Tag Archives: West Bridgford

Storks in Victorian Nottinghamshire

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

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

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

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

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

220px-Sir_Herbert_Chermside

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

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

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

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

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

thre hutt

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

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Here is the Pilgrim Oak in both spring and autumn:

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

white-stork-hungary-2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Water, water everywhere, especially past Trent Bridge

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

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

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

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

When warmer weather finally came, however:

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

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

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

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

paleo chanaell zzzzzzz

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

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Here is Arkwright Street next to the railway station:

arkwright st

This is the aptly named Canal Street:

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

Here is Beeston, looking remarkably like Venice:

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

220px-Melton_Road_in_the_floods_of_March_1947_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1537395

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

before concrete

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

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

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

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

colwick sluives zzzzzzzzzzz

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

flood 2000

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

 

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School Sports Day, 2.30 pm, Wednesday, April 5th 1930

On Wednesday, April 22nd 2015 at 1.00pm, yet another High School Sports Day will begin. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to purchase, in an online auction, the aging programme which was sold (not given away, as they are now) to spectators who turned up at the School Ground in Mapperley at 2.30 pm on Wednesday, April 5th 1930. The programme was priced at 3d, which is around 2p in decimal money. We have already seen the long walk along Mansfield Road to the sports ground. Look for the orange arrow. The High School is in the bottom left corner of the map, near the meeting point of Mount Hooton Road and Forest Road East. The school is the incomplete beige rectangle which is outlined in black:

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I found it extremely difficult to scan this aging document. I have therefore divided it into a long series of smaller scans where, hopefully, all of the print will be large enough to be legible. An unknown parent has gone through each event and added the order of the finishers, and, in some cases, the performance they achieved. I taught at the High School for almost forty years, and how familiar are some of the boys’ names! I suspect that they may have been the grandfathers, or even great grandfathers of some of my own erstwhile pupils.
Here is the top of the front cover. The school badge is the same as nowadays, and so is the Latin motto. What I do not understand, though, is the presence of two swastikas. And they are proper swastikas, right-facing ones and not Hindu good luck symbols or badges taken from the horse bridles of the Lakota Sioux. And I don’t know why they are there. Perhaps the event had a secret sponsor:

cover top half

This is the bottom of the front cover. Three pence from so many different spectators must have been a nice little earner:

cover bottom  half
Here is the second page, with the  names of the two track judges. Nowadays there are twelve of them. but in 1930 things were a lot more sedate. The Brewills were a family with at least two famous athletes (G.F. and G.W.) who, in the latter years of the Victorian era, had both achieved a number of triumphs at national level in both sprinting and hurdling . A.S.Brewill had been the commander of the 7th Sherwood Foresters throughout most of the Great War. Almost thirty years previously, on the afternoon of Saturday, July 25th 1903, our current track judge, E.Brewill, had participated in the School Sports held at the same venue. Along with G.F.Brewill, he had been a member of “The Past” (Old Boys) tug of war team against “The Present” (Masters and Boys). The latter were a team of  three boys, namely R.Marrs, W.Oldershaw and H.A.Watson, and three masters, Messrs Hughes, Jones and Yates. The Old Boys soon pulled the School over the line, but were found to have included a seventh member of the team, J.Johnstone. (Cheats!!!) The result was overturned, and the School soon won a fair contest by 3-0. (Hurrah!)
Tinsley Lindley was a very famous figure in High School history and in the history of Nottingham itself. He will perhaps warrant his own blog post one day:

intro page 1

I have been unable to find any background information about J.H.Scothern, although there was a “Scothern” who played amateur football internationals for England before the Great War. As a frequent team mate of the High School’s Olympic Gold Medal winner, Frederick Chapman, both for Oxford City and for England, he would certainly have known him, and probably Tinsley Lindley as well. This bottom half of the page, with its list of House Colours, attests the presence of boys from both the Main School (the four on the left) and the Preparatory School (the four on the right):

intro 2

Here are the first two events, with winners and times, the latter expressed as fractions (much more of a challenge than those silly decimals):

1 & 2

H.W.Bellamy was a misprint. It should be H.W.Ballamy. Even here, more than ten years later, the Great War’s foul tentacles stretch out. Harold Ballamy came from a poor family. His father was a commercial traveller. Harold won many school prizes such as Silver Medals for Mathematics and Science, and Dr Gow’s Prize for Geometry. He was Captain of Football, Secretary of First Team Cricket, the School Librarian, the Colour Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps and the Captain of the School.
At Cambridge University, he won the Bishop Open Exhibition for Natural Science. He obtained a First Class Degree in Mathematics. He then changed to Natural Sciences, where he was placed first in the whole University of Cambridge. What more ideal choice, what better qualified man, to put in charge of a pile of mud near the village of Passchendaele ? And then he was killed:

ballamy 1234

And now, Events 3, 4 and 5. I have taught a Wildgust and a Weinberg:

