Tag Archives: Nottingham Forest

“Hilarity with Heraldry” (1)

Dr Sheldon Cooper is famous for his series of podcasts “Fun with Flags”:

I have always enjoyed vexillology enormously but I would have to confess to an even greater love for heraldry, the study of coats of arms. I don’t really have the time to launch “Hilarity with Heraldry” in any great depth, but I don’t think anybody would find it particularly boring to take a brief look back at some old football, or soccer, badges.
I used to read a comic called “Tiger” when I was a boy and in one issue they sowed the seeds of my interest when they gave away, free, an album of football club badges. This was on an unknown date in 1961, so we are looking back quite a long way. Here’s the album:

The picture comes from ebay where the albums can sell for quite good prices. So too do the 1967 versions of the album, entitled “Roy Race’s Album of Football Club Badges” in honour of the fictional star of the fictional Melchester Rovers. Roy Race was Tiger comic’s “Roy of the Rovers”:

In both 1961 and 1967 the buyer was given the booklet and then in the succeeding weeks, he received sheets of paper with around 30 small badges printed on them. He then had to cut out the badges carefully and then stick them in the booklet with extreme care and glue.

Most boys couldn’t do this, which makes it extremely difficult to buy a booklet where they are stuck in straight, and are not over-trimmed, or, in some cases, they are not stuck in upside down.

This album has a pretty good start to page one. although there is a slight crease:

This is average:

I would not buy this. They are crooked and cut out wrongly. At least two are in the wrong position:

These three are shockers:

And these two badges below are simply the wrong way round. Blackpool is a seaside holiday town with seagulls and BW may conceivably stand for “Bolton Wanderers”. And if this page is like that, the other ones will all be of a similar quality:

I was at an indoor market a few years ago when I bought several colour pages of football, cricket and rugby club badges which dated from the 1950s. The badges seemed to divide into four groups. The first were obviously based on the coat of arms of the town which the club represented. This is Notts County with the tree from Sherwood Forest. Whoever or whatever holds the shield up is called the “supporters” and Notts County have the normal two, namely a lion and some other unknown mammal, possibly on otter, or perhaps a weasel. On top of the shield is the “crest” which, in this case, is a tower from Nottingham Castle. “On top of the shield” is just an optical illusion. The crest actually used to rest on top of the knight’s helmet, so a tower is, to say the least, a challenging choice for his neck muscles. The only bit of the helmet that you can see is the padding between the tower and the metal helmet, which is yellow and green and is called the “wreath” or, because it is twisted, the “torse”:

This is Nottingham Forest with the same type of thing. The supporters are stags and on the shield is a green rustic type cross with three crowns that I know nothing about, I’m afraid.

A similar badge was used for the Nottinghamshire cricket team:

In heraldry, what we would call colours, or tinctures to use the technical phrase, are divided into two groups. The first group is called ‘colours’ and the second is called ‘metals’. All of them have Norman French names. The metals are ‘or’ and ‘argent’, which are ‘gold’ and ‘silver’. The colours are red or ‘gules’ which comes from the word for the mouth of an animal, “la gueule”. ‘Azur’  is easy as it obviously comes from azure blue. ‘Vert’ is green and it has survived a thousand years into modern French, much like ‘purpure’ which is actually a very rare colour. ‘Sable’ is black and comes from the fur for coats, It’s a sort of rich man’s ferret, apparently:

There is just one rule about all these tinctures. Colours cannot go on top of colours and metals cannot go on top of metals. This is because Heraldry was designed for the purposes of identification in battle so everything has to be exceptionally obvious and visible. Here’s the somewhat over dressed queue for the fish and chip shop after a hard day’s peasant slaughtering:

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Bygone football clubs (2)

Last time, I looked for the most part at the early days of Notts County and Nottingham Forest. They were not the only football teams to play their fixtures down on the Forest, though. A veritable plethora of small local teams flourished in Nottingham during this era. They had some wonderful names, all marvellously evocative of the origins of their players:

“Notts Artisans, Notts Athletic, Nottingham Bank, Nottingham Castle, Notts Forest Swifts, Nottingham Co-op, Nottingham Lindum, the Nottingham Manufacturing Company, Notts County Rovers, Nottingham Lace, the Notts Law Club, Notts Magdala, Notts Pioneers, Nottingham Postmen, Nottingham Post Office, Nottingham Press, Notts Thursday Athletic, Notts Thursday Rovers, Nottingham Thursday Wanderers, Nottingham Strollers, Nottingham Trent, and Nottingham Trinity.

