against Manchester (6-0). He got four in an 8-2 victory over Derby Grammar School, and also appeared in an amazing 1-10 defeat at Southwell. Harry would have worn this kit:

notts_county_1877-1878

The photograph below shows the Notts.County team which played a prestige friendly against Queens’ Park, of Glasgow, Scotland, on November 18th 1877 at Hampden Park.

(back row) Erasmus Keely, Fred Rothera, Arthur Ashwell (Umpire), Harold Greenhalgh, Harry  Cursham, George Seals. (front row) Richard Greenhalgh, Arthur Cursham, Ernest Greenhalgh, Tom Oliver, S.Keely. Henry Jessop is sitting on the floor. As well as Harry, Arthur Ashwell, Arthur Cursham, Henry Jessop, Tom Oliver and George Seals were all ex-High School pupils:

q park

In 1880-1881, Harry scored 13 goals in 10 appearances, including five at home to Sheffield (8-1), a game in which fellow Old Nottinghamian Harold Morse scored the other three goals. He scored five more goals in what was then Notts’ record winning margin, namely 15-1 at home to Newark.

In 1881-1882, Harry produced 21 goals in just 15 appearances. By now an outside left, he scored four at home to Staveley (7-0) and Derby Midland (7-2), and four more away to Pilgrims (5-1). He scored twos at home to the Old Carthusians (5-1) and the Sheffield Club (5-1) and away to Nottingham Forest (5-0). At one point, he managed 16 goals in six consecutive games (1-2-2-2-4-4 ). In addition, the scorers of three goals in a 5-0 victory over the Sheffield Club remain unknown, as do all the goalscorers in a 13-0 rout of Grantham. It is surely beyond credence that Harry did not score at least once in this particular game.

In 1882-1883, he scored 29 goals in 16 appearances. Having moved to centre forward, he opened the season with six goals against a Local Clubs’ XI (10-1) and scored four at home to Stoke (5-0) with four away at Sheffield (8-2). He got a hat trick in a 10-0 home win over Mitchell St.George’s, and scored twos at home against Sheffield (8-1), Liverpool Ramblers (3-1),Walsall (7-2) and Wednesbury Old Athletic (6-1) and away against Aston Villa (2-1). At one point, Harry managed 16 goals in five games (6-2-2-4-2 ). The scorers remain unknown in a 5-1 victory at Stoke:

harry 1

The 1883-1884 season produced 22 goals in 21 appearances. Playing mainly as an outside left, Harry scored four goals in a 5-1 victory over Padiham, and hat tricks at home to Sheffield Attercliffe (6-2) and Brentwood (3-2). He got twos in a 6-1 home victory over the South of England and in a 4-1 home win against Great Lever.

The following season of 1884-1885, he was to score 19 goals in just 22 appearances, with four in an 8-0 home victory over Derby Midland, and twos at home to Sheffield (6-2), Notts Rangers (6-2), Corinthians (3-2), and, most important of all, against Nottingham Forest, in a 3-2 home victory. He played this season mostly as an outside left, but in January, Harry missed the games against Blackburn Olympic (1-1) and Preston North End (2-3), as he was in mourning for his brother, Arthur, who, having recently emigrated, had died in Pera, Florida on Christmas Eve at the age of only 32, of what was variously called malarial fever or yellow fever. In the game against Blackburn Olympic, the County team all wore black crêpe armbands as a mark of respect. Here is the Olympic team:

blackburn1886

Immediately before the start of this season, “Mercutio”, in his “Nottingham Football Annual”, had described Harry Cursham as:

“A grand forward. Plays on either wing, and has distinguished himself in the centre. Is at his best perhaps on the left, in which position he frequently evokes admiration by the brilliancy of his runs. A splendid shot at goal, and altogether one of the best men of the day.”

In 1885-1886 Harry managed hat tricks at home to West Bromwich Albion (4-3) and Nottingham Forest (5-0). The next season there were 15 goals in 23 games as Harry, by now back at inside left, scored goals steadily throughout the season. He cannot, though, have enjoyed Notts’ narrow 0-14 defeat at the hands of Preston North End, “The Invincibles”, who were to win the first ever Football League Championship in 1888-1889. They were one of the greatest teams in the history of the Football League:

preston-north-end-1889-514

In the last season before the establishment of the Football League, 1887-1888, Harry, now operating at either left or right full back scored only 2 goals in 19 games. They both came in a 4-0 home victory over Grimsby Town, one of only three games in the forward line. Here is the Notts kit from 1888-1890:notts_county_1880-1890

In 1888-1889, Harry, still a right back, became one of the small number of High School boys to have played League football. He played eight times and his two goals came when he reverted to centre forward, in home victories over West Bromwich Albion (2-1) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-0). The latter effort, scored after two goals from Ted May, was his last goal for Notts County.

