A Brief History of the St Anns Allotments

by Joe Earp

Nottingham has a long history of allotment gardening. The St Anns Allotments are the oldest and largest detached town gardens in Britain, possibly the world. Their unique history and heritage has been recognised and it is a Grade 2* listed site.

The site has been in continuing use since the last 600 years. The name St Anns Allotments is a fairly modern name for the site and for many hundreds of years it was known as the Hungerhills. It has been suggested that the name Hungerhill comes from the Old English word ‘hungor’ which meant ‘sparse’ and was used to refer to bleak and bare hills. Another suggestion is that it derives from ‘hangar’ which meant a meadow or grass plot usually by the side of a road. A third suggestion is that it derives from ‘Hangra Hills’, which literally means hillside of clay. This third suggestion is quite probable as the whole site sits on a ancient filed which was known as the Clay Field.


This photo of the Hungerhill Gardens (c 1860s) gives a good impression what the site might of looked like in mediaeval times. – Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

The earliest reference to the site comes from a record transaction for a John and Anabilla releasing 2 acres of arable land to Ralph de Perewyche. Which explains: “The wronghlandis abutting upon the Becke Sike, or brokk and the other lies in lyngwolddale abutting upon Hongerhill”.

The land was originally owned by St Mary’s Church and the hospital of St John. In 1551 the land became the possession of the Nottingham Corporation who had acquired it from Edward VI. By 1605 there are records which show that the Nottingham Corporation leased two or three acres plots to 30 Burgesses or Freemen of the town of Nottingham. The plots were known  as Burgess Parts. This leasing of the land at £15 per year allowed the Corporation to use some of this money for the upkeep of the medieval Trent Bridge. The allotment of land to the Burgesses continued over the next 250 years.

By 1831 the population of Nottingham had grown from about 11,000 in 1750 to 50,000 by 1831. Most of the population of the town of Nottingham lived in the original medieval layout, which by the early 1800s,  was cramped and compact. The idea was quickly reconsigned that the Burgesses Parts, which were mainly used for grazing, could be turned into individual gardens and leased out to wealthy tenants. The Corporation to begin with were not happy about subletting and complained about these proposed gardens. However the idea was soon agreed and by 1832 30 Burgess Parts had become as many as 400 cultivated gardens.

These new detached gardens offered the wealthy Nottingham Victorians the chance to get out of the ever growing city and create their own pleasure gardens, within distance of the town. The plots were used and enjoyed by the shopkeepers and professional people who lived over their businesses in the town centre and so had little garden around their homes. Many had summerhouses where tenants could relax, enjoy their lawns and flower beds, make tea or a meal on the stove, and cultivate their fruit and vegetables. Glasshouses were also common.

Over time there was a slow transition moving away from gardens that were used by the middle classes for recreation towards allotment gardens for poorer workers. They offered low income families the opportunity to supplement their low wages by growing their own fruit and vegetables. Howit (1831) explained that many of the gardens had “excellent summerhouses and there they delight to go, and smoke a solitary pipe, as they look over the smiling face of their garden, or take a quiet stroll amongst their flowers; or to take a pipe with a friend; or to spend a Sunday afternoon, or a summer evening, with their families. The amount of enjoyment which these gardens afford to a great number of families, is not easy to be calculated – and then the health and improved taste!”


Hungerhill Gardens, St Ann’s, c 1860s- Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

During the Second World War the gardens were used and were vital for the Dig for Victory Campaign. The Dig for Victory campaign encouraged people to transform gardens, parks and sports pitches into allotments to grow vegetables. People also kept their own chickens, rabbits and goats. Nine hundred pig clubs were set up and about 6000 pigs were raised in gardens. The Government knew the British people could be starved out by a sea blockade; as much imported food came from Canada and America, supplies were vulnerable to attack from the German navy. The British Merchant Navy also had to change its role, to be available for transporting troops and munitions. The campaign was spearheaded by Lord Woolton, Minister for Food, and it fired public enthusiasm via radio broadcasts. It introduced ‘Dr Carrot’ and ‘Potato Pete’; displayed iconic posters in stations, shops and offices; produced leaflets and recipes, as well as specially written songs and slogans, and even lists of recommended ‘food for free’ in the countryside.


Dig For Victory Became a Very Popular Campaign in Nottingham, with many local people being shown how to grow high-yielding varieties and how to convert lawns into vegetable plots. Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

From the 1950s the allotments fell into a slow decline, (there was some renewed interest in the 1960s and 1970s) and by the early 1990s the site was suffering from further neglect and decline.

