Tag Archives: Nottingham

“Go straight to Hell ! Do not pass Go ! ” Part One

Having explored the history of the High School for more than twenty five years, I have always thought that the school’s beginnings are shrouded in mystery. For me, the High School has always been very like the Soviet Union:

“a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”

What do we know about the founder of the school, Dame Agnes Mellers, for example? What was she like as a person? There are a very few illustrations which are thought to be her. This is the school’s charter:

charter

And here is a close-up of Dame Agnes and King Henry VIII:

charter001

This is the charter changed into a line drawing:

agnes

For me, there have always seemed to have been two enormously important motivating forces in her character. The first was her staunch religious faith as a Roman Catholic with a sincere love of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Dame Agnes seems in many ways to have been an uncomplicated soul, who viewed the world in a simple direct way. She tried to be a good person, with the sincere belief that we should all try to make things better rather than worse, that we should do good things rather than evil and that we should always strive to be on the side of the Angels.

The second motivation for her was the love she had for her husband, Richard, which seems as sincere and unswerving as her love for the Church. Richard was, as his name suggests, a rich man. He was at one time or another, Sheriff of Nottingham (1472-1473), Chamberlain (1484-1485) and Royal Commissioner and Mayor of Nottingham (1499-1500 and again in 1506). In 1499, he is known to have given twenty shillings to help repair the Hethbeth Bridge, as Trent Bridge’s predecessor was called. Here is one of the last photographs ever taken of the old bridge before it was superseded by the present Trent Bridge. You can certainly see why it was easier for the river to freeze up in those days:

old-trent-bridge-1871xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is all that remains of the Hethbeth Bridge nowadays:

771942beth heth xxxxxxxxxxx

It is in the middle of a road island to the south of Trent Bridge. If you decide to take a look at it, be very careful of the traffic and use the proper crossings. Look for the (camouflaged) orange arrow in the centre of the (red) road junction:

trent

Richard Mellers was a brazier, and probably a potter, and he had certainly dealt in metal pots and dishes. Most important of all, he owned the largest church bell-foundry in the region. The site of his premises has long disappeared, but its exact location is still known today.

From 1888 onwards, just a very few yards north of the city centre, steps began to clear away:

“a curious V-shaped slice of slum property…a most unhygienic and immoral neighbourhood and nothing good could be said for it”.

This slum clearance took a number of years, and resulted in the formation of King Street and Queen Street, the latter being opened on June 22nd, 1892.

During this time, it was inevitable that, along with all the slums and all the undesirable features, a few other more reputable premises were destined to disappear. Among these was Richard Mellers’ Bell Foundry, which is known to have stood more or less exactly on the site of the present day Queen Street Post Office. The orange arrow points to the general area, and the letters PO stand for the purple edged Post Office:

king street

Perhaps it was working so close to such an “immoral neighbourhood” that deflected Richard away from the straight and narrow. He had, for example, already paid out £20 to be the Mayor of  Nottingham for twelve months. There wasn’t really much of the democratic process involved here, or indeed, much evidence of any genuine interest in the workings of democracy. That payment of £20, a rather sizeable sum of money by modern standards, may well have been the reason that, in the very same year, Richard had been so keen to do a good deed by paying  for the upkeep of the ever ailing Hethbeth Bridge.

Richard was certainly widely known as a fairly unscrupulous businessman. During his lifetime, in his efforts to acquire great personal wealth, he certainly seems to have cheated many of his bell buying customers. In 1507, for example, we know that Richard had received a pardon for having committed offenses against the statutes of weights and measures. This charge is believed to have related to problems with the purity of his bells and the metal they contained. The pardon would only have been granted because of his previous position as Mayor of Nottingham. A less prestigious person would have been in very, very, serious trouble. These bells, though, are all 100% the real peal:

100911_Lowell_bells_147.jpg

To be continued……………………….

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

The very first football season of them all 1888-1889 (Part 1)

At the moment, the High School has very strong  footballing links, both with the Premier League and the Championship. They come in the person of Patrick Bamford, a young man who would seem to have a sparkling footballing future ahead of him:

He is not the only Old Nottinghamian to have played professional football, however. Well over a century ago, for example, a number of old boys took part in that inaugural season of 1888-1889, playing for Notts County in the newly formed Football League.

The season was totally dominated by Preston North End, “The Invincibles”, who beat County on aggregate by 11-1, for example, and were undefeated at the end of the campaign after 22 matches. They dismissed Wolverhampton Wanderers by an aggregate of 9-2 and Stoke City by 10-0. Notts County were to finish in eleventh place out of twelve. Their record of five victories, two draws and fifteen defeats produced a grand total of 12 points, with two for a win and one for a draw. Stoke City also managed 12 points, but their goal average (not difference in those days) was 0.510 as opposed to County’s much more impressive 0.548. That difference of 38 hundredths of a goal was enough for County to escape the Wooden Spoon! Derby County had 16 points and Burnley had 17 points. All four teams were re-elected to the League for the next season:

league table

One Old Nottinghamian who appeared in the County team that season was Arthur Frederick Shaw, of whom I have been, unfortunately, unable to find any photographs whatsoever on the Internet. Arthur was born on August 11th 1869 in Basford. His father was Alfred Shaw (1842-1907), the famous Nottingham and Sussex cricketer:

AlfredShaw_RedLillywhite1876

Shaw senior played for England, and he actually bowled the very first ball ever in the entire history of Test Cricket, which was to the Australian batsman, Charles Bannerman. During his cricketing career, Alfred Shaw took more than 2,000 wickets for Nottinghamshire and Sussex from 1864-1897, before becoming a first class umpire. He died in 1907 at Gedling, Nottingham, and is buried in the churchyard there, close to the grave of Arthur Shrewsbury, the former Nottinghamshire and England batsman:

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At the time when their son entered the High School on April 28th 1881, at the age of ten, the Shaw family was living at the Belvoir Inn in Kirkby Street, Nottingham, a street which no longer exists. The date when he left the High School remains unknown.
Arthur Shaw played just two games for Notts County during that inaugural 1888-1889 season. His first game was on December 8th 1888 at home to Aston Villa, which resulted in a 2-4 defeat for the Magpies. A crowd of some 2,000 spectators watched the game, where Shaw played as an inside right (Number 8, except that there were no numbers in League Football until August 25th 1928). At left full back (No3) was Herbert Durrant Snook, a fellow Old Nottinghamian, with George Hutchinson Brown, a third Old Nottinghamian, playing at right half (No 4). I will talk about these two gentlemen in a later article.
Arthur’s second game came on March 5th 1889, when County entertained Bolton Wanderers at Meadow Lane. A crowd of some 3,000 spectators watched the match, where Arthur played on this occasion as an inside left (Number 10). County lost narrowly by four goals to nil.