In matches other than F.A.Cup ties, therefore, Harry managed a minimum of 158 goals in 183 appearances. When the F.A.Cup ties are added in, his career total becomes a phenomenal 235 goals in 202 appearances. In very many games, of course, the scorers’ names have been lost and we have no means of knowing if that total of 235 is too low.

On March 18th 1882, Harry refereed the friendly match between Nottingham Forest and a Trent-Wanderers Combination. In this match, Forest’s goalkeeper, John Sands, came out of goal, and scored a goal, surely one of the first times that this had ever happened in football history.

Some years after this, Harry refereed the friendly game between Nottingham Forest and Notts Rangers (0-2), one of the Nottingham’s first ever matches under floodlights. The game kicked off at 8 p.m., on Monday, March 25th 1889. The lighting was provided by Wells lights, fourteen of which were set up around the ground. Powered by oil, they provided, in theory, some 14,000 candlepower each. More than 5,000 spectators were attracted to this unusual game.

Given his amazing record as a goalscorer, Harry was to play for England on several occasions:

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He made his début in 1880 as an outside right, a late replacement in the team as England beat Wales by 3-2 at Wrexham. In 1882, he played as outside left in a record away performance at Belfast in Ireland. Harry scored one goal of England’s thirteen, without reply from the Irish. Here are the Irish, looking very dapper:

M014Ire1882Ire 13-0

Later that year he played as a left half against Scotland in Glasgow, a game the English lost, rather unluckily, by five goals to one. Can you spot the fresh faced Harry in the picture below?

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This particular game was refereed by the splendidly named official, Mr Segar R Bastard. Crowds were to recognise his offspring in innumerable matches down the years.

Harry then scored one goal as England lost by 3-5 to Wales at Wrexham. In February, 1883, he celebrated being in the same England team as his Old Nottinghamian brother, Arthur, by scoring a goal in a 5-0 revenge victory over the Welsh.  In the same month, as an outside left, he helped England beat the Irish by 7-0 at Liverpool. In March 1883, he again appeared with his brother Arthur, this time as a left half, losing to Scotland by 2-3 at Sheffield.

This is the England team which played against Scotland at Sheffield on March 10th 1883. It contained three Notts County players, and two Old Nottinghamians, one of whom, Harry Cursham, is seated second from the left on the middle row. His brother, Arthur Cursham, may be the player seated on the left of the front row, and half back Stuart Macrae is possibly the player at the right hand end of the middle row. Readers may wish to look at other pictures of Notts County, and decide for themselves !

eng v sco 1883

On February 25th 1884, as outside left, Harry scored a hat-trick in England’s 8-1 victory over Ireland in Belfast. This was his last game for England, and he had scored five goals in eight appearances at this level. This remains the record number of England international caps by a Notts County player. What a pity there were only three games per season. What a pity Harry Cursham never played against Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein or Gibraltar. What goals Harry would have scored!

After leaving Notts County, Harry played an unrecorded number of games for Grantham:

Grantham_Town_FC_logoOn March 12th 1891, Harry appeared for the Nottingham High School Old Boys at the Gregory Ground, in their fixture against the current High School First Team. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Old Boys won by 3-1, with Harry getting their second goal midway through the second half. In 1896, Harry, along with Tinsley Lindley, was invited to play in the first ever “Gentlemen versus Players” game, a prestigious friendly, which would help to make absolutely clear to all the working class spectators the rigid class differences and privileges in force in the hierarchical society of the time. To both men’s credit, they refused the opportunity, preferring to watch a local derby match, Forest v County.

By 1929, Harry was living at “The Firs”, Holme Pierrepoint:

old man

Harry passed away peacefully there on Wednesday, August 6th 1941, at the age of eighty-two. He was survived by his widow, and his daughter, Mrs.R.S.Challands. Harry had two sons. One, Curzon, was a solicitor, while the other son, Francis George, was a Major in the 8th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters during the Great War. He was tragically killed in an accident on active service at Aldershot on August 31st 1918, at the age of only twenty-nine.

