Tag Archives: Stoney Street

Nottingham High School on ebay (1)

I always keep an eye on ebay to see if anything is on sale which is connected with Nottingham High School, the school where I spent my entire teaching career. First, here’s something that I didn’t buy because I thought it was far too expensive. Here’s the front:

And here’s the back:

The seller wanted £85 for it which I thought was just too expensive for me. It was a medal awarded to Benjamin Herbert Heald of Wilford, a little village on the River Trent to the south of Nottingham. Born on September 16th 1874, Benjamin entered the High School at the age of 12 on September 11th 1887 as Boy No 664. His father was Francis Berry Heald, a designer. Benjamin left the High School on the last day of what was at the time quite frequently called “Term Three” in July 1893. He went on to Queen’s College, Oxford with an Exhibition of £42. That would have been at least 20 times the average worker’s weekly wage.  At the High School he was a true Clever Clogs of the Very Highest Level. He was a Foundation Scholar (1890), a William Enfie Exhibitioner (1892), a Morley Exhibitioner (1891). He won 12 School Prizes in his time at the school, and a number of medals. You can make your choice as to which one this was. They were the Bronze Medal for Good Conduct (1889), the Gold Medal for the Best Open Scholarship (1893) , the Silver Medal for Classic (1893) and the Bronze Medal for Good Conduct (1893). If anybody knows which medal this is, please make a comment. I presume it is one of the Bronze ones. Notice how the reverse has the normal badge of the School:

It also has the cross which appears on the coat of arms of Nottingham:

I don’t recognise the shield with the ring on it, but it does seem vaguely familiar so perhaps somebody has an idea about that.

I found out one strange detail about Benjamin Herbert Heald. In the School Register is a boy called Benjamin Arthur Heald who was born on May 11th 1856. He entered the English School at the Free School on Stoney Street, as it then was, in January 1866. His father is listed as Benjamin Heald and he was a “lace agent and designer” living at 18 High Pavement. Benjamin Arthur Heald was surely a relative of Benjamin Herbert Heald. Anyway Benjamin Arthur is recorded as having died at home from the effects of overbathing, probably in June 1867, when he was 11 years old.

Eventually, Benjamin Herbert Heald became the Headmaster of Midhurst Grammar School in Sussex. In later years he was to reminisce about how the High School’s Headmaster during his time at the School, Dr James Gow, was different from all the other teachers. He never called boys up to his desk to go through their work, but always went to sit alongside them. Lessons usually finished with the customary phrase, “…I think that just about finishes our dose.”

This is Dr Gow, the High School’s greatest ever headmaster:

Next time, some dirty postcards. Well, second hand, at least.

 

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The Missing Statue

Let’s finish this series of High School puzzles with a third, and final, enigma. So let’s look at that photograph of the Stoney Street school again:

stoney st

We already know where the pesky little merlettes are hiding, (four o’clock down from the word “stationer”) but what exactly is in the niche near the top of the building? Here is a photograph of nothing, this time seen in close up:

stoney st niche

Now let’s look at the present day High School. This beautiful photograph was taken by Rishabh Motiwale and was used as the cover of the book which celebrated the school’s presumed 500th birthday, “500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthday”:

Rishabh%20Motiwale

And I’ll ask the same question a second time. What exactly is in the niche near the top of the building? Well, here’s that photograph of nothing again…

Rishabh%20Motiwale close up

Do you remember what a “vowess” was?  Of course you do. It’s:

“a woman who has vowed chastity or devotion to a religious life; a nun”.

It’s what Dame Agnes Mellers became after her husband died.

But do you remember Mr. F. J. Snell’s words about a “vowess” in his book “The Customs of Old England” ? Why certainly! He said that:

“a “vowess” would never willingly forgo any opportunity of showing reverence to the Blessed Virgin”.

So what is missing from the niche near the top of both buildings, therefore, is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. An image of Mary, Mother of God, a beloved figure in the Roman Catholic Church but one not enjoying perhaps quite as big a fan base with the Protestant Church over the last 400 or so years:

hytheBVM

I would guess that, perhaps in the very small print, in Clause 42, sub-clause 69, of Dame Agnes’ bequest, acting as a staunch vowess, she had stipulated that this type of Roman Catholic statue should be on prominent display in her new, or perhaps, merely refreshed, school. After all, her school had started its life in a church dedicated to St Mary:

st-marys-church-1846

But then, twenty years later, once Henry VIII had decided that Roman Catholicism should no longer be the state religion, to have a statue of Mary, Mother of God, on display above the door of the school, must have become just “a statue too far”. It would have made the place look anti-Protestant. Anti-Church of England. It might even have reminded ordinary people of the fact that the Glorious King Henry VIII had taken advantage of the Reformation to steal billions of pounds worth of assets and land from the suddenly unwanted Roman Catholic Church.  So one day, the statue of Mary, Mother of God, just wasn’t there any more. And few people noticed and those who did notice, knew that the best thing to do for their own safety was to keep their mouths firmly shut. And nobody ever mentioned the statue again.