Arthur went on to play for Notts County on two more occasions in the Football League. These both came in the following season of 1889-1890, when the team finished in a much improved tenth place in the League. On December 14th 1889, he appeared in a game at Meadow Lane against Wolverhampton Wanderers, watched by 3,000 people and ending in a narrow 0-2 home defeat for the Magpies. A week later, they entertained Derby County and beat them by three goals to one, in front of a Meadow Lane crowd of, again, some 3,000 spectators. On both occasions, Arthur was playing as an outside right, and, again, had there been numbers on the players’ shirts at this time, he would have worn a No 7.

Arthur appeared a number of times for Nottingham Forest, both before and after his appearances for Notts County. At the age of barely eighteen, therefore, well before Forest were a League club, Arthur made his début for them in the 1887-1888 season, scoring the only goal in a 1-1 home draw against Burslem Port Vale. His other game for Forest was a 3-2 home win against Bolton Wanderers, when Shaw scored what turned out to be the winning goal.

During the following season of 1888-1889, Arthur made four appearances for Forest and scored two goals. He played at home against Preston North End (0-2), Newton Heath (2-2, one scorer unknown), and Clapton (3-2, two goals). He played in away games at Newton Heath (1-3), a team who were later to become Manchester United. All of these games were friendlies. Here are some Forest strips from this long ago era. Things have not changed a great deal:

forest 1868 zzzzzz

In the 1889-1890 season, Arthur made eleven appearances for Forest and scored six goals. He played a number of games in the Football Alliance against Long Eaton Rangers, Sunderland Albion, Darwen, Newton Heath and Small Heath (later Birmingham City). The result in this last game, a 0-12 loss, remains Nottingham Forest’s record defeat. Arthur also appeared in the 0-3 away defeat at Derby Midland in the First Round of the F.A.Cup.

Perhaps the most unusual moment in Arthur Shaw’s whole football career came in this 1889-1890 season when he played for both Nottingham Forest and Notts County. He appeared in the Football Alliance for Forest against Sunderland Albion, (3-1) and then, as we have already seen, for County in the Football League against Wolverhampton Wanderers (0-2) and Derby County (2-3). Shaw capped it all on Boxing Day, December 26th 1889, when he turned out for Forest against County in a 1-1 draw in a friendly at Meadow Lane. I presume that this swapping of allegiances was possible because County played in the Football League and Forest played in the Football Alliance. There would have been no connection between the two organisations.

In the 1890-1891 season, playing for Forest as an outside left (No 11), Arthur appeared in the First Round of the F.A.Cup against Clapton. He scored one goal at the wonderfully named Spotted Dog Grounds as Forest won narrowly by 14-0, still the record away score for the F.A.Cup, and indeed, the record away win in any competition. Clapton had only trailed 0-5 at halftime before conceding nine quick goals in the second half. Arthur’s fellow Old Nottinghamian, the “ageing Tinsley Lindley” was also playing:

Tinsley_Lindley

“There’s only one Tinsley Lindley” scored a mere four goals in this one sided game, where five goals came from the Scottish international Sandy Higgins. A third Old Nottinghamian was playing for Forest in the person of John Edward Leighton, called “Ted” or “Teddy” at the High School and later in his life, “Kipper”, for his ability to fall calmly asleep in the dressing room before big matches. He played quite a few of those over the years, but his greatest honour came on March 13th 1886, when he won his only international cap for England, as an outside left in a 6-1 victory over Ireland in Belfast. Teddy Leighton was making his England début in the same team as fellow High School Old Boy, and Nottingham Forest player, Tinsley Lindley, mentioned above. This was one of no fewer than four occasions on which two ex-pupils of the High School have played together for their country. On other occasions, Leighton and Lindley had also played together for the fabled “Corinthians” club.

Overall, Arthur Shaw was to score a grand total of 11 goals in 79 appearances for Nottingham Forest. After he left Forest he went on to score three goals in 11 appearances for Loughborough, who, at the time, were playing in the Football League, Second Division. He would have worn these long forgotten colours:

Loughborough_Town_1895-1900

Arthur’s final appearance of any kind for Nottingham Forest came when he played as a right half in the semi-final of the Bass Charity Cup. The game was away from home, against Leicester Fosse, and took place on April 6th 1899. It finished in a 1-1 draw, and was watched by approximately 1,000 spectators.

Arthur’s final appearance for Nottingham Forest in the Football League had already come in a 0-5 defeat in an away game against Derby County. This fixture took place at the Baseball Ground on April 11th 1898, and the legendary Steve Bloomer scored a hat trick, before a crowd of some 12,000 spectators:

bloomer xxxxxxxx

Only five days later, the same two teams were to contest the F.A.Cup Final at Crystal Palace before a crowd of 62,017, Forest triumphing on this occasion by 3-1. Unfortunately, Shaw did not make the team for the final, his position of right half being filled by Frank Forman. This is the closest, however, that any Old Nottinghamian has come to winning an F.A.Cup winner’s medal but only if you don’t count the School Gardener,

programme

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

 

 

 

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Filed under Football, History, Nottingham, The High School

The Beast of Ennerdale: Part Two

Last time I introduced you all to the Beast of Ennerdale, an unknown creature that rampaged over the Lake District in north western England in 1810. Here is Ennerdale:

1280px-Ennerdale

The original source for the tale was a book called “Cumbriana; or, Fragments of Cumbrian life” by William Dickinson. It was published in 1876, more than sixty years after the events it portrayed. Here, a typical chase after the Monster is described:

“One Saturday night a great number of men was dispersed over the high fells, watching with guns and hounds, but the animal avoided  them and took his supper on a distant mountain ; and the men not meeting with him, came down about eleven o’clock on Sunday morning and separated about Swinside Lane End:

Swinside

In a few minutes after, Willy Lamb gave the “view halloo.” He had started the beast in crossing the wooded stream, and away went the dog with the hounds in full cry after him. The hunt passed Ennerdale Church during service ; and the male part of the congregation, liking the cry of the hounds better than the sermon, ran out and followed. It has been said the Reverend Mr Ponsonby could not resist, and himself went in pursuit as far as he was able. This run ended at Fitz Mill, near Cockermouth, in a storm which the wearied men and dogs had to encounter in a twelve-miles return.”

