Tag Archives: Newark-on-Trent

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:

great bustard ddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

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:

gret corm xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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 ? ” ! !

Great_Bustard_woodcut_in_Bewick_British_Birds_1797

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

flyingxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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:

outarde-barbue-vol2qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq
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:

taking offqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq
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:

flyignGAINxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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:

tree pipitqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq

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.”

Advertisements

16 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

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.

17 Comments

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

Water, water everywhere, especially past Trent Bridge

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

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

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

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

When warmer weather finally came, however:

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

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

4559818813_e810e0ca1c_z

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

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

paleo chanaell zzzzzzz

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here is Arkwright Street next to the railway station:

arkwright st

This is the aptly named Canal Street:

NTGM006755.tif

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

Here is Beeston, looking remarkably like Venice:

NTGM016349.tif

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

220px-Melton_Road_in_the_floods_of_March_1947_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1537395

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

before concrete

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

nottinghamtrentbridge-620x413

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

nearcounty hsall

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

concrete zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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

colwick sluives zzzzzzzzzzz

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

flood 2000

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

 

11 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, Science, Wildlife and Nature

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:

dimond redlight zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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:

hauntyed skies 3 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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!

14 Comments

Filed under History, Humour, Literature, Nottingham, Science

Victorian Cormorants and Victorian Shags

To keep birdwatchers on their toes, many birds exist in what are called “species pairs”. This means that you may know that a particular bird is either a Ruff or a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, but it will not necessarily be that easy to separate them:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And there are literally hundreds of these species pairs, some easy, some not quite so simple. House Sparrow and Tree Sparrow are unmistakable, but what about that rare vagrant to England, the Spanish Sparrow?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Montagu’s Harrier and Pallid Harrier, for females or juveniles at least, will require careful and probably lengthy examination:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Occasionally, a particular bird will never be identified for definite. Nearly thirty years ago, I drove all the way to Weymouth in Dorset, a round trip of nearly 500 miles, to see a Pipit which was present from mid March to early May 1989, in a field near the Observatory. Look for the orange arrow:

wetymouth

It was either a Richard’s Pipit (not that rare) or a Blyth’s Pipit (one of the first two or three ever in England). Here they are:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And the controversy has never really been solved. Indeed, this particular bird is usually known to twitchers as the “Portland Pipit” after the Bird Observatory in whose fields it spent the winter.

In the Victorian era, of course, without modern telescopes worth more than my car, and, more importantly, field guides with colour photographs, many birds remained unidentifiable especially if they were both fairly rare. One such pair, which I still find challenging enough even now, is the Cormorant and the Shag. Here is a Cormorant:

gret corm xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And here is a Shag:

shagbbnn xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

You can probably guess what the Victorian solution was to this problem, at least as far as a rare bird was concerned. You shot the bird, if at all possible.

SHAG-03 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

With all that in mind, let’s take a trip back to the real era of Steampunk:

“According to H.E. Forrest in a letter to “The Zoologist” magazine, it was on an unrecorded date during the year of 1863 that a single Cormorant was shot at Lamb Close Reservoir near Eastwood and acquired for the collection of Joseph Whitaker:

“The keeper had seen it about some few days and noticed when he put it up, it always flew over the boathouse to another pond beyond. He told Mr Percy Smith, who was staying there, who the next morning took his gun and stood by the side of the boathouse; the keeper rowed round the lake, the bird rose, came as usual and was shot. Just as Mr Smith was lowering his gun, another large bird followed and shared the same fate; on getting to it, he found it was an immature Great Black-backed Gull; thus he brought off a very curious right and left, and secured two very rare Notts birds, which through his kindness are now in my collection.”

cormorant d xxxxxx

Thirty years later, in 1893 came the appearance of another Victorian anecdote about cormorants, this time concerning a famous bird at Newark on Trent. Once again Joseph Whitaker tells the tale:

“I am indebted to Mr Cornelius Brown of Newark on Trent for the following very interesting note : during October 1893 Newark was a centre of interest to naturalists and others owing to the visit of a friendly cormorant which continued to perch week after week on the arrow on the top of the spire of the Parish Church. The Times, Standard, and most of the leading newspapers noticed the incident while Punch magazine had some poetry upon it. The bird went away several hours each day to fish in the Trent, and returned after its sport to its lofty perch, where it might be seen trimming its feathers and making himself smart and comfortable. It left on Friday, November 17th, the day after a heavy storm, after a state of eight weeks save one day.”

