Tag Archives: Free School

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

Was it suicide…..or was it………………..murder ?????

The period when the seventeenth century turned into the eighteenth was not the easiest of times for the Nottingham Free School, the ancient predecessor of the present day High School.  You only have to look at the wooden board behind the school receptionist’s desk at the High School, and the list of names and dates that is up there. During this period, some three hundred years ago, Headmasters come and go, thick and fast. Just to refresh your memory:

Edward Griffith              1691 – 1707
Richard Johnson           1707 – 1720
William Smeaton           1718 – 1719
William Saunders          1719
Thomas Miles                  1719
John Womack                 1720 – 1722
John Swaile                      1722 – 1731

Let’s look at the diary of these turbulent and potentially disastrous twenty years. Edward Griffith, the first Headmaster on the list, seems to have been an astonishing man. He could have talked his way into so many jobs in our own time, most of them probably in politics. Or maybe even financial advice:

August 1697

Edward Griffith, the Headmaster for the last six years, was summoned to court “for neglecting the school, whereby the school is much decayed in its reputation.” Griffith promised to concentrate on the school and never to work again as a full-time clergyman as well as his main job as the Headmaster.

early 1698

Griffith took up a lucrative post as the new Vicar of Stapleford.

Friday, December 19th 1698

The Town Council gave Edward Griffith the sack, alleging that

“…he has very much neglected his duty, whereby the said Free School is very much decayed and lessened, ….. the School Wardens do give him a discharge, which they have done accordingly. And if he shall refuse to leave the said Free School, that they shall withdraw his Salary.”

Griffith made no reply whatsoever to this decision. Sit tight and it will all blow over.
May 1699
The Town Council issued a second decree that Griffith should quit his post. He took absolutely no notice of this one either.
January 1700
It was agreed by the Town Council that Griffith should keep his job and salary until further notice. Result!!
January 1705
The Town Council told Griffith that he was “discharged from being Schoolmaster any longer”, an order which, not surprisingly perhaps, he again ignored completely. He did, however, make a promise to depart in the very near future.
June 1705
Griffith was again told to leave his job, and that his salary would henceforth not be paid.
March 1706
The school wardens were told by the Town Council to pay the £85 of Griffith’s wages which had not been paid to him over the past two years. Once he had been given this cash settlement, Griffith had promised to leave.
March 1707
Griffith at long last departed, a mere ten short years after being told to do so. And now, Richard Johnson…..

1707
The new Headmaster, Richard Johnson, seems to have been, for the first five years or so of his reign, a vast improvement on his predecessor. Johnson was the author of an impressively long Latin poem describing a horse race on the Forest Recreation Ground, which was then called “The Lings”. Here is the site nowadays:

forest
Race meetings used to take place in July of every year, and they attracted prominent people from miles around. Here is the Racecourse in the late nineteenth century:

racecourse zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

In 1708, the race was won by the Earl of Cardigan on his horse, Carlessus. Johnson’s long Latin poem mentions the Duke of Rutland, Sir Thomas Willoughby of Wollaton Hall and Sir Thomas Parkyns of Bunny. It refers specifically to the fact that, because of the recent outbreak of smallpox in the town, comparatively few women were present…

“Now, to enhance the glories of the race,
See, many lovely women bring their grace.
Yet others, eager for the festive day,
With tearful prudence choose to stop away,
Lest swift and dreaded pestilence arise,
And desecrate that loveliness they prize.”

Here is another, mid-Victorian view of the Forest Racecourse with two boys, who may well have been members of the new High School. Notice the distant footballers busy playing in the middle of the racecourse:

forest and boys zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

1708
The newly appointed Headmaster, Richard Johnson, gave so many promises about how well he would perform in his new job at the Free School that it was decided to improve his living quarters and to build extra classrooms for all the new pupils who were bound to be attracted by the extreme excellence of this new Headmaster. Plans were already afoot to appoint two more members of staff, namely a second Usher and a visiting Writing Master, giving an overall staff of four. That should cope with the almost countless hordes, all eager for a free education of a very high standard.

(This won’t end well. It all sounds like pie in the sky to me.)

June 1718
Very little is known about what happened in the school in the years between 1711-1718, but, as an expert on the subject, I was 100% right about the pie.