The Beast’s identity was still a matter of considerable debate for the locals:

rustic

Some thought it was a lion. Some thought it was a tiger. Some thought it was a wolf. One wealthier farmworker, who had recently been to France for his holidays, said that it was “Like a wolf but not a wolf”.

And exactly as had been the case in France, many of the local peasants thought it was a werewolf, although the one who had been to France for his holidays, said it was “un loup-garou” or even “un rougarou”. Proof of the supernatural qualities of this Beast came in the fact that it drank blood:

eyes wolf

Just as a piece of information, there were no wolves in the Lake District at this time, and had not been for, probably, the best part of 400 years. The most recent record of wolves in England came, most fittingly, from Nottinghamshire where, in the reign of Henry VI (1422-1460), Robert Plumpton, who owned land in Nottingham itself, was given the job of “chasing wolves in Sherwood Forest”. By 1500, wolves were totally exterminated in England.

Whatever the Beast of Ennerdale was, the locals came up with a cunning plan to catch it. Somebody thought of putting together all the best hunting dogs into an élite pack, a Special Forces Unit which would hunt down the Sheep Slayer once and for all:

pack dogs
There was a pursuit which lasted several days. Finally, the poor monster was flushed from cover. It fled, but the hounds caught it. The plan now went pear shaped though, as the Beast took on all of the Special Forces dogs at once in a ferocious combat. Several of these ninja sheep dogs were killed outright in a matter of minutes. All the survivors then suddenly changed their minds and headed off home, to the safety of their nice safe kennels. Obviously, whatever the Beast was, “dog” could pretty well be crossed off the list.
And just as was the case in distant Gévaudan, there were the hard luck stories. William Jackson who lived in the middle of wild and lonely mountains at Swinside, had his musket loaded and ready, as he left his wild and lonely farm. Here it is, as it looks today:

Cragg_Hall_Farm_-

The Beast was watching him, just thirty yards away. William took careful aim, pulled the trigger and the fifty years old relic of a rifle failed to fire. The Beast, of course, made his escape easily.
On another occasion, a group of men, armed to the teeth, along with their pack of hounds, had the Beast surrounded in a small wood and totally at their mercy. It charged out and the weakest link in the human chain duly lost his nerve, dived out of the way and the chance was lost.

Interestingly enough, an incident very similar to this happened with the Beast of Gévaudan and with at least one of the other French creatures. The Beast of Ennerdale, though, continued onwards and knocked over an old chap called Jack Wilson. Jack was collecting wood for his fire but was completely unaware of the Beast’s presence, because he was totally deaf.
The guilty nerve loser was probably Will Rothery who is actually named in another very similar version of the tale. Will explained that he failed to take his easy shot at the animal because he was so surprised by its huge size and unexpected appearance. I would expect Mr Rothery’s fellow hunters might have had something to say about that. Later, Will Rothery was to testify that he thought the animal was some kind of lion.

Meanwhile, in Cumberland, the slayings continued. Sheep continued to die in large numbers:

sheer

Great was the disappointment, therefore, when, one fine morning in July, an enormous army of more than 200 armed men, with their hounds, found themselves scouring Kinniside Fell after the Beast had been seen moving away towards Hopehead. The contour lines show how steep the sides of the valley were. Look for the orange arrow:

kinniside

The huge pursuit went on, along the tops of the mountains between Wasdale and Ennerdale. And then it was the wild slopes of Stockdale Moor and then, finally, a cornfield near Calder Bridge.
But the enormous, and prolonged hunt was in vain. After they had waited for hours, not a single Beast was found hiding in the corn. Somehow, it had slipped away.

And then there was another wasted, breathless chase through Drigg and out to Seascale, right on the coast of the Irish Sea itself. Overall, the Beast took its admirers on many tourist trips around the fringes of the Lake District. Kinniside. Lamplugh. Through the icy waters of the Marron. Out to Little Clifton and then to sunny Workington. Or perhaps they would have preferred Seaton or the Fitz Mill at Cockermouth. Maybe Irton or Dent Hill or Egremont or even St. Bees. Here is the wonderfully named Cockermouth. The orange arrow indicates the Fitz Mill :

cockermouth
And still nobody knew what the Beast was. Hundreds of people, noblemen, farmworkers  and professional hunters had all seen it. And it remained an enormous puzzle. Meanwhile the death toll mounted. And still they were haunted by the worry that it might one day change from drinking sheep’s blood to killing children.
The longer it went on, the more gloom and despondency the locals felt. As autumn approached, they all made the conscious decision to accept the losses of sheep temporarily, but above all to make sure that the harvest was gathered in. All the hunts were abandoned for the moment, as gathering in the harvest continued apace:

George_Cole_-_Harvest_zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
By September, the hunters were back, combing the hillsides and fields for the Beast. Now the writing was on the wall. No animal, however secretive and cunning, could continue for ever to elude so many hundreds of pursuers:

aa-bete-des-vosges-cxzcfe
A significant chance event occurred on September 12th, when the Beast was seen by Jonathan Patrickson to go into a cornfield. The tale is told by William Dickinson in his “Cumbriana; or, Fragments of Cumbrian life”. It starts with some traditional Lake District Gibberish:

Jonathan quietly said, ” Aa’l let ta lig theer a bit, me  lad, but aa’l want to see tha just noo.”

Away went the old man, and, without the usual noise, soon raised men enough to surround the field. As some in their haste came unprovided with guns, a halt was whispered round to wait until more guns were brought and the hounds collected. When a good muster of guns and men with dogs were got together, the wild dog was disturbed out of the corn ; and only the old man who had seen him go into the field was  lucky enough to get a shot at him, and to wound him  in the hind quarters:

Replica_Remington_Zouave_firing

This took a little off his speed, and enabled the hounds to keep well up to him, but none dared or did engage him. And, though partly disabled, he kept long on his legs and was often headed and turned by the numerous parties of pursuers, several of whom met him in his circuitous route from the upper side of Kinniside, by Eskat, Arlecdon, and Asby, by Rowrah and Stockhow Hall, to the river Ehen. Here is Arlecdon and Rowrah, indicated by the orange arrow:

rowrah

Each of these parties he fled from, and turned in a new direction till he got wearied. He was quietly taking a cold bath in the river, with the exhausted hounds as quietly looking on, when John Steel came up with his gun laden with small bullets, but dared not shoot, lest he should injure some of the hounds. When the dog caught sight of him it made off to Eskat Woods, with the hounds and John on its track, and after a few turnings in the wood, amid the greatest excitement of dogs and men, a fair chance was offered, and the fatal discharge was made by John Steel:

Brown_Bess_Musket_firing

The destroyer fell to rise no more, and the marksman received his well-earned reward of ten pounds, with the hearty congratulations of all assembled.