All of the “Thursday teams” would have been from Sherwood, given the day when the shops closed for the afternoon in this northerly suburb of the town. Have a wild guess when it was half day closing in Sheffield. Yes, on a Wednesday. But what about the little Welsh town of Abergavenny?

Here is a sleepy Sherwood as recently as the early 1950s. How many houses have been demolished to make way for charity shops and empty premises!

pivcture

Not much is known about many of the smaller Nottingham clubs, except that their names sometimes figure in the very early rounds of the fledgling FA Cup. I would be very surprised indeed, though, if there were any connection between Nottingham Trent Football Club and Nottingham Trent University.

In the list above, mention is made of Notts Law Club. They played the High School on an unknown date during the Christmas holidays of 1879-1880 and duly beat their young opponents by 3-0. All three goals were strongly disputed by the High School and no further fixtures appear ever to have taken place against this opposition. Notts Law Club was the original team of the most brilliant outside right of his day, Arthur Cursham, who played for Notts County, among many other clubs, and eventually captained England. Notts Law Club, though, were an extremely violent set of individuals, and gained such a reputation for rough play and a willingness to argue the toss about every single decision that other local teams soon became unwilling to arrange fixtures with them. Indeed, so hostile was the general local reaction to the Notts Law Club that the team was eventually forced to disband completely. Notts Law Club never had a player who won an Olympic Gold Medal, but one of the other little teams did:

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This team was Notts Magdala F.C., who had a very famous player in the person of Frederick William Chapman, an Olympic Gold Medal winner in the United Kingdom team in the 1908 Olympics held in London. Here is a photograph of the team which won a hard fought Final against Denmark by 2-0, with the first goal coming from that very same Fred Chapman of Notts Magdala F.C. and also of the High School, which he had attended from 1891-1898. In the Olympic Final, Fred played as a central defender. The second goal was scored by the era’s legendary amateur centre forward, Vivian Woodward. Previously the United Kingdom had defeated Sweden by 12-1 and Holland by 4-0. Arguably, their Olympic victory made England, who provided all of the players for the United Kingdom team, Champions of the World. Fred Chapman is the second player from the right on the back row:

gold medalFred Chapman was still a relative unknown, however, even when he became one of the Notts Magdala club’s eleven Vice-Presidents, and later the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer. The club had 55 members and its playing captain was another Old Nottinghamian, John Barnsdale, (1878 –1960) born in Sherwood and later to play for Nottingham Forest on 28 occasions during the 1904-1905 season.  He was living at Lenton Hall around this time:

lenton

Houses must have been cheaper then. John Barnsdale was already Fred Chapman’s godfather, and years afterwards, became his “Uncle Jack”, when Fred married his sister, Evelyn Mary Barnsdale.

Not all of the local clubs on the Forest were called after the town. Prominent sides also included Basford Rovers and Sneinton Institute. It must all have been extremely colourful. Just a few of the old clubs’ colours have survived, and I thought it might be nice to recall them using present day teams who wear the same colours.