Harry’s funeral took place at Holme Pierrepont Parish Church on Saturday, August 9th 1941:

church hpp xxxxxxx

His old friend, the Archdeacon J.P.Hales took the service, assisted by Canon A.D.Allen, the Rector of the parish. Harry was buried behind the church. Harry’s wife, Frances Anne Elizabeth, was to pass away on March 8th 1946, at the age of eighty-two. She was buried with her husband:

grave

Only ten metres away from these two graves lies Harry’s other son, Curzon. He lived to a ripe old age, dying on June 17th 1981 just three weeks short of his 94th birthday. His wife, Sheila Moorhouse Cursham (1891-1968) is interred with him. Next to Harry and Frances lies his son, Francis:

son cursham-granve-a

By the way, the illustrations of the old football kits came from the best ever website for the soccer nerd and all the boys who had more than twenty different Subbuteo teams. New Brighton Tower 1898? Oh, yes.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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)

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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.

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(That’s going to hurt)

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(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.

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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.

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(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.

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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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Hallowe’en Nights (1) Black Shuck

Old Shuck, Black Shuck, or simply Shuck is the name of a huge, phantom black dog which roams, for the most part, the fields, fens and even beaches of East Anglia. The main areas are Norfolk and Suffolk, but there are also parts of Cambridgeshire and Essex which it is alleged to haunt.

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His name of Shuck may well come from the old Anglo-Saxon word “scaucca” or “scucca”  which means a “demon”, or possibly it is based on the local dialect word “shucky” meaning “shaggy” or “hairy”.
There are those who believe that Shuck derivers his name from the Black Hound owned by Odin.

Odin_DarkW1azzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzThis would be a very neat fit, given that the Vikings settled for the most part in the eastern parts of England. Unfortunately, there is little if any mention of any dog, black or otherwise, that Odin owned. He had an eight legged horse called Sleipnir, which gives us the present-day eight reindeer used by Santa Claus, although it may be more accurate to suggest a coffin which is usually borne to its final resting place by four pall-bearers, hence the eight legs. This fine modern statue is in Wednesbury, a town which obviously owes its name to Woden.

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Odin had two ravens called Huginn and Muninn, who flew all over the world of Midgard, finding out information for their master. Huginn means thought and Muninn means memory or mind.

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Odin did have two wolves called Geri and Freki, but I have been able to find little indication that he ever owned a dog.

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Such a domestic animal as a mere dog just would not have been big enough and fierce enough for the King of the Gods.
On the other hand, Odin was well known for leading “The Wild Hunt”, which in England seems usually to have been a mechanism for the pagan god to ride his sleigh across the storm tossed and windy night sky, pulled by faithful Sleipnir, chasing Christian sinners or the unbaptised, and then carrying them off in his huge sack.(another connection with dear old Santa Claus).Like any red-coated fox hunter, Odin would always use a pack of dogs, but in his case, it would invariably be the black Hounds of Hell. In pagan Scandinavia and northern Germany, this frightening event was called Odin’s Hunt. People who saw it and laughed at it would mysteriously vanish, presumably into Odin’s sack. Sincere believers were rewarded with gold.

hunt

In the wake of the passing storm, with which the Wild Hunt was often identified, a black dog would sometimes be found upon a neighboring heath. To remove it, it would need to be exorcised.

However, if it could not be removed in this way, the hound must be kept for a whole year and carefully tended. We shall see just how this relates to Black Shuck later on.

Black_Shuck_by_watchful_eye xxxxxxxxIn appearance, Shuck is generally jet black and can be of any size from that of, say, a black Labrador, up to that of a calf or even a horse. The more ancient the mention of Shuck, the weirder he tends to be. Nowadays, he usually has two large bright red shining eyes, but centuries ago he was often seen as a Cyclops with only one eye. He can also be invisible, so that you might just hear his footsteps in the road behind you, or hear the noise he makes as he walks across grass, or on some occasions in East Anglia, through the reed bed. Sometimes, all you will hear is just the noise of his chain scraping on the ground.


In his “Highways & Byways in East Anglia”, published in 1901, W. A. Dutt describes Shuck in these terms…

“He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths.

