Tag Archives: Sherwood Forest

Deadly Deer (5)

There are apparently 75,000 collisions between cars and deer every year in the UK. This results in 450 injuries and, the latest figures allege, as many as twenty fatalities, both drivers and passengers.
It is not surprising that these traumatic events are so frequent. The United Kingdom has more than two million deer. This represents the highest total since Saxon times:

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A few years ago, there was even a muntjac deer in our staff car park, right in the middle of Nottingham:

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With over-browsing, deer cause enormous damage to our woodlands, and especially the birds who breed there. Too often deer consume the low vegetation which hides their nests and in general, they have a hugely negative effect on trees, shrubs, plants and flowers. This circular destruction of the bark will kill the tree:

deer-damage

Recently a group of scientists suggested that half of England’s deer should be shot to help preserve our woodland landscape. Several species are actually foreign immigrants to our countryside, namely muntjac and Chinese water deer:

Chinese_water_deer_

Another introduced species are Sika , which manage to get absolutely everywhere:

Sikadeer

Overall, this enormous population of deer causes around £4.5m worth of damage to plantations and woods in Scotland alone. In England, it is not so much the trees which suffer, as the cereal crops, mainly in east and south-west England, where deer cause £4.3m worth of financial loss annually.
I can’t find out the overall cost of deer culling but I suspect, given our successive governments’ ability to spend other people’s money, it will be approximately £14.76 squillion pounds per year.
So let’s do it for free. Here in Nottinghamshire, let’s encourage petty criminals to clear off out of the city and live in groups in the forest, armed only with bows and arrows. They could wear green for camouflage and shoot the King’s deer on a regular basis.  And on Bank Holidays why not have great big barbecues for everybody to go to ?

robin hood- heroes
And bring back the lynx. We could have every single animal sponsored by the aftershave company. Lynxes are so shy you wouldn’t even notice them in our local woodland.

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You would obviously notice Brown Bears, but so what? They eat deer by the freezer full. And furthermore, it would make enormous financial sense to have a great big bear eating the contents of all the rubbish bins in our country parks, rather than buying gigantic expensive specialised vehicles and paying humans to empty them.

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And think of America itself. What do they have in the woods that eats deer? I’ll give you a clue. It’s totally nocturnal. It’s very shy, especially given the fact that it’s nine feet tall. You would never see them and when you did nobody would believe you. All you’d see would be a gradual diminution in the deer population.

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If that’s a step (or should I say, a Big Foot) too far, then let’s look back a little in time to the Middle Ages.
As recently as 1433, Sir Robert Plumpton was granted a piece of land in Nottingham by King Henry VI (Parts 1-3) if he could manage to blow his horn and thereby frighten and chase away all the wolves in Sherwood Forest. The piece of land he held in Nottingham was called “Wolf Hunt Land” (The clue’s in the name). In this way Sir Robert probably helped the wolf towards its eventual extinction which occurred, supposedly, during the reign of Henry VII (or Henry VI Part Four, as he was occasionally called).
At this time, back in early fifteenth century, wolves were limited to just a few areas, anyway. Some forests in Lancashire such as Bowland, the Derbyshire Peak District and the Yorkshire Wolds.
So let’s reintroduce them now. Two million deer to cull. Let Wolfy have a go. We know that they are harmless. Two deaths in North America in 129 years? Negligible!! They’d take care of the deer problem for us:

wolf pack one

And what better sight than watching a pack of wolves  chase down a mountain bike rider over the romantic fells of the Lake District?

wolf baby

Or another pack pursuing quad bike riders in the New Forest? Perhaps a whole wolf family practicing their hunting techniques on somebody else’s badly behaved and loud mouthed kids.

eyes wolf
What’s not to like?