3, 4 & 5
And I have taught a Sharman and a Lawrence. I wonder who the latter was related to. And why don’t they have “Throwing the Cricket Ball” any more? Health and Safety, I wouldn’t wonder:

6, 7, 8,

Notice that the High Jump was an Open Event with no age restrictions. I think the pencil mark means that the winners both achieved equal heights:

9 and 10

And here are the next events, except that another foul tentacle reaches out and grabs another victim. Captain Frederick Cuthbert Tonkin lived at 13 George Road, West Bridgford. He represented the High School at football, cricket and athletics. He interrupted his Dentistry studies at Guy’s Hospital to enlist and was killed on November 4th 1918, only seven days before the end of the war. He was just 24 years old:

medium

There were two long jumps, sensibly based on height, rather than age:

11 and 12

Why don’t they bring back the Sack Race? H.C.Wesson, by the way, had been Captain of the School in 1928:

13, 14 & 15
I just don’t know how the Tutor Set relay races worked:

16-18

Another Open Event, with no age restrictions:

19

An obstacle race. Much more fun than boring old athletics!

20  21

And another Sack Race. You can’t have enough of them, I say. Have you noticed how the parent has gradually began to lose interest. Fewer pencil marks. Fewer performance times.

22-24

Two more tug of wars. Or should that be tugs of war? Or just tugs? Sounds like fun for everybody, though. W.H.B.Cotton was a hero, a genuine hero, as well as a record holding athlete. Spending his holidays in Glamorgan in Wales in 1928, he had managed to rescue two sailors from a ship which was sinking, just offshore from Porthcawl:

25-27

The back of the programme is a grid where all the keen and interested parents can keep the inter-house score, event by thrilling event:

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And that’s it! The Annual Athletic Sports were over for another year. And, indeed, the days of holding them at Mapperley were over for ever. The Valley Road Playing Fields had been purchased for £5.600 in 1929. The ground had been levelled, the marsh had been drained and they were ready for athletic action by Thursday, April 30th and Saturday, May 2nd 1931. But that, as they say, is another story.

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Ancient initials carved a century ago

In the High School, there is a much vandalised stone mantelpiece over an old fireplace on the ground floor. Boys have carved their names on it well over a hundred years ago and the letters are only just beginning to disappear into the thick levels of gloss paint now used to cover the original stone. The fireplace is located between the General Office and the entrance to the Assembly Hall, so literally thousands of boys will have queued past it as they go into Morning Assembly.

On Wednesday, January 18th 1899, Thomas Ignatius Joseph Gillott entered the school. He was to leave during the course of his fourth academic year, in July 1902. Sadly Thomas died on Sunday, July 6th 1913, after a failed operation at the London Hospital. On that same day in 1899, his brother Bernard Cuthbert Gillott, also entered the school. He was destined to remain a pupil only until the end of that academic year and he left in July 1899. With the advent of the Great War, Bernard was to join the army, where he served as a Captain in the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment. A brave man, he won both the British Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. Eventually he was  severely wounded, but thankfully he survived, and he was invalided home to England.

On Tuesday, September 12th 1899, the youngest of the three brothers, Oswald Cornek Gillot entered the school aged nine. Oswald was born in Ripley on July 22nd 1890 and his father was Thomas Gillot, M.I.C.E., a civil engineer whose address was given as either, Upland House, Eastwood, or Langley Mill near Ilkeston.  Possibly towards the end of the Summer Term, 1905, Oswald carved his name on that extremely popular stone mantelpiece on the ground floor fireplace between the General Office and the Assembly Hall. Oswald left the High School in March 1907.

Gillott ccccccccc

Taking decent photographs of these carved signatures has in actual fact, proved extremely difficult. They are located on the northern side of the school where the usually tropical English sun does not often penetrate,  and they are surrounded by vast thick walls of stone and brick, with a singular lack of windows. This means that the whole area is more or less permanently dark from a photographic point of view. Added to this is the fact that in the century or so since these interesting acts of senseless vandalism were carried out, a succession of school caretakers, under the almost inhuman management pressure to hurry up that all school caretakers permanently face, have repainted the mantelpiece with a succession of layers of whitish gloss paint, all of them applied without having the time to remove the previous one. The stone therefore, now wears a building’s equivalent of an inflatable Sumo suit.
Consequently, I have been forced to Photoshop the pictures I took so that the now faint carvings stand out a little more clearly from the dimly lit and pale coloured background. One unfortunate young man, R.Salew, has proved completely impossible to conjure out of the camouflaging layers that now hide his signature. But he is definitely there.
Towards the end of the Christmas Term, 1904, John Francis Haseldine carved his name, in rather florid handwriting, on that same stone mantelpiece.