Although his howling makes the hearer’s blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops’, is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck: it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year. So you will do well to shut your eyes if you hear him howling; shut them even if you are uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the voice of the wind you hear. Should you never set eyes on our Norfolk (Hell Hound) you may perhaps doubt his existence, and, like other learned folks, tell us that his story is nothing but the old Scandinavian myth of the black hound of Odin, brought to us by the Vikings who long ago settled down on the Norfolk coast.”

Shuck is said to help travellers find their way, and can be protective towards people who are lost, particularly young children. Similarly, he likes to accompany women on their way home, acting as a protector, more helpful than threatening; Writing as recently as 2008, Dr. Simon Sherwood, of the University of Northampton Psychology Department, notes that “benign accounts of the dog become more regular towards the end of the 19th and throughout the 20th centuries”.

Sometimes he seems almost worthy of our pity…

“A seaside tale on East Anglian television a few years ago related the tale of a large black dog who was seen regularly on the beach near Cromer, always at the very edge of the breaking waves. When approached, he would just disappear into thin air. Observers were certain that he must have been a ghost dog, whose master had been drowned, and whom the poor dog was destined to search for through all eternity. Others explained him as being yet another appearance by East Anglia’s famous Black Dog, Old Shuck.”

In general, though, Shuck is more negative than positive. At the seaside, he can actually be rather sinister…

“Off the coast of Cromer a local child befriended a black dog and went swimming with him in the cold waters of the North Sea. While out over deep water the dog deliberately stopped the child from returning to land, in a clear attempt to drown him. The child is eventually saved by sailors who see what is happening. The dog, of course, is nowhere to be seen.”

Shuck, though, is usually a portent of ill omen , a harbinger of doom. Ivan Bunn,
who is a folklore specialist in East Anglia, and who has collected very many strange incidents over the years, has explained that usually, you would expect to die within a year of seeing Shuck. In southerly parts of Essex, you would expect almost immediate death. Alternatively, Shuck might terrify his victims, but they will continue to live normal lives. In some cases, a close relative of the observer, or a close friend, might die or become ill. If you tell anybody that you have seen Shuck, you will make these dreadful fates even more inevitable.
There are a huge number of sightings, even nowadays, of Black Shuck. Mr Bunn has well in excess of a hundred just for Norfolk and Suffolk and parts of some of the adjoining counties. On one occasion, a lady out walking in the moonlight in a country village thought that she had found her sister’s dog wandering off, and went to take hold of it to return to her house. As she reached down, Black Shuck shrank in size until he was as small as a tiny black kitten. Sixty years later that lady will still not go out on her own at night.

Another person, a man, was followed across the marshes on the North Norfolk coast. All he could hear was the sound of the phantom dog. Within a year, tragically, his son had unexpectedly died. Strangely enough, though, Shuck is not totally a ghost. On occasion he has left pawprints before disappearing into thin air, and in a famous episode in Suffolk, he left scorch marks on the door as he exited a church.

Apparently, the earliest mention of Black Shuck dates from 1450, and the arrest proclamation for the rebel Jack Cade, when he was accused of having “reared up the Devil in the semblance of a black dogge” at Dartford in Kent.

Here is one of two incidents which are particularly well known. There was “an exceeding great and terrible tempest” on August 4th 1577. A contemporary account,  “A Strange and Terrible Wunder” by the Reverend Abraham Fleming says that…

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“There were assembled at the same season, to hear divine service and common prayer…in the parish church…of Bungay, the people thereabouts inhabiting…

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Immediately hereupon, there appeared to the congregation then and there present, in a most horrible likenesse, a dog as they might discerne it, of a black colour…This black dog, or the devil in such a likenesse…running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible form and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees…wrung the necks of them both at one instant clean backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died…

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…the same black dog, still continuing and remaining in one and the self same shape, passing by another man of the congregation in the church, gave him such a gripe on the back, that he was presently drawn together and shrunk up, as he were a piece of leather scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawn together with a string. The man…. died not, but it is thought he is yet alive…
…The Clerk of the said Church being occupied in cleansing of the gutter of the church, with a violent clap of thunder was smitten down, and beside his fall had no further harm…there are remaining in the stones of the Church, and likewise in the Church door which are marvellously torn, ye marks as it were of the black dog’s claws or talons. Beside that, all the wires, the wheels, and other things belonging to the Church, were broken in pieces…These things are reported to be true…”