Notts Druids wore amber and black quarters, as do Hesketh Bank AFC most Saturdays in the West Lancashire Football League Premier Division:

black amber heketh bank xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxNotts Olympic lasted from 1884-1893.  They wore pink and white, rather like Portsmouth FC used to wear from 1898-1909, just before they joined Division 3:

pink whiteNottingham Press, appropriately perhaps for a team of journalists, wore all black, rather like DFC United in the USA. Another local team who wore all black were Notts Swifts.

all black dc utd.jpg xxxxx

Nottingham Rangers, who still exist, used to wear scarlet and white shirts. So did Notts Wanderers. Either team might have played in this kit, found in an online catalogue:

scarket white 1

or in this one, worn by Ottawa Fury FC in the North American Soccer League:

fury xxxxxx

or like the slightly more boring Charlton Athletic:

scarlet white bobbyor perhaps Stoke City:

 

scarley white 3

Nottingham Rovers used to play in black and white, perhaps like these gentlemen:

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Or like this old kit of Glossop North End AFC now in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division after a brief spell in the Football League:

black white glossop n e

I cannot really imagine that they wore the same kit as Portuguese team, Boavista:

proposta

Nottingham Scottish used to wear white shirts and blue shorts, exactly like Rangers’ away strip:

rangers white, bluxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Only the fabrics change in football kits. The colours of the shirts never seem to change very much.

These are Fred Chapman’s Amateur International caps:

chapman caps

I will tell you more about his career in another blogpost. By the way, the illustrations of old football kits came from the best ever website for the soccer nerd and all those boys who had more than twenty different Subbuteo teams. New Brighton Tower 1898? Oh, yes.

 

 

 

 

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Bygone football clubs (1)

Over the years, the Forest Recreation Ground has been used for many, very varied, sporting activities. Here is a modern map:

forest

In the medieval period, bear baiting had been probably the first activity on the Forest, with a horse racing course eventually being constructed on the very same site.

Originally the racecourse measured four miles long, but in the early 1700s, this was shortened to two miles. In 1797 a new track in the form of a figure-of-eight was laid out. Unfortunately, this rather strange layout was not successful, and another more conventional course, therefore, oval in shape, was constructed soon afterwards

By the 1860s though, the racecourse was in decline, offering only small prizes, and attracting only second rate horses.  The last race meeting took place on September 29th-30th 1890, and Nottingham’s horse racing subsequently moved to Colwick.

Around 1800, the centre of the racecourse had been used as a place of exercise by the many officers of the cavalry who lived in a distinctive Georgian building on Forest Road. Familiar to all High School pupils, it played host to a tiny sweet shop originally called “Baldry’s” and, more recently, “Dicko’s”. It is now a bakery. Most of those cavalry officers were destined to charge at the Battle of Waterloo:

Scotland_Forever

By 1849, cricketers were using the western end of the Forest for practice, and they soon moved to the centre of the racecourse to play professional games for large sums of money.

It is not really known when football was first played on the Forest. A group of young men regularly met there in the early 1860s, to play a primitive kind of field hockey called “shinney”. They soon thought of giving this up to play the new sport of football.

An initial meeting was convened therefore in the upstairs room of the then Clinton Arms in Shakespeare Street, and the “Forest Foot Ball Club” was duly formed in 1865.

Their first fixture on the Forest was on Thursday, March 22nd 1866, a friendly game between Fifteen of the Forest, and Thirteen of the Notts Club. The game was eventually played between Seventeen of the Forest and Eleven of the Notts, and, according to some sources, was goalless, Nottingham Forest’s first ever goal being scored in their third game, another friendly on the Forest against Notts County, which finished as a 1-1 draw.

Other contradictory sources say, however, that the initial game finished as a 1-0 victory for Nottingham Forest, with Old Nottinghamian, William Henry Revis, providing the decisive score.

One early newspaper article, described how:

“When the men were spread out, the field looked exceedingly picturesque, with the orange and black stripes of the Notts, and the red and white of the Foresters.”

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One of Nottinghamshire’s greatest early footballers, E.H.Greenhalgh, who played for England in the first ever international match against Scotland in 1872, was to write, of football on the Forest:

“The first set of players who came out were regarded as a company of harmless
lunatics who amused themselves by kicking one another’s shins, but did no great harm to the public at large, although in earlier days they would have been put in the stocks.”