haseldine cccccc

John was born on December 28th 1886 and entered the High School on May 4th 1896, aged nine. His father was Frank Haseldine, a lace manufacturer of St.John’s Grove, Beeston. John was a very good footballer (soccer player), and made his début for the First XI on Wednesday, March 26th 1902, in an away game against Loughborough Grammar School. We know that the school’s best player, J.B.Sim, worked hard throughout the match, but, according to the School Magazine of the time,“The Forester”, he was “too carefully watched” by the Loughborough defence, and the game was lost by 0-2. That particular spring, John had been in the team which had won the Football Sixes, a six-a-side competition organised within the school by the boys themselves, with the teams all drawn out of a hat. It was taken, of course, extremely seriously. Coincidentally, the winning team’s captain was that very same J.B.Sim, who was a well-known High School footballer of that era, with more than fifty appearances for the First XI.
On Wednesday, February 14th 1903, John scored his only goal for the school, in a 4-1 away victory over Mansfield Grammar School, “a rather poor and one-sided game”. As an ever present in the team, John won his football colours at the end of this season and was also awarded a “Standard Medal” for Football . In season 1903-1904, he became Captain of Football.  John spent the Christmas Term of 1904 at the High School, but, like so many boys during this period, he left half way through the academic year in December 1904.
In the Great War John was a Major in the Royal Engineers, Special Reserve. He was Mentioned in Dispatches on June 3rd 1916 and received the Military Cross on January 1st 1917. By 1929, he was living at Northdene, New Barnet, in  the northern suburbs of Greater London.
Among the other more legible carved names are “A.E.Anthony” and “G.Devey”. What is apparently “R.Salew” is also there, although there are many, many  layers of gloss paint to obscure the lettering of this particular name, and the photo has not come out because of this. Another seems to read “B.Abel 1905-190” as if the young man had been interrupted, perhaps by a Master (teacher), as he came towards the end of his carving, and then did not ever return to finish the job.

Alfred Edward Anthony was born on June 12 1906, and entered the school on September 18th 1918, aged twelve. His father was F.W.Anthony of 120, Radcliffe Road, West Bridgford. He was the Managing Director of Gotham Co Ltd (apparently sic). Alfred left the school in December 1922.

anthony 1 ccccccc

“G.Devey” was the elder brother of Reginald Devey, whose own name had already been carved on the fireplace upstairs, in the staffroom corridor, alongside that of D.H.Lawrence and L.S.Laver, the High School’s very own Latin Champion of the World.

r.a. devey cccccccv

This ground floor effort though, was Gerald Bertil Devey, who was born on June 10th 1903,. Gerald entered the school on May 27th 1918 at the rather late age of fourteen. His father was James Edward Devey, a civil servant, and the family lived at 22, Ebury Road, Sherwood Rise. Gerald left the High School in July 1919.

devey cccccc

John Rylett Salew entered the school on May 4th 1916, aged fourteen. He left in December 1918. John was born on February 28th 1902 and his father was Joseph William Salew, an “agent” of 19, William Rd, West Bridgford.

Bertram Albert Abel was born on July 31st 1889 and entered the school on September 13th 1905, aged sixteen. His father was William Jenkinson Abel, a clerk to the Nottingham Education Committee. The family lived at 99, Waterloo Crescent, and Bertram left the school in July 1907.

b abell ccccccc
The fact that “S.Vasey” has carved his name in two different places on the stone, one of them complete with his own personal dates, namely “1917” and “1917-1922” shows not only that he had an extremely strong desire for immortality, but that, within the context of the High School, it has been fulfilled. He must have been a very swift, and fairly brazen, vandal.

zzzzz  s vasey 1907

Stanley Vasey was born on June 5th 1905 and he entered the school at the age of thirteen, on September 18 1918. His father was Alfred Vasey, a shop inspector, and the family lived at 15, Glebe Road, West Bridgford. He left in December 1922.

zzzzzzzzzz vasey 1922
It is actually possible to best guess friendship groups among these carved names. Messrs Anthony, Devey and Vasey, for example, all joined the school in 1918. They all left in the latter half of 1922. They must surely have known each other. John Rylett Salew and Stanley Vasey both lived within a penknife’s throw of each other in the very posh Nottingham suburb of West Bridgford. Did the four boys seal their friendship by committing their names to the hard surface of that much painted fireplace ? Did three of them keep watch while the fourth scratched his name into the welcoming stone ?