Just watch this video, which comes, literally, from the “HeartOfTheWilderness”:

Or if you are a child, why don’t you let the Smithsonian Channel teach you to howl like a wolf? Ideal for relieving the monotony of those tedious car drives to school. Better even than the counting songs from French lessons:

 

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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:

zoaring_golden_eagle zzzzzzzzz

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:

goldeneagle soaring zzzzzzzz
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.

Haliaeetus albicilla4

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.”

sea eagle cliff

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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A strange and worrying zoo in France

I have now written quite a few articles about the various Beasts of France, beginning with the most famous, the Beast of Gévaudan, which flourished from 1764-1767:

second-beast

And then it was the Beast of Benais, followed by the Beast of Noth, not forgetting the Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of Primarette, the Beast of Orléans, the Beast of Lyonnais, the Beast of Sarlat, the Beast of Auxerre, the Beast of Cinglais, the Beast of Gâtinais, the list just goes on and on. Some of them were really quite peculiar creatures, even by the contemporary standards of Beastliness:

beast 1709

Not all French monsters are wolf-types, however. Here are just a few of the inmates of what the original website called “Un Zoo étrange et inquiétant en France”, “a strange and worrying zoo in France”.

The first animal is a snake, which used to live in the Forest of Fontainebleau, just to the south west of Paris:

forest of fontaineblasu

It was seen, and duly killed, by the King (Quite right too!). According to legend, it was 18 feet long, with a weight of some 160 kilos (around 350 pounds):

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This monster was venomous and used to hide in a great pile of rocks which offered him protection as no group of attackers was able to approach the creature simultaneously. Only one adversary at a time could reach him.

One day, King Francis the First or le Roi François Premier, was out hunting in the area. This king was a contemporary of King Henry VIII, at the start of the sixteenth century:

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The King and His Royal Nose decided to put an end to this creature which had sown terror and desolation throughout the land.( Well, it was a very big pile of rocks).

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The king had commissioned a suit of armour covered with razor blades. When the snake tried to coil itself around him, the razor blades, quite literally, cut the monster to pieces.  “Scratch one constrictor!” as they say.

What other animals are in the “strange and worrying zoo”?

Well, back in 1965:

“In the Toulouse area, flocks of sheep belonging to Trappist monks at the Abbey of St. Mary of the Desert, and also those belonging to the Count of Orgeix, suffered extensive depredations from a mysterious animal. Three students from the area of Cadours who were driving around one  night in the car, saw two animals which were larger than a dog or a wolf. They had light beige fur. These strange creatures were like enormous mastiffs, with huge, round, bulging eyes. The four footed killers then disappeared from the area as mysteriously as they had appeared.”

One year later, in May,

“In the region of Pignans (in the département of Var), a tenant farmer, Monsieur Baptistin, asleep in his small house, which was located some two kilometres from the village, was awakened by furious barking from his dog. He got out of bed, switched on the light and saw the silhouette of a huge animal which was disappearing into the darkness:

bigfoot giph

The next morning, he discovered near the water trough animal tracks of a startling size:

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The authorities were alerted. The Forestry Services photographed the tracks and made a cast, but nobody was able to ascertain what kind of animal they belonged to.

For several weeks, the locals no longer dared to go out at night. The more daring people who did venture out never failed to take a reliable rifle with them.”

(Actually, it wasn’t Bigfoot, or at least I don’t think it was. It’s just that the details of this story are so vague that it is actually possible to interpret the events as being “Grand-Pied” himself, rather than some, presumably, fairly run-of-the-mill Alien Big Cat.)