Richard Daft, wrote in similar vein…

“When a young man I played regularly with the Notts County Football Club when it was first formed. I believe I played centre forward, but I am not quite sure about this as we were never very particular in those days about keeping in one place. Charging and dribbling were the chief features of the game at that time, and often very rough play was indulged in.”

The exact location of Nottingham Forest’s pitches has never been ascertained for certain. My own researches have led me to believe that they must have been immediately to the east of what is now the “Park-and-ride” car park, at the bottom of the slight slope, but I have no way of being totally sure about this. Look for the orange arrow:

Untitled forest

Forest certainly had major problems with their location, however, when they entered the F.A.Cup from 1878 onwards. The Forest was common land, with free access for all, but the regulations of the F.A.Cup stipulated that an admission charge had to be levied. For this reason, “Forest Foot Ball Club” had to move to the Meadows area for the 1879-1880 cup campaign.

This was not, of course, before the club had introduced various innovations. Samuel Weller Widdowson had invented the shin guard, which was first worn on the Forest in 1874. In 1878, the first ever referee’s whistle in the world was heard on the Forest, most probably in a game between Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Norfolk. It was blown by Mr C.J.Spencer, and marked the first step in a long, long journey of what shall we say, talking points?

zid

The club’s departure however, did not mean that the Forest itself was suddenly devoid of football clubs. Throughout the Victorian era, football was always to remain the main sport, played by scores of different local teams, all wearing their own unique and brightly coloured shirts and shorts.

Indeed, at this time, there were so many local teams using the pitches that the High School were frequently unable to fulfil their own fixtures on Saturdays, but instead had to play on Wednesdays, occasionally Thursdays, or even Tuesdays. At the time, of course, Wednesday was half day closing for shops and businesses in Nottingham, and Thursday was half day closing in Sherwood.

On these half days, it was by no means unusual to see footballers on buses and trams, travelling to their game, already changed into their kit. A newspaper at the time wrote of

“persons hurrying to the Forest football grounds, and dozens of players in full
rig making their way in the same direction,”

Notts County wore black and orange hoops, and at least three other kits:

notts county

Nottingham Forest had always worn their famous “Garibaldi Red”. Here are some of their oldest kits, with only minor changes from year to year, and those sexy shorts getting shorter and shorter:

forest 1868 zzzzzz

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

Forest and County were not the only football clubs in Nottingham.  Next time I will look at some of the less well known local teams in the area at the end of the Victorian era and before the First World War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Match-fixing (1)

Corruption in football is nothing new. More than a century ago, in 1900, Burnley goalkeeper Jack Hillman attempted to corrupt the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper and the other players by giving them £2 each to let Burnley win on the last day of the season and perhaps thereby escape relegation. It didn’t work. Burnley went down with 27 points from 34 games, along with Glossop North End who managed only 18. Here’s Hillman, apparently twenty minutes after the invention of angora sweaters::

jack-hillman-264x300

Had the bribe succeeded, Burnley would have overtaken and relegated Preston North End (28 points) who would have taken their place in Division Two. Hillman was called to account by the authorities, but amazingly, they didn’t accept his explanation of “I was only having a laugh!” He got a rather lenient twelve month ban, although this meant no pay for that period and the loss of a benefit match which would have netted him around £300. Even worse for him, though, was the fact that he never played international football for England again, having just broken into the team
In 1905, at the opposite end of the table, Manchester City were trying to win the League title. Billy Meredith, their star winger, decided to make the task a little bit easier by offering the Aston Villa players £10 to let them win. Like Hillman, Meredith received a year long ban, but rocked the footballing boat by alleging that he had been ordered to bribe the Aston Villa player, Alex Leake, by his Manchester City manager, Tom Maley. Bribery, said Meredith, was common practice at Manchester City who finished the 1904-1905 season in third place behind champions Newcastle United and Everton. A whole selection of players were suspended, as were members of the club staff and directors from the boardroom. Here’s Meredith. He looks like he’s wearing in a new moustache for his shy, and rather strange, German penfriend:

meredith

Meredith actually wrote an open letter to the Athletic News:

“You approve of the severe punishment administered by the Commission AGAINST ME and state that the offence I committed at Aston Villa should have wiped me out of football forever. Why ME ALONE? when I was only the spokesman of others equally guilty.”

