Tag Archives: Nottinghamshire

The World of the Mysterious (8)

During my researches about the Wodewose and the Green Man, one thing which has struck me is that to some extent there is a split between the two in terms of location. Indeed, it would be interesting to carry out a little research and to try and  establish the validity of this theory. More interesting still would be to try and see if there is a reason for it:

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From what I have found on the Internet, therefore, I would posit that the Wodewose is linked more frequently to churches in areas with abundant water, areas where there are lots of rivers to follow. The places I have mentioned in my previous post are Boston in Lincolnshire and the counties of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. All three of these regions in medieval times were full of marshes, and were areas subject to continual flooding. Indeed, much of the land area, in Lincolnshire and especially in Cambridgeshire, was permanently covered by shallow water and would be subject to extensive drainage schemes in later centuries.

Here are the marshes of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. They were called “fens” and on this old map, virtually all of the land inside the dotted, or perhaps dashed, line, would have been a good place to take your wellingtons. Indeed, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Saxon freedom fighter, Hereward the Wake, held out in the fens against the overwhelming forces of the Norman invaders from at least 1067-1071. He is known to have used all of the areas enclosed on this map, particularly the Cambridgeshire section around Ely :

Here are the rivers of Suffolk in the only map I could find. There is perhaps not as much marshland but the county is riven by estuaries which seem to penetrate deep into the dry land. The blue lines of the rivers are only those of reasonable size. The streams and brooks are not featured:

Given the modern Bigfoot’s predilection for rivers, lakes and swamps, I think the Wodewose would have enjoyed living here. Because of the landscape, he may actually have been seen more frequently as he paddled through shallow marshes, perhaps in pursuit of his prey. For this reason the locals considered him to be a living, breathing creature somewhat like themselves but different. He was not seen as supernatural or godlike:

The Green Man, however, is mainly linked to churches in areas which were drier and more heavily forested. In places such as these, the Wodewose would have been seen even less frequently than in the marshes. For this reason, his once-in-a-green-moon appearances began to take on something of the supernatural. He became the godlike “guardian of the forest”.

And at the time, this was a rôle which needed to be filled because it was around this period that people were beginning to clear the forest much more extensively for agriculture and for fuel. Between 1066 and 1230, around a third of the woodland in England had been cleared for growing crops and the grazing of domestic animals. And once you’ve cut down a thousand year old oak tree, you have a good wait on your hands for it to be replaced. Here’s Nottinghamshire’s “Major Oak” which “missed the cut”, literally:

With marshes, no special guardian was needed to look after them. England was not short of rain! Indeed, it would take the people of the Fens area until 1630 to get started on draining the land and making it more suitable for agriculture. Even then, it took a Dutchman, the famous Cornelius Vermuyden, to do it:

For that simple reason, the Wodewose would remain a physical entity, rather than a supernatural one. He was little different from the beavers, the ospreys, the cranes and the Large Copper butterflies that were soon forgotten only twenty years after they had disappeared.

 

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The World of the Mysterious (7)

Last time we looked at the Wodewose. Here he is:For me, the strange figure of the Wodewose is based on a Bigfoot type creature that may still have been alive and well in the vast forests of Western Europe in the early Middle Ages. At this time, the forests in England, for example, were enormous and covered between a third and a half of the country. And even when the Wodewose was gone for ever, then there were still people who had heard their grandfather’s tales about him and who could recreate him in their own world.

He was certainly famous enough to feature in documents written on old parchment . This one dates from 1325. He is on all fours because he has to fit in between the text in Latin and the bottom of the page:

A similar ‘margin picture’ dates from the 1300s. Notice the mother and her child with another young woman (bottom left) and what is either a fight or a very keenly contested game of golf (bottom right):

In this old drawing, the Wodewose looks as if he has lost his club and is struggling to find it (not a golf club, or a country club, but the other kind):

These two individuals are from a series which show the Wodewose’s well known desire for women, yet another feature he has in common with Bigfoot. Picture 1 shows his gentle method of courtship:

The second shows his next step which could well be summarised as “RUN!!!!” If you read about Bigfoot a lot, you will be familiar with his ability to pick up hogs and other farm animals and run off with them. But beautiful ladies are even more impressive:

This Italian lady, though, is well versed in the tricks of both Italian men and Italian Wodewoses. Forewarned is forearmed:

Is the Wodewose carrying a golf club in that last picture?

