This tale comes from a source which I have used quite frequently in the past, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood”.
Imagine. It is December 12th 1786. Less than a fortnight to the Big Day. What will Santa bring you? Better make sure that Santa can get down those Georgian chimneys without a problem:
December 12th. “A remarkable escape from death at the premises of Mr Wilson, bookseller, of South-parade, Nottingham. Mr Stretton, a builder, accidentally met a Mr Ward of Eastwood, and stood on the pavement in front of the shop, conversing with him about Christmas.”
You can go nowadays and stand where exactly these two gentlemen stood, nearly 250 years ago. I have painted an enormous orange arrow on the pavement:
And I also found a photograph of the houses concerned. This was taken in 1874 and although the ground floors are very different today, the upper floors of some of the buildings are still quite similar:
In 2017, it is not just the ground floors which are different. The people are as well. Nowadays, all the people try to dress as much like each other as possible. A 21st century guerrilla army:
But what about Mr Stretton and Mr Ward the builder? Well, they were talking about what Santa was going to bring them, and Mr Ward was just saying that he had been repairing loads of chimneys in this area because all the little kids were worrying about Santa’s arrival, when suddenly…..
“…a violent gust of wind overthrew a stack of chimneys, which in their descent brought down with them a large proportion of the roof and a quantity of the brickwork of the front wall.”
It was a little bit like this…
But a lot more like this…
It was no laughing matter, because…
“Neither of the gentleman had warnings sufficient to run out of danger. An apparently solid mass fell upon the back and head of Mr Stretton, but chiefly upon his shoulders, beating him to the ground, and cutting the back of his coat into shreds . He endeavoured two or three times to get up, but the bricks continually falling upon him, prevented him.”
I think we’ve all seen Laurel and Hardy, or Tom and Jerry, in that situation, as the last two or three bricks of many fall individually and hit them one after another on the head. But it was no laughing matter at all…
“Mr Ward also received serious injuries. The two men were taken away in sedan chairs, and both of them eventually recovered, although not without great difficulty.”
So it all turned out well in the end. Cue a famous Shakespeare play.
Sedan chairs must have been magic. Ideal places for meeting your lover, at least, if you can persuade the servants to go and have a cup of coffee for half an hour. And take that magpie with you…
And here’s the ideal sedan chair for a collapsing chimney situation. That roof looks very well made, very robust. And those top hats would be brilliant. Just like the special zones that crumple up when modern cars crash into each other.
Mind you, I think if they were my servants, I might buy them a pair of shoes each for Christmas. Unless, of course, I could think of a really life changing present to give them.