Tag Archives: Peterborough

Gun Battle on Derby Road: three slain, and a horse

Derby Road seems reasonably peaceful now, but not in 1701, when Timothy Buckley, a 29-year old criminal from Stamford, Lincolnshire, was arrested after a ferocious gun battle as he tried to rob a stagecoach on its way to Derby.  The coach contained three gentlemen attended by two footmen. Buckley had previously been a shoemaker’s apprentice in London, but gradually became a more and more hardened criminal after his return to Nottinghamshire and the Wild North.
Beyond “two miles from Nottingham”, we do not know exactly where this gun battle took place, but usually, highwaymen would strike as the coach was moving uphill, and was therefore travelling at its very slowest pace.

highwayman

To me, the steep slope near the present day St.Barnabas Cathedral is too close to the city centre, so my best guess would be that stretch of the A52 as it climbs steadily after the present-day Ring Road, between the back of Wollaton Park and the grounds of Nottingham University. On this map, look for the orange arrow which is over the green A52 road with the words “Lenton Abbey” written over it. If the incident was any further on, then it might have been on the shorter slope near to the present day Bramcote Leisure Centre.

shoot out
No sooner had Buckley commanded the stagecoach to “Stand and Deliver, Your Money or your Life!”, than one of the passengers, unwilling “to submit to a single bravo”, blasted him with a blunderbuss. Buckley’s horse was shot out from under him, and died instantly.

Blunderbuss1

A blunderbuss was a murderous weapon, used for close-in fighting, in the words of Wikipedia, “when it was unimportant to protect objects around the intended target”. This formidable firearm was loaded with shot and anything else the user thought might do the job, small pieces of metal, nails, bits of rock or stone, or even salt. It was flared at the muzzle, and was the 17th-19th century equivalent of the shotgun so beloved of Wells Fargo personnel.
Interestingly, the military term dragoon is taken from the fact that early blunderbusses (or should that be “blunderbi”?) were decorated with dragon’s heads around the muzzle, and the blast would seem a little like the fire of a real dragon.
Buckley was not lightly armed either. He was carrying eight horse pistols. The largest were up to twenty inches long, and were carried in holsters across the horse’s back just in front of the saddle. This seems an unlikely number of such large weapons, but perhaps some were coat pistols (carried in the pocket of a greatcoat) coach pistols, (carried in a saddlebag perhaps), or belt pistols, (carried on a belt, hanging from a hook).

horse pistol xxxxxxxxIn any case, Buckley was very attached to his favorite horse and enraged by its untimely demise, “a most desperate conflict ensued”. Buckley let fly with all his pistols.
One male passenger and a footman both fell dead, shot through the heart. Eventually, though, Buckley was overcome by the remaining occupants of the stagecoach, as he grew gradually weaker and weaker from loss of blood, caused by his eleven severe gunshot wounds.

Guild-hall-1750 and prison

After a brief trial at Nottingham Shire Hall, Buckley was found guilty and was later hanged. He was only 29 years of age, and he was sentenced also to be “hanged in chains”. I don’t know how long his rotting cadaver was left exposed to the elements, but as a birdwatcher, I certainly know that there was one famous case in Nottingham where a dead criminal decayed over the course of the winter, helped by passing crows and magpies, only to have, with the advent of spring, a pair of blue tits raise their young inside his empty skull, using his eye sockets to go in and out, perhaps even operating their own one-way system.

As these events all took place in 1701, Buckley would have been executed on what is now “The Forest Recreation Ground”. Centuries ago, “The Forest”, was called “The Lings” and was a very different place from what it is like nowadays. Largely covered by gorse and scrub, it was considered to be the southernmost part of Sherwood Forest itself. It was only as late as 1845 that, under the Nottingham Inclosure Act, some eighty acres of Sherwood Forest were set aside for recreational use. This area became “The Forest Recreation Ground” and to commemorate the event the Mayor of Nottingham planted a special Oak tree called the “Inclosure Oak” which can still be seen today at the Mansfield Road entrance. The orange arrow marks the oak tree:

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Pretty well straightway, the area became a site for sports and shows, or a combination of the two.