Bigfoots and Wodewoses hate dogs too:

It is my belief that the Wodewose may well be the direct ancestor of the now much more famous “Green Man” which is a very familiar figure to anybody who visits medieval Western European churches. The Green Man is believed to be the deity who brings back the greenery every year in spring, hence the leaves pouring out of his body. This one is in Norwich Cathedral:

This one comes from Lincoln Cathedral:

The Green Man does also have an aspect as a kind of guardian of the forest, and the trees and the plants therein. And that, of course, is a rôle ascribed to Bigfoot by many different Native American peoples. This Green Man is taken from Poitiers Cathedral in west-central France:

The Green Man very often seems to occur in areas which have originally been heavily forested. The best Green Men I have ever seen occur in the Chapter House in Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire. At the time it was built, it would have been in Sherwood Forest:

Next time, the explanation.

One final point is that in these blog posts about Bigfoot, I have tried very hard to use only images which are available to be used. With some images that is not the case because otherwise there was nothing else available. I am 100% willing to take them down if this causes a problem for anybody, although I suppose there is the flattering aspect that they were the best I could find!

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The Hen Harrier in Victorian Nottinghamshire

The Hen Harrier is a bird of prey which is called in North America the ‘Northern Harrier’ or the ‘Marsh Hawk’. These days it is becoming an increasingly rare and endangered bird in England because of the activities of the large shooting estates. Hen Harriers are harmful to Red Grouse, the quarry species for the man with a £3000 shotgun, so, completely illegally, many gamekeepers kill Hen Harriers on sight. Prosecutions are extremely few and far between because effective evidence needs to be gathered in very remote places where trespassers are far from welcome:

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In Great Britain we have the wild spaces for more than a thousand pairs of breeding Hen Harriers, but this illegal killing for commercial reasons has limited the number to fewer than ten pairs. There are those, myself included, who think that the law should be changed. Instead of trying to prosecute individuals (who are quite often disowned by the estate owners), the estates themselves should be brought to account. Any estate found guilty should have their enormous subsidies of taxpayers’ money withdrawn.

Interestingly enough, just after I wrote this article, a fine example of what happens to Hen Harriers in northern England came to light. It is totally typical of the contempt which the moneyed classes have for the ordinary person who lives his or her life not to accrue wealth by any means whatsoever, but instead to delight in the wonders of the natural world. And look too at what the police managed to do after other people had done more or less 99% of their job for them.

In Nottinghamshire, therefore, the Hen Harrier is not a particularly common bird. The male is very distinctive, but the female or the young bird, the so-called “ringtail” stands out a lot less:

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In 1857 William Sterland recounted how, on an unrecorded date this year:

“I was walking past Lord Manver’s poultry yard at Perlethorpe, which adjoins Thoresby Park, when a ringtail came sailing over, evidently intent on plunder. Three times she soared around the large enclosure , which contains several hundred head of poultry, and although it is bounded by a high wall, and is surrounded by the dwellings of the gamekeepers and others, she was only deterred from carrying off a chicken by the presence of some of the men.”

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In 1866 William Felkin spoke of birds of prey in general:

“On the whole, this noble tribe of birds is fast decreasing, and some species, if not yet extinct, soon will be, under the deadly warfare waged against them by trap and gun; and thus the finest ornament of English forest scenery will be for ever lost, for the paltry gain of the few head of game they might possibly destroy.”

How true that has turned out to be. The Hen Harrier is well on its way to extinction as a breeding bird in this country, and before their recovery in modern times, both Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Osprey had been exterminated by gamekeepers from most of the country.

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William Sterland wrote in his “Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

“…the blue hawk as the male is called, is not by any means uncommon ; and both male and female being considered, and I fear not unjustly, as very destructive to game, are visited, whenever opportunity offers, with condign punishment, and their once buoyant forms are seen nailed up in terrorem amongst others of their order, in grim companionship with stoats, weasels, polecats, and other vermin.”