One other chronicler claims that this was not Black Shuck’s only appearance that particular day. Allegedly, he visited another part of this tiny Suffolk market town and claimed two further victims.
In Bungay, Shuck is reputed still to meander around the graveyard on dark nights. In addition, there are strange scratches on the door of St.Mary’s Church which were supposedly made by the Hell Hound when he attempted to pursue a victim who had taken refuge in the church. And like so many of the churches involved in the legend of Shuck, St.Mary’s has a square tower.
But back to that same day of August 4th 1577. Both the storm and Shuck fled the ten or so miles to nearby Blythburgh, and Holy Trinity Church …….

blthy air zz

 

“In like manner, into the parish church of another towne called Blythburgh…the black dog, or the devil in such a likenesse entered, in the same shape and placing himself uppon a main baulke or beam, suddenly he gave a swinge downe through ye church, and there also, as before, slew two men and a lad, and burned the hand of another person that was there among the rest of the company, of whom divers were blasted. This mischief thus wrought, he flew with wonderful force to no little feare of the assembly, out of the church in a hideous and hellish likeness.”

A more modern account tells it slightly differently…

“Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the doors of Holy Trinity Church to a clap of thunder.

blyth church xxxx

He ran up the nave, past a large congregation, killing a man and boy and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof. As the dog left, he left scorch marks on the north door which can be seen at the church to this day.”

These scorch marks are still referred to by the locals as “the devil’s fingerprints”, and the whole event is remembered in the song…

“All down the church
in midst of fire,
the hellish monster flew,
and, passing onward to the choir,
he many people slew”

It must be said though, that the church records at Blythburgh do not necessarily tell the same demonic tale. The episode has certainly been recorded, but as a meteorological one with an extraordinarily violent thunderstorm.  In this story the two people were instantly killed when the bell tower of the church was stuck by the lightning. They had been aloft in the tower ringing the church bells in an effort to dispel the evil spirits which were causing the storm.
One interesting detail in the more dramatic version of the story is how when Shuck has finished racing through the congregation as they kneel in prayer he makes his demonic exit through the north door of the church. The North Door is traditionally the way in which evil forces may enter a church, because the north face of the church is considered to belong to Satan.

In general, churches were usually built to the north of any roads or paths, because the main entrance had to be on the south side. Since it was common for churches to be built on pagan sacred sites, non-Christian worshippers might still want to come and visit them, and they could then enter the church through the so-called “Devil’s door” in the “heathen” north side of the church. In my humble opinion there is probably some additional connection with the direction from which the Vikings came in the era when they ransacked so many English churches and monasteries.

Once again, a church involved in the legend of this sinister black dog has a square tower. Whatever the real truth, though, Shuck has become an integral part of the everyday life of the little town of Bungay.

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He appears on the town’s coat of arms. His name has been used in various local business enterprises including a restaurant, and the annual “Black Dog Marathon” begins in the town. The nickname of the town’s football club is the “Black Dogs”.

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And the Lowestoft band, the Darkness, have recorded a song about East Anglia’s most famous cryptic canid…


And what about Black Dogs in Nottinghamshire?  That is for another blogpost. In the meantime, content yourself with Mike W.Burgess’ amazingly detailed website.

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England’s Greatest Poet

To my shame, I did not appreciate that July 13th, the 121st anniversary of his birth, was “John Clare Day”.  I found this out by googling retrospectively “John Clare”, and coming across an absolutely superb article by George Monbiot in the Guardian.
Furthermore, I must confess that I actually knew very little about John Clare other than the fact that he was a poet and that, unlike the vast majority of poets, he was of working class origin. His biographer Jonathan Bate described him as “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self”.
The first port of call, therefore was Wikipedia.

The bare bones of Clare’s life were that he was born into desperate agricultural poverty in the tiny village of Helpston, just to the north of Peterborough in Northamptonshire.

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The area was amazingly rich in wildlife.

He would have seen and heard corncrakes everywhere.

Nightjars too, were as common in England then as they now are in this excellent film from Denmark…

There were ravens in the old, giant oak trees, wrynecks, which still bred in old woodpeckers’ holes, and the last few wildcats…

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And glowworms…

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“Tasteful illumination of the night,
Bright scattered, twinkling star of spangled earth.”