Presumably, this centuries old exclusion from the school’s premises of statues of the beatified members of the fairer sex will come to an end very soon. When the first girl crosses the threshold of her new, co-educational school, she will surely walk into the building under a statue of the Virgin Mary, just as Dame Agnes would have wanted. Surely we will not have to wait for the High School’s first Headmistress to put the matter straight?

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Where did those three “merles” come from? Part Two

Last time, I posed a number of questions about the three black birds on the school crest, the so-called “merles”, and the coats of arms of a number of different families with the surname Meller, Mellers, Mellor and even Mellors:

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

If you remember, I was far from convinced that there was any connection between Dame Agnes and any of these families, the closest of them a minimum of a week’s journey away in Manchester. I was equally doubtful about the existence of “merles” as a bird in English heraldry. Indeed, overall, in English, the word “merle” does not really seem to relate particularly strongly to birds at all.

Wikipedia, for example, states that “merle” is a first name used by both men and women, a surname of French origin, a rather beautiful pattern in dogs’ coats, another name for the wine grape Merlot, a German glider originally built in 1938 for the 1940 Olympics gliding competition, a Crusader fort near Tantura on the coast of Israel and finally mentions the fact that the MS Phocine, a ferry, was originally named MS Merle.

In the bird world, Wikipedia states that it is a name for the “Icterid varieties of which the male is predominantly black, especially the Common Blackbird, Turdus merula.” The first word is the Latin for thrush, and “merula” means Blackbird.
I need to say here that “Icterids” are exclusively American birds such as grackles, orioles, cowbirds, meadowlarks and bobolinks:

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Back to Wikipedia, which continues with the fact that “merula” gives the French their word “merle” and also gives the Scots their word “merl”. According to Wiktionary, it is also an “English 19th century bird name from merle, blackbird, possibly also a variant of Muriel”. That is in itself quite interesting as many common birds in Merrye Olde Englande had their own human names. Jack Daw. Mag Pie. Jenny Wren, Robin Redbreast. Sparrows were called Philip because of their chirping call. A modern equivalent would be the Soviet ruler, Joe Starling.
Very tenuous links between Dame Agnes and merles therefore, made all the more tenuous by another, etymological, dictionary,  which states that “merle” is a late fifteenth century word which nowadays “owes its survival in modern times to its use by Scottish poets.” And how many fifteenth century Scottish poets can you name? Or any living, modern ones come to that?
Scotland, of course, is even further away from Dame Agnes than Manchester. And just in case you see a possible link between Dame Agnes and the “late fifteenth century”, don’t forget that the alleged Mellers’ coat of arms wasn’t ever used by her, and first appeared only in 1808.

Sooooo, where did that coat of arms come from?

Well, just for a moment, let’s go back to that idea that Dame Agnes was a lifelong staunch Roman Catholic with a very real fear of Hell for wrongdoers, especially those who might have cheated their customers a bit, perhaps when they were flogging them very large and very expensive bells.

One evening, sitting comatose in front of our TV set, I happened to see this coat of arms on a documentary programme as the camera panned down the High Street of a famous city:

Canterbu
The city was, of course, Canterbury. But where did the City of Canterbury find those striking and exciting  black birds? Well, it’s not a huge surprise:

Becket-arms

The shield above is that of Thomas Becket also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket. Born in December of probably 1118 or 1120, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 but was then martyred in Canterbury Cathedral on December 20th 1170 by followers of Henry II, namely Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton.

Here is an account of the slaying, written by eyewitness Edward Grim. Edward must have been an extremely brave man. Completely unarmed, the young clerk stood up to four knights dressed in chain mail, all of them equipped with the heavy savage swords of the era. Edward was gravely wounded in the incident, as he tried in vain to protect Becket (Reader discretion is advised):

“The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown of his head. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral:

Murder_of_Thomas_BecketThe same clerk who had entered with the knights (not Edward Grim) placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.”

640px-English_-_Martyrdmasxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Soon after this famously gory death, Thomas was promoted to sainthood by Pope Alexander III. Canterbury Cathedral subsequently became the most important centre of pilgrimage in England, most famously for Geoffrey Chaucer.

The birds on Thomas à Becket’s shield have red feet and red beaks and they are nowadays called “choughs”, although apparently in medieval times, they were often referred to by pilgrims as “beckitts”.

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

I feel sure that there is some kind of clue here:

columbo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where did those three “merles” come from? Part One

Not many people would be able to answer this question.

What exactly is “Ermine a Lozenge Argent charged with three Blackbirds rising proper on a Chief Gules an open Book also proper garnished Or between two Ducal Coronets of the last.” ?