The other names on the fireplace, some of them extremely indistinct, include “F.B.Ludlow”, “N.G.Peet”, “Littler”, “Meigh” and “Holmes”. The latter was possibly the George Chudleigh Holmes who was a regular player in the First XI football team during the 1902-1903 season. Born on June 15th 1887, George entered the school on January 17th 1900, aged twelve. His father was George H.Holmes, a Lace Manufacturer of Gregory Street, Old Lenton. George left at Easter 1903, perhaps once the football season was over.

hiolmes 2 ccccccccc
Fred (sic) Ball Ludlow was born on April 28th 1891. He entered the school on May 1st 1900 aged   nine. His father was William Ludlow, a clerk in the Gas Depôt. The family lived at 10, Willoughby Avenue, Lenton in the western suburbs of the City. Fred left in June 1907.

ludlow cccccc

Noel George Peet was born on December 26th 1901 and entered the High School on April 26th 1917, aged fifteen. His father was William George Peet, a “general agent”, and the family lived at 413, Mansfield Road. Noel left the school in July 1919. Perhaps he was a relative of Mrs.Mary Peet who was the school’s nurse during the late 1970s and the 1980s.

Samuel Littler was born on May 16th 1891. He entered the school on September 16th 1903 aged twelve. The family lived at 8, Appleton Gate, Newark-on-Trent, and his father, a veterinary surgeon, was also called Samuel Littler. Samuel junior left in July 1908.

Vincent George Meigh entered the school as an Agnes Mellers scholar on September 12th 1899 aged ten, the cost of his place in the school automatically paid for. His father was George Meigh, a schoolmaster of 3, Willoughby Avenue, Lenton. Vincent left in December, 1903.

meigh ccccc
On the mantelpiece, one set of letters to set the heart a-flutter is “(illegible)BALL  1900-1907” , but this cannot be the famous air ace, as there are clearly a fair number of letters before the B-A-L-L. In any case, Albert Ball did not stay long in the High School, being expelled after an incident when he disrupted school assembly by emptying a large bag of bullseyes, gobstoppers and bouncing sweets onto the floor.

Best fit is probably Oliver Herbert Ball, who was born on August 13th 1891. He had entered the school on January 17th 1900, aged eight, as the third of three brothers. Oliver was to leave in July 1907. His mother was called Emma, and his father was Alfred Holmes Ball, the “Laundry Man” of “Sunnyside”, Daybrook, Notts.  Presumably, this was the company which was eventually to become the massive “Daybrook Laundry”.’ It was situated opposite the Home Brewery on the Mansfield Road, and was only recently demolished during the first decade of the twenty first century. The Arnold branch of the “Aldi” supermarket chain has now been built on this site during the latter part of 2014. It was open for business by the end of the year. Look for the orange arrow:

north nottingham

During the Great War, Oliver Ball was to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.  Aged only twenty five, he was killed on September 28th 1916 and is buried in the Guards’ Cemetery at Lesboeufs in France. Oliver’s  death was part of the Somme offensive.  He shares the cemetery with 1,492 identified casualties, and a grand total of 3.136 men.

oh ball

Oliver Ball’s elder brother was Walter William Ball, the second son of the three, and himself an Old Nottinghamian. Walter had returned to the Western Front, and the Yorkshire Regiment, from his leave in Nottingham on Friday, November 19th 1915. The “Nottingham Guardian” reported his death on Monday, November 29th 1915. He had apparently been shot through the head by a sniper while organising a firing party with his captain. The tragic news was communicated to his parents by his younger brother, Second Lieutenant Oliver Ball, who held a commission in the same regiment. According to the “Nottingham Guardian”, Walter was “well-known in Nottingham and had a large circle of friends”. He had received his commission as a Second Lieutenant a mere twelve months previously. Walter is buried in Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension in France, Plot 1, Row A, Grave 21. He was 28 years of age.

ww ball

As far as I can trace, the third brother seems to have survived the war.

One of the more notable objects on the mantelpiece is perhaps the school badge which has been carved relatively large, and in primitive style, with the lozenge and the three merles or heraldic blackbirds still recognisable even now, the best part of a century after it was executed by some unknown, juvenile artist.

badge cccccccc c

Less time proof perhaps, are the boys who managed to carve only their initials, namely “JL”, “MV”, either “WA” or “WR”, and either “BFW” or “SFW”. It is just so difficult to be certain about whose initials they might be. In some cases, there are literally dozens of possible candidates in the school registers, and it becomes almost a pointless effort to try and guess who has carved them.