The poem appeared in the comical magazine Punch on November 11th, 1893, and is a surprisingly radical comment on the church in general and clergymen in particular. It went thus:

“We are told a Cormorant sits, and doth not tire,
For a whole month, perched upon Newark spire!
Vinny Bourne’s jackdaw is beaten, it is clear
Yet there are cormorants who, year after year,
Perch in the Church. But these omnivorous people
Favour the pulpit mostly, not the steeple
Thrivers upon fat livings find, no doubt,
Cormorant within is cosier than without.”

Wikipedia tells the tale of Vincent “Vinny” Bourne, a Classical scholar who wrote a comic poem about a jackdaw which lived on a steeple.(In Latin, of course)

cornoran

For some people, the Cormorant was a bird of very ill omen. Out in the wilds of Lincolnshire:

“On Sunday, September 9th, 1860, a Cormorant took its position on the steeple of Boston Church, much to the alarm of the superstitious. There it remained with the exception of two hours absence, till early on Monday morning, when it was shot by the caretaker of the church. The fears of the credulous were singularly confirmed when the news arrived of the loss of the P.S.Lady Elgin at sea with 300 passengers, amongst whom were Mr Ingram, Member of Parliament from Boston, and his son, on the very morning when the bird was first seen.”

corm flying xxxxx

The Shag is very similar to the Cormorant, but is slightly smaller, a fact which is much more obvious when the birds are seen together. A single bird is often nowhere near as easy to identify as it is supposed to be. In the Victorian era both species were very rare in Nottinghamshire, so the chance of seeing the two together in order to make a comparison was never going to happen. For this reason, people had great difficulty in distinguishing between the two species of birds.

However in 1879, Joseph Whitaker wrote a letter to “The Zoologist” about some Shags which had turned up in the City of Nottingham itself.

“ON COMMON BIRDS IN NOTTINGHAMSHIRE.- ….Early in the same month, as some workmen at Nottingham were one morning proceeding to their work,  they came across two Shags, flapping about in Cross Street, and after an exciting chase caught them both. They were taken to T.White, birdstuffer, who tells me they dived for fish in his tank, eating several; he kept them alive for two days, but finding they “did not look like living”, killed and stuffed them. I have purchased them for my collection. Another was caught in a street close by, and the fourth was shot on Mapperley Plains. They were all young birds, possibly from the same nest, and having wandered away, got lost; or they may have been driven inland by a gale.”

shags xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

In one of his newspaper articles about birds in North Nottinghamshire, published in the Nottingham Evening Post on June 21st, 1937 , Clifford W. Greatorex, a Fellow of the Zoological Society told the following story:

 “Finally, mention must be made of a Shag, three or four examples of which were recorded in early spring from various parts of North Notts. Contrary to a widely held opinion, the Shag does travel inland occasionally, although its inland visits are not so frequent as those of the more familiar and more abundant Cormorant.

sahg scilli xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

One of these visitors from the coast lingered on a part of Welbeck Lake, where it was seen by several reliable observers and its instinctive characteristics noted. Another, apparently injured in some way, was found in a field near a North Notts Village.

shag rutl xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The finder induced this bird, which could not fly, to enter a small pond, where it remained, and for the greater part of the week was fed by school children who brought it herrings, soaked bread and table scraps, all of which were devoured with avidity. Unfortunately, however, its injuries proved fatal, and one morning the young folk were grieved to find their new pet lying dead upon the bank.”

