Tag Archives: Mansfield

A Great Bustard in Edwardian Nottinghamshire

Great Bustards are huge birds, more or less the size of a domestic turkey. They used to live in many areas of Merrye Old Englande, as long as there was plenty of open grassland and only scattered farmland. They liked the chalk downs of central and southern England such as Wiltshire,  for example, and the open sandy heaths of East Anglia. The last bird English bird was shot in 1832. This is not him:

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A single Great Bustard  was seen at South Collingham on April 1st and April 23rd to 24th 1906. South Collingham was, I presume, to the south of present day Collingham. The latter village is just to the north of Newark-on-Trent. In 1906, there would have been no electricity cables or pylons. Just open, infrequently visited farmland. The orange arrow marks the approximate spot:

collingh

Mr Henry Wigram sent Joseph Whitaker two letters which have survived, and they are kept in the Local Collection in the library at Mansfield:

The Lodge,
South Collingham,
Newark,
29th of June 1906

Dear Sir,
I am afraid you will think me slow in answering your PC (postcard), but I have had some difficulty in obtaining accurate information about the Cormorant, about which I had no note myself:

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I can tell you now that it was seen on the Newark Parish Church steeple for nearly two months. If I can hear anything more definite than this I will let you know.

.
I was glad to have your enquiry about the Great Bustard, because most people have simply smiled, & said “What could it have been ? ” ! !

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I can positively say I did see one, as I had another view of it nearly three weeks after:

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I reported it to “Countryside”, flying over my garden & I believe my wife saw it at about the same time & place on the following day.

The second time I saw it, it was making a noise like an exaggerated Crow’s caw, while on the wing. It was this that drew my attention. On both occasions I was within 120 yards of it:

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You have perhaps heard of the Snipe & Redshank laying in the same nest at Besthorpe. The Snipe laid first, each laid 3 eggs, from which I saw the Redshank get up. I am afraid I cannot say how many were hatched.


I have a few other notes which seem interesting to me, but they may very possibly be rather commonplace to one with so much more experience, as you have.
Though I collected eggs as a boy, it is only of late that I have really studied birds at all. If you think I could help in any way I should be only too glad to do so, as far as I can. I am often at Retford on business and could come over to see you if you wish. After all, I have heard of Rainworth from my friend Bonar, who went to see you with the Wordsworths last year, there can be few more interesting places anywhere.
Yours truly,
Henry Wigram

PS:    I am sorry to find I addressed this wrongly, and it has been returned to me.”

A week later, Henry Wigram sent a further letter to the great man, dated July 6th 1906:

The Lodge,
South Collingham,
Newark,
6 July 1906

Dear Sir
Thank you for your Postcard. Since writing you I have seen a coloured plate of a Great Bustard, & find that it entirely corresponds with my recollection of the bird I saw, but I noticed, as you say, that the bird looks much whiter on wing (sic) than with its wings closed:

qwerty

At the time I saw it, the bird appeared to me to resemble a Turkey more than anything else I could think of. Its colouring was white & brown, not brown & grey.
I put its stretch of wing roughly at a yard and a half, and found afterwards that my man, who was with me on both occasions, guessed it at the same measurement:

flying

I first saw it on April 1st, again on April 23rd. My wife is also certain that she saw it on April 24th.
I had field glasses in my pocket the first time, but the bird, which when I first saw it, was in the act of rising from the ground in a grassfield – disturbed by other people passing, (who did not see it) – though at first it did not appear to be flying fast got away so quickly that I could not get the glasses on to it:

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I was much struck at the time by the pace at which it flew with comparatively slow beats of the wing.
On the second occasion the bird passed right over my head at a height of, I should say, 50 to 60 feet.
This was in the evening. The following morning my wife saw it taking exactly the same line of flight.
I sent word to Gates at Besthorpe on 2nd April that this bird was about, but he was ill & could not look out for it. However a Besthorpe man told him that he had seen a large strange bird about that time:

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My father also saw a large bird he could not identify near the same date, but he did not get near enough to it to give any particulars.
I should very much like to come over to Rainworth as you kindly suggest. Would Friday the 20th suit you, & if so at what time?
I saw a bird the other day which puzzled me completely:

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It was the size and shape exactly like a Tree Pipit, but it had pink legs, & the markings on the throat were darker (almost like those of a  miniature French Partridge , & did not extend so far down the breast as in the case of a Tree Pipit. It also seemed to have a dark mark around the neck.
Would it be possible for strong sunlight to deceive one in this way? There were Tree Pipits about the place at the time.
Gates was with me, & quite agreed as to the markings.
Yours very truly,
Henry Wigram

In his own copy of the Birds of Nottinghamshire, Joseph Whitaker has written:

“I may add that Mr Wigram is a keen and careful observer of birds and a good field naturalist, and I am perfectly satisfied that it was a Great Bustard he saw.”

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Snow joke

Yet again, the Date-Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood 1750-1879 comes up with the goods.  Ands today you’ll see just how appropriate is the name of the author, John Frost Sutton. Once again, I have tried to simplify some of the more archaic language.

“January 1776

A great fall of snow and intense cold. Drivers of vehicles found it impossible to complete their journeys, and the stagecoach to London was stopped halfway to the capital, and was unable to proceed.”