Some boys seem to have been able to make only part of their name legible. We appear to have, therefore, a group of letters which seems to spell “H-LLF”.

Similarly, I have tried so hard to turn “—-NGTON” into Victor George Darrington, one of the very few young men to have captained the school at both football and rugby. The time is right (he entered the school in 1909, aged twelve) but the fact is that the blurred and multi-layer gloss paint painted-over obscured letters just do not look like they were ever meant to spell Darrington.

Even more striking is the young member of what is probably the “Chambers” family who did not manage to carve his initials clearly. The name can be seen just above “A.E.Anthony”, although the letters seem to be an even whiter shade of pale.  Just a cursory perusal of the school registers reveals the existence, between 1897 and 1926, of “E.Chambers”, “W. Chambers”, “P. Chambers”, “N. Chambers”, “J.F. Chambers”, “J.S. Chambers”, “A. Chambers”, “C.G. Chambers”, “J. Chambers”, “B.J. Chambers”, “C.C. Chambers”,  “S.H. Chambers”, “D.B. Chambers”, and a second “W. Chambers”

chambers 1zzzzzzzzzzzz

No doubt a really thorough search would reveal even more members of the apparently vast Chambers clan.
It would be nice to think, though, that the perpetrator was the (uninitialled) Chambers of Form IVb, whose doings are reported in the Prefects’ Book for Thursday, February 1st 1912….

“…A meeting was held before afternoon school, Towles and Haubitz (prefects) being absent. Chambers (IVb) had been reported for carrying a loaded revolver in his pocket. He admitted the offence, and produced the weapon, which proved to be loaded in four chambers. He was requested not to bring it to school again, and the School Captain decided to interview the Headmaster.”

Most unfortunately, no record has survived of the outcome of this conversation. Here again, it is possible to guess at putative friendships between the names in the stone. Two of the boys, for example, Fred Ball Ludlow and Oliver Herbert Ball, both joined the school in 1900, and their entries are virtually next to each other in the School Register. Perhaps the use of the surname of one as the middle name of the other hints at a blood relationship, rather than just one of mere friendship.
Coincidentally, a third name on this single ancient page of the school register is that of Harold Binks, who entered the school in the very same year of 1900, although Harold was never to carve his own name on the fireplace. From his reminiscences, published in April 1935, we know that one of his best friends in the Senior School was called Ball. It seems likely too that another of the friends was Oswald Cornek Gillot, who was already in the school when Ludlow, Ball and Binks arrived. All these boys were of the same age, and they all left the school in the latter part of the academic year 1906-1907. As we have already noted, Gillot lived near distant Ilkeston, but Holmes lived in Gregory Street, Old Lenton, very close to Ludlow and Meigh who themselves both lived in the same street, namely Willoughby Avenue, Lenton. Again, we can imagine two keeping watch while the third one carried out the evil deed with his penknife.

On Thursday, June 7th 1917, just  ten years after carving his name on the stone fireplace, Oswald Cornek Gillott was killed at the age of twenty six, yet another hapless victim of the Great War. Even a school as small as the High School (400  pupils) was to provide some three hundred young men, all destined to die well before their time.

After he left the school, Oswald moved to Teesside, and became a twenty year old apprentice mechanical engineer living at 2, Woodland Terrace, Borough Road, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire. When the Great War came, Oswald joined the 68th Field Company of The Royal Engineers. They trained at Newark-on-Trent before sailing from Liverpool for Gallipoli at the end of June 1915. They remained at Lala Baba in Suvla Bay until December 19th and 20th 1915, when they withdrew and returned to Egypt by the end of January. Oswald was recorded as having been wounded during this period. In June 1916 the Division was ordered to France to reinforce the Third Army on the Somme. By July, they were in the Front Line and took part in the fighting at Thiepval. In early 1917 they were fighting on the Ancre, and then moved north to Flanders for the Battle of Messines
Messines_Ridge_from_Hill_63 cccccccSecond Lieutenant Oswald Gillott’s last day on Earth was June 7th 1917, coincidentally no doubt, the first day of the successful attack on the Messines Ridge.  The assault was preceded by the detonation of nineteen large mines, in what was described at the time as “the loudest explosion in human history”. Oswald, as a member of the Royal Engineers, may well have been involved in this activity when he was killed. On the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website there are a mere three pages of Gillotts, with only thirty two men of this name killed. Oswald Gillott lies in the Messine Ridge British Cemetery in Mesen, West-Vlaanderen in Belgium along with the 577 of his colleagues whose remains have been identified.