The Council now sought to sack Richard Johnson, given that they thought he was a madman:

“…for all or most of the time…he very much omitted and neglected to teach and instruct the Sons of Nottingham….For the space of three Months and upward, he hath been, and is now, Delirious and Non Compos Mentis. He is incapable of performing and executing the Office of the Headmaster of the said school.”

Certainly, Johnson had fallen ill in 1714. He wrote ….

“I suffered such pains in my limbs that for a whole year I could not sleep without the aid of opium.”

(A drug addict running the school. That’s just what we need.)

More seriously, though, Johnson does seem to have suffered from a certain amount of ill health. The Town Council’s motivation for removing him from his position, though, may have had more to do with politics than any touching concern for his welfare or the school’s success. They conceivably exaggerated the Headmaster”s medical problems to create a trumped up charge of incompetence, which could then be used to remove a political thorn from the Town Council’s side.

Inadmissible circumstantial evidence it may well be, but Johnson’s difficulties certainly seem to have begun not long after the national Jacobite rebellion in 1715, which was led by the so-called “Old Pretender”, James Stuart. Here he is in his younger days:

(c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Nottingham was a Whig town, and Johnson may well have been a Jacobite. Around this time many other schoolmasters throughout England lost their jobs because they were Jacobites.

For whatever reason though, madness, drugs or politics, the Town Council tried to throw Johnson out. Johnson may well have spoken to his predecessor, Edward Griffith, though, because he decided that the best policy was, quite simply, to refuse, point blank, to leave.

(If that happens, just ignore the situation, and bring in another Headmaster of your choice)

August 11th 1718

The Town Council appointed William Smeaton as Headmaster.

(In that case, Jacobite Johnson, just ignore them. Take no notice whatsoever)

August 12th 1718

Johnson refused physically to leave the school.

Later on in late 1718 or, more probably, early 1719

Fed up with the whole situation, Sulky Smeaton resigned in an apparent fit of pique, and eventually got out of Dodge, never to be heard of again.

1719

The Council then appointed a local man, William Saunders, but at a much reduced salary. A legal action to eject Johnson from the school was taken, but in court Clever Clogs Johnson did not bother with a lawyer. He conducted his own defence with great skill. He duly won his case:

oldbailey zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Johnson explained to the court how unreasonable it was to leave a man of his advanced age penniless in the world, and asked that he be given a decent reference, so that at the very least he could go elsewhere and earn an honest living. At one point, Councillor Abney, knowing of Johnson’s previous mental frailty, accused him:

“…what has happened to you is what Felix said of St.Paul ; much learning has made you mad.”

Johnson replied to the Councillor

“…you will never go mad from the same cause.”

(That got a lot of laughs)

The school now had, arguably, more Headmasters and ex-Headmasters than pupils. There were only five students left. The Deputy Headmaster, George Bettinson, taught two, and Johnson, gallant to the end, did the lion’s share of the work with the other three. Indeed, there were so few pupils that they could well have had a couple of windows each:

free school

Very soon afterwards, the Town Council was again repeating its charge that Johnson had been delirious for the last eighteen months and that he was, to use the technical terms of psychology, as mad as a fish.

Finally, though, a compromise was reached. Johnson would leave and in return, he would be paid a pension of £10 a year for life.

(Mmm…..Nice)

William Saunders, the Town Council’s very, very recently appointed choice for the job, was now told that he too had to leave town before sundown.

later in 1719

Thomas Miles was made Headmaster.

(Problem solved !! Result !!)

Thomas Miles did not take up the post.

(Oh, noooooooooooooo!)

Amazingly and incomprehensibly, Thomas Miles said he didn’t want to work in an atmosphere of such considerable confusion. There was no confusion with the boys, though. Their parents voted with their feet. Numbers were still exceedingly low. On a good day, classes could have fitted inside a telephone box, if they had only been invented. Here is the site of the very confused Free School. No traces remain nowadays of the original building on the corner of  Stoney Street and Barker Gate. Look for the orange arrow:

free school site

1720

Next up to the plate was John Womack, a Bachelor of Arts from Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University, no less. I have been unable to trace if he was related to Bobby Womack, but this is still a superb soul classic. Enjoy:

Neither John Womack nor Bobby Womack held the poisoned chalice for long. John Womack died in April 1722. By now, the school was well on its way to six headmasters in three years. It was beginning to look like an unsuccessful football club.