In 1915, Liverpool played so poorly as they lost 2-0 to relegation-threatened Manchester United that one of the many bookmakers who had taken bets on the game refused to pay out, at odds of 7-1.  He had probably heard of the clandestine meetings of players in the pubs of Manchester and Liverpool. And the poor old bookmaker was completely right. In the United team, Sandy Turnbull, Enoch West and Arthur Whalley were the guilty men and in the Liverpool team it was the fault of Tom Miller, Bob Purcell, Jackie Sheldon and the rather appropriately named Thomas Fairfoul. Can you spot the guilty players in this old picture of Manchester United?

wh turn wets

Would you like a second go?

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It looks like Liverpool are not quite so helpful towards the local detectives:

liverpool 1915

And no, the man with the cap is the trainer.

Jackie Sheldon as an ex-United man was the mastermind behind the coup but not everybody in the two teams was happy to cheat in this way. Both Fred Pagnam (Liverpool) and George Anderson (United) refused to participate. Indeed, when Pagnam shot and hit the opposing crossbar his teammates all showed their anger with him. It was perhaps his own fault, as before the match he had threatened to score a goal to spoil their nasty little plan. By now, whiter-than-white Billy Meredith was a United player, but everybody had taken great care not to tell him about what was happening and nobody passed to him throughout the game…something which, of course, aroused his suspicions as to what exactly was going on.  A penalty was missed by such a distance that the ball only just failed to hit the corner flag.  The crowd, feeling they had wasted their penny entrance money, grew increasingly angry with the proceedings.

Overall though, things were getting very much out of hand with match fixing. As an example, all seven of the Liverpool-Manchester United match fixers, along with an eighth player, Lawrence Cook of Stockport County, were banned from football sine die. (that effectively means “for life”)
Cynics might say that that was a fairly limp punishment as professional football had already been suspended because of the war. The even more cynical would point out that the Naughty Eight were given hints about a possible return to football, but only if they signed up for the Army and survived the carnage of the Western Front:

somme

A succession of away games on the Somme and at Passchendaele gave seven of the Naughty Eight their promised lifting of the ban. Fairfoul in fact turned away from football but the other six went back to their previous employment. For some reason “Lucky Enoch” West did not have his ban rescinded until 1945 when he was 59 years of age.

The_Battle_of_the_Somme_film_image1

Poor Sandy Turnbull had to be contented with a posthumous permission to resume his footballing career. He joined the 23rd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment before a free transfer to the 8th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. He became Lance-Sergeant Turnbull and was killed on May 3rd in the Battle of Arras at the age of 33.  Sandy was the son of James and Jessie Turnbull, of I, Gibson St., Kilmarnock, Ayrshire and the husband of Florence Amy Turnbull, of 17, Portland Rd., Gorse Hill, Stretford, Manchester. He had won FA Cup medals with both Manchester City and Manchester United:

Deadgerman

The Grim Reaper has no favourites though. Sandy has no known grave and his death is commemorated along with that of almost 35,000 others from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in this fairly pointless battle and whose bodies have never been identified. Overall, the Battle of Arras was quite a slaughter. Nearly 160,000 British lads and about 125,000 young Germans renounced their right ever to play football again. In a mere five weeks. Here is Polygon Wood where Sandy had tried to mark out a football pitch for himself and his pals:

polygonwood

Alas, they didn’t realise that a Great War average of one ton of explosives per yard of trench was going to be a really, really big problem with that.

 

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

Last time, we looked at this shield which is that of Thomas Becket also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket.

Becket-arms

Born in probably 1118 or 1120, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 but was then martyred in Canterbury Cathedral on December 20th 1170 by followers of Henry II, namely Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton.