In 1993 a group of allotment holders formed what is now STAA Ltd (previously knowns as the St Anns Allotment Campaign) to protect and improve the allotments and so began the process of reversing the decline and once more turning them into a vibrant centre of community activity. Today the site is a vibrant and beautiful setting.

So next time you are out that way why not drop into the visitor centre and have a tour of the St Anns Allotments. For more information regarding visiting the allotments please refer to the link below:



Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.



Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.



Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.


Posted in Nottinghamshire Suburbs, St Anns | 1 Comment

Archaeology Along The Tram Route: Wilford

by Frank E Earp

History, not archaeology: The line carrying Nottingham’s newly extended tram network south to Clifton, crosses the River Trent via the Victorian Wilford Toll Bridge. It is by the reuse of this old bridge that the modern tram-works encounters history beneath the track rather than archaeology. How many of the passengers of the trams using the bridge will be aware of the fact that people have been crossing the river hereabouts for thousands of years?

Ancient ford: Wilford developed as a village divided by the River Trent and takes its name from a combination of the name of its principle founder and the ford connecting the two halves. The Domesday Book of 1086 lists the village of Wilford as ‘Willesforde,’ literally translating as Willa’s ford later corrupted to Wilfrid’s ford, confused by the dedication of the parish church. It is likely that there has been a ford at Wilford since prehistoric times. Now identified as being Roman, a paved ford bounded by oak post was found in the Tent a little way up-stream from the bridge in 1900.

The Ferry: From around the end of the 16th century a ferry began to operate crossing the river around the site of the bridge. It was Edward III who gave the ferry royal approval, which proved somewhat lucrative for the ferryman who was also given an alcohol licence for the ferry-house on the Wilford side of the river. The ferry-house became a very popular resort in its own rights and grew into the Ferry Inn.

The ferry boat, a kind of flat-bottomed punt, was originally hauled across the river by a system of ropes and pulleys attached to both banks, latter adapted to using iron chains. This made the boat very cumbersome to operate against the fast flowing stream and rather a dangerous crossing for the passengers, especially in bad weather. However, people form Wilford and other villages south of the river wishing to get to and from Nottingham market, continued to flock to the ferry rather than walk downstream to the safer crossing via Trent Bridge. It is this ferry which features in the legend of the Fair Maid of Clifton where Margaret, the Fair Maid, takes her milk and other dairy products to market and is ferried across the river by her lover Bateman.

Hazardous as it was, the ferry continued in use for over 300 years. We have no record of how many accidents happened in the early years of the ferry but in July 1784 disaster overtook the ferry and its passenger. The regular boat was out of use and under repair when 11 passengers embarked in the stand-in vessel all eager to get to Nottingham. A sudden gale midstream capsized the boat midstream an all were cast into the river. Most managed to cling onto the iron chain and raise themselves out of the swirling flood. However, in the confusion a man on shore mistakenly let down the chain and those clinging to it were swept away by the current. Only five survivors were eventually rescued from the waters.

A similar incident occurred exactly 35 years later when in July 1819 a party of 15 revellers from the Ferry Boat Inn climbed on-board the ferry for their journey home. This time it was not the weather which caused the accident but the chain which suddenly jammed when the boat was halfway across. One of the passengers was thrown into the water and drowned. The ferry was linked to another fatal accident on the 10th January 1837. A Wilford farmer by the name of John Oakley and two of his farmhands attempted to cross the river using their own boat further upstream. Caught by the current the boat drifted into the ferry’s chain and capsized.

Ever increasing traffic using the crossing led to calls for a bridge to be built and sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1862, a temporary wood structure was thrown across the river and the ferry went out of use. However, the Ferry Boat Inn, – now served by the new bridge, – continued to be a popular watering-hole as it is today.


‘Wilford Ferry’ by John Holland 1831-1879- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection

here is an old Nottingham legend which states that the River Trent between Trent Bridge and Clifton was only safe to cross in any year after 4 lives had been lost. In 1862, those crossing the newly built, but temporary wooden bridge at Wilford, must have felt reasonably safe. Whatever the reservations of those using the bridge, traffic continued to increase, pushing it beyond its safe capacity. By 1868 it was time to be thinking of a more permanent replacement.