After many a kick at the dead brute, the carcase was carried in triumph to the inns at Ennerdale Bridge;  and the cheering and rejoicing there were so great that it was many days before the shepherd inhabitants of the vale settled to their usual pursuits.”

What was left of the mystery animal was taken triumphantly then to the various public houses at Ennerdale Bridge. On the map, the orange arrow indicates “PH” which means public house:

the pub

The locals, thirsty from the rejoicing and the cheering, clearly made serious attempts to drink the place dry:

Beer_Cans-1ccccccccccccccccccc

Not cans, though. They were not invented until 1935. Stick to bottled beer. Foreign, if they stock it:

Dutch_beersxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The people who were still sober enough then weighed the animal (eight stone or 51 kilos: a big wolf is 100 kilos). They put it on a cart and paraded it around. It finished up in Hutton’s Museum, at Keswick where the resident taxidermist stuffed what remained of the animal after the Special Forces hunting dogs had all had a free bite each. It was given a collar round its neck, stating that the wearer had been the destroyer of nearly three hundred sheep and lambs in the five months of his Ennerdale campaign.

When the Museum closed in 1876, the Beast, though, was lost, and that was that. Another tale says that the curator of the Museum just decided one day that it was too tatty and too moth-eaten to be kept and the strange stripey Beast was simply thrown in the dustbin:

thylacineimg_1230

Whatever the truth, the Beast was still unidentified. So what was it? Just a dog?
Well…have a think, and I’ll tell you the extremely cunning theory in my next article.
Meanwhile, let’s finish with the Official Song of the Beast of Ennerdale. Unfortunately, perhaps, it has many, many verses, but this is the catchy chorus, sung to the tune of “D’Ye Ken John Peel”:

It was big,
It was strong,
It was eight feet long.
It could leap,
It could bound,
It could outrun any hound.

It had stripes and a tail, and it gave out such a wail,
And you’d find dead sheep in the morning.

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

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:

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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?

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

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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:

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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

 

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A lovely old bird called Elsie

(An extract from my birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Saturday, June 25, 1988

Birdline organises another weekend for me. Look for the orange arrows:

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This Saturday, it’s a vagrant duck from North America, a drake Surf Scoter, that has been found offshore at Holme next the Sea  in north Norfolk. A very well-behaved bird, it has been seen every single day of the week, and should be a cinch. Should be:

xxxxxxx surf_scoter_1655

I go with Paul, Robin and Sue. It’s a beautiful summer’s day, blue skies, a bright sun and a typically bracing east coast wind. After an uneventful three hour trip, we park in a layby at the side of the road at the western end of the Holme reserve. As soon as we get out of the car, I see a most peculiar bird. It’s a large tern, flying steadily eastwards along the beach. About the size of a Sandwich Tern, it has a straw yellow bill. I am paralysed, I can’t remember what colour bill a Sandwich Tern has. For a few moments, I think that I’ve got everything exactly backwards, so that all Sandwich Terns have a yellow bill with a black tip. But that’s not the right way round. Sandwich Terns have a black bill with a yellow tip! I force myself to look at the bird for the duration of the flypast, but it’s very difficult to take in a great deal, because I’m so panic stricken:

Sterne voyageuse (Sterna bengalensis)

I think of shouting to Paul, but he’s three miles away, year ticking Redshank. I don’t have the courage to yell to another group of nearby birdwatchers, because deep down, I have a terrible suspicion that I have got it all wrong, that I will be calling out to them just for a Sandwich Tern. I keep looking. The bird is fairly round winged, with fairly dark upper parts to both its wings and back. It has a noticeably white trailing edge to its wings, a little like a Laughing Gull, and for a tern, it seems big, almost the size and bulk of a gull. I walk thirty or forty yards, trying to dismiss the bird as an aberration, the product of a rarity crazed mind. I even consider the idea that I just got out of the car, tired from the driving, and somehow misidentified a Little Tern. There are quite a lot of them over the beach, and mental blocks through fatigue are not that unusual. Then suddenly, the bird reappears. It is in company with  two Sandwich Terns and I can easily pick it out, totally different from its two companions:

 

This time, I shout to Paul and tell him to get on to the last bird. He manages to pick it out and agrees with me on two things. Firstly, that it is different to the Sandwich Terns, and secondly, that it has a straw yellow bill.  We have an exciting discussion about it and Paul puts forward the idea that it is a Lesser Crested Tern, a very rare vagrant to Britain, but one which has been seen a few times of late, due in part, it is thought, to a single lost bird which wanders the east coast of Britain, looking eagerly for its Libyan homeland. I haven’t a clue. I’ve never even heard of a Lesser Crested Tern. I thought that Gaddafi had abolished birds as being too flippant. I don’t even have a book with Lesser Crested Tern in it:

xxxx LCT 2

When I get back to Nottingham, I spend many a happy hour, trying to get information on the mystery bird. What convinces me though, is an illustration that I find in an old Indian birdwatching book, where the most salient points are the yellow beak, the dark mantle and the brightest of white trailing edges. They ought to know. They see them a damned sight more often than I do. And what finally proves it to me totally is an announcement a couple of days later that a Lesser Crested Tern has recently been present, on and off, at Cley next the Sea, just a few miles down the coast to the east. Seduced by the promise of eternal fame, I send a letter to the Norfolk Bird Recorder, and also to the Reserve Warden at Holme.