Here is the type of stagecoach we are talking about. It’s not really one for the Apaches to chase:

stagecoach w

“A contemporary record states that the road beyond Northampton “was crowded with the passengers from the north, all of whom had been detained there all the week, owing to the great depth of snow. Many of them had neglected to make any provision for what had happened, and were in the greatest distress. On the other hand, some, who were well supplied with the one thing they really cherished, lived happily at the nearest public or farm houses. They were literally in high spirits. Almost every house on the road exhibited either a happy picture of noise and merriment, or else showed the visible signs of vexation, disappointment, and humiliation.”

“On January 13th, two men were returning in the evening from Nottingham to Papplewick, when they were overcome by the cold, half-way between Redhill and their place of destination. In the morning, one of them was found stretched out on the snow and dead. The other was found in a state of insensibility, with his stiffened arms clasping the trunk of a tree, and icicles at the end of his fingers. With much difficulty his life was preserved.”

The orange arrow points to Redhill, and Papplewick is in the top left corner:

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“The same day another sufferer was rescued from death by Mr Turner, a Nottingham attorney. A young woman in the service of Mr Lee, of the Peacock Tavern, near St. Peter’s Church in the middle of Nottingham, had been to Leeds on a visit to her friends, and was returning to Nottingham.”

Here is St Peter’s Church in Nottingham, down near the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. The building to the right will one day be Marks & Spencer but it doesn’t really know it yet:

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The young woman left Leeds as a passenger on the outside of the coach as it was so much cheaper (although a lot colder, of course).

red stage

“About midway between Leeds and Nottingham, some thirty miles from the latter town, the tremendous fall of snow rendered it impossible for the coach to proceed any further, and the young woman, not having enough money to stay where she was, set out resolutely on foot. She managed to reach The Hutt, on the road from Mansfield to Nottingham, when her strength totally failed, and she lay down to die.”

Here is the Hutt nowadays. It figured in a previous article when a White Stork flew over it:

thre hutt

On this map, the orange arrow indicates the Hutt. The immediate area is no longer as isolated or countrified as it would have been in 1766. Redhill and Arnold are both in the bottom right corner:

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“In the hour of her extremity Mr Turner the solicitor happened to be passing that way on horseback, and prompted by humanity, lifted her up, took off his greatcoat and wrapped her in it. He put his gloves onto her hands, and with great difficulty succeeded in carrying her to Redhill, where she was properly taken care of at his expense until sufficiently recovered to be brought to Nottingham.”

I included this bit of the account because there are not many stories where a lawyer is the hero, especially a generous one. This is the “Ram Inn”, an old coaching inn at Redhill. It faces west so it is not easy to photograph and get much light on the subject:

Ram Inn pic

Right next to it is the Waggon and Horses, another coaching inn of the period:

ram

Two pubs next to each other is fabulously convenient. When the barman in one pub refuses to serve you because you are too drunk, you can just leave quietly and try your luck next door.

 

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Storks in Victorian Nottinghamshire

The White Stork is a very large and spectacular visitor to England. People have asked me on many occasions why we think that babies are brought by storks. My answer has always been that a good number of new babies have a red mark on their forehead when they are first born. This mark is triangular and it looks as if their head has been grasped for a considerable period of time in a stork’s beak. My own daughter certainly had the mark on her forehead when she was first born, although it usually fades with time.

Victorian Nottinghamshire recorded a number of storks, and in actual fact, the very best records come from the era of King George IV, Beau Brummell’s “fat friend”.  In 1825, therefore, a single bird was killed near Bawtry on an unrecorded date during the year:

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Four years later, in 1829 an entire flock of these magnificent birds was seen on the River Trent at the very same location as the 1825 individual:

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Two of them were subsequently shot as they overflew the nearby market town of Bawtry. Look for the orange arrows:

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On Monday, April 12th 1915, a single bird was seen in flight over the road between Nottingham and Mansfield. The observer was Sir Herbert Chermside :

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In 1899 Sir Herbert had married Geraldine Katherine Webb, the daughter of Mr W.F.Webb, the owner of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. The poor lady was to die in 1910 without any children.

Sir Herbert immediately typed a letter to Joseph Whitaker, as soon as he reached home after seeing this wonderful bird:

“This morning a specimen of Cicogna Alba passed across the Nottingham-Mansfield high Road (sic) at 9.50 a.m. between the Pilgrim Oak and the Hutt House, the bird was in Spring plumage, with legs and beak very bright:

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It was, I think, a hen bird, and passed directly over me within easy gun shot, flying relatively low, over the tops of the Beech trees by a few feet. It is possibly a War Refugee from the Low Countries.”

The Pilgrim Oak or Gospel Oak stands opposite the Hutt at the main entrance to Newstead Abbey. This is the Hutt:

thre hutt

The Pilgrim Oak was the place where pilgrims would stop and read the gospels before entering the Abbey (not the pub). The age of the tree is unknown but it was already quite large in Lord Byron’s time. The American author, Washington Irving, described as “a venerable tree, of great size” when he visited the area in the early 19th century:

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Here is the Pilgrim Oak in both spring and autumn:

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Joseph Whitaker would have been totally gutted, to use the modern expression, that a non-birdwatcher had seen such a wonderful, spectacular bird, and he hadn’t:

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Just under a week later, on Sunday, April 18th, Sir Herbert wrote again to Whitaker confirming the identity of a bird that he had already seen in many locations in the Middle East. This must really have twisted the knife, although, of course, unwittingly:

“I wish that you had seen the Stork instead of I (sic) although it is the first one that I have ever seen in England. Last year I was in the uplands of Algeria, south of Constantinople on the day of their arrival in very considerable numbers (early March) at the Dardanelles on the shores of the Sea of Marmora , 17th March is the day of their arrival. A day’s march from Gallipoli on the eastern side, they have a great assembly place-for both spring and autumn.