But then the knockabout fun of “The Free School meets the Crazy Gang” came to an abrupt end.
Richard Johnson, Headmaster Number Two in a Series of Seven, Johnson the Madman, “Mr Delirious”, “Mr Non Compos Mentis”, “Jacobite” Johnson the Opium Addict, the Drug User, went out one day into the Nottingham Meadows, found a small stream which ran through it, and then, in a fit of despondency, he apparently drowned himself:

Erewash_Meadows_web

A witness spoke:

“of the extreme horror of meeting, one evening as I was walking in the Meadows, a venerable grey-haired man, carried dead on a stretcher. It was Richard Johnson. He appeared to have been sitting on the bank of the river, and was found in shallow water with his head downward.”

2994975_32908d1f

The incident was even reported in London newspapers:

“They write from Nottingham that some days since, the Reverend Mr. Richard Johnson, lately Master of the Free School there, being a little Melancholly, took a walk into the Meadows, and drowned himself in a Pit near the Old Trent.”

Here is the old Trent Bridge of the time, the so-called Bridge of Hethbeth:

old-trent-bridge-1869

Despite his apparent suicide, Johnson was eventually allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. He was probably given the benefit of the doubt, and his death was adjudged to be an unfortunate accident. And indeed, he may have had some kind of seizure or fit, perhaps brought on by trying some of those Ecstasy tablets which contain dog de-worming substances. (Unbelievably, yes, some of them do.) Equally, if Johnson’s death were suicide, then it may well have been decided that he was insane at the time he committed the act.

All of these strange circumstances have led a number of historical analysts to suggest, though, that Johnson’s burial in consecrated ground came about, not because his death was not the result of suicide, but because somebody knew very well that  that his unfortunate demise was actually murder. Consider some more circumstantial evidence. Johnson was an awkward so-and-so as his appearances in court show only too well. He was a political problem as a possible Jacobite, eager to see a different monarch in place and a return to Roman Catholicism. He was a financial burden to the Town Council with his Golden Goodbye of a pension of £10 a year for life.

Shadowy figures might well have decided that their own lives would be easier with one less Johnson in the world. One fewer ex-Headmaster above ground. Scratch one Jacobite. The questions are there to be asked. Why the mysterious drowning? Why did a man racked with pain in all his limbs go for a long walk at the side of a river? How did he then manage to drown in the “shallow water” of a “small stream” ?

If only one sadly missed detective had been around:

columbo-death-jackpot-badge

Whatever the reason, this era marks probably the lowest level to which the school has ever sunk.

For years and years afterwards, wary of appointing another highly qualified and learned man who might  turn out to be a second Johnson, the Town Council limited itself to local men, whose good character was well known, even if that meant that they did not have any university experience.

During this period, in the summer, the classes used to begin at 7 am, and then continued until 11 am The afternoon then began at 1 pm, and finally finished at 5 pm, or even later, if the Master so decided. From October 14th to February 14th, school started at 8 am, and finished at 4 pm. It was a six day week, but the Master was allowed to grant holidays and extra playtimes up to twelve hours per week.

(Not a bad deal. Twelve hours free every single week, if you feel so inclined! Twelve hours!)

A poignant plaque in St.Mary’s Church has always been considered to be a description of the education given at the Free School. I have translated it from Ye Olde Englishe:

“ Here lies interred
Henry eldest son of John
Plumptre Esquire.,

Born 22 July, 1708
Deceased January 3, 1718.

In these few
and tender years he had to
a Great Degree made himself
Master of the Jewish, Roman
and English History, the
Heathen Mythology and
the French tongue, and was
not inconsiderably advanced in
the Latin ”

P1120161

1722

Not quite the end! Let’s not forget,  John Swaile. He succeeded John Womack, and steadied a very shaky ship over the next nine years, 1722-1731. He did, however, have his problems with George Bettinson, the Usher or Second Master , who, after serving under six different headmasters in just two and a half years, was well used to running the school himself, and did not take kindly to some fool of a new Headmaster trying to give him orders. But that, as they say, is a different story…

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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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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….