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Second Lieutenant Gillott, aged twenty seven was one of a trifling 24,562 casualties, as the British under Field Marshal Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, 1st Viscount Plumer, GCB GCMG GCVO GBE slowly began to learn how to fight battles at much lower costs than previously. (Battle of the Somme, 623,907 dead).

The other side of the coin, of course, is the fact that if the Field Marshall and his lordly colleagues are not much more careful with the lives of their social inferiors, they will risk actually running out of men. The  623,907 men killed in the Battle of the Somme is a catastrophe, but the apparently much lower figure of 24,562 killed during the assault on Messine Ridge could well be regarded as every single man in a town the size of, say, present-day Arnold or Newark-on-Trent.

One set of initials I have not dealt with. That is F.C.Mahin, one of the High School’s very few Americans, and I will talk about his incredible and hitherto completely unknown life in another blog post.

 

 

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“Where are the snows of yesteryear?”

Over the centuries, the weather can often be extreme, and some amazingly strange things have happened. In 1110, nearly a thousand years ago, Nottingham experienced a terrifying earthquake. Bizarrely, the River Trent dried up for several hours, presumably as it drained into, and then eventually filled up, a huge new crack in the ground that it had created somewhere upstream.

In the Nottingham of 1682, extremely low temperatures lasted from September until February of the next year. Shortages of coal, wood and food were caused by difficulties in the transport system, and  the fields, roads and rivers were all frozen up. The Trent, for example, was completely impossible to navigate throughout the entire period of the freeze.

It was equally cold in 1855 when a cricket match was played on the frozen River Trent. The victors roasted, and ate, the greater part of a whole sheep without the ice either melting or giving way. When the thaw set in, an iceberg weighing many tons was unleashed in the river and it destroyed a bridge downstream when it crashed into it.

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A local solicitor, William Parsons, recorded the weather’s outrages in his diary:

“In 1814, we had so severe a frost as to freeze the Trent over, the first time I believe. It continued 16 weeks. The Trent was then so frozen that a fair was held and oxen, sheep and pigs were roasted.”

In 1838, the River Trent froze over at the beginning of the year. William’s entry for January 20th reads:

“The frost has now continued about twelve days but with greater severity than is remembered. Many thousands from Nottingham went to see the Trent today. The frost continues extremely severe. The Trent this afternoon is now frozen completely over and I was sliding upon it just above Trent Bridge.  I shall visit it tomorrow again it being of rare occurrence to be frozen. The snow continues upon the ground about six inches deep. My hands are very severely chapped that I am now writing in kid gloves”.

He described the river as:

“in that state frozen it appeared like a frothy, foaming river of snow. Many people were crossing on the ice. I walked down to the bridge and crossed the river just above it where numbers were also winding their way through projecting masses of snow covered in ice. The river was more rough and picturesque in this part than in any other.”

The most charming thing about William’s diary is his great honesty. As regards the consumption of alcohol in very large quantities, he was a man many years before his time:

“Time worse than wasted, money spent, health injured, myself debased! Let these days of drunken, senseless riot be remembered only as incitements to become a rigid teetotaller”.

We’ve all been there.

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The River Trent was a very different river in those days and that is why it used to freeze fairly regularly during exceptionally cold weather. There were, of course, no power stations releasing huge quantities of warm water which might increase the natural temperature of the river, but that is not the most fundamental reason for the change. Nowadays, the waters of the Trent have been for the most part  tamed and confined firmly in great ramparts of concrete. Because of the way in which the river has been turned into a giant canal, it is now much deeper and fast flowing than it used to be. The edges of the river do not extend outwards in leisurely fashion into marshes or shallow ponds with very little flow. The modern Trent no longer stretches, as it did in primeval times, from the sandstone cliffs south of St Mary’s Church for many, many hundreds of yards into present day West Bridgford. And the old wide river, of course, was a shallow, more slow flowing river, the kind of waterway that was much more likely to freeze in severe weather.

St Mary’s Church is in the top left of the map, near to the word “Museum”. It is represented by a cross and a square joined together. Trent Bridge is indicated by the orange arrow, and the southern edge of the waters centuries ago would have been well to the south of the present day B679 (bottom left of the map) or the Trent Valley Way (top middle right of the map).

old trent bridge

In those ancient of days, when the river was so very much wider, the only safe crossing, either on  foot or on horseback, was across the band of harder rock where Trent Bridge now stands.