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The natives allege that in Autumn, the birds of the year pair there, before the migration.”

All the way through this account, I have deliberately used the phrase “White Stork”. This is because there is a Black Stork as well. This is a much rarer bird, and one which I myself have yet to see:

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In Victorian times there was just one report of this species being seen in the county. This was an unfortunate individual which was shot during the autumn of 1871 at Colwick by Mr John Brown of Old Moat Hall. Joseph Whitaker was told the facts in a letter from Mr P. Musters of West Bridgford. As Old Moat Hall is in Cheshire, I suppose we can presume that Mr Brown was a guest of one of the members of the extended Chaworth-Musters family, who were rich landowners in Nottinghamshire.

As far as I can see, their possessions included Annesley Hall, Colwick Hall, Wiverton Hall, Edwalton Manor, West Bridgford Hall and for Sundays, Felley Priory.

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The Nottinghamshire UFO flap of July 1967

I have already mentioned in a previous article, the wonderfully titled “A Werewolf in Cambridgeshire. Run away!!” that I had received “Haunted Skies Volume One” by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway as a Christmas present in 2013.

The following year, for Christmas 2014, I was lucky enough to be given Volumes 2-6, which covered the history of British UFOs from 1960-1977. And I have read the lot! It has taken me until April 2015, but I have, more or less, made it. I now sit eagerly at home awaiting the arrival of the last four volumes in the series, which I ordered last Sunday. These will complete the full set.

The ten volumes are an absolute tour de force and a total labour of love which will become a modern classic. If anything, the books have become better and better as the volumes have gone by. I would urge you strongly to have a look at the two authors’ pages on Amazon, if you find this topic at all interesting.
When a number of UFOs are sighted in a particular locality over a fairly short period of time, this is known as a “flap”. Over the years, around the world, there have been more flaps than you could shake a little green man at. In 1967, there was one in Nottingham.

It started, perhaps, on February 13, 1967 in Radford, an area of mainly Victorian terraced houses a very short distance to the north west of the city centre. Look for the orange arrow, near the “O” of Nottingham:

mapof radford

It was ten minutes to nine in the evening and Frank Earp and Gerald Montague were hard at it on their allotment. It must have been almost totally dark, dark enough, at least, to see a diamond shaped object motionless in the night sky. It had a red light underneath and suddenly changed shape before flying off at fantastic speed. This. hopefully, is similar to what Frank and Gerald saw:

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Five months later, on July 2nd 1967, reports came in of a bright light with three prongs, motionless in the sky over Knighton Park in nearby Leicester, only 28 miles away from the “Queen of the Midlands”.
The main highlight of the Nottingham Flap came three days later during the evening of Wednesday, July 5th 1967.  An absolutely classic flying saucer was seen by a very large number of witnesses. It was motionless over the Clifton Estate, just above the horizon.

classic_flying_saucer_Clifton Estate is to the south west of the city centre. For the most part, Clifton is a council estate built from 1952 onwards, largely to rehouse the slum areas of the Meadows where, as late as the mid-sixties, barefooted children were by no means unusual. At one time Clifton was the largest council estate in Europe. Look for the orange arrow:

nap of clifton

Eventually, that balmy summer’s evening, somebody called the police, possibly for the protection of any little green men that might emerge from their spacecraft. By now, well in excess of a hundred would-be ufologists were eagerly awaiting developments on the rising ground near to the local Fairham Comprehensive School:

bars gate

If my memory serves me well, this was a very large all boys’ school, which has now been closed down:

far school

Years later, an old boys’ reunion got a little out of hand:burning school

When they eventually arrived at the UFO landing site, the boys in blue, of course, did not see any UFOs and told the locals that they were the hapless victims of an optical illusion. Mrs Marjorie Cowdell, however, would have none of it. She insisted to the Fighters of Crime that she had seen a flying saucer “swim” down to the ground.

This was big enough news that a host of reporters were sent to investigate by the national press (in actual fact, the Daily Sketch, which has now, alas, gone exactly the same way as Fairham Comprehensive School).

Here is the story, which appeared in this most intellectual of red top tabloids (presumably the reason it folded) on Thursday, July 6th, 1967:

100 SAY WE SAW A FLYING SAUCER LAND

More than 100 people claimed yesterday that they saw a flying saucer land.
They were “spotting” on high ground near Fairham Comprehensive School in Clifton, Nottingham.
Housewives rushed from their homes when it was reported that a flying saucer about 30 feet in diameter had come down. Many people said that the object was disk shaped and silvery.
Police searched the area but found no trace of anything having landed. A spokesman said, “It must have been an optical illusion caused by sunlight and a cloud of dust.”

Mrs Marjorie Cowdell of High Bank, Clifton said, “I don’t care what the police say. I saw a flying saucer swoop to the ground.”