Nowadays, Shags remain fairly numerous on the rocky coasts of England, particularly in the west, but overall, they are probably diminishing in number. They are still very rare inland. Cormorants are extremely numerous, enjoying the many lakes conveniently filled with large fish for anglers to pit their wits against. At the moment, they are a protected species, but this may not last too much longer.

In the meantime, Cormorants will continue to entertain, as greedy but ever optimistic birds:

great-cormorant xxxxxxx

 

4 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

The Birdwatchers of Victorian Nottinghamshire

In the Victorian era there were hardly any birdwatchers in Nottinghamshire. Most ordinary people seem to have been too busy just living their lives to have a hobby such as watching birds. Among the richer individuals such as the landed gentry and the nobility, their particular interest was not watching but shooting birds:

another shoot

Even so, the very fact that they enjoyed shooting birds would actually have led them to develop some identification skills, however rudimentary, if only to avoid shooting a species which was out of season, or the same species over and over again:

shooting

At this time, there was great interest in having a large collection of stuffed birds or animals. Here again, identification skills would have been important:

_42866547_stuffed_416

The earliest actual birdwatcher in Nottinghamshire seems to have been a man called William Felkin junior who lived in Nottingham from at least 1845-1870. Like his father, he was a lace manufacturer, but he became a Fellow of the Zoological Society and possessed a collection of stuffed birds of some 313 species. In 1866 he wrote the first ever book about birds in the county, entitled “The Ornithology of Nottinghamshire”. It was incorporated in Allen’s “Hand-book to Nottingham” published in the same year. This, I believe, is William Felkin senior. Hopefully. he looked a lot like his son:

felkin senior zzzzzzz

A contemporary of Felkin was William Foottit of Newark-on-Trent (fl 1840-1860). He was the local Coroner and ordinary people from miles around would bring unusual birds to him. Foottit was a frequent contributor to “The Zoologist” magazine:

Untitled

In 1869, clearly an outdoorsman of some competence, William Sterland of Ollerton wrote the marvellously entertaining “Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

sterland book

This book contained many anecdotes, and a number of records of rare birds. Sterland was the relatively uneducated son of a “grocer/ ironmonger/ tallow chandler/ dealer in sundries”, and, when the great man deigned to review it, his book was slated by Edward Newman, owner of “The Zoologist” magazine :

220px-EdwardNewman

This was possibly because Sterland was a frequent contributor  to “The Field” magazine, a fierce rival of “The Zoologist”:

p_1-the-field-top-banner

It is more likely, though, that this was a slightly more complex issue. Newman had himself left school at sixteen to go into his father’s business.  Now he mixed with some of the most prominent scientists and zoologists in the land. I suspect that if Newman’s well healed and well connected upper class friends found out that William Sterland still worked in his Dad’s village grocer’s shop, they might well have been strongly reminded of the humble origins of Newman himself.

Unabashed, though, in 1879, William Sterland produced “The Descriptive List of the Birds of Nottinghamshire”. Needless to say, Edward Newman still had quite a few buckets of bile left to throw, but all the local newspapers in the Nottingham area really liked the book.

Sterland’s collaborator in this venture was a young man called Joseph Whitaker, now universally acknowledged as “The Father of Nottinghamshire Ornithology”.  Whitaker (1850-1932), the son of a farmer, was born at Ramsdale House, nowadays a golf centre and wedding venue to the north of Nottingham. Look for the orange arrow:

ramsdale map

Recently this beautiful building received a great deal of publicity as the erstwhile residence of the most infamous dentist in the history of the National Health Service:

ramsdale zzzzz

In later life Whitaker moved to Rainworth Lodge, a large country house with a lake, slightly further north in the county. Look for the orange arrow:

rain ladge

Here, he was known to one and all as the man to contact about birds in Nottinghamshire, whether it be a member of the nobility or a simple farm labourer who had found an unusual bird dead in the road as he walked to work:

rainworth zzzzzzz

Whitaker would travel around Nottinghamshire by horse and trap to see various interesting species of birds, or to talk to people who had seen, and/or shot, unusual birds on their estate.