THE TOLL-Bridge: The task of paying for a new bridge fell to the local MP, Sir Robert Juckes-Clifton 9th Baronet. This however was no altruistic gesture on Sir Robert’s part. In 1868/69 his company, – ‘The Clifton Colliery Company, – sank two shafts for a new colliery on the north bank of the river – Nottingham side almost opposite to St. Wilfred’s Church. A new and safe bridge was therefore essential for conveying workers and other traffic to and from the colliery. The Wilford Bridge Act of 1862 licenced the wooden bridge which replaced the ferry, to exact tolls for its use and this same Act was applied to Sir Robert’s new bridge.

Sir Robert’s bridge was manufactured of cast-iron by Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby. The fine red-brick toll-house on the Nottingham side was designed by E.W. Hughes. Sadly, Sir Robert did not live long enough to see either the colliery go into full production or the opening of the bridge. He died of typhoid at the age of 43 on 30th May 1869. A tall statue of Sir Robert, erected close by the toll-house, was unveiled when the bridge was opened to traffic on 16th June 1870.Punch Magazine was later to say of this statue that it had the ‘worst pair of sculptured trousers in England’.

The bridge, which was popularly known as the ‘half-penny bridge’, continued to be owned and operated by the Clifton family until 1969 when it passed into the hands of Nottingham City Council. The passing years had not been kind to the structure and it was found to be in poor condition and was closed to traffic in 1974. In 1980 the bridge took on a new lease of life when the centre span was demolished and replaced by a narrower foot bridge of steel girders and a reinforced concrete deck slab, becoming a footpath and cycleway to Wilford and beyond.

Like a Phoenix, the half-penny bridge has risen once again to the new challenges of its life in the 21st Century. Without losing any of its original charm and character, the central portion has been strengthened and widened to 12.2m allowing it to carry a two-way tram system as well as pedestrian and cycle paths. Sir Robert would be proud to know that the new tram lines will convey passengers from Nottingham over his bridge through Wilfred and past Clifton Hall, his ancestral home, to the terminus at Clifton. How many of those passengers will know that they are crossing the Trent where others have crossed for thousands of years?

I finish this article with a table of tolls for the bridge, as exacted under the 1862 Act: ½ d. – for foot passengers. 6d. – for every horse or other beast drawing any Coach or Stage Coach, Omnibus, Van, Caravan, Sociable, Berlin, Landau, Chaial, A-Vis, Barouche, Phaeton, Chaise Marine, Caleche, Carricle, Chair, Gig, Dog cart, Irish Car, Whisky, Hearse, Litter, Chais or any little carriage. 4d. – for every horse or other beast drawing any Waggon, Wain, Cart or other Carriage. 1½. - for every horse or mule, laden or unladen not drawing. 1d. or 6d. a score (20) – for every Ox, Cow, Bull or Neat cattle 1d or for a score 6d.

One cannot but wonder how much it would be for a fully leaden tram?


Wilford Toll-bridge and the statue of Sir Robert Juckes-Clifton. Photo by Tim Heaton. Note about the picture; Copyright Tim Heaton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Archaeology, Nottinghamshire Suburbs, Wilford | Leave a comment

Archaeology Along The Tram Route: Beeston

by Frank E Earp

 It is a sad fact that most archaeology these days is ‘rescue digs’ that are paid for by developers or local government ahead of development or engineering projects like the tram works. Not all archaeological sites and finds prove to be ‘exciting’ but are still worth the effort, as all offer to add to our knowledge of our ancient and not so ancient past. Such is the case for the work at Beeston.

At Beeston the tram line to the terminus at Bardill’s island pass through the heart of the old village and runs around the edge of the parish church of St. John the Baptist. The Domesday Book of 1086 does not record the presence of a church at Beeston, but it is generally believed that there would have been a small ‘timber’ building on the site at this date. The population of the settlement at this time has been estimated at between 70 and 80 persons. Like so many of our parish churches, as the population grew the old wooden structure was replaced by stone. By 1300, records show that St. John’s was under the control of Lenton Priory which appointed its vicar and collected the main tithes.

For a brief time during his war against the French, Edward III, – who wished to restrict the powers of foreign monastic orders, – took-over the living. It was at this time that a great disaster struck Beeston when 40% of its estimated population of 300 to 350 people, died of the plague. Their remains were buried in a ‘plague pit’ on the eastern side of the churchyard. Fortunately the tram works do not disturb this side of the churchyard.