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On January 16th 1892, on a “piercingly cold” Saturday, Nottingham Forest played Newcastle East End at the City Ground. When the crowd arrived at Trent Bridge, they were surprised to see “skating in progress on the old course of the River Trent.”  Because of the recent introduction of the penalty kick, the frozen football pitch had some new markings, which in this case were made of broad strips of black soot. Newcastle changed from their normal crimson shirts into black and white stripes. Hopefully, before the game, Old Nottinghamian Tinsley Lindley, Forest’s centre forward, was able to walk across the Trent to the game, just like Brian Clough used to do.

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Three years later, in 1895, the river froze for the last time. Again, the region’s economy suffered. Numerous tributary rivers smaller than the Trent were also frozen, and many jetties and warehouses became unusable. This caused huge job losses in local industry.

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The river was caught in this devastating frost for almost a fortnight.  Skaters were able to venture onto the safe and solid ice over many miles of the Trent’s length. The ice was thick enough to allow a hockey game between teams from Newark and Burton-on-Trent to take place on a pitch somewhere upstream from Averham Weirs.

Here a huge crowd of boys are standing on the thick ice. Everybody looks very happy, but there were several fatalities, as people contrived to find excessively thin ice to stand on. Lady Bay Bridge can just be seen through the arches of Trent Bridge.

freezes caption 1

And not a scarf or a pair of gloves in sight. Kids were tough, and Health and Safety hadn’t even been thought of yet.

The photograph above was taken from opposite the West Bridgford embankment, to the south of Trent Bridge, near to the present day County Hall. Look for the orange arrow:

county hall

In places the extreme frost, the most severe in living memory, penetrated into the ground so deeply that it froze the tap water in the mains. Ordinary people suffered greatly and many had no water supply whatsoever, a parlous situation which was to last for several weeks. To overcome this most basic of problems, stand-pipes fitted with taps were set up at various places in the streets, and buckets could be filled up there. January and February of 1895 was a time of difficulty and danger for ordinary people and those who survived it were to remember it for the rest of their lives.
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In the photograph above, a fire can be seen burning against the bridge, one of the many which blazed happily on the surface of the ice. The river’s rate of flow is reduced by the ice floes so much that it is almost reminiscent of a river during a drought.

During these bitterly cold winters at the turn of the twentieth century, my grandfather, Will, who had emigrated to Canada around 1905, saw Niagara Falls, for the large part frozen, on at least one occasion, this postcard dating most probably from 1911.

naiagara

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“The Nottingham Lion Saga”

Originally, it was the “Surrey Puma” which had caused all the fuss throughout the 1960s. The first possible sightings had been recorded in 1959, but by the mid-sixties, at Godalming Police Station alone, 362 reports were received over a two-year period.  And then, in August 1966, a former police photographer took a pale, blurry grainy snap which he claimed showed the Surrey Puma at Worplesdon, near Guildford. The photo was published in the “News of the World”, and showed an animal almost surprised by the fuss.
surrey puma original
It was enough to get the local plods out of the chip shop, though, and out on patrol…

 


They found little (if anything). Ten years later, in the very early morning of July 29th 1976, the focus was very much on the Queen of the Midlands, the beautiful City of Nottingham…
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Not on the stone lions on the Council House, the rendez-vous point of countless lovers since they were placed there by the Third Reich School of Architecture in the late 1920s…


Not even the local ice hockey team…..
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But rather on a country lane a few miles from the city centre. It must have been a very countrified area at the time, with lots of now disappeared open fields, and the grassy expanses of the airstrip at Tollerton, the rather grandiosely named “Nottingham Airport”. It was one of the two years of extreme drought in the mid-1970s, and it was….

“…shortly after 6am, 29 July 76, when two milkmen were delivering to a bungalow opposite the entrance to Nottingham airport on Tollerton Lane between Nottingham and Tollerton. Different accounts put it at  15 or 50 yards away from the men; they were in no doubt: “We both saw together what to us us was certainly a lion….its head down and its tail had a bushy end. It was walking slowly away from us.”

It is unclear whether it was a male or a female, but presumably they would have said “lioness” if that was what they had seen.

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It must have been difficult to be mistaken though even at fifty yards’ range.

“They watched it walk around the edge of a field, then called the police from the bungalow. By nightfall, the police mounted a huge search, with dogs, guns, loud hailers and a helicopter, in the Tollerton and West Bridgford areas. The police also said they had calls from people telling of the mysterious restlessness of their pets on the night of the 28/29th; and a local farmer at Clipstone, near Cotgrave, reported ‘strange paw prints’ on his land.”