The stream, almost a flood, of “Close Encounters of the First Kind” continued, this time at Wellow, near Ollerton, some twenty miles to the north of Nottingham. On Saturday, July 8, 1967, schoolteacher Bernard Day and his wife, from Newark-on-Trent, were driving along just after nine o’clock in the evening. Suddenly they saw, according to the Nottingham Evening Post, what looked like:

braxzil top

“A child’s top, spinning in the night sky, from one side to an upright position, for over forty minutes, surrounded by bright light. I fetched Police Constable E.Holmes, from Welland Police Station, who had a look through binoculars and said, “I wouldn’t even be able to guess its identity. I’ll have to inform Inspector R. Street. He will make some enquiries.”

What was presumably the same incident is featured on a rather interesting website I found. No exact details are given, but it would seem to be the same series of events. It reads:

“July 1967. 2110 hours. Saturday. Location – Nottingham, Nottinghamshire. A member of the public, teacher Mr Doy, reported seeing a UFO over a local school and a PC HOLMES attended the school  and confirmed the object in the sky. He then reported the sighting to his duty officer, Inspector R .Street.

PC HOLMES stated that the object was a bright light spinning on its own axis in a stationary position above the school. The police could not offer any explanation for the UFO.

UFO CLASSIFICATION – NL (NOCTURNAL LIGHT).

On Duty sighting. 1 Officer.”

I’m not entirely satisfied with a policeman called R. Street and what about PC Holmes? Surely all of his mates must have called him Sherlock?

Whatever the case, the Nottingham Roswell Saga went on. On Monday, July 10th, only four days later, a bright white triangle was seen over Radcliffe-on-Trent at half past eight in the morning:

amsterdam 28 oct 2013

Radcliffe-on-Trent is to the east of the city, a mere two or three miles away from the very centre. Look for the orange arrow:

map of radclff on trent

Interestingly, the locations of all three sightings are visible on this map. The orange arrow points to Radcliffe-on-Trent and Clifton is in the bottom left of the map. Radford is below the big, black N-O of Nottingham.

The very final case I can find comes from Newark-on-Trent (just over twenty two miles from Nottingham). It was August 10th and around 10:15 in the late evening. For some unknown reason, Dave Robinson was taking a stroll with his girlfriend in what must have been almost pitch black woodland at Stapleford Woods. Look for the orange arrow:

stapleford map

The two young lovers had just reached a clearing at the edge of the woods when the young lady noticed two lights in the sky. They were possibly round, possibly oval, and yellow in colour, resembling paper. Some six feet and five feet across respectively, they were motionless over a line of trees around half a mile in the distance. I managed to find these likely contenders on the Internet:

After the event, William Blythe of Mansfield interviewed them. Let Dave take up the story:

“Within minutes they disappeared, replaced by a flashing red light, which moved to our right, climbing up and over some trees. Five minutes later we saw the lights again in the sky, now on our right, coming towards us, about a quarter of a mile away.

My curiosity aroused, I drove slowly towards the lights, losing sight of them as I drove around the bend. When I reached the spot where I had seen them, I flashed my headlights and this craft appeared over the trees. Astonished, I stopped the car and listened. Still no sound.

We watched the craft with amazement, as it hovered 20 feet away from us at about the same height off the ground, allowing us to see it had a curved bottom and top, with three squared windows, spilling orange light, and a brilliant light projecting downwards from the top.

As it moved overhead, I became frightened and drove away, fearing what
was going to happen next.”

And that’s it. This was quite impressive by the standards of the middle 1960s, especially when compared to nowadays, when 84% of all programmes on Satellite TV are devoted to aliens, UFOs and government cover ups. If you find this topic of any interest, don’t forget the “Haunted Skies” books by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway. They really are worth a look.  This is the edition which set me off on the trail of the Nottingham Flap and Mrs Marjorie Cowdell:

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Next time there will be a host of Internet sites to look at when I try to track down the UFO that crashed just south of Mansfield. That was a very, very, brave thing to do!

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The Corncrake: the sound of Victorian England

Nowadays the Corncrake is limited to the Outer Hebrides in Scotland although there is also what seems to be a highly successful  reintroduction scheme being carried out in the RSPB Nene Washes Reserve in Cambridgeshire, England:

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In the first half of the nineteenth century, Corncrakes were present throughout the length and breadth of England and their distinctive call was heard in every sunlit field. Even their Latin name, crex crex, is onomatopoeic. The birds were described as producing the most distinctive summer sound to be heard on a country walk anywhere in England. This is the song of the corncrake, beautifully recorded by “therhys927”

Corncrakes will often sing all through the night, and they can in fact be pretty aggravating little so-and-so’s once the initial novelty has worn off:

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John Clare, England’s greatest poet, wrote a poem about the bird which he knew as the “Landrail”:

“How sweet and pleasant grows the way
Through summer time again
While Landrails call from day to day
Amid the grass and grain

We hear it in the weeding time
When knee deep waves the corn
We hear it in the summers prime
Through meadows night and morn

And now I hear it in the grass
That grows as sweet again
And let a minutes notice pass
And now tis in the grain”

Nowadays, the Corncrakes are all gone, gradually killed off by decade after decade of desire for profit, intensive farming practices and in particular the mechanised mowing techniques used by the nation’s farmers in place of the trusty scythe.  This sad decline is chronicled in Nottinghamshire by the county’s Victorian birdwatchers:

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In 1866, in his “Ornithology of Nottinghamshire”,  William Felkin wrote that “the corncrake is very common”. Three years later, in 1869, William Sterland provided a charming account of this delightful bird in “The Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

“That bird of singular habits and note, the corncrake, visits us in abundance every year, sometimes arriving as early as the first of May, while in 1853 I did not hear its note until the 18th. This was unusually late; the season being a remarkably cold and backward one, a fact of which our other migratory birds also seemed, in some mysterious way, to be fully cognisant. Nothing, indeed, relating to the feathered tribes is more wonderful or more deserving of our admiration than that knowledge, call it instinct or what you will, which, implanted in them by their Creator, enables them to hasten or delay their departure for their distant but temporary places of abode, according as the seasons there are suitable to their necessities or otherwise. How strikingly is this wisdom brought forward in Holy Scripture: “Yes, the Stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed time and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow observe the time of their coming.”