With the end of the French war the living of St. John’s was returned to Lenton Priory where it remained until the Dissolution in 1538. Once again in Crown hands the church was rebuilt by Henry VIII using stones from the 14th century church. Except for the chancel, the church was rebuilt again in 1843 by Sir George Gilbert.

It is evidence of this last phase of building that has been exposed in a utilities trench alongside Chilwell Road. Here was a long section of the foundations or first few courses of the churchyard boundary wall either side of the original entrance. Also exposed on the Beeston side of the gate was a brick lined stone volt or funerary monument, – other grave stones were also recovered bellow what would have been the road surface on the Beeston side.

The line of the wall corresponded to the current edge of the churchyard running alongside of the road, with the apparent gate aligning to the modern path leading to the main church door. The wall was composed of un-mortared ashlar blocks standing to the height of around ½ m. Evidence that the gate may have been an imposing structure was demonstrated by the presence of large blocks of stone forming three sides of a niche or alcove. The wall on the Chilwell side of the gate stretched for around 7 m. whilst that on the Beeston side was slightly shorter with clear evidence that it had been ‘robbed-out’ at an earlier stage. Without dateable finds it is difficult to date stonework accurately. On my first visit, an archaeologist working on the site stated that the wall was possible of  late Victorian date, around 1900. However, if this is the case, it may be that it was built along the line of the original boundary from stone recycled from the demolition of the Tudor/medieval church. We must wait for the publication of the full archaeological report for more detailed information.

On a subsequent visit to the site I asked what would happen to the wall after completion of the ‘dig’. There were two options, either it would be removed and displayed in another part of the churchyard, or would be crushed and used as road fill. A visit to the site a couple of days later answered my question. The wall had been removed and the stones crushed. The gravestones will be re-buried within the churchyard and the funerary monument will covered with soil disappearing beneath the re-landscaped churchyard.

Beeston Wall 1

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Beeston Wall 2

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Beeston Wall 3

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Archaeology, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | 1 Comment

Fairs, fun and sermons….Some Nottinghamshire Customs of July

by Ross Parish

July is often short on traditional customs, however with its’ with long evenings and better weather, closeness to the harvest, July has the potential to be a good time for events and those which were established were feasts and fairs, or more correctly geographically speaking Wakes.

The most famed was the Charter Fair of Mansfield, which was around the 14th. It was more famed for its associated traditional dish, the Gooseberry Pork Pie. The fair itself was founded by Richard II in 1227 and stated that Mansfield could hold a market forever. The Mayor’s cutting of the Gooseberry pork pie was one of the ceremonies of the custom and this was watched by large crowds. The pie often contained 60 pounds of berries and these were distributed to the crowd and indeed smaller pies were made to be sold or taken home.  A photo exists with Mayor Alderman Maltby about to cut a giant pie in 1927 to mark the fair’s 550th anniversary and a similar pie was made and sent to Mansfield Massachusetts. When the custom died out I have not discovered by in 2010, the local radio station Mansfield 103 spearheaded a revival and sold the pies in the market. However, this appears to have been a one off.

Despite the risk of rain, Wellow had a St. Swithin’s Fair on the 15th granted in 1330 as did Woodborough, but on the first Sunday after the 2nd July. Duck and green peas were served on this day according to a correspondent of Nottinghamshire within living memory.

As Wakes appeared to have died out and fairs become simply fun fairs, Carnivals appear to have evolved. Some of these in the county have a fair age such as Radcliffe on Trent carnival and although ‘foreign’ in concept they have absorbed many traditional aspects such as a Queen, procession and fair..albeit now just for fun! A more formal affair was the Elkesley Robin Hood Feast for the members of The Loyal Portland Lodge which was founded in July 1859. This was revived in 2011 and is now associated with a re-enacted Oddfelllow’s walk and a small fete.

A less formal walk, so to speak, existed for nearly 30 years at Kimberley. The Pram Race which was a charity event done in fancy dress was a popular charity event, as seen elsewhere, was it appears effectively stopped due to claims over drunkenness!

Elkesey Feast (18)

The Oddfellow’s Elkesely Walk- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Perhaps the most interesting and unusual Nottinghamshire custom associated with July probably arose as a consequence of a Wakes week Fair, although this fair has long since gone, it continues. This custom is the Selston Tower Sermon, a little known event, although better known I think since I started to post about it perhaps and draw the Calendar customs website to it.  