Well, it’s one of these, more or less. What’s a lozenge between friends?:

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

The origin of the High School’s coat of arms has always been, to me, a major enigma. Apparently, there has always supposed to have been a connection between the arms of Dame Agnes’ family, namely “Mellers” and another family called Mellor, who lived in Mellor, a village between Stockport and Glossop.

(Where?)

(Well, let’s put it this way. in either town you can easily get a bus to Manchester. It’s a distance of some seven miles and twelve miles respectively)

Here is their coat of arms:

0mellor coat of

To me though there is quite a difference in spelling between Mellor and Mellers, although the Mellor coat of arms is obviously a reasonable fit with the school’s crest.

This theory, though, does rely almost totally on the supposition that Richard Mellers was related to this “Family in the North” whose coat of arms displayed three black birds. In actual fact, there is no reason to suppose any proven link whatsoever between the two families. After all, it’s a very long way between Nottingham and Stockport in late medieval times. More than ninety miles, in fact. The best part of a week on foot, not counting any unexpected meetings with Robin Hood and his Merrie Men.

Let’s look at a small number of other likely coats of arms. Let’s start with Mellers. It should be said that Dame Agnes herself always spelt her name as “Mellers” (but never as “Mellor”):

For “Mellers”, we find very few coats of arms, but there is this one:

meller_c

Let’s try “Meller”. We do find this one, and furthermore, the very same shield is listed elsewhere as “Mellers” :

meller_cThat’s not the answer, though,, because we also find this shield for Meller, as well:

meller-ireland

And this one:

meller_large irish

And this one:

Smeller red

Clearly, something, somewhere, is not quite right. It may even be very wrong. There are problems here, and the first major one may well be connected with the simple issue of the spelling of Dame Agnes’ surname. Despite her own insistence on Mellers, mentioned above, a quick look at “Google Images” will reveal that Mellers, Mellor, Meller and probably Mellors, appear to be disturbingly interchangeable.Coats of arms just seem to come and go. They are different every tine you look at Google. This is because, I suspect, they are connected less with accurate heraldry than the desire to sell tee-shirts, mugs, key rings, ties and even underpants with your family crest on them.

Those black birds on the High School shield have always been regarded as Blackbirds, an everyday bird species in England:

blackbird

The theory is that the heraldic word for a blackbird is “merle”, taken from the French, and this gives us a devilishly funny pun for the surname “Mellers”. Such side splitters are called “Canting Arms”. They are used to  establish a visual pun, as in the following examples:

canting
I am just not sure about this word “merle”. Just because a coat of arms contains a number of black birds (as opposed to green ones), that does not automatically mean that we are dealing with canting arms, even if the French word “merle” refers to our familiar back garden bird, the Blackbird, aka turdus merula, and the name “Mellers” sounds perhaps, possibly, maybe, slightly, conceivably, like it.

What is more disturbing, though, is the discovery that “merle” appears to mean absolutely nothing whatsoever in English Heraldry. On Amazon, the search for “Heraldry” reveals five books, all with the same title. It is “A Complete Guide to Heraldry” by A.C.Fox-Davis:

fox daviesThis rather old book is the standard work on English Heraldry and has been for quite a considerable time. It is a book of some 645 pages, but there is not a single “merle” on any one of them.  And more important still, if merles did actually exist in Heraldry, then why did the Heralds’ College, known also as the College of Arms, call these birds “blackbirds” when they made that formal grant-of-arms to the school as recently as 1949? Why didn’t they call them “merles” and thereby preserve the “Laugh, I nearly died” visual pun?
And don’t think that the College of Arms are just a bunch of fly-by-night door-to-door sellers of heraldic key rings and underwear. They were founded well before Dame Agnes Mellers, in fact as far back as 1484. To quote the definition on the Heraldry Society website:

“The College of Arms is the only official English authority for confirming the correctness of armorial ensigns — Arms, Crests, Supporters and Badges — claimed by descent from an armigerous ancestor, or for granting new ones to those who qualify for them.”

In other words, if they say it’s a blackbird it’s a blackbird. You can’t just decide to call it a “merle” because you feel like it, or because it seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s just not allowed. Here is another blackbird, just to refresh your memory:

Blackbird-01

In 1920 at least, nobody called it a “merle”. In June of that year, the new school magazine, “The Highvite” contained a “Sports Chorus”, including appropriately vigorous music. The words were…

“Score our High School / ye Highvites now score for victory.
Our High School / For Highvites, never, never, never shall be beaten
By any Worksop / Newark & c. team
At the Sign of the Blackbirds three.”

No “merles” there then. It is equally interesting to note that in “The Nottinghamian” of December 1921, the school’s emblem is again referred to as containing blackbirds, rather than merles. This overturning of tradition, however, does not mean that the use of three black birds does not connect us directly with Dame Agnes. Let’s look at it from a different angle, just for a moment.