William Sterland seems well aware of the piece of Corncrake behaviour which was to prove its downfall, as the mechanized mower made its inexorable way forward:

“I have never succeeded in causing the Corncrake to take wing except with a dog, and even then its flight is always brief, as it takes an early opportunity of dropping to the ground and regaining its cover. It flies rather slowly with its legs hanging down, and there is such an air of effort about his movements on the wing, that I have often wondered how its migrations are performed.
Its ventriloquial powers are well known to every observer. Now it’s harsh “Crake, crake” seems within a few yards, and the next moment it sounds as if it were halfway across the field, and this apparent variation in distance is so well simulated that in a consecutive repetition of its call for ten or twelve times, a few notes will sound as if uttered almost at your feet, and the next two or three from afar, and yet the bird is standing motionless all the time, as I have several times tested. Its singular call I have often imitated by drawing my nail across the teeth of a pocket comb, and thus inducing its near approach.”

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Again Sterland reveals how fully conscious he is of the problems the Corncrake will face throughout the rest of the nineteenth century:

“The female sits very closely on eggs, so closely indeed, as not infrequently to lose her life by the mower’s scythe. I have known two instances of this, in one of which the poor bird was almost cut in two.”

Ten years later, in 1879, William Sterland provided additional details about the Corncrake:

“An abundant summer visitor. It is also been found in winter, and on this account has been thought by some to hibernate; but apart from the fact that no bird is known to hibernate, why should a corncrake which remains during the winter not be able to fare as well as a water rail or a common snipe. Cold does not affect them.”

In his “Scribblings of a Hedgerow Naturalist”(1904), Joseph Whitaker wrote:

“The other evening when talking to Rose the Nottingham taxidermist (who has set up a great many specimens in this collection) I remarked how very few Corncrake there were about, he said he well remembered about 35 years ago, a man bringing a large basket to his father, of these birds, which he had shot in two days, and they numbered over fifty; at that time he said the meadows round Nottingham were full of them, and their call could be heard on all sides. This year I have heard one, although I have been about a great deal.”

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No Corncrakes in 1904, no meadows in 2014! Elsewhere Joseph Whitaker wrote about his country house at Rainworth, between Nottingham, and Mansfield:

“I am sorry to say the Corn Crake is getting scarcer. I have not heard one near the house was several years, although twenty years ago they were in every mowing field. No doubt the result of mowing machines which cuts the young up often I fear.”

Three years later in 1907, Joseph Whitaker provided in “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”  the following information :

“I sorrow to say that this interesting bird is a rapidly vanishing species, not only as far as Notts is concerned, but in many other counties. Twenty years back it was the exception in the spring not to hear a corncrake in nearly every mowing field in the Trent Valley, and almost every seed and grass field left for hay in other parts. In this very high and dry parish of Blidworth, we had between ten and fifteen pairs, now for the last three years not a bird has been heard.”

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Like his fellow nature writers, Joseph Whitaker chronicles the decline:

“At Southwell, on a June night, their curious call resounded on all sides; now this year there may be two pairs. Mr Henry Smith Junior of Cropwell Butler informs me that this scarcity is very noticeable in that part, and in fact all over the south of the county.”

Alas, Whitaker was to be proved wrong when he wrote:

“Let us hope that it will be many years before they are quite a bird of the past, but if they decrease during the next twenty years as fast as their decrease during the last two decades, it pains me to think that it may be so.
I once heard a corncrake calling inside the kitchen garden at Welbeck Abbey.”

And finally, in “Jottings of a Naturalist” in 1912, Whitaker wrote:

“Twenty years ago there were Corncrakes all over the parish, in fact it was the exception not to hear them in every mowing field, but I know that there is been none for the last ten years, not a single bird heard, and the parish is six thousand acres; and it is not only so in these parts, it is the same everywhere.”

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And really, that was that. The end of the Corncrake.

As the Great War loomed, the Victorian age drew to a close. No more mowing fields, no more meadows full of flowers, no more clouds of brightly coloured butterflies. And no more Corncrakes. Just mud, blood, war and death.

To film a Corncrake nowadays, you are more or less wasting your time in England. This beautiful, atmospheric video comes from “mikhailrodionov” in faraway Russia:

 

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Ancient initials carved a century ago

In the High School, there is a much vandalised stone mantelpiece over an old fireplace on the ground floor. Boys have carved their names on it well over a hundred years ago and the letters are only just beginning to disappear into the thick levels of gloss paint now used to cover the original stone. The fireplace is located between the General Office and the entrance to the Assembly Hall, so literally thousands of boys will have queued past it as they go into Morning Assembly.