Although tower services are relatively common, those which consist of choirs singing on the roof, often at Ascension Day, sermons are rare. Indeed, this may be the only example from a roof top, as St. John’s Sermon, Cambridge is from a pulpit upon the wall. Although it should be stressed that the choir indeed did sing from the roof, but perhaps it was thought too dangerous.

The custom is over 100 years old, dating from 1907 when the Reverend Charles Harrison started it. What prompted him to start the sermon is unknown, but it is thought that he did so to attract local travellers, who camped on Selston Green and would visit the grave of Boswell, the King of the Gypsies, often with their new born babies, in a local ritual of blessing. They may have been in considerable numbers if it was Wakes week. Another theory is that he may have done it to commemorate its restoration in 1904/5.

I was informed by Mr Tew, the present church warden, that one year an estimated congregation of 1000 attended, although they must have spilled over the churchyard wall and into the street!  You’ll be glad to hear that despite the precarious nature of the event, no accident has ever been recorded…except for one incumbent who almost never made it, this was when thirty years ago, the Rev Vic Simmons, was about to read his final tower sermon set his foot alight with weed killer (accidentally). He was determined to do it, stating:

“It was the highlight of the church year. I didn’t want to miss it.”

So a chair was carried up and no doubt he made a slow and rather tender climb to the top.

There is a tradition of inviting a guest preacher, for the 100th anniversary in 2007 saw the presence of the Rt Rev Anthony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood.  Mr Tew doubted that the tower service was enacted every year since 1907, but I had the fortune to speak to a 90 year old parishioner who remembered being taken ‘babe in arms’ to the service and regularly attended from her infant years.  A proper tradition for the warm summer’s day..when we get it!


Selston Church Tower- Photo Credit: RB Parish


Selston Tower Sermon- Photo Credit: RB Parish


Selston Tower Sermon- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Posted in Nottinghamshire Folklore, Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies | 1 Comment

Jeremiah Brandreth: The Leader of England’s Last Revolution

by Joe Earp 


Jeremiah Brandreth, he was also known as the ‘Nottingham Captain’.

Jeremiah Brandreth was a casualty of the development of a working class. A man slung by treachery from poverty to guilt. He later became known as the ‘Nottingham Captain’. His name deserves to be remembered more than it is today. If it were not for men like Brandreth, men who were prepared to break the grip of the government by force if necessary, the reforms since Brandreth times, may have taken much longer to achieve. The whole labour movement owes much to a man like Brandreth, yet today he is virtually unknown.

Jeremiah Brandreth was born in the small village of Wilford just outside of Nottingham, around 1790. Brandreth became a stockinger by trade. He later moved to Sutton-in-Ashfield, where he was a resident from 1811 to 1816. He married Ann Bridget of Bedlam Court, Sutton-in-Ashfield, on September 29 1811. Their children Elizabeth (1813), Timothy (1815) and Mary (1818) were all born in Sutton-in-Ashfield and baptised at St Mary’s Church.


Brandreth was born in Wilford, Nottingham around 1790.

On September 12, 1816, an Order of Removal was obtained by the Overseers of the Poor which resulted in the family being ‘removed’ to Wilford, Nottingham. Brandreth found himself unemployed and at the mercy of parish relief after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1816, there were, in Sutton-in-Ashfield, over 1,700 persons claiming relief while only 220 houses were able to pay the poor rates. Clearly this was seen as a desperate situation by the Overseers and they soon sought ways of reducing the number of claimants. It would seem reasonable, that Brandreth developed an all consuming grudge against not just the local injustices, which he experienced, but against the whole organisation of government in Britain.

By November 1, 1816, the Brandreth family were living in Butcher’s Close in Nottingham. Here Jeremiah or Jerry, as he was known to his friends became associated with a group of people whose intentions were to mount a revolution. In May 1817 Brandreth met William Oliver from London. Oliver claimed that a large group of Radicals were planning an armed uprising in London on 9 June and asked Brandreth to persuade local workers to join the rebellion. This was untrue and it is now believed that Oliver was working as an ‘agent provocateur’ for Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary.

Concerned about the growing unrest, Lord Sidmouth sent spies throughout England, including the Midlands, to keep watch on the centers of discontent. Since these spies were informers paid by results, they quickly became ‘agents provocateur’, stirring rebellion where there was none so they would be paid. Among the spies was one William Richards, better known as William Oliver, or “Oliver the spy,” who incited open rebellion in the Midlands.