The Surf Scoter, of course, after all this, is long gone. We spend the rest of the day looking for it, but without any luck at all. The Common Scoters are exactly that, but among the hundreds of sea duck, there is no bright white head:

We also see a lot of Little Terns, who succeed in sowing the seeds of doubt, but who, at the same time, solve quite a few problems. They fly down the same track as the putative Lesser Crested Tern, but with a completely different flight action. They flutter like butterflies. They don’t fly purposefully like the mystery bird:

And anyway, I saw it in the company of Sandwich Terns, so I have a good idea of its size, and it’s a lot bigger than a Little Tern. It’s a different bird, in actual fact. A thrilling end to a memorable day is provided as we motor south to Kings Lynn, on the way back. Look for the orange arrow:

lynn

Just beyond the ring road, we see a large raptor quartering the fields to our left:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Montagu's_Harrier

It crosses the road above our heads, continues the quartering, and finally disappears behind the line of trees on the horizon. It is a male Montagu’s Harrier, perhaps the North Wootton bird, but more likely, from a site not yet revealed to the Verminous Company of Egg Thieves. It is fairly isolated out here though. Let’s hope that the Montagu’s Harrier family spend their summer undisturbed, raise their babies and leave peacefully. Flying back if possible, not over Malta or any other world centre of illegal hunting:

xxxxx montagus_Harrier_Serengeti_

 

I sent in my claim of a Lesser Crested Tern to the British Bird Rarities Committee, but after a year or two of careful consideration, they rejected it,  even though the Birdwatching Committee in Norfolk seemed reasonably satisfied with it. So, a few years later, I drove to Spurn Head in Yorkshire to see another, or conceivably the same returning, Lesser Crested Tern. Look for Nottingham in the bottom left and the orange arrow:

spurn

I went there on two separate occasions, and finished up driving nearly 500 miles in total. After almost two days standing in “The Place”, “The Bird” did not deign to tern up (sick). On the second day, I was there at seven in the morning, and I was then the last to leave at eight o’clock in the evening. Another birdwatcher arriving alone at half past eight then found the bird exactly where it was supposed to be standing and I’d missed it. That started to make it personal.

A little while later, I drove to the north Norfolk coast where foolhardy twitchers were wading across a tidal creek to Scolt Head Island, their telescopes and tripods held above their heads like the Marines in Vietnam. They were looking for a Lesser Crested Tern which had been seen in the Sandwich Tern colony. Look for the orange arrow: 

scolt

I decided, though, to stay on the mainland, not drown and keep my eyes open for the bird flying down the coast to fish. Three wasted hours. No chance!

It was by now way beyond personal. Around this time a Lesser Crested Tern had been hybridising with Sandwich Terns in a tern colony on the Farne Islands, some three or four miles off the coast of Northumberland, some 200 miles to the north of Nottingham. Eventually, everybody realised that all the many records of Lesser Crested Tern on the English East Coast were most probably this one returning individual, being seen over and over again by different people.  Because the initials of a Lesser Crested Tern are “LCT”, the bird was now being called “Elsie”. I decided to bite the bullet  and drive up to the Farne Islands. As the bird was nesting, it should be a cinch. Should be.

Look for the orange arrows :

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I failed to see it. So I decided to try again, and at very long last, I saw Elsie’s straw yellow bill sticking jauntily out of a crowd of black billed Sandwich Terns, all sitting on their eggs.

And I watched this good tern, this most excellent tern, for a very long time. A very long time. And then, half an hour later, I came back for seconds. And yes, I had already seen a bird just like Elsie, with her unmistakable bill, somewhere else, a long time previously, but the details escaped me for the moment.
Afterwards, I worked out that the nearest colonies of Lesser Crested Tern were on the coast of Libya. To see one, I had driven to Holme (210 miles for the round trip), Spurn Head twice (500 miles for two round trips), Scolt Head Island (250 miles for the round trip) and the Farne Islands(880 miles for two round trips). How far is it to Libya by car?

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The Officer Training Corps 1915 Part Three

This photograph shows the Officer Training Corps in 1915. You might be forgiven for thinking that they are all far too young to have left the school, to have immediately joined the army, trained as officers, gone to the Western Front and then been killed. But you would be wrong. Three of the twelve were to be lost, although this is a much better casualty rate than the rugby team of Boxing Day, 1913. On the other hand, though, it is still a staggering 25%!

Previously, I have written about the eventual fate of the teachers, and I have talked about the fate of the three boys who were destined to die in the Great War. This time I will try to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the remaining nine boys, all of whom, you will be pleased to know, came back home from the  fields of Flanders.

Once again, here are the names. On the back row of the photograph are, left to right, F.A.Bird, J.R.Coleman, D.J.Clarkson, J.Marriott, A.W.Barton, G.R.Ballamy, S.I.Wallis and W.D.Willatt.

On the front row are, left to right, L.W.Foster, V.G.Darrington, Second Lieutenant J.L.Kennard, Captain G.F.Hood, Second Lieutenant L.R.Strangeways, G.James and R.I.Mozley:

otc 1915

If J.Marriott was John Marriott, then a wild guess says that his father, or perhaps even grandfather, may have been Frank Marriott, an Old Boy of the school who played First XI football from 1868 at least, and then played nine times for Notts County between 1872-1874. Frank’s own father was John Marriott, a victualler, of Warser Gate in Nottingham. In England, a victualler was the keeper of an inn, a tavern or a restaurant, who had a licence to sell alcohol.

G.R.Ballamy was the brother of Harold William Ballamy, the Captain of Football in 1912. The family lived at 17a, Gedling Grove, Nottingham. I will be writing a blogpost about Harold Ballamy in the future. This is the family’s house in Gedling Grove, which nowadays is just behind the northbound High School tram stop:

ballamy 2

S.I.Wallis left the High School for the Army. He became a Lieutenant in the Sikhs/Pioneers and then a Captain in the same unit. He was also at various times, a Captain in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers and the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

On May 29th 1915, William Donald Willatt was to play for the 2nd XI cricket team against Derby Grammar School 2nd XI. He scored five runs before he was out to Shellard leg before wicket. William was the school Fives champion on one occasion, a title also won by his brother, Victor Guy Willatt. Fives was a Victorian and Edwardian version of Squash, using a fingerless leather glove to bash a ball made of cork, gutta percha and leather. Not a game for softies! Here is the school Fives Court:

best fives

In partnership with a fellow pupil, Roy Henderson, William was later to start a school magazine called “The Highvite”. By Henderson’s own admission, it was “a pretty dreadful magazine”, and it only survived because it was financed by a variety of different adverts. The two enterprising young men went round to canvas support from local companies, shops such as Sisson & Parker and many other businesses. This screen capture shows the moment William was promoted to temporary Second Lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry:

Capture   willatt xxxxxxxxAt the end of the war, he could walk away:

Capture   willatt.JPG  two zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzEventually, William became the Vicar of St.Martin’s, Sherwood:

church

At this time, he was living in West Bridgford. In 1949, a W.D.Willatt became Vicar of Edwalton, a post which he held until 1955. This was presumably the same man.