Clare’s cottage, where he spent his childhood, still remains…

John Clare Cottage
Like all his fellows, Clare became an agricultural labourer while still a child, but he attended the school in Glinton church until he was twelve. He also began to write poetry, something which was to cause him great problems throughout the rest of his life among simple farm workers.

He wrote…

“I live here among the ignorant like a lost man in fact like one whom the rest seemes careless of having anything to do with—they hardly dare talk in my company for fear I should mention them in my writings and I find more pleasure in wandering the fields than in musing among my silent neighbours who are insensible to everything but toiling and talking of it and that to no purpose.”

Clare’s first love was Mary Joyce, but alas, she was to die, by our standards at least, a premature death.

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Clare was to marry Martha Turner in 1820. Her nickname was “Patty”.

“Courtship
Where are you going lovely maid
The morning fine & early
“I’m going to Walkerd”, Sir she said
&made across the barley

I asked her name she blushed away
The question seemed to burn her
A neighbour came & passed the day
&called her Patty Turner

I wrote my better poems there
To beautys praise I owe it
The muses they get all the praise
But woman makes the poet

A womans is the dearest love
Theres nought on earth sincerer
The leisure upon beautys breast
Can any thing be dearer

I saw her love in beauty’s face
I saw her in the rose
I saw her in the fairest flowers
In every weed that grows”

Clare, though, was to have  many bouts of severe depression, which worsened as his family increased in size and his poetry sold less well.
Gradually over the years, his behaviour became progressively more and more erratic. In July 1837, he went of his own accord to Doctor Matthew Allen’s private asylum. In 1841, though, Clare absconded and walked all the way back home from Essex. He thought, in his madness, that he would be able to refind his first true love, Mary Joyce.  He believed firmly that he was married not just to her, but to Martha as well, and had children by both women. He refused to believe Mary’s family that she had died accidentally three years previously in a house fire. He stayed a free man at home for a little while, but was back in the asylum by mid-1841, his wife having called for help from them between Christmas and the New Year of 1841.
Clare was sent to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he lived out the rest of his life. He was helped enormously by the kindness and humanity of Dr Thomas Octavius Prichard, who encouraged and helped him to continue writing his poetry. It was at the Northamptonshire County General Lunatic Asylum  that Clare wrote possibly his most famous poem…..

“I am!
I AM! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky. “

Clare’s problems with depression  had not been helped by having to watch his world disappear as, between 1809 and 1820, various  Acts of Enclosure allowed the greedy, idle, useless rich to increase their already great wealth by putting fences across the previously open fields, heathland and woodlands., and declaring that everything now belonged to them.

This, of course, was the early nineteenth century equivalent of “Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, and, as it was designed to do, prevented anybody poor from enjoying what abruptly became the rich man’s landscape.

In due course, the idle rich realised that they could make even more money by destroying the ancient countryside, and farming it in an exclusively profit orientated way.  There was no room for five hundred year old oak trees or sleepy marshes, no more meandering streams or cool copses to give shade on a hot summer’s day. Faced by the onslaught of Agribusiness, the wild animals, the birds, the insects and the butterflies all began to disappear.

In other words, it was pretty much the beginning of the country landscape we are asked to tolerate today.

This poem was finished by 1824, but was published only in 1935.

“The Mores

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed springs blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the orisons edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all–a hope that blossomed free
And hath been once no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labours rights and left the poor a slave
And memorys pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came with evening morn and night
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now alls fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors loosing from the sight far smooth and blea
Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay”

For me, Clare’s best work is his nature poetry. Because he was a poor labourer, he saw far more details as he walked along than the rich poets who thundered past in their coaches. John Clare’s nightingale actually was a real nightingale, not another species misidentified.

George Monbiot in his wonderful article urges us to read the poem…

“…Everything he sees flares into life…his ability to pour his mingled thoughts and observations on to the page as they occur, allowing you, as perhaps no other poet has done, to watch the world from inside his head.”