On Wednesday, January 18th 1899, Thomas Ignatius Joseph Gillott entered the school. He was to leave during the course of his fourth academic year, in July 1902. Sadly Thomas died on Sunday, July 6th 1913, after a failed operation at the London Hospital. On that same day in 1899, his brother Bernard Cuthbert Gillott, also entered the school. He was destined to remain a pupil only until the end of that academic year and he left in July 1899. With the advent of the Great War, Bernard was to join the army, where he served as a Captain in the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment. A brave man, he won both the British Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. Eventually he was  severely wounded, but thankfully he survived, and he was invalided home to England.

On Tuesday, September 12th 1899, the youngest of the three brothers, Oswald Cornek Gillot entered the school aged nine. Oswald was born in Ripley on July 22nd 1890 and his father was Thomas Gillot, M.I.C.E., a civil engineer whose address was given as either, Upland House, Eastwood, or Langley Mill near Ilkeston.  Possibly towards the end of the Summer Term, 1905, Oswald carved his name on that extremely popular stone mantelpiece on the ground floor fireplace between the General Office and the Assembly Hall. Oswald left the High School in March 1907.

Gillott ccccccccc

Taking decent photographs of these carved signatures has in actual fact, proved extremely difficult. They are located on the northern side of the school where the usually tropical English sun does not often penetrate,  and they are surrounded by vast thick walls of stone and brick, with a singular lack of windows. This means that the whole area is more or less permanently dark from a photographic point of view. Added to this is the fact that in the century or so since these interesting acts of senseless vandalism were carried out, a succession of school caretakers, under the almost inhuman management pressure to hurry up that all school caretakers permanently face, have repainted the mantelpiece with a succession of layers of whitish gloss paint, all of them applied without having the time to remove the previous one. The stone therefore, now wears a building’s equivalent of an inflatable Sumo suit.
Consequently, I have been forced to Photoshop the pictures I took so that the now faint carvings stand out a little more clearly from the dimly lit and pale coloured background. One unfortunate young man, R.Salew, has proved completely impossible to conjure out of the camouflaging layers that now hide his signature. But he is definitely there.
Towards the end of the Christmas Term, 1904, John Francis Haseldine carved his name, in rather florid handwriting, on that same stone mantelpiece.

haseldine cccccc

John was born on December 28th 1886 and entered the High School on May 4th 1896, aged nine. His father was Frank Haseldine, a lace manufacturer of St.John’s Grove, Beeston. John was a very good footballer (soccer player), and made his début for the First XI on Wednesday, March 26th 1902, in an away game against Loughborough Grammar School. We know that the school’s best player, J.B.Sim, worked hard throughout the match, but, according to the School Magazine of the time,“The Forester”, he was “too carefully watched” by the Loughborough defence, and the game was lost by 0-2. That particular spring, John had been in the team which had won the Football Sixes, a six-a-side competition organised within the school by the boys themselves, with the teams all drawn out of a hat. It was taken, of course, extremely seriously. Coincidentally, the winning team’s captain was that very same J.B.Sim, who was a well-known High School footballer of that era, with more than fifty appearances for the First XI.
On Wednesday, February 14th 1903, John scored his only goal for the school, in a 4-1 away victory over Mansfield Grammar School, “a rather poor and one-sided game”. As an ever present in the team, John won his football colours at the end of this season and was also awarded a “Standard Medal” for Football . In season 1903-1904, he became Captain of Football.  John spent the Christmas Term of 1904 at the High School, but, like so many boys during this period, he left half way through the academic year in December 1904.
In the Great War John was a Major in the Royal Engineers, Special Reserve. He was Mentioned in Dispatches on June 3rd 1916 and received the Military Cross on January 1st 1917. By 1929, he was living at Northdene, New Barnet, in  the northern suburbs of Greater London.
Among the other more legible carved names are “A.E.Anthony” and “G.Devey”. What is apparently “R.Salew” is also there, although there are many, many  layers of gloss paint to obscure the lettering of this particular name, and the photo has not come out because of this. Another seems to read “B.Abel 1905-190” as if the young man had been interrupted, perhaps by a Master (teacher), as he came towards the end of his carving, and then did not ever return to finish the job.

Alfred Edward Anthony was born on June 12 1906, and entered the school on September 18th 1918, aged twelve. His father was F.W.Anthony of 120, Radcliffe Road, West Bridgford. He was the Managing Director of Gotham Co Ltd (apparently sic). Alfred left the school in December 1922.

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“G.Devey” was the elder brother of Reginald Devey, whose own name had already been carved on the fireplace upstairs, in the staffroom corridor, alongside that of D.H.Lawrence and L.S.Laver, the High School’s very own Latin Champion of the World.

r.a. devey cccccccv

This ground floor effort though, was Gerald Bertil Devey, who was born on June 10th 1903,. Gerald entered the school on May 27th 1918 at the rather late age of fourteen. His father was James Edward Devey, a civil servant, and the family lived at 22, Ebury Road, Sherwood Rise. Gerald left the High School in July 1919.

devey cccccc

John Rylett Salew entered the school on May 4th 1916, aged fourteen. He left in December 1918. John was born on February 28th 1902 and his father was Joseph William Salew, an “agent” of 19, William Rd, West Bridgford.

Bertram Albert Abel was born on July 31st 1889 and entered the school on September 13th 1905, aged sixteen. His father was William Jenkinson Abel, a clerk to the Nottingham Education Committee. The family lived at 99, Waterloo Crescent, and Bertram left the school in July 1907.