Many people have believed over the years that it was only when the school changed its site from Stoney Street to Arboretum Street in 1867 that the three black birds were first adapted. But this was definitely not the case since photographs from the mid-nineteenth century show quite clearly that a badge with three birds was displayed on the wall of the Free School building. In this case, though, their wings were folded rather than the modern version, flapping and ready for immediate and dynamic intellectual and sporting take-off:

stoney st enlarged

Indeed, it is thought that the three black birds were in evidence as an unofficial badge for the school from at least June 16th 1808 onwards. On this date, an unknown but apparently very bored clerk has decorated the title page of the funky new volume of the Schoolwardens’ Annual Balance Sheets with the traditional three black birds, so it has clearly been known as a symbol connected with the school for a very long time.

Interestingly enough, another slightly more modern place where the birds’ wings can be seen as folded dates from 1936, when some new stained glass sections were put into the windows at the back of the recently built Assembly Hall:

assembly hall

And nowadays, of course, this folded wings version forms the badge of the Old Nottinghamians’ Society. Presumably, that is why they appear in this guise on a car badge being sold off on ebay:

car badge

Next time, I will attempt to answer the question of where did those black birds come from? In the meantime here’s a clue. Not all black birds are Blackbirds:

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

 

 

 

 

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Murder most foul: Chapter Two

A second episode of blood soaked murder in the history of the old Free School was published in a series of “Reminiscences”  in the High School Magazine in December 1929. They came from Mr John Braithwaite, of Bournemouth, who, at the time, was thought to be the School’s oldest Old Boy….

“Schooldays, 1857-1862″

“I went to the old Grammar School in Stoney Street about Midsummer,1857, and left at Midsummer, 1862. The Rev. W. Butler was Headmaster.”

“The old building was very unsuitable, dull and cheerless. The upper school consisted of one large room and one small classroom. There were no cloakrooms or conveniences of any kind, and the sanitary arrangements in the small playground were most primitive.”

free school

“The whole building sadly wanted painting, but no money was spent; the reason given was that the Trustees were saving up to have enough money to build a new school.”

“We began work at 8 o’clock and finished at 5 o’clock, or later, with two hours’ break at midday. In winter we had to use candles… “long eights” I think they were called. One candle was allowed between two boys, and lighting them was the signal for all sorts of play. We amused ourselves by blowing the candles out and in again, making a nasty smelling smoke.”

gallows

“About the autumn of 1859, a man was sentenced to death in the Nottinghamshire Courts for a murder in the northern part of the county.

Our headmaster, the Rev.W.Butler, as Chaplain of the County Gaol, was required to read the burial Service at the execution, which was fixed for 8 o’clock one morning at the County Gaol in the High Pavement.”

The main building on High Pavement, which dates from 1770, is quite imposing. The Normans were the first to use this site, appointing a Sheriff to preserve law and order in Nottingham, and to collect taxes. The oldest written  mention of law courts comes in 1375.

DCIM100MEDIA

The cells are below street level. They date back to at least 1449.

P1120126

The scaffold used to be erected on the steps in front of the brown columns. There are special square holes cut in the stone steps to hold the wooden beams. They are still there to this day.

hanging-at-shire-hallThe dead hangees were buried in unconsecrated ground around the back of the building, their feet disrespectfully pointing towards Jerusalem.

Yard at Shire Hall with headston

“As usual we were at our desks at 8 o’clock on that particular morning, but the headmaster was absent. We all knew where he was, and each of us was thinking of him and visualising the dreadful scene which was being enacted only a short distance away. Back in school, the Deputy Master read prayers, and we waited, silent and awed. Presently the door was burst open, and poor Mr.Butler, with face white and drawn, stumbled in and staggered to his seat, almost spent. After resting awhile he stood up and said, “Boys, I have just come from….” and then he broke down. After recovering himself, he began again, and then he preached us a more impressive sermon than I have heard from any pulpit. As no one was in the mood for lessons we were sent home for the day…”

3716238The hanged man was one John Fenton, a blacksmith and publican, executed at the age of thirty-seven for the murder of Charles Spencer at Walkeringham on March 6th 1860. This was a public execution, held on the front steps of what is now the Shire Hall in High Pavement.

The crowd, however, was a lot smaller than expected. This was because, even though it was fourteen years previously, the last public hanging in Nottingham had resulted in the crushing to death of seventeen people, almost all of them children.

Given this blood soaked past, it is no surprise to find that the Galleries of Justice have a plethora of ghosts. On some wet Tuesday afternoons, there can sometimes be as many ghosts as living tourists. Here is a selection of the ghosts I saw on my own visit…

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Wooooooooooooo………………………………

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