G.James has proved difficult to trace and I have found out very little about him. In the 1912-1913 football season, he played at left half or right half for the 1st XI. The School Magazine reported that he:

 “Plays a good defensive game sometimes, but completely fails to help the attack.”

A year later, in 1913-1914, he played more or less exclusively as a right half. We also have his contributions to what seems a heated debate about various matters of school discipline. At this time, the Prefects were more or less in charge of this aspect of school life:

“On April 29th 1915, at 4.15 p.m., all of the Prefects met to discuss a “revision of the rules of discipline”. With reference to Rule 18, G.James suggested that attendance at the Officer Training Corps be made compulsory. This was seconded by School Captain, L.M.Clark, and carried unanimously. J.H.Boyd, the Captain of School Cricket, then suggested that games also be made compulsory. Again, the motion was carried unanimously.”

Young James was obviously a young man well ahead of his time, because he then went on to put forward the idea that three afternoons a week should be allocated to games, or perhaps two to games and one to military training:

“Unfortunately, his idea was not supported, the rest of the Prefects thinking that this would involve a too sweeping reform of the school time table.”

Presumably, from a logistical point of view, even with perhaps four afternoons available, it would have been completely impossible for a large proportion of the High School, which now numbered almost five hundred boys, all to play sport simultaneously, at a sports ground designed to accommodate perhaps only a hundred boys at a time.

L.W.Foster, or Lancelot Wilson Foster, to give him his full name, remains a figure about whom I have discovered just unrelated snippets. Before the Great War, the Fifth Form, (Year 11), always used to play their football under cover, in the sheds tucked under the Forest Road wall. They were noted for kicking the ball against the wall in an effort to get past their opponent. The Fifth Form usually played mainly in the eastern half of the sheds:

onexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is the view in the other direction:

one west

Among these fifteen and sixteen year old boys, Lancelot Foster was remembered as a particularly good full back. In 1915, Roy Henderson, of “Highvite” fame, arranged a summer camp at a farm near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Six boys, all members of his father’s church, went with him. They were all Prefects, and comprised three pairs of friends, Harold Connop and Francis Bird, Thomas Wright and Lancelot Foster, and John Boyd and Roy Henderson.

In the Great War, Lancelot Wilson Foster became Lieutenant Foster of the 9th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters He survived the carnage and in 1929, was living in Buglawton Vicarage, Cheshire, presumably as the vicar.

Victor George Darrington, lived at “The Limes” in Eastwood. He was born on November 25th 1896 and entered the High School on September 23rd 1909, at the age of twelve. His father was William Darrington, the Schoolmaster at the School House in Eastwood. As such, he must surely have taught the young D.H.Lawrence, who was born and bred in this mining village, before continuing his education at the High School in September 1898. Perhaps William Darrington was the person who encouraged the budding young author to sit for a scholarship to the High School:

dh-lawrence

From 1938 to 1939, William was Mayor of Eastwood:

EastwoodShops4s zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Victor was in the team which won the Football Eights competition in 1912. He was a regular member of the First Team in the 1913-1914 season, playing at either centre half or left half. The decision having been taken to switch from football to rugby in the Spring Term of 1915, the First and Second Football Teams played their last ever fixtures during the Autumn Term of 1914. At this sad time, Victor duly became the last High School Captain of Football until 1968. During this Autumn Term, Victor was also the Captain of the School.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, given that there was an imminent change of sport in the offing, neither of the two football teams seems to have had their hearts in it, and their results were very disappointing. The Nottinghamian does not appear to have listed any of the players who took part. After the demise of football, Victor was to become the school’s first Captain of Rugby, a post he was to retain during the following season of 1915-1916.

During the Great War, Victor became a Lieutenant, firstly in the Royal Field Artillery, and then in the newly formed Royal Air Force:

T0Badge-Front

He was wounded on May 30th 1916, and then again on September 29th of the same year. He survived the conflict, and in 1922, was awarded a Diploma in Forestry at Oxford. Victor returned to Nottinghamshire, and in 1929, he was still living at “The Limes”, in Eastwood.

I will be writing a blogpost about Victor George Darrington in the future.

 

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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:

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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”.

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Letters carved in stone, sixty years ago

How many times have you walked out of the school’s Forest Road gate, and quite simply, failed to notice the extensive collection of carved initials on the left hand pillar? And if you did notice them, did you disregard them as being just more of the pointless graffiti that we are now forced to accept in the society of the early twenty first century? Or did you carefully look at the dates? But just wait awhile, gentle reader, and imagine the scene to yourself…

It is late 1942.  In Europe, Hitler stands on the opposite side of the English Channel, watching Dover through his binoculars.

Not A Chance

Great Britain remains resolutely defiant, but largely unable to press home any significant advantage. The British  armed forces are quite simply, not strong enough. There have been hardly any significant victories so far for the British, and there seem to be few obvious ways forward to rid the continent of what will eventually become known as “The Scourge of the Swastika”. Only the victory by Montgomery at El Alamein in North Africa lights up the Stygian gloom. And how many British people actually realise at the time the real significance of the telegram General Friedrich Paulus sends his Führer, telling him that the German Sixth Army is now completely surrounded?

stalingrad_dead_germans_ww2_

These dark days are recalled on the Forest Road entrance of the High School, where boys, or, more likely, young men, have carved their initials more than seventy years ago. And some dates, and even a slightly misunderstood swastika.

first one

Judging by the physical height of this insolent vandalism, they may well have been in, say, the Fifth Form, literally, upwards. They include what appears to be “WH 1942”, “DP” and “DP 1942”, along with what may possibly be “SS 1940”, and the undated “MB”, “HE”, “HS” and “PFP”. Indeed, the only problem with these initials is that they are extremely difficult to photograph, because, like other interesting acts of vandalism, they are hidden away from direct sunlight, and the subleties of the various shades of stone have proved beyond the capabilities of my camera, even though it does have quite a decent lens. Only Photoshop has dragged the past out into the present.

P1220254START VHERE

My subsequent researches, and best guesses, have revealed a few likely suspects. “WH” and “DP” may conceivably have been young colleagues in the Fifth Form A with Mr.Whimster during the academic year 1941-1942.