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The fact that “S.Vasey” has carved his name in two different places on the stone, one of them complete with his own personal dates, namely “1917” and “1917-1922” shows not only that he had an extremely strong desire for immortality, but that, within the context of the High School, it has been fulfilled. He must have been a very swift, and fairly brazen, vandal.

zzzzz  s vasey 1907

Stanley Vasey was born on June 5th 1905 and he entered the school at the age of thirteen, on September 18 1918. His father was Alfred Vasey, a shop inspector, and the family lived at 15, Glebe Road, West Bridgford. He left in December 1922.

zzzzzzzzzz vasey 1922
It is actually possible to best guess friendship groups among these carved names. Messrs Anthony, Devey and Vasey, for example, all joined the school in 1918. They all left in the latter half of 1922. They must surely have known each other. John Rylett Salew and Stanley Vasey both lived within a penknife’s throw of each other in the very posh Nottingham suburb of West Bridgford. Did the four boys seal their friendship by committing their names to the hard surface of that much painted fireplace ? Did three of them keep watch while the fourth scratched his name into the welcoming stone ?

The other names on the fireplace, some of them extremely indistinct, include “F.B.Ludlow”, “N.G.Peet”, “Littler”, “Meigh” and “Holmes”. The latter was possibly the George Chudleigh Holmes who was a regular player in the First XI football team during the 1902-1903 season. Born on June 15th 1887, George entered the school on January 17th 1900, aged twelve. His father was George H.Holmes, a Lace Manufacturer of Gregory Street, Old Lenton. George left at Easter 1903, perhaps once the football season was over.

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Fred (sic) Ball Ludlow was born on April 28th 1891. He entered the school on May 1st 1900 aged   nine. His father was William Ludlow, a clerk in the Gas Depôt. The family lived at 10, Willoughby Avenue, Lenton in the western suburbs of the City. Fred left in June 1907.

ludlow cccccc

Noel George Peet was born on December 26th 1901 and entered the High School on April 26th 1917, aged fifteen. His father was William George Peet, a “general agent”, and the family lived at 413, Mansfield Road. Noel left the school in July 1919. Perhaps he was a relative of Mrs.Mary Peet who was the school’s nurse during the late 1970s and the 1980s.

Samuel Littler was born on May 16th 1891. He entered the school on September 16th 1903 aged twelve. The family lived at 8, Appleton Gate, Newark-on-Trent, and his father, a veterinary surgeon, was also called Samuel Littler. Samuel junior left in July 1908.

Vincent George Meigh entered the school as an Agnes Mellers scholar on September 12th 1899 aged ten, the cost of his place in the school automatically paid for. His father was George Meigh, a schoolmaster of 3, Willoughby Avenue, Lenton. Vincent left in December, 1903.

meigh ccccc
On the mantelpiece, one set of letters to set the heart a-flutter is “(illegible)BALL  1900-1907” , but this cannot be the famous air ace, as there are clearly a fair number of letters before the B-A-L-L. In any case, Albert Ball did not stay long in the High School, being expelled after an incident when he disrupted school assembly by emptying a large bag of bullseyes, gobstoppers and bouncing sweets onto the floor.

Best fit is probably Oliver Herbert Ball, who was born on August 13th 1891. He had entered the school on January 17th 1900, aged eight, as the third of three brothers. Oliver was to leave in July 1907. His mother was called Emma, and his father was Alfred Holmes Ball, the “Laundry Man” of “Sunnyside”, Daybrook, Notts.  Presumably, this was the company which was eventually to become the massive “Daybrook Laundry”.’ It was situated opposite the Home Brewery on the Mansfield Road, and was only recently demolished during the first decade of the twenty first century. The Arnold branch of the “Aldi” supermarket chain has now been built on this site during the latter part of 2014. It was open for business by the end of the year. Look for the orange arrow:

north nottingham

During the Great War, Oliver Ball was to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.  Aged only twenty five, he was killed on September 28th 1916 and is buried in the Guards’ Cemetery at Lesboeufs in France. Oliver’s  death was part of the Somme offensive.  He shares the cemetery with 1,492 identified casualties, and a grand total of 3.136 men.

oh ball

Oliver Ball’s elder brother was Walter William Ball, the second son of the three, and himself an Old Nottinghamian. Walter had returned to the Western Front, and the Yorkshire Regiment, from his leave in Nottingham on Friday, November 19th 1915. The “Nottingham Guardian” reported his death on Monday, November 29th 1915. He had apparently been shot through the head by a sniper while organising a firing party with his captain. The tragic news was communicated to his parents by his younger brother, Second Lieutenant Oliver Ball, who held a commission in the same regiment. According to the “Nottingham Guardian”, Walter was “well-known in Nottingham and had a large circle of friends”. He had received his commission as a Second Lieutenant a mere twelve months previously. Walter is buried in Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension in France, Plot 1, Row A, Grave 21. He was 28 years of age.

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As far as I can trace, the third brother seems to have survived the war.

One of the more notable objects on the mantelpiece is perhaps the school badge which has been carved relatively large, and in primitive style, with the lozenge and the three merles or heraldic blackbirds still recognisable even now, the best part of a century after it was executed by some unknown, juvenile artist.

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Less time proof perhaps, are the boys who managed to carve only their initials, namely “JL”, “MV”, either “WA” or “WR”, and either “BFW” or “SFW”. It is just so difficult to be certain about whose initials they might be. In some cases, there are literally dozens of possible candidates in the school registers, and it becomes almost a pointless effort to try and guess who has carved them.