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Indeed, by the end of the nineteenth century, polecats themselves were extinct in England. And only the departure of all the gamekeepers to the trenches of the First World War prevented the extinction of the ordinary fox from many areas, especially in East Anglia.

Before 1907 Joseph Whitaker had seen only five or six Hen Harriers in thirty years of birdwatching.
He relates how:

“…one of the Hen Harriers I saw close to my home in Rainworth, was a male in full plumage, coloured pale lavender slate.”

hen peak

Whitaker took great pleasure in this, and other birds of the same species. Rather like William Felkin, he thought that:

“An odd harrier or two do very little harm, and the graceful flight, which I may describe as a cross between that of a Hawk and an Owl is always pleasant to see and adds immensely to the delight of the country walk.”

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In his own copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”, he has written of his own sighting:

“About  Xmas 1914 a Hen Harrier female flew over the road at the head of my pond within 20 yards. It had been seen earlier by Blackburn (keeper) today, March 19 it again passed over the same road, but at the top of mill by our gate it looked grand in a clear sun light. I am so glad it has escaped the keepers snare + hope it may like to lay a clutch of Cambridge blue eggs amongst the heather of the windswept Orkney Islands.”

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Eagles in Nottinghamshire

One of the more interesting issues in the area of local Natural History concerns the occurrence of eagles in Nottinghamshire in centuries gone by. In the era of the Anglo-Saxons, for example, the white-tailed sea eagle was called the Erne. This, supposedly, gave the town of Arnold its name.

More problematic is the Golden Eagle, which certainly occurred in England much more frequently in the past than it does now. Between 1800-1900, there were at least twenty records nationwide with seven different birds in Yorkshire:

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In books about local ornithology, there are some really old records of Golden Eagle. In “The Birds of Derbyshire” which was published in 1893, F.B Whitlock quoted an earlier, eighteenth century ornithologist, Mr Pilkington, who wrote about a Golden Eagle which was seen in Hardwick Park, a large estate right on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Hardwick Hall itself is within less than half a mile of the county boundary and in the absence of an exact location for this particular bird, it seems hardly unreasonable to suggest that it must have ventured into Nottinghamshire at some point during its stay. Both Hardwick Park and Hardwick Hall are easy to spot on this map. I have marked the county boundary between Derbyshire (top left) and Nottinghamshire (bottom right). Look for the orange arrow:

hardwick

That particular Golden Eagle occurred as far back as 1759. A second Golden Eagle was shot in the same area around 1770. Twelve years later, in 1782, two Golden Eagles were seen “in the out-lying portions of Sherwood Forest, near Hardwick”. It was obviously a suitable habitat with a good supply of food.
In his “Ornithology of Nottinghamshire” published in 1866, William Felkin stated that “The eagle has twice been seen near Beeston: once by myself.” As a man, who, unfortunately, had no digital camera or mobile phone to record evidence of what he had seen, Felkin could have been no more definite than that.

I have recently become addicted to acquiring those reprints of Victorian Ordnance Survey maps and they do reveal that the outskirts of Nottingham were unbelievably countrified as recently as 1901 and even more so in 1866. Perhaps a stray eagle is not quite an outrageous bird to have seen, if only just passing over.

Felkin also noted that a Golden Eagle had been killed in an unrecorded year long ago at Castle Donington. This village, of course, is nowadays on the border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire, although it is reasonably close to Nottinghamshire. Felkin considered that this bird had occurred on Nottinghamshire’s “south-western border” and as such, was therefore worthy of inclusion in his important book about the county’s avifauna:

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Modern birdwatchers would say that all these observers were simply mistaken, but that has always seemed a rather strange attitude to me. Just because they lived in the eighteenth or nineteenth century does not make people less trustworthy or more stupid than us. Certainly, in the case of the Golden Eagle which was shot around 1770 near Hardwick Hall, it would have been seen by a great many people once it was stuffed and out on display. They would certainly not have been slow to speak up about any identification errors committed by his Lordship or, indeed, his bird stuffer:

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Joseph Whitaker mentions a number of eagles in his “Birds of Nottinghamshire” published in 1907, but these were all considered to be White tailed Sea Eagles, spending their winters further south than their summer breeding areas. His first account was:

“It was in the winter of 1838 that the bird appeared in Welbeck Park. Mr Tillery says :–
“The lake was frozen over at the time, except in one place, where a flush of warm water entered from a culvert which drained the abbey. The place was covered with ducks, teal and widgeon, and I saw his majesty swoop down once or twice to get one for his breakfast, but unsuccessfully, as the ducks saved themselves by diving or flying off. The park-keeper got two shots at him with a ball on a tree but missed him each time, and he gradually got wilder, so that he could never be approached again near enough for a shot. After levying blackmail on the young lambs, hares and game in the neighbourhood, he took himself off after three weeks’ sojourn”

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In 1857, a single White tailed Sea Eagle was shot at Osberton near Ollerton on a date several days before January 13th. According to F.O.Morris, the nationally regarded author of “A History of British Birds”, he was informed of the occurrence by Sir Charles Anderson, Baronet, a gentleman who was presumably known to George Saville Foljambe Esquire on whose estate near Osberton the event took place. Sir Charles wrote thus…

“It was first seen sitting on a tree near a place where a cow had been buried a few days before and it continued flying about this locality for some days, always returning to the same tree, as if attracted towards it. There was partial snow on the ground at the time.”

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William Sterland included in his two main books, “The Birds of Sherwood Forest” (1869) and “A Descriptive List of the Birds of Nottinghamshire” (1879) an account of the occurrence of a second White tailed Sea Eagle in Lima Wood at Laughton-en-le-Morthen. Strictly speaking, this bizarrely named village is in Yorkshire but it is really quite close to the Nottinghamshire border. On this map, Laughton-en-le-Morthen is towards the top left corner and I have indicated the dark blue county boundary with the orange arrow:

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This occurrence was only a few days after the demise of  another eagle, shot on the Foljambe estate near Osberton, and related immediately above. Whether the two birds were connected, male and female, or perhaps siblings, we will never know. It is certainly a very striking story:

“The bird was seen in the neighbourhood of Morthen for more than a fortnight before it was shot. On several occasions it was observed perched in a tree about a hundred yards from Pinch Mill, the person resident there taking it at that distance for a stray heron. Thomas Whitfield, the gamekeeper to J.C.Althorpe Esquire of Dinnington made many attempts to get within range of the bird, but was often baffled by its wariness. It was observed to be much molested by crows and small birds, and frequently, as if to escape from persecutions which were beneath its notice to resent, it would mount into the air with graceful spiral curbs until it became nearly lost to sight, leaving its puny assailants far below, and then would sweep as gracefully down again, with all the ease and lightness of wing of the swallow.”

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“It seems uncertain what its food consisted of during its sojourn for it was not seen to make any attack. At night it roosted on a tree, but still maintained a vigilant watch. When perceived by Whitfield, it was perched on a tree on the outskirts of the wood, but the night being moonlight, it perceived his approach and he had great difficulty in getting within gunshot. At the moment of his firing it flew off and he thought he had failed in hitting it; but in the morning he found it dead in an adjoining field. Its expanse of wing from tip to tip was seven feet six inches and it weighed eight pounds and a quarter. The friend I have mentioned kindly procured the loan of the bird from Whitfield and sent it for my inspection. It is a fine specimen in the immature plumage of the third or fourth year.”

The bird was shot on January 13, 1857, although. clearly, it had been present for some time before this.

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Nearly forty years later in 1896, a single White tailed Sea Eagle was seen in the Deer Park at Park Farm, Annesley, between Nottingham and Mansfield, on November 5th, and for several days afterwards. It was thought to have been attracted to the area by the large number of rabbits present there and indeed, on a number of occasions, was seen feeding on them.
On November 8th, it was shot by Mr George Charles Musters, as it fed on the corpse of a rabbit, and when examined was found to have a total wingspan of seven feet one inch, and a weight of nine and a quarter pounds. It was an immature bird, although not a first winter individual, being considered to be probably three or four years old. It was, of course, preserved by a taxidermist and soon occupied pride of place in the collection of Mr John Patricius Chaworth Musters at Annesley Park.