As is often the case…

“The police found nothing. They checked zoos and private lion-owners within 100 miles, but ‘no-one appears to have lost a lion.’ They said they were taking at least 15 sightings seriously. The hunt hit a turning point in its second day when a sighting at Radcliffe-on-Trent turned out to be somebody’s Great Dane. At the same time a sighting came in from Bassingfield. One of the reports was from as far away as Norfolk by a couple who said they saw a lion in a lay-by at Lowdham (a country village near Nottingham) but did not report it they didn’t think they’d be believed. Yet despite these sightings, the police were getting disappointed by the lack of anything positive. As in the ‘Surrey Puma’ cases, the lack of any killed livestock, no pets missing etc as there would be if there were a lion conventionally on the loose. The milkmen were rechecked and both (David Crowther and David Bentley) were unshaken in their belief that they had actually seen a lion.”

How different from the present day. I cannot imagine that there are too many zoos or private lion-owners within a hundred miles of Nottingham nowadays. It is certainly strange, though, that the two milkmen were adamant about what they had seen…

“On the third day of the hunt, reports were still coming into West Bridgford, the nerve-centre of the operations. One caller heard something big crashing through Bunny Woods, and another heard something in a copse near Trent Lane church at East Bridgford. In fact, the police were obliged to maintain the alert.
Martin Lacey, a former Nottingham zoo owner, enters the fray, saying all the noisy activity has driven the lion into hiding, and offers the use of his lion-hunting Rhodesian ridgeback hounds.”

rhodesian
Just as the press were losing interest in the ‘Nottingham Lion’ the story receives a shot in the rump.

“John Chisholm, a doctor of Normanton-on-the-Wolds, near Tollerton, saw a large animal trying to break through some undergrowth to get to a stream on the evening of 1st Aug, while he was walking near his home. When he returned home he and his wife watched it leave the area from their upstairs window. Police said they were following up several other sightings in the same area.”

Curiouser and curiouser….

“2nd Aug police searching the A610 at Temple Lake, near Kimberley, found a large tortoise on the embankment. They were unable to trace any owner so they adopted it.”

The saga continued…

“The dailies for the next day (3rd) run the story of Dr.Chisholm’s sighting. Naturally in everybody’s eyes the fact that he is a deputy coroner makes the sighting more impressive and believable. (The police were) now 98% certain that there was an animal in the area…..

By the 6th Aug the lack of results was telling on the police. They issued a statement saying they no longer believed there was a lion at large despite 65 reported sightings in the last 8 days. They said that they proved to be mistakes, large dogs, and even a large brown paper bag.”

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After this negative statement, the police announce three more reports of it in the Plumtree and Normanton areas.

It is rather difficult to sort out this East Midlands X-file. If we accept that the two milkmen were not liars, however, and they had not just misidentified somebody’s Great Dane, it would make a lot more sense of they saw a lioness…

With the benefit of 38 years’ hindsight, I suspect that what they actually saw was

In other words, a common-or-garden “Alien Big Cat”

Nowadays, of course, nobody would think twice about claims of seeing a so-called “Alien Big Cat” in this area south of Nottingham, even though it is probably a lot more built-up than it used to be.

I recently saw a TV programme which claimed that there were two identifiable big cat territories centred on Rutland Water, giving a long list of the many different places in the area where animals had been seen. There have been suggestions, too, that these cats, whatever they may be, are making use of disused railway lines to travel around, possibly even penetrating into the suburbs of large cities, rather like foxes have done in the past.

Some ABCs are reported as melanistic…

black panther

But do be careful over the question of size, however…

diagram

Otherwise your claims to the Nottingham Evening Post may leave you looking more than a little stupid…

tomcat
But it’s not all over yet… there are still lions out there, back in 1976…

“No sooner had the Nottingham mystery been killed off, it turns up over 70 miles away just south of York. On the night of the 9th Aug, Alan Pestall was on his way to his local walking down the moonlit main street of Thorganby, when a black shadow crossed in front of him, by the church. He thought it was a dog and spoke to it.

Then I realised it had a cat’s face and a long tail. It was about 3 to 4ft long and nearly 3ft high. Before I had a chance to run, it leaps over a fence and was away over the fields.’

He kept walking slowly to the pub, believing if he hurried or turned it would attack him. Police took his story seriously and mounted a search on the 10th, but found no sign of a lion.”

A police spokesman said

“We have no reason to connect this report with the recent sightings of a lion in Nottinghamshire.”

Almost thirty years later, it was the turn of Norfolk’s Boys in Blue to take on the Killer Menace of the Big Cats..

Thankfully, perhaps, Alan Partridge kept out of it.

 

The picture of the Rhodesian Ridgebacks is used by kind permission of Jackie Ellis whose website is http://www.zejak.co.uk/. Even if you don’t particularly like dogs, there are some lovely cute puppies there…and the bonus is that they’ll protect you from the Nottingham Lion!

 

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