Surely this coat of arms is the easy and direct link with the “merles” of Dame Agnes Mellers?

badge

If you were scared stiff that your husband was on his way to Hell, then what better saint to recruit to your aid than the Numero Uno of English saints, the Head Honcho of martyrdom in England?  As one expert TV commentator recently said, in that original programme (to which, by now, I was giving my fullest attention):

“The most important English saint, by a wide margin.”

I think that Dame Agnes, like so many ordinary football supporters nowadays, did not have her own coat of arms or badge, but instead she was very attached to those of her hero. Not Nottingham Forest or Notts County for her, of course, but Thomas à Becket.

Perhaps Dame Agnes used to display Thomas à Becket’s coat of arms because, as a very pious  and religious person, a vowess of the future indeed, she had  already been on a pilgrimage to see the saint’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral:

camterbury cathedrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Dame Agnes may have done this on her husband’s behalf or she may have done it because it was what thousands and thousands of English Christians had always done over the centuries. Perhaps in the three hundred and fifty years since Becket’s death, a tacky tourist trade had built up, and Dame Agnes was able to buy her very own copy of the great saint’s shield, which she had then hung up over her mantelpiece for all her friends to see. We will never know, but for me, the visual coincidence between the two coats of arms is quite stunning. Black birds, of course, are not particularly common on heraldic shields. Eagles, yes, but not a great deal beyond that. Everybody preferred lions.

Game set and match for my theory is the coat of arms of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), the Lord Chancellor of Henry VIII but more significantly perhaps, the second most important English saint, venerated by all English Catholics as Saint Thomas More. When King Henry wanted to divorce the barren Queen Catherine of Aragon in the hope of fathering a male heir with Anne Boleyn as his new, younger, sexier, more fertile and six fingered Queen, Sir Thomas More “steadfastly refused to take the oath of supremacy of the Crown in the relationship between the kingdom and the church in England.”

More would not retreat from his belief in the supremacy of the Pope over the King. He was beheaded on July 6th 1535. Before he died, More proclaimed to the watching crowd, that he was:

“the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”:

execution

As a young man Thomas had thought seriously more than once of giving up his legal career to become a monk. And now he was a martyr, and well on his way to becoming a saint.

It would be amazing, of course, if his father had had no influence on his growing son. How could the young Saint Thomas have been so pious and so spiritual had his father not influenced him at any point? Clearly, Sir John must have been a very staunch Catholic to have produced a son like Thomas. Here is the only known depiction of Sir John:

220px-Sir_John_More_xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

That pious father of the saint, Sir John More, was born around 1451 and died in 1530. He was a lawyer and eventually became a judge. As he rose in society, he was offered the chance of a coat of arms of his own. He may have been told of the possibility of having a shield with a striking visual pun. There is an heraldic bird called a moorcock, which is based on the male black grouse, a bird of the high moors, and is characterized in heraldry by its two projecting tail feathers:

moorcock-261x300

An ordinary cockerel has a curved over tail, and in heraldry is really much less desirable, quite often being referred to as a “dunghill cockerel”:

cock-265x300

Sir John was left to make his choice. You’ll find out what it was next time.

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

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

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

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

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

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

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

Sooooo, where did that coat of arms come from?

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

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

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

Becket-arms

The shield above is that of Thomas Becket also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket. Born in December of probably 1118 or 1120, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 but was then martyred in Canterbury Cathedral on December 20th 1170 by followers of Henry II, namely Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton.

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

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

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

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

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

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

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

columbo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Not many people would be able to answer this question.

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

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

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

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

(Where?)

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

Here is their coat of arms:

0mellor coat of

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

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

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

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

meller_c

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

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

meller-ireland

And this one:

meller_large irish

And this one:

Smeller red

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

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

blackbird

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackbird-01

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

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

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

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

stoney st enlarged

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

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

assembly hall

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

car badge

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

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

 

 

 

 

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