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In Joseph Whitaker’s own personal copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”,  housed in Mansfield Library’s local collection, he has appended a short note in pencil, written in that punctuation-free style that he always seems to use:

“I was standing on doorsteps one day in August 1907 waiting for carriage to come round it was a clear warm day a few white clouds were passing over very high I was looking up in the sky when I saw a bird pass under a white cloud it was so high if the white had not shown the job I should never have seen it but it was most distinct + I am certain it was an eagle by its size + flight whether Golden or White tailed I do not know.”

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In another handwritten account in 1916, Joseph Whitaker tells the following story which, although illegible in places, is clear enough to constitute a valid record:

“A large bird of the (illegible) kind was seen by Mr Henry Smith’s son in Nov 1916 flying over his farm at Cropwell Butler. He wrote to me saying it was a very big bird + had a white tail. I told him it would be a mature Sea Eagle, and as such a bird was shot in Lincolnshire by Mrs (illegible) keeper of the next week. There is no doubt it was the same bird.”

Attitudes about shooting birds though, were gradually changing: people were well aware that a previously healthy Victorian population of Sea Eagles had disappeared from Scotland by 1900, every single one either shot or poisoned. The very last Sea Eagle was killed on the Shetlands in 1916, an albino bird shot by a member of the clergy.
These new, more conservationist, ideas were reflected in an account included in the Ornithological Records of the now defunct Nottingham Natural Science Field Club. It was included by one of the club’s most prominent birdwatchers, Frank Hind. Even nowadays, his handwriting is still recognisably angry:

“A Sea Eagle was shot by some bounder at Grimesmoor and sent to a taxidermist at Grantham in February of 1920. Mr Turton saw it there. It measured seven feet from tip of one wing to the tip of the other.

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This rare visitor had shared the fate of so many noble birds which were frequently to be seen in the British Isles before anyone with a few pounds could buy a gun to destroy whatever his few brains had prompted him to shoot at.”

Nowadays, the positive attitude is the one which has prevailed. Even as I write, there are reintroduction schemes for this magnificent raptor in Ireland, eastern Scotland and many other areas of Great Britain. Many people would like to see it reintroduced to England and the debates rage about whether to select Norfolk or Suffolk. In the Inner Hebrides in western Scotland, of course, these charismatic birds are worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the local economy. Listen to just a few hundred quids’ worth of camera in this wonderful video by Brianpwildlife:

And no, they can’t carry off children or adults or small cars or large cars or vans or lorries or even what appears to be a young man equipped with perhaps a camera on a tripod or maybe a specially adapted hover mower for ice covered lawns:

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Storks in Victorian Nottinghamshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is the Pilgrim Oak in both spring and autumn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When the mighty Trent turned into a tiny stream…

In a couple of previous articles, I have mentioned two different extremes of weather at Trent Bridge, namely freezing ice and snow and then, quite frequently straight afterwards, horrific floods, when a sudden melt of huge snowdrifts overfills the river. Such a sequence of events may raise the water level by twelve or fifteen feet above normal and increase the rate of flow to a situation when 45,000 cubic feet of floodwater go past the bridge every second, as opposed to the more normal figure of 3,000. What I have not mentioned so far though, is a complete lack of rainfall and the consequent drought.

Almost a thousand years ago, in 1101, Nottingham experienced a terrifying earthquake. Here are some people in 1100. Can you spot Robin Hood? (He is wearing a cunning, yet comfortable disguise in his traditional Lincoln Green.)

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Bizarrely, once the earthquake had stopped, the River Trent dried up and then ceased to flow for several hours, presumably as it drained into, and then eventually filled up, a huge crack or cavern in the ground that the earthquake had created somewhere upstream from Nottingham. Once that was done, the waters returned to normal.  Another source gives the date of this amazing event as 1110 and says that the River Trent was dry at Nottingham for 24 hours. Strictly speaking, though, that is not a genuine bona fide drought.

Two hundred years or so later though, in 1354, the weather was extremely dry in the whole of England:

“This year, the country was affected with a great drought, in which Nottinghamshire, from its peculiar geographical position, suffered extremely; in both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire no rain had fallen from the latter end of March until the close of July.”