forest

In the summer of 1801, four butchers held their weddings there simultaneously, and decided who was to pay for the wedding picnic by holding a donkey race, with four animals, each equipped with mascots taken from the wardrobes of their respective owners’ new wives. The race was easily won by the donkey which had corsets attached to his tail with a bow of green ribbon. In second and third place were the animal with a pair of stockings around its neck, and another with a saddle made out of a nightgown.  Needless to say, the donkey wearing a voluminous pair of ladies’ drawers was placed last.
By this time, the Forest had already been a horse racing course for well over a hundred years. Not long before that, bear baiting had taken place on the very site where the horse racing course was later to be constructed. In 1798, a new horse racing track in the form of a figure-of-eight was built. Unfortunately, this rather novel choice of layout, designed to give the maximum length of course in the smallest possible area, was not overly successful, as spectators did not have a sufficiently good view. Crashes between horses were apparently too infrequent to compensate for this.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, though, there were at least two major race meetings per year, in spring and autumn, and the area was beginning to attract the same kind of people who can still be found there nowadays, well over a hundred and fifty years later…

“…loiterers…policemen…tooting footmen…toddling children…enterprising
vendors… overcharging greenhorns…patterers, chanters and beggars…sailors without arms or legs… “downy blokes”…holiday makers….villains…detectives …boozers and nymphs of easy virtue…ministers of religion……“black sheep”…enterprising merchants…aristocratic swells… pleasure seekers…a few robberies, a few drunks, a few fights…married men, sitting in the drinking places at the Stand with an assemblage of whores…the unemployed poor…”

Indeed, with whisky at an all-time low of 75p a gallon, so unsavoury did the area become that in 1879, male members of Nottingham University staff were threatened with instant dismissal if they were ever found at the horse races.
Other sports were played there as well. From 1865-1879, Nottingham Forest both practiced and played soccer here, being known therefore as “Forest Football Club”. Cricket was widely played in the summer, as were types of field hockey known variously as bandy, shinney or shinty.
Apart from sport, alongside what is now Forest Road East, there was a long line of thirteen windmills, all taking advantage of the strong winds and updrafts which blew across the open ground lower down to the north.

(c) Nottinghamshire Archives; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The exact place where the gallows stood and where Tinothy Buckley met his Maker has not necessarily been recorded absolutely accurately. Public executions took place here until as recently as 1827, and I am fairly certain that, many years ago, I read that the gallows used to stand a little distance down Mansfield Road from St.Andrew’s Church, within the present day Rock Cemetery. This was to the south of the white, recently refurbished, Lodge House. Clearly, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, there was still some judicial rôle for this building to fulfil, as it was originally used as a Police or Keeper’s Lodge and a police cell can still be seen at basement level.

forestlodge

Others say that  there was a gallows on the same site as present-day St.Andrew’s Church, and, indeed, when excavation work was done here in 1826 for the church foundations, more than fifteen apparently medieval skeletons were found. This was presumably connected with a much earlier era, when travellers left the City of Nottingham through the gate in the mediaeval wall near what is now the Victoria Centre branch of Boots the Chemist. As they climbed painfully slowly up the hill which is now Mansfield Road, stagecoach robbers and mere footpads would sometimes pounce at Forest Road: hence the gallows which were constructed here, and might even have concentrated the thieves’ minds a little as they waited to swoop upon their prey from behind the bushes.

Notingham_St_Andrew_Nottinghamshire

“Garner’s Old Nottingham Notes” (date unknown) somehow contrive to be both illuminating and yet somehow confusing…

From information given, the gallows appear to have been erected on the level ground which now forms the upper portion of the Rock Cemetery, and it was probably 100 yards or rather more from Mansfield Road…..
Judging by the large old official map of the borough, measuring from the present Forest Road East, I consider it probable that, going northwards, the site of the gallows was about 100 yards from the southern boundary of the Rock Cemetery, and probably rather more from Mansfield Road, according to the contour of the ground, as depicted upon the official map. There is much likelihood that the gallows was erected near to where the last windmill on that side of the Forest then stood or was afterwards constructed.
It is certainly proper to state that I have seen two or more old maps on which the ground now covered by St Andrews Church, and southwards from there, is entitled Gallows Hill. The upper part of the ground is no doubt higher than any portion of the Rock Cemetery, and I have thought that this might possibly be the original place on which the gallows stored a few centuries back and perhaps afterwards were moved to the spot above designated.”

to gallowszzzzzzzzzz

Wherever the exact location of the gallows, when convicted prisoners were to be hanged, they were usually brought from the County Hall in High Pavement, or the Town Hall at Week-day Cross, through the maze of streets in Hockley, and then walked along Clumber Street, Milton Street and finally up the hill along Mansfield Road. Prisoners were entitled to one last drink at the Nag’s Head Public House, which was traditionally paid for by the landlord.