Whitaker wrote a number of books about nature, including “Scribblings of a Hedgerow Naturalist” and “Jottings of a Naturalist: Scraps of Nature and Sport on Land and Sea”. His finest title was most assuredly “Nimrod, Ramrod, Fishing-Rod and Nature Tales”. I believe that the young lady on the front cover of the book is the maid, rather than Whitaker himself:

nimrod

Whitaker was a frequent contributor to “The Zoologist” and in later years to the newly fledged “British Birds” magazine:

british birds

Before the rise of the pager, the mobile phone and the Internet, this publication was the only way to announce the presence of rare birds.

Whitaker also corresponded with his social betters, the Lords and Ladies whose many estates were the origin of the expression “The Dukeries” to describe north Nottinghamshire. There is a large collection of Whitaker‘s letters in the local collection at Mansfield Library. As well as the nobility, Whitaker also exchanged letters with many of the great ornithologists of the Victorian era, the men who wrote textbooks on birds, either in Britain, or in Europe as a whole. Joseph Whitaker’s greatest triumph, though, was a book entitled “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”,  which he had printed privately in 1907. It contains information about every single species of bird which the author knew to have occurred in the county. In Mansfield Library, we still have Whitaker’s own copy of this book, to which he has had a professional bookbinder add extra pages. In this way, the great man could cut out interesting stories from newspapers or magazines and then just paste them in.  Alternatively, he could simply handwrite in any interesting items of bird news which he had gleaned. Unfortunately, I have been able to trace only four photos of Joseph Whitaker, none of them as a young man. In all of them, he has a reassuringly large walrus moustache:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Whitaker’s greatest claim to fame was the Egyptian Nightjar which was shot in 1883 in Thieves Wood near Mansfield by a gamekeeper called Albert Spinks. At the time this poor lost individual (the bird, not the gamekeeper) was the first known sighting in England, and just the second in Europe. Even now, a hundred and thirty years later, only one more has been seen in this country. Whitaker erected a stone to commemorate the event but it was smashed to smithereens in the 1980s (to celebrate its centenary, presumably) and replaced by a wonderful modern sculpture costing well in excess  of £8.50:

original mem

The pieces of the original stone were recently found and reassembled, although one little bit does seem to be somewhat of an enigma:

bits of stone

The bird itself was stuffed and, as an item of immense prestige, it went into Whitaker’s enormous collection. After his death, it eventually finished up in the foyer of Mansfield Library, safe behind highly reflective glass.

nightjar2

I thought it might be quite interesting to bring to a wider audience some of the birdwatching anecdotes which Whitaker mentions, both in his original book, and in the very many additions which he made to it. In future blog posts, therefore, I will bring you the true story of the famous Egyptian Nightjar and any number of other notable birds.

One final point is that the Nottinghamshire of the Victorian era was a very different place to the Nottinghamshire of today. The current Nottingham ring-road was just a muddy footpath alongside the Daybrook. Had our own suburban house existed then, there would have been no other private houses in sight in any direction. Just Bagthorpe Prison, Bagthorpe Hospital and the City Workhouse. It is amazing just how few people must have been alive in the county at that time.

A second final point is that many of these early ornithologists would not have had optical aids of any great standard, whether binoculars or telescopes. They may have had nothing beyond the Mark One Eyeball. In addition, they may have had no access to identification books, where they could carefully check what they had seen. This is why, if the presence of a rare bird was to be proven beyond doubt, it had to be shot. That is the origin of that grand old saying, “What’s hit is history, what’s missed is mystery”.

11 Comments

Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham, Wildlife and Nature

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.

anthony 1 ccccccc

“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.

b abell ccccccc
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.

hiolmes 2 ccccccccc
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.

ww ball

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.

badge cccccccc c

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

 

4 Comments

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