It is difficult to believe that this prolonged lack of rain would not have affected the amount of water flowing under Hethbeth Bridge. Here are some people in 1354. It looks like the start of a football match to me:

participants in mediaeval costume on field at the Corsa all'anello in Narni Umbria

The four years of 1538-1541 produced extreme drought throughout the whole country, with three successive fine and hot summers from 1538-1540. In the latter year, cherries could be picked and eaten by the beginning of June. Grapes were ripe by early July. Both 1540 and 1541 were exceptionally dry years overall, and in both summers, the River Thames was so low that sea water backed up above London Bridge. It would be interesting to know what effect such amazingly hot and dry weather must have had on the River Trent. Here are some people of this period, waiting for a shower of rain, but looking a little worried that global warming has perhaps started five hundred years too early. I wouldn’t have liked the hat with the feather:

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That dry summer of 1540 was the warmest until 2003, and countries in Western Europe christened it the ‘Big Sun Year’. Very high temperatures prevailed from Germany to the Netherlands and no rain fell in Rome for at least nine months. Many people died of heat stroke and heart failure. Reportedly the waters of the River Rhine were so low that the river could be crossed on horseback. People could walk across the River Seine in Paris without getting their feet wet. In England during these four years:

“rivers and streams were drying out in parts. A remarkable series of droughts, with a burning sun during the summer”.

In 1541:

“At Nottingham a remarkable drought; almost all the small rivers dried up, and the River Trent diminished to a straggling brook. Many cattle died for want of water, especially in the county of Nottinghamshire, and many thousands of persons died from grievous diarrhoea and dysentery.”

“Trent a straggling brook”

I could not find any pictures of the Trent as a “straggling brook”, but this is close. And no, the hot weather did not attract any elephants to Nottingham:

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Forty years later, in 1581 the River Trent apparently “dried up completely” but further details of this event are not very much in evidence, beyond the rather strange date when it was supposed to have occurred, supposedly December 21st. Perhaps a build up of ice higher upstream brought the river’s flow to a stop.

Ten years later, in 1591,

“A severe drought destroyed practically all the crops and vegetation in the areas around Nottingham. The rivers Trent and Erewash, plus other rivers, were almost without water.”

People actually remarked how like Texas the landscape had become:

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There was another “uncommon drought in Nottinghamshire” in the spring of 1592. In the summer there were strong westerly winds to dry the land even further, and hardly any rain fell.

“The Trent and other rivers were almost without water. In summer, the Thames was so shallow that horsemen could ride across near London Bridge & the River Trent was also said to be almost dry.”

This is the old London Bridge of this period:

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After this, there is then a hiatus of some three or four hundred years until the twentieth century. I have been unable to trace any other noticeably dry periods during this intervening time. The next striking piece of dry weather comes in the mid-1970s, with an absolutely scorching summer in 1975. This initial heat and drought was followed by a very dry winter, and then the unforgettable drought conditions of the summer of 1976. These periods of extreme weather saw the River Trent during the end of the month of August 1976 at its very lowest level in modern times. Indeed, this summer produced what was called the Great European Drought with the lowest soil moisture readings in London since 1698.

Unfortunately nobody in Nottingham seems to have thought of preserving this amazing weather with their camera. Instead, I will just show you one or two typical scenes. Here is an unknown reservoir which should have been a vast lake. Flap those flares:

_72775633_1976-drought

Here is a reservoir at Huddersfield in Yorkshire:

hudd ressser

Here is a lock on what should have been a brim full canal:

foxton lock

This is the River Thames at Kew near London. The River Trent at Nottingham would presumably have been comparable:

r thames kew

And finally, here is Walton Reservoir in Surrey, being monitored by the least appropriately dressed man in 1976:

reser at walton thsame ssurrey

 

 

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Water, water everywhere, especially past Trent Bridge

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

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

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

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

When warmer weather finally came, however:

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

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

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

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

paleo chanaell zzzzzzz

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

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Here is Arkwright Street next to the railway station:

arkwright st

This is the aptly named Canal Street:

NTGM006755.tif

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

Here is Beeston, looking remarkably like Venice:

NTGM016349.tif

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

220px-Melton_Road_in_the_floods_of_March_1947_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1537395

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

before concrete

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

nottinghamtrentbridge-620x413

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

nearcounty hsall

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

concrete zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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

colwick sluives zzzzzzzzzzz

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

flood 2000

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

 

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