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There is, of course, a traditional tale, told no doubt, of every road with a set of gallows and a public house. One particular prisoner, who was a teetotaller, therefore, refused his last mug of ale at the Nag’s Head. He was taken straight on to the gallows and duly hanged. Seconds later a much flustered horse rider came galloping up the hill, and screamed to a halt by the little knot of people. He was waving a piece of paper which was, of course, the Royal Pardon for the Recently Hanged Man. Had the latter been just a little later in arriving at his place of execution, then he would have been saved. The “little later” of course, is exactly the time it takes to quaff a pint of ale.
The last person to be executed at these gallows on Forest Road was William Wells, a 45 year old native of Peterborough, who had robbed James Corden in Basford Lane and Mansfield Road on March 7th 1827. He was executed on April 2nd 1827.
Not all highwaymen meet with disaster however. Just occasionally one of them can make that leap from criminality to superstardom…

 

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Filed under Criminology, History, Nottingham

England’s Greatest Poet

To my shame, I did not appreciate that July 13th, the 121st anniversary of his birth, was “John Clare Day”.  I found this out by googling retrospectively “John Clare”, and coming across an absolutely superb article by George Monbiot in the Guardian.
Furthermore, I must confess that I actually knew very little about John Clare other than the fact that he was a poet and that, unlike the vast majority of poets, he was of working class origin. His biographer Jonathan Bate described him as “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self”.
The first port of call, therefore was Wikipedia.

The bare bones of Clare’s life were that he was born into desperate agricultural poverty in the tiny village of Helpston, just to the north of Peterborough in Northamptonshire.

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The area was amazingly rich in wildlife.

He would have seen and heard corncrakes everywhere.

Nightjars too, were as common in England then as they now are in this excellent film from Denmark…

There were ravens in the old, giant oak trees, wrynecks, which still bred in old woodpeckers’ holes, and the last few wildcats…

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And glowworms…

glowworms

“Tasteful illumination of the night,
Bright scattered, twinkling star of spangled earth.”

Clare’s cottage, where he spent his childhood, still remains…

John Clare Cottage
Like all his fellows, Clare became an agricultural labourer while still a child, but he attended the school in Glinton church until he was twelve. He also began to write poetry, something which was to cause him great problems throughout the rest of his life among simple farm workers.

He wrote…

“I live here among the ignorant like a lost man in fact like one whom the rest seemes careless of having anything to do with—they hardly dare talk in my company for fear I should mention them in my writings and I find more pleasure in wandering the fields than in musing among my silent neighbours who are insensible to everything but toiling and talking of it and that to no purpose.”

Clare’s first love was Mary Joyce, but alas, she was to die, by our standards at least, a premature death.

MaryJoyceGrave

Clare was to marry Martha Turner in 1820. Her nickname was “Patty”.

“Courtship
Where are you going lovely maid
The morning fine & early
“I’m going to Walkerd”, Sir she said
&made across the barley

I asked her name she blushed away
The question seemed to burn her
A neighbour came & passed the day
&called her Patty Turner

I wrote my better poems there
To beautys praise I owe it
The muses they get all the praise
But woman makes the poet

A womans is the dearest love
Theres nought on earth sincerer
The leisure upon beautys breast
Can any thing be dearer

I saw her love in beauty’s face
I saw her in the rose
I saw her in the fairest flowers
In every weed that grows”

Clare, though, was to have  many bouts of severe depression, which worsened as his family increased in size and his poetry sold less well.
Gradually over the years, his behaviour became progressively more and more erratic. In July 1837, he went of his own accord to Doctor Matthew Allen’s private asylum. In 1841, though, Clare absconded and walked all the way back home from Essex. He thought, in his madness, that he would be able to refind his first true love, Mary Joyce.  He believed firmly that he was married not just to her, but to Martha as well, and had children by both women. He refused to believe Mary’s family that she had died accidentally three years previously in a house fire. He stayed a free man at home for a little while, but was back in the asylum by mid-1841, his wife having called for help from them between Christmas and the New Year of 1841.
Clare was sent to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he lived out the rest of his life. He was helped enormously by the kindness and humanity of Dr Thomas Octavius Prichard, who encouraged and helped him to continue writing his poetry. It was at the Northamptonshire County General Lunatic Asylum  that Clare wrote possibly his most famous poem…..