Some boys seem to have been able to make only part of their name legible. We appear to have, therefore, a group of letters which seems to spell “H-LLF”.

Similarly, I have tried so hard to turn “—-NGTON” into Victor George Darrington, one of the very few young men to have captained the school at both football and rugby. The time is right (he entered the school in 1909, aged twelve) but the fact is that the blurred and multi-layer gloss paint painted-over obscured letters just do not look like they were ever meant to spell Darrington.

Even more striking is the young member of what is probably the “Chambers” family who did not manage to carve his initials clearly. The name can be seen just above “A.E.Anthony”, although the letters seem to be an even whiter shade of pale.  Just a cursory perusal of the school registers reveals the existence, between 1897 and 1926, of “E.Chambers”, “W. Chambers”, “P. Chambers”, “N. Chambers”, “J.F. Chambers”, “J.S. Chambers”, “A. Chambers”, “C.G. Chambers”, “J. Chambers”, “B.J. Chambers”, “C.C. Chambers”,  “S.H. Chambers”, “D.B. Chambers”, and a second “W. Chambers”

chambers 1zzzzzzzzzzzz

No doubt a really thorough search would reveal even more members of the apparently vast Chambers clan.
It would be nice to think, though, that the perpetrator was the (uninitialled) Chambers of Form IVb, whose doings are reported in the Prefects’ Book for Thursday, February 1st 1912….

“…A meeting was held before afternoon school, Towles and Haubitz (prefects) being absent. Chambers (IVb) had been reported for carrying a loaded revolver in his pocket. He admitted the offence, and produced the weapon, which proved to be loaded in four chambers. He was requested not to bring it to school again, and the School Captain decided to interview the Headmaster.”

Most unfortunately, no record has survived of the outcome of this conversation. Here again, it is possible to guess at putative friendships between the names in the stone. Two of the boys, for example, Fred Ball Ludlow and Oliver Herbert Ball, both joined the school in 1900, and their entries are virtually next to each other in the School Register. Perhaps the use of the surname of one as the middle name of the other hints at a blood relationship, rather than just one of mere friendship.
Coincidentally, a third name on this single ancient page of the school register is that of Harold Binks, who entered the school in the very same year of 1900, although Harold was never to carve his own name on the fireplace. From his reminiscences, published in April 1935, we know that one of his best friends in the Senior School was called Ball. It seems likely too that another of the friends was Oswald Cornek Gillot, who was already in the school when Ludlow, Ball and Binks arrived. All these boys were of the same age, and they all left the school in the latter part of the academic year 1906-1907. As we have already noted, Gillot lived near distant Ilkeston, but Holmes lived in Gregory Street, Old Lenton, very close to Ludlow and Meigh who themselves both lived in the same street, namely Willoughby Avenue, Lenton. Again, we can imagine two keeping watch while the third one carried out the evil deed with his penknife.

On Thursday, June 7th 1917, just  ten years after carving his name on the stone fireplace, Oswald Cornek Gillott was killed at the age of twenty six, yet another hapless victim of the Great War. Even a school as small as the High School (400  pupils) was to provide some three hundred young men, all destined to die well before their time.

After he left the school, Oswald moved to Teesside, and became a twenty year old apprentice mechanical engineer living at 2, Woodland Terrace, Borough Road, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire. When the Great War came, Oswald joined the 68th Field Company of The Royal Engineers. They trained at Newark-on-Trent before sailing from Liverpool for Gallipoli at the end of June 1915. They remained at Lala Baba in Suvla Bay until December 19th and 20th 1915, when they withdrew and returned to Egypt by the end of January. Oswald was recorded as having been wounded during this period. In June 1916 the Division was ordered to France to reinforce the Third Army on the Somme. By July, they were in the Front Line and took part in the fighting at Thiepval. In early 1917 they were fighting on the Ancre, and then moved north to Flanders for the Battle of Messines
Messines_Ridge_from_Hill_63 cccccccSecond Lieutenant Oswald Gillott’s last day on Earth was June 7th 1917, coincidentally no doubt, the first day of the successful attack on the Messines Ridge.  The assault was preceded by the detonation of nineteen large mines, in what was described at the time as “the loudest explosion in human history”. Oswald, as a member of the Royal Engineers, may well have been involved in this activity when he was killed. On the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website there are a mere three pages of Gillotts, with only thirty two men of this name killed. Oswald Gillott lies in the Messine Ridge British Cemetery in Mesen, West-Vlaanderen in Belgium along with the 577 of his colleagues whose remains have been identified.

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Second Lieutenant Gillott, aged twenty seven was one of a trifling 24,562 casualties, as the British under Field Marshal Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, 1st Viscount Plumer, GCB GCMG GCVO GBE slowly began to learn how to fight battles at much lower costs than previously. (Battle of the Somme, 623,907 dead).

The other side of the coin, of course, is the fact that if the Field Marshall and his lordly colleagues are not much more careful with the lives of their social inferiors, they will risk actually running out of men. The  623,907 men killed in the Battle of the Somme is a catastrophe, but the apparently much lower figure of 24,562 killed during the assault on Messine Ridge could well be regarded as every single man in a town the size of, say, present-day Arnold or Newark-on-Trent.

One set of initials I have not dealt with. That is F.C.Mahin, one of the High School’s very few Americans, and I will talk about his incredible and hitherto completely unknown life in another blog post.

 

 

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