“The Nightingale’s Nest”  is indeed a fabulous poem, and is just like going for a stroll into the woods with John Clare himself, to view a bird whose nest he has previously staked out at some point during his working day. The reader becomes a fellow birdwatcher, who can follow John Clare’s instructions about where to look…

Common-nightingale-feeding-chicks-at-nest

“The Nightingale’s Nest

Up this green woodland-ride let’s softly rove,
And list the nightingale – she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love ;
For here I’ve heard her many a merry year –
At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot,
Just where that old-man’s-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o’er the road, and stops the way –
And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails –
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ :
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel’s under boughs, I’ve nestled down,
And watched her while she sung ; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy,
And feathers stand on end, as ’twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of summer’s fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ ;
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain :
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And at a distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain,
Till envy spurred the emulating thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs ;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast ;
The nightingale to summer’s life belongs,
And naked trees, and winter’s nipping wrongs,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide –
Hark! there she is as usual – let’s be hush –
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest,
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
These hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious ’neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round ;
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows,
We’ll wade right through, it is a likely nook :
In such like spots, and often on the ground,
They’ll build, where rude boys never think to look –
Aye, as I live ! her secret nest is here,
Upon this white-thorn stump ! I’ve searched about
For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by –
Nay, trample on its branches and get near.
How subtle is the bird! she started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh,
Ere we were past the brambles ; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops – as choking fear,
That might betray her home. So even now
We’ll leave it as we found it: safety’s guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still.
See there! she’s sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears ; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.”

I have not quoted some of Clare’s poems in full. They are extremely accessible on the Internet, and will fully repay your efforts.
The vast majority of his poetry can be found very easily.

Just find “Poets by Name” on the left of the screen, and click on “J” for “John Clare”.
The poet’s grave is at Helpston….
helpston grave
And, as one of England’s greatest poets, he has a memorial…

220px-John_Clare_Memorial,_Helpston,_Peterborough

And what looks like a rather modern statue…

statue

Youtube, of course, has many readings of John Clare’s works.

There are some quite long anthologies…

Some are good,

And there are others

I am a sentimental old fool, so I liked…

 

 

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The five golden double entendres of buying a bird table

You might not think so, but this is a good time to be buying a bird table. It will give the birds plenty of time to get used to the presence of this new garden furniture, and with a little bit of luck, they might even start coming to the table fairly quickly. At the moment, for example, there are lots of recently fledged baby birds who could all do with a little help to find food.
For me, the most basic thing to buy is a free standing weighted block in which to insert the framework which will eventually hold your food dispensers.
This is the type of thing I mean…..
41oKJ7McgdLThe top is like this….
feeding station
Our bird table looks like this….
A1
There are three metal bird feeders…
A2
The leftmost one encourages them to nibble nuts…


They love the middle one, which contains a pretty revolting block made of suet and either insects or mealworms.

 

A6

The tiniest birds, like baby Long-tailed Tits, can even manage to get inside two layers of anti-squirrel proofing!
A8

On the right is a dispenser which allows birds to take away sunflower seeds.

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In time, the birds will get used to it, and your bird table will attract lots and lots of them. At the moment, it is almost totally baby birds, who can make up for this summer’s apparent lack of insects by snacking on the food we provide. So far, we have helped out Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits. In winter, there are many other species which turn up, such as Dunnocks, Chaffinches, the increasingly rare House Sparrow and the showy Siskin.

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If you want some extra variety, there is a fabulous bird table webcam, at the Cornell Institute in Ithaca, New York State. Every single bird here is different from ours, except, of course, the ubiquitous Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

Your biggest enemy for a bird table anywhere in England is the pesky Grey Squirrel, but half an hour watching the Ithaca website at the moment will show that we in Nottingham are not the only ones with difficulties. The real problem is that what you think is just one Grey Squirrel is, in fact, two, the male and the female, but you, as a mere human being, cannot necessarily tell the difference. At the moment, the youngsters are slightly browner, but even then, there might well be five separate ones which you think is just one very fast moving individual!
So make sure that anything you buy is squirrel proof. They might be more expensive, but given that squirrels will not just eat bird food on the spot, but will also take it away to store for the winter, in the long run you might actually save money, as you avoid two or three kilos going missing every single day.
We bought all the different bits for our bird table from Amazon Marketplace. That is, of course, not the only place where you can purchase bird tables, but in my opinion, you would certainly be better to avoid garden centres, to avoid wood and to go for metal, and, above all, never ever to have a bird table with a nest box attached.
Above all, remember the five golden double entendres of bird table purchasing…

Firstly, you will need a very big, heavy, bottom.

And an impressive top to hang your feeders on

Hang your nuts where the squirrels can’t get at them.