William Norman Hill was born on November 23rd 1927, and entered the High School on September 20th 1938 at the age of ten. His father was Mr F.Hill, a School Master of 8, Lexington Gardens, Sherwood. He left the school on July 31st 1945.

Dennis Plackett was born on October 22nd 1927. He entered the school on Monday, September 25th 1939, at the age of eleven. His mother was Mrs.Ellen Plackett, a housewife of 7, Anthill Street, Stapleford.  Dennis was a gifted young man, a Nottinghamshire County Council Scholar, and he left the school on August 1st 1944.

Another interpretation is that “WH 1942” was William Jack Harrison. This young man was, quite simply, outstanding. He was born on December 5th 1924, and entered the High School on September 19th 1935 at the age of ten. His mother was Mrs E.M.Harrison of 53, Burlington Road, Sherwood.  He would have been in the Upper Fifth Form with Mr.Palmer in 1941-1942, and then in the Mathematical and Science Sixth Form with Mr.Holgate during the academic year of 1942-1943. William stood out in two separate areas. In 1940 he was initially a Lance-corporal in the Junior Training Corps, but he soon became a full Corporal. In 1941, he won Mr Frazier’s prize for the most efficient Junior NCO or cadet, and was then named Commander of the Most Proficient House Platoon. At some point towards the end of the academic year of 1941-1942, he promoted to be the Junior Training Corps Company Sergeant Major.

In addition, in the sporting world, by the time the School List for 1942-1943 was published, William had won his First XV Colours and his Cap for Rugby and had been named as Captain of Rugby. In the Summer Term, he went on to be the Captain of Cricket, and to be awarded his Cricket Colours and his Scarf. He was also, by dint of his sporting position as Captain of Cricket, a School Prefect. William left the school on December 19th 1942.

The reason that I myself would prefer this interpretation is that “DP” and “DP 1942” may well be David Phillips, who was in the Economics Sixth Form with Mr Smyth during the two academic years of 1940-1941 and 1941-1942. He may well have been carrying out some kind of school tradition when he carved his name and the date on the pillar, knowing that he was going to leave the school in July 1942.

7ngttrrrrr

David was born on May 2nd 1923, and entered the school on January 13th 1935 at the age of eleven. His father was Mr P.Phillips, a Factory Manager of 45, Austen Avenue, on the far side of the Forest Recreation Ground.

austen a2

We have relatively few details of David’s career at the High School, but we do know that by September 1941, he was a Corporal in the Junior Training Corps. In the Christmas Term of 1942, he was awarded his Full Colours for Rugby, and he became a School Prefect. David was also awarded his Rowing Colours for his achievements with the Second IV.

I have a very strong feeling that these two young men were friends. Austen Avenue, of course, is arguably, on the same cycle route home as Burlington Road, Sherwood, where William Harrison lived.

burlington a2

 

Perhaps the two walked down together across the Forest Recreation Ground, and David would then get on his bike and cycle slowly off towards Austen Avenue. William would continue down what would have been at the time an undoubtedly more traffic free Mansfield Road, towards Burlington Road in Sherwood.

David Phillips shared the very same interests as William Harrison. They were both in the same rugby team, and both seemed to have loved sport, whether rugby, cricket or rowing. They were both in the Junior Training Corps and clearly were attracted to the military life. As regards their academic classes, they were a year apart, but I feel that their common interests would have overcome this difference, especially when the two rugby players, or Junior Training Corps members, realised that they could walk down across the Forest together every evening after a hard day at school.

And when the end of 1942 came round, they may well both have left the school on the same day, December 19th. Were they both going into the Army together?

The interpretations above are all based on a combination of informed best guesses, a thorough search of the relevant School Lists and registers and the usual human desire to take purely circumstantial evidence as proven fact. Not surprisingly, though, it has proved impossible to trace any of the other initials in any meaningful kind of way. There were quite simply too many possible “SS”s in 1940, and “MB”, “HE” and even “PFP” have all proved equally beyond my powers. Even so, this must be among the oldest graffitti in Nottingham.

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Sergeant Sakura’s War

Why are the roadworks for our new road island between Nottingham’s ring road and the main road to Hucknall taking so long? They began in August 2014 and at first everything was going so well. Through September and October the works continued “apace” as they say. As you might expect, the old roundabout had to be completely demolished as unfit for purpose, and this is what has replaced it so far:

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Presumably, the roundabout will not remain for too long as a very large pile of soil, and one day somebody will surely find the money to plant something on it. Previously, the island looked like this:

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It always seemed to me to have a very Japanese feel to it, with stunted willow trees that could almost have come out of the world of bonsai. And this is the clue as to why the work has taken so long. Rumours began in late November of what the roadbuilders had discovered, or rather, who the roadbuilders had found:

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He was 91 years of age when he was first spotted by the construction workers. His name was Sergeant Sakura and it was probably the oriental flavour about the island which had led to his mistaking it for the Island of Takeshima and the ideal place to make the very last stand of World War II, opposing the Allies on the last island that they would need to capture to ensure that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”:

takeshima

After his initially rather conspicuous arrival in late 1945 in a Maeda assault glider flown from a mini-submarine in the Irish Sea, (a mere 94 miles as the Maeda flies), Sergeant Sakura was seen only very rarely because the road island, constantly surrounded as it is by huge volumes of high speed traffic is not the easiest of places for visitors, friend or foe, to reach:

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It did not take Sergeant Sakura long to realise his mistake but, as soon as he had claimed the island for the Japanese Empire, he began digging foxholes, tunnels and bunkers of an amazing intricacy. Shortly after his eventual surrender, the City Council found that he had constructed almost 27 miles of tunnels, allowing him unobtrusive access to everything he needed to prolong his war into a new millennium:

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One tunnel, for example, joined the drainage system from the City Hospital. This allowed Sergeant Sakura access to simple medicines. The hospital staff who saw him just presumed he was some kind of ghost, or perhaps a lost tourist, destined to wander the hospital corridors for ever. Another set of tunnels took Sergeant Sakura to the school sports field, where, in the depths of the night, he could practice his bayonet drill, and, as dawn broke, improve his marksmanship with the seagulls still asleep on the rugby pitches. His most important tunnel linked him with the Co-op supermarket, where he could easily find enough food to feed himself, without anybody really noticing. Boil-in-the-bag rice dishes, Ready Meals with fish and chicken, and even Spicy Pot Noodles:

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The City Council of course, it eventually emerged, had known for a number of years that Sergeant Sakura was there, but as long as he limited himself to the occasional rifle shot at passing buses, or a three monthly light mortar attack on the Skateboard Park, they didn’t really bother him too much. The problem, of course, was that there was no particularly easy way to get Sergeant Sakura out of his tunnel system. The Geneva Convention had, rather foolishly perhaps, now banned the flamethrower, and the Royal Navy absolutely refused to send either of the two warships remaining after the government cuts to recapture just one senior citizen.  The use of gas was tried, but had comparatively little effect:

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Sergeant Sakura’s superior officer, of course, was traced and contacted. He was the sole person who could have ordered Sergeant Sakura to surrender, but he was unwilling to travel back from Japan to make a loudhailer appeal down a hole in a road island. He said it would compromise his responsible position in the higher management echelons of a major Japanese car manufacturing company:

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The end came eventually for Sergeant Sakura in a much more mundane way. After seventy years of crawling through countless miles of damp tunnels and homemade bunkers, many of which were regularly flooded by the murky waters of a local stream, the Daybrook, his proud military uniform finally began to rot away completely and his katana began to rust.
The only alternative Sergeant Sakura could find was to crawl into the Co-op Supermarket, and see what garments they had. Alas, it was not a particularly big shop and they did not stock anything suitable for a Sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army. No hunting clothes, no fishing clothes. Shortly after this, therefore, Sergeant Sakura was finally forced to surrender, when he realised that it would be impossible to uphold the honour of the Japanese Empire as an old man dressed in the uniform of a checkout girl, the only clothing which he could find in the Co-op Supermarket:

25th anniversary of Asda at Bedminster.

Sergeant Sakura subsequently sought, and was duly given, forgiveness by his Emperor.
The Formal Surrender took place on a Number 17 bus, ironically one of the very vehicles Sergeant Sakura had himself fired on in a surprise attack just a few months previously:

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The bus (serial number 984) had to be taken out of service to be repaired, but duly returned in time for Sergeant Sakura’s surrender:

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Cars full of curious tourists queued for hours to see the ceremony:

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The Number 17 bus was duly parked in front of the Co-op Supermarket and, at 17 minutes past 1700 hours, Sergeant Sakura became a civilian again:

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The owners of the local Chinese restaurant and takeaway, the “Golden Phoenix” (“brilliantly cooked and gorgeous food. Can’t be recommended high enough. 5 star.”),  are fearful that Mr Sakura may cash in on his fame and open a Japanese sushi bar.  As yet, though, it seems as if their fears may be unfounded.

Unfortunately, there is still little sign either, of the roundabout being completed.

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The Ghost of George’s Hill

I used to be a teacher. Not much connection there with scary monsters, but I did once hear an absolutely wonderful ghost story at a Parents’ Evening. The phantom involved is actually very famous in Nottinghamshire, but at the time, I had never heard this scary tale.

I was speaking to a boy’s mother. She said that the family lived in the village of Calverton.  She told me how her husband refused ever to drive again along a certain road to the north of Nottingham because it was strongly haunted, and he had been absolutely terrified when he met the ghost. Look for the orange arrow…

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In the map above, the yellow road in the centre is the B684, the “Plains Road” which leaves Nottingham northwards and climbs slowly but surely along what must have been at one time an ancient Stone Age Ridge Route and perhaps even a hunting trail. With some amazing views, particular to the east, the road eventually sweeps around to the west  to join the main road from Nottingham, the  A614. This road goes northwards towards the A1 at Clumber Park, the “Great North Road”. Just before this major junction there is a minor cross roads called Dorket Head where a country lane winds northwards down an extremely steep hill. It forms a short cut down to what is nowadays the dormitory village of Calverton.

The map below is a larger scale version of the most important features in the tale. (the orange arrow points to the steeply winding country lane in question)

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The mother explained how her husband had seen the ghost and he had been so absolutely terrified that, after this, he had never ever again driven back home along this road. He therefore ignored an obvious shortcut to Calverton from his office, one which would have saved quite a lot in petrol costs over the weeks and months. Instead the husband preferred to spend his hard earned cash on driving around the three sides of a rectangle, but a rectangle where there was no possible prospect of being terrified out of his wits on a second occasion. This circuitous route ran along the B684 to the main road, the A614, and then along the next turn right, the brown road past Ramsdale House and up to the Arts Centre, and then another right turn into Calverton. The three sides of his rectangle must have included making at least one right turn across the high-speed oncoming traffic on the A614.

Her husband had seen the ghost in the absolutely classic way which is featured on so many different websites about Nottinghamshire phantoms.

Basically it is a very simple scenario. As you drive down the narrow road following the twisting, turning descent with great care, concentrating hard on what is ahead of you, you suddenly notice that there is somebody sitting in the empty back seat of your car. You will see the stranger occasionally in the rear view mirror when the car swings from side to side as you follow the twisting loops of the road. Sightings of your unwanted passenger will be only fleeting, but they will seem more terrifying because of this. Drivers who stop the car to look behind them invariably find that the rear seat is empty.

Anyway, this particular father was so terrified that he never again even contemplated going down the hill. The ghost he saw, as far as I remember, was an old woman. The mother also told me how a very great number of people in Calverton, if they can possibly avoid it, would not consider for a moment driving down this hill for the very same reason as her husband.

Ten minutes’ research on the Internet revealed that the road is called George’s Lane and the hill is called George’s Hill. The haunting seems to be most frequent at Dorket Head or at the junction with Spindle Lane. On this map, Dorket Head is the crossroads which forms the junction of George’s Lane with the B684. The dotted line, indicated again by the orange arrow, is Spindle Lane.

dorket haed

Nicholas A.C. Blake of Nottingham made an appeal for information on his website. He too had seen an old lady in the car and he sought other witnesses at “nblake42@hotmail.com”

Sarah Meakin of Carlton, Nottingham, returned from Calverton after some babysitting to feel the car suddenly go cold on a warm summer’s evening, and she then looked in her rear view mirror to see “a black hooded figure, which can only describe as looking like a monk”.
The absolutely splendid “Paranormal Database” reveals that…

“A ghostly entity is reported to materialise on the back seat of passing cars in both of these locations – on the lane the figure takes the form of an old lady, and on the hill the figure wears a black hooded garment. Normally the witness only sees the entity in the rear view mirror; when they turn round, the figure has vanished.”

Well, you know where George’s Lane is, and you know what might happen and you know what you might see. So off you go, and make sure you keep your eyes on the road, as well as on your rear view mirror.

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