Similar groups to the one Jeremiah Brandreth joined in Nottingham, existed all over the country. The Home Sectary was keen to keep a close eye on groups like the Nottingham one, by using spies like Oliver. The date for the uprising was set, 9 June 1817.  Oliver encourage the group by telling them that 70,000 men were under arms in London and that the forces in the north could hardly be contained. Shortly beforehand, Brandreth journeyed to Pentrich, Derbyshire, from where his men were to march on Nottingham.

On the 9 June, in the pouring rain, the Brandreth’s group set out for Nottingham. Along the way they called at villages and farmhouses to demand ‘a man and gun’. At a cottage owned by a Mrs Hepworth, a widow, a manservant by the name of Robert Walters was shot dead. This murder was blamed on Brandreth who later denied the accusation, even when under the sentence of death.

Brandreth’s ‘army of men’ marched on through the rain, interrupted by a call at the Butterly Ironwork in Nottingham. There a detachment of Hussars, led by magistrate Rolleston, put the march to flight. After a short pursuit most of the group were arrested. Brandreth escaped to Bristol where he twice failed to get a safe passage to the United Sates. He returned to what he thought was a ‘safe house’ in Nottingham, but was betrayed after the authorities offered a generous reward for his capture.

Brandreth and two others, Turner and Ludlam were sentenced to death and another eleven men were transported for life. The men were originally sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, but the quartering was remitted.

On 7 November, the prisoners were drawn around the yard of Derby Jail on a sledge. Around 1.15pm, they mounted the scaffold. On the scaffold one of the men shouted out that “they were victims of Lord Sidmouth”  and “Oliver the Spy”. The bolts were drawn and the three dropped to their deaths. The bodies were left hanging for thirty minutes. After that their bodies were raised back upon the scaffold and their heads were severed by the axe and the knife. The bodies and heads were placed in coffins before a crowd of 6,000 and then taken to St Werburgh’s church-yard in Derby for burial.


Soon after the hanging Brandreth’s head was decapitated from his body.



The head of Jeremiah Brandreth was severed from his body by the axe of the executioner.

So ended the life of Jeremiah Brandreth, a man who is generally forgotten about today. We today as people who enjoy democracy and sometimes take it for granted, should remember that it was men like Brandreth who fought a long and hard system to make life better for the average working man. Unfortunately the death of Brandreth would not change much and many more hard years would have to pass for real changes to be made.

Posted in Nottinghamshire People | 1 Comment

“Whistling Charley”……A Street Musician

by Frank E Earp

In 1790 John Thorsby republished ‘The Antiquities of Nottinghamshire’ a work by fellow antiquarian Robert Thoroton, first published in 1677. Already an extensive, Thorsby not only expanded the work into several volumes but updated it and brought it firmly into the 18th century. Thorsby’s work can by no means be considered a dry history of the County. He relates many anecdotal tales and with these paints a vivid picture of life on the streets of Nottingham.

They say that history has a habit of repeating itself and I found this to be the case when I came across the story of ‘Whistling Charley’, – one of Nottingham’s 18th century ‘eccentrics’, – in Thorsby’s writings. As I read the story I could not help comparing it to the life of Frank Robinson, – Xylophone Man. I will leave the reader to decide if this is indeed a fair comparison

Under a section in the book discussing ‘Old Market Square’, Thorsby populates his scene of the Square and the streets around with descriptions of familiar individuals. It is under the heading of ‘The Street Musician’ that we find our latter-day Frank Robinson. The account is a first-hand one and therefore relates to one of Thorsby’s contemporary.

Thorsby does not deem it right to give his ‘street musician’s’ full name; It is not material to our purpose to know of whom he was born, or how trained up into his present way of existence.”.He goes on later to state that he was generally known Charley, – the prefix ‘Whistling’, is added in a later account and is noted from the fact that he often chose to play a small pipe or whistle. How many people knew Frank’s real name, but simply referred to him by the name of the instrument he played? The second part of the sentence is an enquiry into Charley’s way of life, – had he always been a trained professional beggar?

Charley we are told was born in the hamlet of Clapham in the parish of Clifton. He is described as being, in Thorsby’s own words;“….meagre figure, decrepit form….” – “….deformed and a cripple…”, – “….now nearly 70 years of age…”. Thorsby seems to admirer the fact that Charley is still able to earn a living by entertaining the Nottingham public; “Every day, although now enfeebled by years, you find him perambulating the streets of Nottingham to catch game”. And; “….paddling along the streets in all seasons of the year, often supply him with pecuniary wants”.