“I am!
I AM! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky. “

Clare’s problems with depression  had not been helped by having to watch his world disappear as, between 1809 and 1820, various  Acts of Enclosure allowed the greedy, idle, useless rich to increase their already great wealth by putting fences across the previously open fields, heathland and woodlands., and declaring that everything now belonged to them.

This, of course, was the early nineteenth century equivalent of “Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, and, as it was designed to do, prevented anybody poor from enjoying what abruptly became the rich man’s landscape.

In due course, the idle rich realised that they could make even more money by destroying the ancient countryside, and farming it in an exclusively profit orientated way.  There was no room for five hundred year old oak trees or sleepy marshes, no more meandering streams or cool copses to give shade on a hot summer’s day. Faced by the onslaught of Agribusiness, the wild animals, the birds, the insects and the butterflies all began to disappear.

In other words, it was pretty much the beginning of the country landscape we are asked to tolerate today.

This poem was finished by 1824, but was published only in 1935.

“The Mores

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed springs blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the orisons edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all–a hope that blossomed free
And hath been once no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labours rights and left the poor a slave
And memorys pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came with evening morn and night
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now alls fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors loosing from the sight far smooth and blea
Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay”

For me, Clare’s best work is his nature poetry. Because he was a poor labourer, he saw far more details as he walked along than the rich poets who thundered past in their coaches. John Clare’s nightingale actually was a real nightingale, not another species misidentified.

George Monbiot in his wonderful article urges us to read the poem…

“…Everything he sees flares into life…his ability to pour his mingled thoughts and observations on to the page as they occur, allowing you, as perhaps no other poet has done, to watch the world from inside his head.”

“The Nightingale’s Nest”  is indeed a fabulous poem, and is just like going for a stroll into the woods with John Clare himself, to view a bird whose nest he has previously staked out at some point during his working day. The reader becomes a fellow birdwatcher, who can follow John Clare’s instructions about where to look…

Common-nightingale-feeding-chicks-at-nest

“The Nightingale’s Nest

Up this green woodland-ride let’s softly rove,
And list the nightingale – she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love ;
For here I’ve heard her many a merry year –
At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot,
Just where that old-man’s-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o’er the road, and stops the way –
And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails –
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ :
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel’s under boughs, I’ve nestled down,
And watched her while she sung ; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy,
And feathers stand on end, as ’twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of summer’s fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ ;
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain :
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And at a distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain,
Till envy spurred the emulating thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs ;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast ;
The nightingale to summer’s life belongs,
And naked trees, and winter’s nipping wrongs,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide –
Hark! there she is as usual – let’s be hush –
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest,
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
These hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious ’neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round ;
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows,
We’ll wade right through, it is a likely nook :
In such like spots, and often on the ground,
They’ll build, where rude boys never think to look –
Aye, as I live ! her secret nest is here,
Upon this white-thorn stump ! I’ve searched about
For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by –
Nay, trample on its branches and get near.
How subtle is the bird! she started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh,
Ere we were past the brambles ; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops – as choking fear,
That might betray her home. So even now
We’ll leave it as we found it: safety’s guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still.
See there! she’s sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears ; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.”

I have not quoted some of Clare’s poems in full. They are extremely accessible on the Internet, and will fully repay your efforts.
The vast majority of his poetry can be found very easily.

Just find “Poets by Name” on the left of the screen, and click on “J” for “John Clare”.
The poet’s grave is at Helpston….
helpston grave
And, as one of England’s greatest poets, he has a memorial…

220px-John_Clare_Memorial,_Helpston,_Peterborough

And what looks like a rather modern statue…

statue

Youtube, of course, has many readings of John Clare’s works.

There are some quite long anthologies…

Some are good,

And there are others

I am a sentimental old fool, so I liked…

 

 

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Filed under History, Literature, Politics, Wildlife and Nature