Don’t let your suet blocks get nibbled either.
.
And finally, don’t  let your seed spill on the floor.

All of the above feeders are, in my experience, squirrel proof, although in July and August, smaller adolescents can get through the bars to feed, but, because they grow fairly quickly, this will not last for ever.
Don’t frighten them too much! A young squirrel dead from sheer fear will not be easy to get out of the feeder, and, from a moral standpoint, it’s not really very Dalai Lama.
Initially the expense of feeding the birds, and not the squirrels, can be rather high. It is reminiscent of when, in Monty Python, Michael Ellis goes to the pet shop to buy a pet ant….

“Is there anything I’ll need with my ant?”

“Yes, sir – you’ll need an ant house. This is the model we recommend, sir. And then you will need some pieces of cage furniture which will keep him entertained. Here’s an ant-wheel, an ant-swing, and a very nice little ladder. He can run up there and ring the bell at the top, that’s a little trick he can learn.

Here’s a two-way radio he can play with… and of course you’ll need the book. So, sir, that is, if I may say so, one hundred and eighty-four pounds twelve pence, sir.”

On the other hand, if you set up your metal fortified bird table a few yards from your panoramic dining room window, you will be able to watch the comings and goings of the birds, and relieve the stresses and strains of the day for the rest of your life, even if your camera is showing its age, the curtains cast a reflection, the sun is in the wrong place, all the usual excuses….


The bird above is a blue tit.


These are great, blue, and coal tits.

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A boar, a sow and a hoglet? Surely not!

Any of my readers in either the Americas or Australia will wonder what I am talking about when I get excited about the European hedgehog  (Erinaceus europaeus)…

Hedgehog shropos

But that will be because, according to Wikipedia….

“A hedgehog is any of the spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae, found through parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand (by introduction). There are no hedgehogs native to Australia, and no living species native to the Americas.”

Hedgehogs are lovely, sweet animals, which often turn up in the more countrified or overgrown gardens just as darkness is beginning to fall on a warm summer night, and the bats are coming out to hunt.
It is a well-loved species, which has, however, declined sharply in England over the last ten years, with an overall decrease of at least 25%. Hedgehogs are, in actual fact, disappearing in Britain at a quicker rate than tigers are in their own jungle habitat in  southern Asia. The problems for hedgehogs are the usual ones. Gardens are nowadays generally tidier with lots of neat wooden decking, and hardly any patches of weeds and rough grass, full of slugs and juicy snails. More efficient fences have fewer holes in them to allow hedgehogs to range far and wide. The extensive use of insecticide means fewer insects, and a greater possibility of being poisoned. Road casualties are high because the animals’ first natural defence is to roll up into a spiny ball. Not too effective on a busy highway.
Recently though, in our wonderfully overgrown garden, we have been visited by two, possibly, three hedgehogs. We think that they are either a mother and two different children, or possibly, a father, a mother and one rather small and cute child. They snuffle about in the leaf litter, and yesterday morning, in the wee small hours, at about three o’clock, it was actually possible to hear their chewing and crunching from inside the house.
This is the mother, we think…
P1000798
And these individuals are all youngsters, although only their mother could tell them apart, and they may very well be the one and the same little chap photographed on three separate occasions. Spot the catfood…

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I think the reason for the arrival of these lovely, sweet little animals is the prolonged spell of great heat and severe dryness that we are currently experiencing here in England.  The drought means fewer insects than normal, and the hedgehogs are forced to try their luck closer to man than they might otherwise venture. We have fed our visitors with, for example, wet and meaty cat food, and they certainly appreciate a bowl of water. Traditionally, you are supposed to feed them a bowl of milk with lumps of bread in it, but this is not really a very good idea for a lactose-intolerant insectivore, even one who is willing to consume dog food when times are bad.
In this video, the mother is looking out for suitable scraps from the bird table…

My daughter had to stop filming when the hedgehog was on her shoe!
Here is our video of a cute baby hedgehog eating catfood:


The babies are called “hoglets”, and Mummy and Daddy are a “boar” and a “sow”.
If you are successful in finding and feeding any hedgehogs, make sure that you send your data to the 2014 Hibernation Survey which lasts until August 31st of this year. The more scientific data we have about hedgehogs, the more can be done to increase their depleted numbers.

To find out more about how you can attract hedgehogs to your garden and what to feed them, take a stroll along Hedgehog Street.

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