In mid-August of 1966, a monster was seen haunting the area around Draguignan near the road to Grasse , a region where many UFOs had been seen, both in flight and on the ground:

“A former member of the armed forces, Monsieur Paul G… , found himself one morning around seven o’clock  face to face with an unknown creature. The animal had its mouth open.  It had a pointed snout, which was rather long, and triangular teeth. Under its neck, it had a goitre which gave it a frightening appearance. The ears were short, like those of a dog, but they were very pointed. The body was very long and covered with grey fur. The animal had a long tail, at least 40 centimetres (16 inches) in length.”

imaginative chaingyu

Interestingly, the town of Draguignan has a name and a coat of arms which are both redolent of another species of legendary animal. The town was founded around 400AD after Saint Hermentaire, the Bishop of Antibes, had overcome a dragon in single combat. Exactly how he managed this does not seem to have been recorded, but here is the coat of arms:

draguignan

It was definitely not a friendly dragon:

friendly dragon

In 1967, the presence of a number of monsters was reported throughout the whole of France. In the Creuse region in particular, between Royère and Chavanat:

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…a feline of unknown species was flushed in the hamlet of Cloux Valleret by a farmer named Monsieur Simo:

surrey puma original

A week earlier, farmers in the Vosges area had already stalked an animal of indeterminate species which looked rather like a wolf:

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All that was easily topped though, by a report from Italy:

“In June 1970, in Meldola, about ten kilometres from Forli, a farmer claimed to have encountered some kind of dragon, six to seven metres long, with a body some 15 inches in diameter.

dragon

The Italian police organized a hunt which did not turn up anything. The monster appeared once or twice more and then disappeared forever.”

Back to France, in 1972:

“In the area around Vigan in Hérault, some medical students, out hunting in a snow covered area, discovered the footprints of an unknown animal:

yeti tracks

They followed the tracks for several kilometres. Suddenly they disappeared just in front of a rock which was projecting up out of the ground. The beast seemed to have reared up on his back end and then been recovered by his masters on board a flying machine.”

Don’t think though, that the French are especially weak minded and that this is why they continually report crazy sightings of weird animals. In this area, the British, quite rightly, are streets ahead of their nearest and dearest neighbours. But first of all, let’s just forget our many, many, ferocious Black Dogs such as Shuck and his like:

dog

Forget the werewolves seen more than once at Alconbury USAAF Air Base:

werewolf attack

Forget the sightings of Bigfoot in Cannock Chase and Sherwood Forest (an “eight-foot, hairy man beast with red glowing eyes” seen in late 2002) (allegedly):

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Just on cats alone we are well in front. The most famous cat of all, of course, is the Beast of Bodmin:

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But don’t forget his less famous sidekick, the Beast of Exmoor. And before that Gruesome Twosome, it was the Surrey Puma. And don’t ever forget the heyday of the Nottingham Lion.

But look at this list, put together originally by George M. Eberhart.

Don’t just skip through it. Select your top three:

“The Ashley Leopard, the Ayrshire Puma, the Beast of Ballymena, the Beast of Barnet, the Basingstoke Beast, the Beast of Beacon Hill, the Bennachie Beast, the Beast of Bin, the Blagdon Beast, the Beast of Bont, the Broadoak Beast, the Beast of Broomhill, the Beast of Bucks, the Carsington Beast, the Beast of Chiswick, the Essex Beast, the Inkberrow  Beast, the Beast of Margam, the Beast of Milton, the Beast of Otmoor, the Shropshire Border Beast, the Beast of Tonmawr, the Beast of Tweseldown (sic), the Black Beast of Gloucestershire, the Black Beast of Moray, the Brechfa Beast, the Cadmore Cat, the Chiltern Cougar, the Crondall Cougar, the Durham Puma, the Eccles Cheetah, the Fen Tiger, the Highland Puma, the Lindsey Leopard, the Mendips Monster, the M25 Monster, the Munstead Monster, the Norfolk Grinder, the Pink Panther of Derbyshire, the Penistone Panther, the Penwith Cougar, the Beast of Powis, the Rosshire Lioness, the Terror of Tedburn, the Tilford Lynx and, last but not least, the Wolds Wild Cat.”

For me it’s, in third place, the Norfolk Grinder. Second is the Penistone Panther, but my own winner is…….. the Eccles Cheetah!!

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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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

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.”

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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