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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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Murder most foul: Chapter Two

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

“Schooldays, 1857-1862″

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yard at Shire Hall with headston

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

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

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

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

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Wooooooooooooo………………………………

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Murder most foul: Chapter One

Strangely enough, the theme of murder runs bright scarlet through the early history of the High School. First, came George Somers, who was the Headmaster for an unknown period of time between, probably 1530, and , hopefully, not long after Friday, July 15th 1532.

Eighteen years earlier, in more probably April, but perhaps in early May, 1514, the Free School’s main benefactress, Dame Agnes had died.

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She left much of her property to the school and was buried alongside her husband in St.Mary’s Church, Nottingham.

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Within a few short years of Dame Agnes’ death, however, her high standards of morality were more or less forgotten. Money frequently went missing and both the Headmasters and the school wardens neglected their duties. A number of teachers appeared in court on various charges, which varied from failing to maintain the church windows to the theft of pupils’ books.

In perhaps January of 1532, the Headmaster, George Somers, was accused of stealing a featherbed, a long pillow, two short pillows, a green and red quilt, a covering and a pair of sheets to the value of 46s 8d. (£2.33p in modern money. Oh for a time machine!)  Somers also owed twelve pence for the hire of the same bed. For what purpose has not been recorded. But you can probably guess…..

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On Friday, July 15th of the same year, in a much more dramatic episode, George Somers, was now accused of murder. The Records tell how.

“…We indict the School Master of wilful murder.”

The incident had taken place almost a month earlier, on June 17th, and Somers had supposedly assaulted John Langton, Chaplain of Nottingham,

“by violence and weapons, namely a stick and daggers, of malice aforethought, and… had feloniously killed and wilfully murdered the same John, against the peace of our Lord the King.”

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Unfortunately, the outcome of these events remains completely unknown, although it is devoutly to be wished that, if convicted, Somers did not keep his post as Headmaster of the school.

Hopefully too, this woodcut does not show Somers’ eventual fate. Notice the moment when the Mexican Wave was invented. Presumably it must be some  Tudor oik losing his focus during the thirty seconds while the rope is put on.

tudor hang

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Boots the Chemist

Boots are one of the most familiar names in High Streets across the United Kingdom and beyond. Very few people, however, would realise that this gigantic pharmaceutical corporation started from just one tiny shop in Nottingham.

The founder of this vast retail empire, Jesse Boot, was born in the city on June 2nd 1850. His father was a farm labourer called John, and his mother was originally named Mary Wells. The family lived in an area of the town called Hockley, which at that time was extremely poor and overcrowded. John Boot opened a herbal remedy shop locally in 1849, but unfortunately he passed away in early 1860. His mother, by now the Widow Mary Boot, decided to enrol their son, Jesse, in the Nottingham Free School. On Thursday, July 19th, of that year, at the age of eleven years and one month, Jessy (sic) Boot was included on the register as a pupil at the Free School.

He first attended the School in July of 1861, and was to remain in Mr Field’s English Department until his departure in August 1863, a period of just over two years.

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While her son learnt high standards of reading, writing and arithmetic, Mrs Boot continued with the shop, helped out by her family and friends, and, from 1863, when he left the Free School, by her son Jesse. By 1871, Jesse was a co-partner with his mother in the imaginatively named “M & J Boot”.

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In 1883 the shop became “Boot and Company Limited”. The horse was delighted…

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The business then expanded to Sheffield in 1884.

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By 1900 there were Boots’ shops over the whole country, reaching their peak with 560 branches in 1913. This particular one was in Glasgow.

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The business was eventually sold by Sir Jesse Boot, who became 1st Baron Trent in 1917. It was bought by the Americans for £2.25 million,

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In 1933, however, during the Great Depression, the company was re-acquired by a British syndicate. Its head was the grandson of the founder, John Boot, who had inherited the title of Baron Trent from his father, who had recently died in Jersey in 1931.

Nowadays, Boots is a familiar High Street brand name…

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Their staff are deliberately clad in quasi-medical uniforms to look more professional

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But they are lovely, caring people…

They sell makeup

and love to dress up at Christmas…

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