Having gained from Thorsby a good description of Charley, what form of entertainment did he offer that gave him such a lucrative living enabling to survive to then goodly age of 70? Charley was of course a musician, – whether a particularly talented one or not Thorsby does not say. He seems to have varied his instruments from day to day and could be found playing the lute, a horn, but more often a whistle. Charley appears to have been something of a ‘Chameleon’ and it is in the manner of his dress that singled him out from others of his kind. He had a variety of costumes in which he would dress; that of ‘a beggar’, ‘the trappings of the great’, and ‘the array of a soldier’. All of these he varied at his pleasure, as Thorsby puts it.

Like his better known contemporary, Benjamin Mayo, ‘the Old General’, Charley seem to have attracted the particular attention of small boys who we are told seem to have been almost his constant companions. He also seems to have been the butt of the jokes of what Thorsby calls ‘booby men’, – people of low intelligence. Charley however was not ‘put-off’ by this attention but used it as part of his act: “….the playful indiscretions of the boys make him an object of the Granger’s (Farmer’s) bounty”. As to his reward for his efforts, Thorsby states that; The brown jug, the tankard or cash, are alike to him….”.

Frank Robinson, no plaque records his presence on the streets of Nottingham. Thorsby’s writings came too early to record what became of Whistling Charlie and without his real name we are unable to discover his final resting place. It his only through Thorsby recording that he takes his rightful place as a footnote in the pages of history. The next time you find yourself in the market square, listen out for the sound of a tin whistle; it may well be the ghost of Whistling Charlie.






Posted in Nottinghamshire People | Leave a comment

The Beekeeper of Beeston

by Joe Earp 

The Beekeeper sitting contemplatively on his bench at the centre of Beeston’s shopping hub, he certainly looks content. The Beekeeper or ‘George’ as he is familiarly known by locals, has became part of the town’s identity. The sculpture was designed by artist Sioban Coppinger in 1987.

The sculpture was erected after the local council decided to redesign Beeston in the 1960s and 1970s. Before the town was redeveloped, a lot of older buildings such as the Tudor Style Boots and the old town hall were demolished to make way for the then new shopping precinct and many new buildings.  Beeston was becoming a brave new world of concrete and glass, like many other cities and towns throughout England.

It is quite ironic now how Beeston is going through another redevelopment changing the face of the town for ever. When the £300,000 improvement scheme for the pedestrianisation of Beeston High Road was announced just like the trams today it caused a lot of protest from local residents. Pat Ashworth writing for local paper the ‘Nottingham Topic’ (May 1998) about her article on ‘Booming Beeston’, looked back at locals reactions to the pedestrianisation:

“The announcement drew howls of protest from the town’s shopkeepers. You’re going to close us down. You’re going to make Beeston a ghost town, they predicted. But they were wrong and even the most ardent critics of the scheme admitted they were wrong”

Whatever the controversy at the time, if it wasn’t for the pedestrianisation of High Road we certainly would not have George the Beekeepr in the town. The sculpture consists in the main of two L-shaped concrete hedges. In the angle of one hedge the concrete figure of an elderly man sits on a bench, complete with beekeeper’s hat and gloves lying beside him. He wears an overcoat and Wellington boots and in his right hand is a smoking a pipe. In his left hand he holds a block of honeycomb. At the angle of the other hedge is a concrete carved tree-stump on top of which is set a conical beehive. The hive, and many other parts of the sculpture, are covered by small bronze bees securely stuck to the surfaces. A few of the bronze bees have been knocked off as souvenirs, but all in all the Beekeeper is in good condition.


‘The Beekeeper’ not long after he was erected in Beeston, c late 1980s- Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

The idea of the sculpture was to bring a bit of the countryside into the town. Sioban Coppinger explains about the sculpture further “THE BEESTON SEAT was designed as a quiet meditative resting place at the centre of a busy shopping street. The sculpture itself  was modelled on Steven Hodges, a friend who has that timeless ability to exude calm when all else are succumbing to stress. Maybe his years spent on the sea have instilled a sense of proportion in him or maybe he just looks the part? A stack of mail from Beeston residents confirms that the BEESTON BEEKEEPER has been absorbed into the life of the community”.

He certainly has been absorbed into the life of the town and long may he continue to do so.


Photo Credit: Joe Earp, Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment