The Goose Fair a Personal Perspective of a Non-native

by Ross Parish

When I arrived in Nottingham nearly twenty years this week – I remember because of the two things of I knew about of this new city before I arrived – obviously Robin Hood and perhaps less instantly recognised by outsiders, The Goose Fair – the later was on the week after I arrived!

At the time I lived in Beeston and not knowing the city very well or its bus routes decided to cycle from there to the city’s Forest recreation ground, which was quite a way and although I felt I had bitten off more than I could chew, my tiredness was replaced with euphoric amazement. A treat for all the senses.

There are other Goose Fairs – one at Tavistock, Devon and another at Hull but for its size and grandeur Nottingham’s Goose fair is unique. There are many fun fairs, many of them having older origins, but there is something special and atmospheric about this 700-year old event. The size is certainly one of them. It is certainly one of the best fairs to oversee sitting as it does in the Forest grounds with the plateau above overlooking it.

Started by Edward the First in 1284, it has survived cancellation during the plague of 1646, two world wars and its removal from the city centre in 1928. Now it sprawls across the Forest recreation ground, a large area of football pitches and park and ride car park, which is for most of the year rather bland and uninspiring, an island of colourful garish giddy excitement laying in a sea of white caravans and lorries.

Another reason is the anticipation, a week before the roundabout along Mansfield road, the ancient route to the city from North Nottinghamshire, a large white goose appears upon its plinth. A visual sign to its imminent arrival for no words are affixed to it (although occasionally it does inherit some comedy flotsam and jetsam, such as a large golden medallion.) This expectation is also built up by the entrance into the fair from this road. A long walkway like a procession route downwards with the senses excited by the visual delight of the fair looming on the horizon, the smell of kerosene and the sounds of ecstatic children crying ‘It’s the Goose fair!’

Even if like me you are not biggest fan of those heart pulsating spinning rides, there is much to interest. Taking that processional route one enters a strange row of infant orientated rides, a plethora of food stalls and some strange stalls.

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The Nottingham Goose Fair with it’s many rides and stalls- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

Focusing on the strange stalls first, this is again where the unique nature of the fair is again underlined. Over the years there have been cacti stalls, clothes stalls, the fire service, the army and this year the Church of England each taking the chance to promote themselves! Showing that it’s not all fun at the fair but faith as well. I remember three stalls or rides in particular that year which I had never seen before.

One was a Guess Your Age stall. Here perhaps at the cheapest stall of all – a man in a booth with Guess Your Age over it. He called all and sundry and after watching for a while I decided to chance it. He’ll never get my age I thought…but lo and behold he was spot on and £2 was lost.

The second stall is a controversial one and a source of considerable debate between me and work colleague – a flea circus. I peeked inside to see a range of miniature chariots being dragged along and a large magnifying glass. I swear I saw real fleas but according to an expert I know there hasn’t been a real flea circus since the 1950s…does anyone know? I’ve never seen it again!

The third side, sadly absent over the last few years, was a memorable edifice, a large lorry with flashy bulbs with crowd pleasing slogans such as ‘ see the man with the widest gape’ or my favourite ‘ a piece of the Berlin Wall. Believe it or not.’, it could be any piece of wall I suppose but it hardly would be incredulous…could I believe in a ‘Japanese Octopus!’? Of all things! More easy to believe are the atrocious spellings. Inside one is witness to a strange selection of aborted animal foetusess (sic), stuffed ‘dare I say it’ fakes and antique relics from older exhibits slowly in many cases in a slow gentle decay. A giant was clearly made of paper mache over a chickenwire frame. One always left it laughing but by the look of the owner I am not sure that is their desire! Perhaps they got sick and tired at not being taken too serious! Again I had never seen a freak show until I had seen the Goose Fair.

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One of the more peculiar sites at the Nottingham Goose Fair, a traditional ‘Freak Show’ with it’s many wonderful and weird sites to behold- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

The food stalls are a varied phenomenon as well indicating the ethic mix of Nottingham, however the minty mushy peas are the central food focus for those that come and the largest at the junction of the row and the main centre of the fair is always packed, sending the smell of peas and mint into the air from frothing vats…I’d never had minty mushy peas and now twenty years on it’s the only way I have them now!

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Nottingham Goose Fair’s famous mushy peas being served up- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

Elsewhere the demand for the new has seen the traditional rides fall by the wayside, but again not here. Over the years, those rides have survived and so we can find Victorian and Edwardian originals such as the Helter Skelter, a cake walk, a waltzer and gallopers all of which have certainly working far into a second century. Together with these, one can encounter on and off, a wall of death and a hall of mirrors all traditional stuff!

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A more traditional ride at the fair- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

The reason for the fair’s unusual name was due to Nottingham laying on a convenient point for goose traders from Lincolnshire, indeed over 16,006 to 20,000, were annually driven up from the fens for sale here. The sale of geese at this time being associated with the rather convenient, for those breeders, belief that eating geese on Michaelmas was considered lucky, and helped the consumer avoid debt.

Today the fair is rather lacking is geese, although I did spy two children with Geese hats! One tradition which every year appears to be threatened with disappearance is the Cock on a stick, chicken shaped (surely it should be a goose) sweet on a stick. The tradition goes back to the 19th century and has continued through one family. It is said that this confections came over from Italy with the Whitehead family. It’s a Goose fair tradition as our the crude jokes made about it no doubt!

Well obviously tastes change, few people eat geese, but perhaps one can could suggest 1752 was the result. This was when the calendar changed, and such the fair moved from 21st in September (ideal for a Michealmas goose) to the first Thursday in October (not ideal!) and perhaps this resulted in the shift from fowl to fun! Yet this is of course unimportant for the Goose Fair remains one of the greatest of England’s travelling fairs. Twenty years on I have not missed a Goose fair!

For more on traditional Nottinghamshire  customs and ceremonies check out Ross’s website at:

https://traditionalcustomsandceremonies.wordpress.com/category/nottinghamshire/

Posted in The Nottingham Goose Fair | 2 Comments

The Last Redcoats of Nottingham

By Michael Kirkby

Since the days of the English Civil War and the emergence of the New Model Army, the quintessential piece of kit for the British ‘Tommy’ was the redcoat. This garment was not merely a piece of clothing but over a 230 year period became a symbol of empire, discipline and global domination.

Men from all over the country and further afield wore this garment fighting in some of the most prolific battles in British history such as Blenheim, Yorktown, Waterloo and Ishandlwana. Whether in defeat or victory, the redcoat symbolised that one of the most modern thinking and professional armies was on the field.

However, this image was to change near an obscure Sudanese village called Ginnis on the afternoon of the 30th December 1885.

There had been conflict in the Sudan since four years earlier when civil unrest in Egypt by revolutionaries led Arabi Pasha, a colonel in the Egyptian Army to raise a 60,000 strong force to rebel against the rule of the Khedive, a pro-Western sultan.

Pasha seized Alexandria and set about arming the forts and blockading European trade which caused the British government to dispatch a 7,000 strong force under the command of Sir Garnet Wolseley (mainly consisting of Scottish regiments) from India to Egypt to bolster the Khedive’s forces.

In August 1882 a Britsh expeditionary force was landed under the overall command of Wolseley and moved onto the Suez Canal and onwards to Cairo.

The British first engaged Arabi’s forces as Kassassin lock on the 24th August to capture and control the main water supply to progress further into the desert. General Graham successfully captured the lock and chased Pasha’s forces back into the desert after the British cavalry made their famous moonlight charge on the Egyptian force.

The British continued to pursue Pasha and eventually came upon his main army at Tel-el-Kebir railway station where Pasha’s 25,000 strong force were entrenched . With only 13,000 men to challenge him , the British force charged Arabi’s positions in September 1882 and after close hand to hand fighting and delivering heavy firepower Arabi’s rebels broke and fled. On the 14th September the British cavalry entered Cairo and arrested Pasha bringing two months of campaigning to a close.

In 1883 a boat builder’s apprentice called Mohamed Ahmed proclaimed to be the Mahdi (Messiah), and God had instructed him to unite and lead the Sudanese to overthrow the British invader from all Islamic lands.

The Mahdi’s forces quickly flocked to him and his cause gathered momentum and within months he had tens of thousands of followers, mainly made up of Sudanese tribesmen, many of whom had served in Pasha’s rebellion.

Knowing that his power would grow the longer he was left un-challenged the British government decided to intervene in the Sudan and in March 1883 an Egyptian army under the command of a British officer, Colonel Hicks was dispatched to the Sudan to challenge the Mahdi and crush his rebellion. Hicks seriously underestimated the Mahdi’s capabilities and in April 1883 Hicks and 10,000 of his Egyptian allies were massacred in an ambush which practically armed the Mahdi’s forces with modern rifles and artillery.

Over the next few months in face of an ever growing enemy the British made plans to evacuate Khatoum and reinforced their key positions in the Sudan to repel the ever growing hostile situation.

In February 1884 a British force managed to repel a stronger Arab force who had entrenched themselves at El-Teb and ten days later General Graham’s force encountered the Sudanese force at Tamai. The battle was close with the enemy getting inside the British defensive squares but the quick thinking of the British quickly turned this near defeat into an enemy rout through superior firepower.

By this time General Gordon had now become besieged at Khatoum and requested that a rescue force under Sir Garnet Wolseley be sent out to relive him. Gordon, who had a vast knowledge of desert warfare and understood the mentality of the enemy made a special request that the relief force wore their red coats instead of khaki. The enemy it would seem were much more wary of the British redcoats as they associated them with a fierce fighting spirit on the battlefield. Gordon hoped that the sight of a redcoat force approaching would scatter the Mahdi’s forces quicker.

On the 16th June 1884 the Camel Corps found its route blocked by a much superior Dervish force at Abu-Klea. Unable to retreat or divert for fear of losing their access to water they force made a make shift fortress out of boxes and riding equipment. Again, the Dervish force swarmed around them and broke into the square but the Camel Corps was able to turn their Gatling guns into their own square and turn it into a killing ground which caused the Dervish force to break and scatter.

Following their victory at Abu Klea the desert column progressed forward and reaching a bend in the Nile where in January 1885 240 Sudanese and 20 men of the Royal Sussex embarked onto paddle steamers and went on alone to lift the siege of Khartoum. Following Gordon’s request that all troops were red coatees, the men had to borrow red coats from the Guards units in the Camel Corps before embarking. The next night however, the Sudanese force assaulted Khartoum and Gordon, along with the 4000 strong Egyptian garrison were massacred.

Wolseley attempted to retake Khartoum but the enemy fire was so strong that he was forced to retire. The number of the Mahdi’s forces facing Wolseley was so strong that he eventually ordered no further offensive movements in the Sudan and instead focussed on reinforcing his key positions.

Throughout the next few months the British engaged the Dervishes with limited success but to no real achievement. They routed the Derivsh force at Dhilibat Hill and made a valiant stand at Tofrek where they fought back against a much stronger Dervish force. Though far from defeated, a decision was made at the end of March that the British would evacuate the Sudan as they now had further problems on the North West Frontier of a possible Russian invasion and needed reinforcements to deter their advances.

Suddenly in June 1885 hostilities re-surfaced when The Mahdi died and was replaced by Khalifa Abdullah el-Taaishi, who wanting to make his own mark declared an invasion of Egypt to fully eject the British from Arabic lands.

In mid December 1885 the Dervishes marched upon the British held post of Wadi Halfa where an allied garrison at Fort Kosheh that was manned by Cameron Highlanders and the 9th Sudanese Regiment, managed to hold out against the 7,000 Dervish warriors.

Reinforcements were called upon from Cairo and two brigades consisting of the 1st Berkshires, the West Kents, the 2nd Durham Light Infantry and detachments of the Royal Artillery and Egyptian Artillery in the first brigade under the command of General Butler and the Green Howards (2nd Yorkshires), six companies of the Cameron Highlanders, elements of Sudanese and Egyptian Units and some detachments of the Camel Corps and 20th Hussars in the second brigade, were dispatched to the area under the overall command of General Grenfell to lift the siege of Fort Kosheh and rid the area of the Mahdi’s forces who had settled at the village of Ginnis and occupied an ancient fort at Kosheh. On the 15th December a British sortie from the fort were ambushed by the Mahdi’s forces and forced to retire and on the 20th the fort’s Gardner Gun was dismounted from its position by heavy artillery fire, making the fort unable to fire back onto the besiegers.

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Typical uniforms worn by the British, 1882 – 1885.

On the 29th General Grenfell marched from the main British position at Firka and camped outside Kosheh and at dawn on the 30th December General Grenfell’s force marched out of their camp just outside of Fort Kosheh where the First Brigade spearheaded an attack on the high ground to the south of Ginnis.

The battle opened up at 6:10am when British artillery opened fire on the Mahdi’s positions taking them by surprise. The Camerons and 9th Sudanese who had been besieged in Fort Kosheh but had been relieved at the arrival of Grenfell marched along the Nile and headed directly for the village of Kosheh to the east of Ginnis to clear it of enemy inhabitants, all the while covered by a Gardner Gun mounted on the decks of the gunboat Lotus that ran parallel with their march up the Nile. They were then to proceed on and clear the palm groves of the enemy hiding there, during this time the 9th Sudanese attacked the Black Rock, a hilly crest which dominated the ground, and chased away the Dervish defenders, and swarmed down with a massive cheer to meet up with their Cameron allies securing the ground around Kosheh for the British and Egyptians.

The Camerons and Sudanese carried on their advance to Ginnis and found themselves joining up with the second brigade where they encountered the Dervish forces in a palm grove, the Dervishes swung round to attack the first brigade who found themselves attacked by spearmen. Whilst the Camel Corps took the brunt of the ambush, the 2nd Durham Light Infantry (wearing khaki) held out and eventually repulsed the Dervish attack. The first brigade drew up to attack the main Dervish camp and the second brigade was to attack Ginnis itself. With the attack on the Dervish camp successful the main Dervish force pulled back into the Atab Defile to its west but were routed by a bayonet charge led by the Mounted Infantry who dislodged their position and sent them fleeing into the desert. With the town firmly in Anglo-Egyptian hands the last stand in a house by the Dervishes was brought to a close with the use of a screw gun that made little work of the makeshift fort and its defenders. The fight for Ginnis was over by 10:00am with only slight casualties taken.

Following Ginnis the Mahdist forces were put to flight and their attempted invasion of Egypt was put down as quickly as it started. Unfortunately, due to the low casualty rate and effectiveness of the battle, Ginnis was not recognised as a battle honour until 1937.

However, sharing in this momentous milestone at this small Sudanese settlement were men from Nottingham and the surrounding areas. Though the Sherwood Foresters were far away fighting other battles for the empire, a number of men mainly in the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) were present having been recruited from Nottingham in the years 1881 – 1883 when the regiment recruited primarily in the East Midlands area. The 20th Hussars, who were also present on the day and though wearing their standard blue cavalry jackets also have records of a number of Nottinghamshire men amidst their ranks in the Sudan at this significant battle.

The battle may have been small in comparison to other engagements in the campaign and by no means was this the end of the war. Further engagements against the Mahdist and Dervish forces would continue until the turn of the century, but the 30th December 1885 will forever symbolise the day the British army’s identity changed as they were forced to come to terms with the fact the red jacket, a symbol as well as a uniform, no longer had a place in a modern, industrialising army.

Sources used:

  • Brian Bond, Victorian Military Campaigns (Tom Donovan Publishing, 1994)

  • Henry Keown-Boyd, A Good Dusting: The Sudan Campaigns 1883- 1899 (Leo Cooper, 1986)

  • http://www.victorianwars.com/

Posted in Nottinghamshire Military History | Leave a comment

Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Tig Guocobauc

by Joe Earp

The reign of King Alfred the Great (871- 99) is among the most stirring periods of English history. It saw the Kingdom of Wessex taken from the brink of Viking conquest to the threshold of an undertaking that led eventually to the political unification of England. It is a story of enduring personal interest, for Alfred himself emerges as a man who had overcome considerable difficulties in effecting the survival of his Kingdom, and whose practical intelligence and vision contributed both materially and spiritually to the future prosperity of his country.

King Alfred the Great Statue,The Broadway, Winchester- Photo Credit: http://www.visitwinchester.co.uk/king-alfred-great

Alfred was born at Wantage in Oxfordshire in 849, fourth or fifth son of Aethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. Following the wishes of their father, the sons succeeded to the kingship in turn. At a time when the country was under threat from Danish raids, this was aimed at preventing a child inheriting the throne with the related weaknesses in leadership. In 870 AD the Danes attacked the only remaining independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Wessex, whose forces were commanded by Alfred’s older brother, King Aethelred, and Alfred himself.

In 871 AD, Alfred defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown in Berkshire. The following year, he succeeded his brother as king. Despite his success at Ashdown, the Danes continued to devastate Wessex and Alfred was forced to withdraw to the Somerset marshes, where he continued guerrilla warfare against his enemies. In 878 AD, he again defeated the Danes in the Battle of Edington. They made peace and Guthrum, their king, was baptised with Alfred as his sponsor. In 886 AD, Alfred negotiated a treaty with the Danes. England was divided, with the north and the east (between the Rivers Thames and Tees) declared to be Danish territory – later known as the ‘Danelaw’. Alfred therefore gained control of areas of West Mercia and Kent which had been beyond the boundaries of Wessex.

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Map showing the movements of the Great Heathen Army which led into ‘The Year of War’

Asser (died c 909) was a Welsh monk from St David’s, Dyfed, who became Bishop of Sherborne in the 890s. About 885 he was asked by Alfred the Great to leave St David’s and join the circle of learned men. Asser recounts how Alfred recruited him as a scholar for his court. Alfred held a high opinion of the value of learning and recruited men from around Britain and from continental Europe to establish a scholarly centre at his court. In 893, Asser wrote a biography of Alfred entitled The Life of King Alfred; in the original Latin, the title is Vita Ælfredi regis Angul Saxonum. The date is known from Asser’s mention of the king’s age in the text. The work, which is less than twenty thousand words long, is one of the most important sources of information on Alfred the Great

In the Life of King Alfred there are several mentions of Nottingham. Quite surprisingly Asser refers to Nottingham as ‘Tig Guocobauc’. It is strange how Asser would refer to a settlement using an old ‘British’ place name. It has been suggested that Asser was writing more for a Welsh audience that an English audience when he wrote the Life. Keynes and Lapidge (1983) explain “That Asser had a Welsh audience uppermost in his mind is clear not only from his concern to explain the local geography of the place that he mentions but especially from the various locations on which he provides an explanation in Welsh of an English place-name: Nottingham for example is called Tig Guocobauc in Welsh or Speluncarum Domus [house of caves] in Latin and Exeter is Cairuuisc in Welsh or civitas Exae [city of the Exe] in Latin.

It has been further suggested that “Such information would have been inscrutable and unnecessary to an Anglo-Saxon audience, and while it would not have been of much help even to the Welsh, at least it might have made them feel more at home. Indeed it was argued that Asser intended his Life of King Alfred to reassure the Welsh that they had submitted themselves to a wise, just, effective and Christian King” (Keynes and Lapidge 1983).

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King Alfred played by David Dawson in the BBC 2015 Series The Last Kingdom. Alfred held a high opinion of the value of learning and recruited men from around Britain and from continental Europe to establish a scholarly centre at his court. In 893, Asser wrote a biography of Alfred entitled The Life of King Alfred- Photo Credit: The British Broadcasting Corporation.

Below is the full extract of the reference to Nottingham from Asser’s Life of King Alfred:

In the same year the Viking army left Northumbria (868), came to Mercia and reached Nottingham (which is called Tig Guocobauc in Welsh, or Speluncarrum Domus [house of caves] in Latin, and they spent the winter that year in the same place. Immediately upon their arrival there, Burgred, King of the Mercians, and all the leading men of that people sent messages to Æthelred, King of the West Saxons, and to his brother Alfred, humbly requesting that they help them, so that they would be able to fight against the Viking army; they obtained this easily. For the brothers, promptly fulfilling their promise, gathered an immense army from every part of their kingdom, went to Mercia and arrived at Nottingham, single-mindely seeking battle. But since the Vikings, protected by the defences of the stronghold, refused to give battle, and since the Christians were unable to breach the wall, peace was established between the Mercians and the Vikings, and the two brothers, Æthelred and Alfred, returned home with their forces”.

Nottingham (Snotengaham) signifies literally the Ham (settlement) of the people of a person called Snot. Nottingham was renowned for its ancient cave dwellings and Tig Guocobauc does mean precisely ‘cavy house’ in old Welsh. There is no obvious reason, however, why the Welsh should have had a special name for Nottingham, and it may perhaps have been Asser’s invention, based on his own knowledge of the place or alternatively he was told about the caves in Nottingham. Asser’s work also proves that there was certainly caves in Nottingham around the time of Alfred in the 9th century. It also proves that just because archaeologically the caves can only be dated to the 13th century this certainly does not mean that they date to this time and they are certainly older than the Norman Conquest (1066).

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Historical Sketch of the Caves of Old Nottingham. In his life of King Alfred Asser refers to Nottingham as: Tig Guocobauc in Welsh which simply means ‘cavy house’ or ‘house of caves’- Photo Credit: http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/

Sources used for the article include:

Alfred the Great by Richard Abels (1998) and Alfred the Great Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources edited by Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge (1983).

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The Rowland Emett Water Clock

by Joe Earp

The Emett Clock also known as The Aqua Horological Tintinnabulater was designed and created by Rowland Emett. The Clock arrived at the Victoria Centre in 1973. Since it’s installation the Clock has become a much loved local landmark and a popular meeting place.

Since its first installation the clock has chimed on the hour and half hour, playing ‘Gigue en Rondeau II’ (1724) from Rameau’s (1683–1764), ‘Pieces de Clavecin’ Suite in E-minor. This musical animated sculpture was originally situated between Boots, Next and John Lewis (formerly Jessops) on the lower mall of the Victoria Shopping Centre. At some point, the clock was modified to chime and play the music every fifteen minutes.

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The Clock in it’s original position in the Victoria Shopping Centre, 20 February 1973- Photo Credit: Nottingham Post Group Ltd.

In 2014 the future of the clock looked grim. There were reports in the media and in the local community that the clock was going to be dismantled and would no longer be displayed in the Victoria Centre. Thankfully the clock was not going to be moved. In 2014, after over 40 years at the heart of the shopping centre, the Emett Clock was lovingly restored by local Engineer Pete Dexter and The Rowland Emett Society. Over the summer of 2014 the clock went on display for a exhibition at the Millennium Point in Birmingham.

After it had been on display in Birmingham it was put into storage until December 2014. The parts were then transported back to Nottingham where further refurbishment work was carried out by Pete Dexter. It was then officially reassembled in its current location on the north end of the upper mall in the Victoria Centre. Its stature, colour scheme and most of its original water features were restored. It was officially re-started on 17 June 2015 by Emma Jaggers, grand-daughter of Pete Dexter.

So the future of the clock looks safe for now. A common little local custom connected with the clock is to throw a coin into the clock’s pond and make a wish. Many children and adults alike have done this over the years and the custom has become very popular among shoppers to the Victoria Centre. All donations are given to local charities.

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The Return of The Rowland Emett Water Clock to the Victoria Centre- 16 June 2015- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

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Albert Ball

by Frank E Earp 

Next year, the 7th May will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Albert Ball, or to give him his correct title and due honour Captain Albert Ball, VC. DSO & Two bars, of the Royal Flying Corps. Perhaps you have never heard of this remarkable young man? One hundred years ago he was the first ‘pilot’ in Britain to become a National hero and for a generation was the pride of Nottingham.

Albert was born in Lenton, [301, Lenton Boulevard], on 14th August 1896. His parents were Albert (later Sir Albert), Ball and Harriett Mary Ball (nee Page). At the time of his birth, Albert Snr. was an estate agent and general dealer in land and properties having formally been a director in the family plumbing business ‘George Ball & Son. In 1909 as councillor for the Castle ward, he became first Mayor of Nottingham and then Lord Mayor of Nottingham. Twenty years later, he was knighted a ‘Knight Bachelor’ and created Lord of the Manors of Bunny, Bradmore and Tollerton.

Albert had three siblings, two older sisters and a younger brother; Hilda (b. 1887), Lois Beatrice (b. 1892) and Arthur Cyril (b. 1897). Shortly after his birth the young family embarked on a series of changes of address until around 1900, finally settling at ‘Sedgley’, 43 Lenton Road. Albert first attended school at Lenton Church School and went on to Grantham Grammar School, later transferring to Nottingham High School. At the age of 14 he attended Trent College in Long Eaton. Never much a scholar, young Albert showed an interest in more practical subjects like carpentry and engineering and an artistic side in learning to play the violin. This practical side of his nature was encouraged further when his father built him a shed in the garden of Sedgley, to use as a workshop. As a teenager his ‘head for heights’, – something as a pilot he was to need later, – was demonstrated on his 16th Birthday when he climbed to the top of a tall factory chimney with a local steeplejack. To the man’s great amazement on reaching the top, he proceeded to coolly walk around the edge surveying the scene bellow without a care.

A handsome young man, Albert attracted the attention of the ladies including Miss Dorothy, ‘Dot’ Allbourne (or Ellbourne) to whom he became engaged in March 1915. The engagement was brief, perhaps do to the fact that Albert retained an interest in a former ‘sweetheart’ Miss Thelma Starr.

Whilst at college Albert joined the ‘Officers Training Corps’ and gain a knowledge of firearms and with his keen eyesight soon became a ‘crack shot’. To this effect he conducted target practice in gardens at his home. On leaving college at the age of 17, encouraged by his parents, Albert set up his own business, – the Universal Engineering Works, a small electrical and brass foundry concern, – in a premises next-door to the house where he was born. Here the talented young man might have prospered and become one of the foremost engineers of his generation, had it not been for the fact that a greater history intervened. On the 4th August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and the call went out for volunteers to fight for ‘King and Country’. In September 1914, having only just turned 18, Albert was one of hundreds of young Nottinghamshire men who answered ‘the call’ and enlisted in the local regiment the Sherwood Foresters.

Although enlisting as a private, Albert was marked-out as being ‘officer material’, – primarily because of his experience with the Officers Training Corps whilst at college. Within days of enlisting he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and shortly after, on the 29th October, commissioned to Second Lieutenant. Albert was eager ‘to do his bit’ and was bitterly disappointed when, after finishing basic training, instead of being sent to the front in France, he was retained to help train other recruits for the army. It was thus that Albert was to spend the first years of the War. We find his disappointment at not seeing any action reflected in a letter to his parents where he says; “I have just sent five boys to France, and I hear that they will be in the firing line on Monday. It is just my luck to be unable to go”.

In 1915 he was posted to Perivale in Middlesex on a ‘platoon officers training course’. Here he was to encounter for the first time young men learning to fly in the hope of joining the newly established arm of the forces, the Royal Flying Corps. Close to Perivale was Hendon aerodrome where several civilian flying schools gave flying lessons to achieve a Royal Aero Club Pilot Certificate’, – a necessary prerequisite to joining the RFC. A coarse of lessons were at the candidates own expense and range between the cost of £75 to £100 (£5,580 to £7,440 in 2010 prices). With an interest in such a novel experience and a keen desire to get into the fighting, Albert enrolled for flying lessons and although regarded as merely an average pilot, he gained his Certificate, (No. 1898), on the 15th October 1915. He promptly requested a transfer to the RFC and eight days later was seconded to No. 9 (Reserve) Squadron RFC.

Albert was sent for training to the aerodrome at Mousehold Heath near Norwich. In the first week in December, after being on duty all night Albert made his first solo flight in a ‘Maurice Farman Longhorn’ aircraft. It is little wonder then that his landing was somewhat rough. When on the ground, his instructor sarcastically commented on this fact, Albert angrily retorted that he had only 15 minutes experience in the plane and if this was to be the best instruction he was to get, he would gladly transfer back to his old unit should it be so wished. Despite further rough landings completed his training at Central Flying School, Upavon, and was awarded his ‘wings’ on 22 January 1916. A week later, he was officially transferred from the Sherwood Foresters to the RFC as a pilot.

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‘Sedgley House’, 43 Lenton Road. Home to the Ball family in 1915- Photo Credit: Lenton Local History Society.

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Albert Ball, pictured soon-after gaining his ‘wings’ on the 26th January 1916- Photo Credit: Nottingham City Council.

On the 18th February 1916, Albert Ball got his desired posting to the ‘front-line’ in France. However, it not to be to a ‘fighter squadron’, but to No 13 Squadron based in Marieux, France. The role of this squadron was to carry-out reconnaissance and photographic missions over the front-line (later bombing missions). Albert was with the squadron for 11 weeks, flying a number of twin-seater bi-planes including Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2. In that time as well as achieving many hours of test and practise flights, flew 43 ‘operational sorties’. Albert was forced to land by enemy action or mechanical failure on several occasions and survived unscathed a crash-landing which wrote-off his aircraft. Ever eager for combat, whilst on recon-missions, Albert and his observer Lieutenant S. A. Villiers actively engaged the enemy when ever they could. In a letter home he wrote; “I like this job, but nerves do not last long, and you soon want a rest”. However, in letters to his father, he asked that his younger brother Arthur, be discouraged from following him into the RFC.

It was on the 7th May that Albert got his to No. 11 Squadron. This squadron had been deployed to France in February 1915 with the mission to attack and destroy enemy aircraft, to this effect it was the Worlds first dedicated ‘fighter squadron’. It was during this time with this squadron that Albert gained his reputation as being one of the ‘lone wolfs of the skies’. For this, any young aviator had to master the art of stalking enemy aircraft from bellow until becoming close enough to fire upwards into the ‘belly’ of his aircraft.

Albert was as much a loner on the ground as he was in the air. Instead of staying in his billet in the local village he used a tent by the airfield, later replacing it with a self-built hut. His off duty hours were spent tending a garden he had created by his hut or practising the violin. His knowledge of engineering enabled him to act as his own mechanic. Despite this apparent antisocial behaviour Albert was well liked by other members of the squadron, be regarded as extremely sensitive and shy. Charismatically untidy and dishevelled, Albert wore his thick black hair longer than regulations permitted and preferred to fly without helmet or goggles.

On on the 16th May 1916, Albert scored his first aerial victory, driving down a German reconnaissance plane. Between May and July he went on to earn his reputation as being an ‘Ace’, shooting down many enemy aircraft and at least one observation balloon. But combat missions began to take its toll on the young man and in July he requested a few days off but, to his dismay, was temporarily reassigned to aerial reconnaissance duty with No. 8 Squadron. This posting last from the 18th July until 14th August. It was during this time that Albert was assigned the to the strangest duties of his career. On the evening of 28 July, he flew a French espionage agent across enemy lines. Dodging an attack by three German fighters, as well as anti-aircraft fire, he landed in a deserted field, only to find that the agent refused to get out of the aircraft.

Back in Nottingham, Albert’s parents must have felt proud of their eldest son when the London Gazette announced that Albert had been awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous skill and gallantry on many occasions’, particularly for ‘one occasion when he attacked six enemy aircraft in one flight’.

Returning to his squadron, Albert’s 20th birthday saw him promoted temporarily to the rank of Captain. In the skies it was a day like any other. The 22nd August saw him become the first RFC pilot to shoot down three German aircraft in one sortie. Albert went on to end the day by engaging a further 14 enemy aircraft some 15 mile behind their own lines. However, with his plane badly damaged and almost out of fuel he was forced to struggle back to Allied lines and land.

On the 23rd August along with some other members of No. 11 Squadron, Albert was transferred to No. 60 Squadron RFC. Here, recognising his talent, his new commanding officer gave him a free rein to fly solo missions, and assigned him his own personal aircraft (designated A201) and maintenance crew. One of the crew painted up a non-standard red propeller boss and the aircraft became the first of a series of Albert’s aeroplanes to have such a colour scheme. It was found that such individuality helped his fellow squadron members identify his plane and confirm his combat claims. By end of the month, he had increased his tally to 17 enemy aircraft, including three downed on the 28th August.

We might be tempted to think from theses days of action that Albert had become a ‘blood-thirsty killer’, but this is not the case. The young aviators of both sides admired and respected their foe. They regarded their combat as only doing their duty, as Albert was to write in a letter home; “I only scrap because it is my duty… Nothing makes me feel more rotten than to see them go down, but you see it is either them or me, so I must do my duty best to make it a case of them”.

It was at the end of August 1916 that Albert was to return home to Nottingham on leave. Unlike the French and Germans, the British Government was reluctant to publish the names of its fighter aces. However, the heavy losses suffered in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 meant that it became politic to publish details of war heroes in an effort to bust morel. It was thus that Albert found himself to be a household name and we can imagine the strain on a shy and war wary young man when he found that he could not walk down the street without being stopped and congratulated.

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Bristol Scouts, Nieuport 17, designated A 213. One of Albert Ball’s personalised aircraft- Photo Credit: Colin Campbell.

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Home on leave. Albert Ball and his proud mother, 1916- Photo Credit: Nottingham City Council.

Following his short period of home leave in Nottingham, Albert found himself back at the ‘front’ in France with the 60th Squadron. On his first day back, 15th September 1916 he was back in the ‘thick of things’ and in both his morning and evening missions he engaged and destroyed enemy aircraft. This was to be the pattern of things for the remainder of this ‘tour of duty’. By the end of the month Albert had become Britain’s top-scoring ace’ with 31 victories to his name. However, once again the dreadful conflict began to take its toll on the young man’s nerves and he again requested that he be given time away from the fighting.

On the 3rd October Albert was given a posting to the Home Establishment in England and en-route was allowed home leave. News of his daring exploits reached home before he did when a French semi-official report on his successes was published. After the near defeat at the Battle of the Somme, this was the kind of moral booster the Nation needed and Albert was once again greeted as a hero. A crowd of journalist awaited him on the doorstep of his family home in Nottingham. In his interviews Albert played down his successes by mentioning the fact that he had been ‘downed’ himself on 6 occasions.

On the 18th October Albert went to Buckingham Palace to be invested with his Military Cross and both DSO’s by King George V A second bar to his DSO was awarded on the 25th November and Albert became the first three-time recipient of the award. He was promoted to the substantive rank of Lieutenant on the 8th December 1916.

Now a National Hero with proven courage and skill’s the military authorities considered the fact that Albert would be best suited in promoting the War effort and in encouraging and training new recruits for the RFC. After his home leave, instead of returning to action he was posted to No. 34 Reserve Squadron, based at Orford Ness, Suffolk. Here Albert used his flying skills and combat knowledge to test-fly the next generation of fighter aircraft for the RFC. During his time with 34 Squadron Albert made a great impression on several future aces including such famous names as James McCudden and the Canadian piolet William, ‘Billy’ Bishop, both of whom went on to receive the VC.

Back in home, on the 19th February 1917 Lieutenant Albert Ball was made an Honorary Freeman of the City of Nottingham. It was on 25th March that Albert was to meet the love of his life, 18 year old Flora Young. Flora was a girl after his own heart and when Albert invited her to take to the skies with him in his aircraft, she duly excepted. The two became engaged on the 5th April and Flora wore Albert’s silver identification bracelet in lieu of a ring.

Despite his happiness with Flora, the period of inaction began to chafe Albert and once again he requested to be returned to active service. This request was granted by a posting as ‘flight commander’ with No. 56 Squadron, – considered to be as close to an elite unit as any in the RFC. The Squadron was moved to the Western Front on the 7th August 1917. On his arrival Albert ended a letter home to his parent with the words; “Cheero, am just about to start the great game again” – and start the great game he did for there followed a sustained period of action where Albert and the Squadron encounted some of the best German pilots. Albert achieved a string of victories to add to his score which now totalled 44. But Albert was becoming weary of the fight and in his final letter to his father he wrote; “I do get tired of always living to kill, and am really beginning to feel like a murderer. Shall be so pleased when I have finished”

On the evening of the 7th May 1917, in the skies over Douai, France, 11 aircraft from No. 56 Squadron led by flight commander Albert Ball engaged in a ‘running dogfight with German fighters from Jasta 11. Visibility was poor and aircraft from both sides became scattered, resulting in individual actions, – the kind Albert was fond of. Albert was last seen by his fellow pilots pursuing the red painted Albatros aircraft of Lother von Richthofen, younger brother of the infamous Red Baron. As a result of the action the German was forced to land near Annœullin with a punctured fuel tank. The pursuit was observed from the ground by a German pilot officer, Lieutenant Franz Hailer. He witnessed Albert’s aircraft fly into a dark thunder cloud, at an altitude of 200ft (61m) and when it emerged saw it fall upside-down from the sky trailing thick black smoke. Together with his brother Carl and two other German airman, Hailer rushed to the crash site. When they arrived the pilot of the plane Albert Ball was already dead. Searching through Albert’s cloths for identification Hailer was later to state that he did not find any bullet wounds on the body. Together the German airman agreed that the aircraft had not suffered any battle damage. Albert’s body was taken to a German ‘field-hospital’ where it was examined by a doctor. He subsequently described a broken back and a crushed chest, along with fractured limbs, as the cause of death.

The German’s respectfully called Albert Ball the ‘English Richthofen’ after their own air ace Baron von Richthofen, (The Red Baron). Albert was buried by his German foe with full military honours and due ceremony and over his grave the erected a cross bearing; ‘In Luftkampf gefallen für sein Vaterland Engl. Flieger Hauptmann Albert Ball, Royal Flying Corps [‘Fallen in air combat for his fatherland English pilot Captain Albert Ball’].

Albert Ball was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on the 8th June 1917. Three days later a memorial service was held in St Mary’s church Nottingham. A large crowd gathered in the Market Square to pay their tribute as the procession of mourners passed by. Among those attending were Ball’s father Albert, Sr. and brother Cyril, now also a pilot in the RFC; his mother Harriett, overwhelmed with grief, was not present. Ball was posthumously promoted to Captain on 15 June. His medal was presented to his parents by King George V on 22 July 1917.

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Albert Ball’s last fight as depicted by Norman Arnold 1919- Photo Credit: Colin Campbell.

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The Cross in the German Cemetery at Annœullin in France- Photo Credit: Colin Campbell.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Military History, Nottinghamshire People, Legends and Characters | Leave a comment

Thompson’s Grave, Mansfield

by Ross Parish 

 Thompson’s Grave was once a place according to Victorian authors, that visitors would be conducted to in Mansfield, now it is comparatively less well known, although you may have passed and wonder about its history. Thompson’s Grave can be found high on a hill between the Newark and Southwell Roads, on Berry Hill Lane, in a small area of public park.  The grave is one of the most unusual in the country, although it is difficult to see clearly being surrounded by a rough wall with a small gate and a small table tomb with a plaque. The whole edifice is a striking one being encompassed by mature trees. But who is Thomson and why is he buried here?

Although Charles Thompson was Mansfield born he spent much of his life outside of both county and country, becoming an international businessmen. Thompson was born in 1714 but in 1737, he left his widowed mother (as his father had died in 1728) to find his fortune working for Russian merchants Richard Chauncey & Co. He was given the role as a clothing agent for Persia providing materials for the troops of the Nadir Shah.

In those days he needed to travel through Russia and taking a vessel and encountering some severe storms arrived in the court of Empress Catherine at St. Petersburg. Detained by the monarch apparently because of his predecessor had taught the Persians ship building! Finally, she granted him an audience and she was convinced of his intentions and allowed him passage along the Volga. Whilst in Persia, Thompson got embroiled in local politics after the assassination of Kouli Khan and was forced to leave during the bloody turmoil caused by his usurper. Arriving back with a commission he can collected of £4,000, he was encouraged to enter a partnership which saw him sell clothing to the Lisbon market. Whilst in the city he experience the 1775 earthquake and lost much of his property finally recovering the sum of £7000 with the aid of his partner. Finally, he sailed back to England, and returned to the town of his birth. In Mansfield he lived an almost pious life. He would rise early in the morning for prayers and would visit the poor and help them and walk at the end of the day to the very spot which would be his grave.

Indeed charity was foremost to the front of his mind and indicated by his last will and testament. Understandably clothing was in his bequest, with a sum of £400 he asked for ten drab coloured coats with white buttons were to be given to ten poor elderly gentlemen and petticoats for ten elderly women from Mansfield. The bequest asked it to be done in October forever! Any surplus he asked to be given in four penny loaves. Perhaps his longest lasting bequest is the giving of six hundred pounds to Mr. Samuel Brunt to augment with his charity for the ‘better education of such poor children of Mansfield’ an investiment in the future of Mansfield’s children remembered in Brunt’s School.

Why did he choose this then bleak and remote location? Two reasons are given. One is that he was understandably put off burying in the local church when witnesses human remains being dug up from the churchyard and the idea that the churchyard was being filled with remains unceremonially. Secondly, he was concerned that after seeing the damage of the Lisbon earthquake that a high hill would be a safe location. It is said that the local clergy tried to persuade him from his obscure burial place however on the 14th December 1784 he died and his last will and testament recorded pretty precise and clear instructions for his burial:

“I desire that Edmund Bulbie be employed as undertaker; that he make me a good, strong, plain coffin, without any ornaments. That I be dressed in a flannel shirt, better than two yards long, a flannel cap, a slip of flannel around my neck, and in that state put into the coffin, and then to have two yards of plain flannel thrown over me—no shroud snipt or cut. About the coffin, after I am put in, I would have three iron hoops or plates—one towards the head, another about the middle, the third towards the feet, fastened to the coffin; in each of these places to have an iron ring inserted at the upper part of the coffin, for the ropes to run through to let me down into the grave. That six or eight poor men be employed as bearers, to put me into a hearse and take me out, and that they be allowed five shillings apiece. That George Allen and assistants be employed to make my grave; and, if they can make it six yards deep, to be handsomely paid for their trouble; but to make it as deep as they can. I would have my interment as private as possible; no bell to toll; the hearse to go down Bath Lane, to avoid the town; and in the morning, if it can conveniently be.”

Of his unusual grave he wrote:

“I desire that George Allen may be employed to build me a good strong wall, by way of enclosure, seven yards wide within side. I desire that, after my funeral, my executors, at my expense and charge, shall cause as much earth to be brought here as will raise a mount; and, at the proper season of the year, some trees may be planted thereon; and then finish the wall.”

The instructions were followed to the word ad was the curious funeral. This spectacle attracted hundreds on that cold Friday, 17th December. The service was conducted by the vicar with the church’s choir chanting as they walked before his hearse. He was interred within this unusual enclosure which was then surrounded for the threes he asked for, the remains of which exist today.

Now over 200 years later Thompson’s Grave still survives as does his good work no doubt in the money he left – one of the county’s little known benefactors.

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Thompson’s Grave Site – Photo Credit: Ross Parish

tThompson's Grave Mansfield (23)

Thompson’s Grave – Photo Credit: Ross Parish

 

Posted in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment

Secret Nottingham

New Book Available From May 2016

Secret Nottingham 

by Frank E Earp and Joseph Earp

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“Every corner of Nottingham is rich in history and if the streets could talk they might tell of the people and events they have witnessed. Many ancient secrets have remained untold, such as the purpose of the great Viking ‘long-house’ found beneath the site of a demolished Victorian factory, and who built the ancient mound that once marked the site of the spot where a King of England raised his standard. Perhaps the city’s greatest secret of all lies beneath its streets; a labyrinth of over 500 man-made caves. Visitors to Nottingham are often told not to stamp their feet too hard as they never quiet know where they will end up. Father and son authors, Frank and Joe Earp, are privy to these and many more of Nottingham’s secrets. Come with them as they share their knowledge within the pages of this book”.

 

Available from all good book shops and also available on-line. The book can also be ordered directly from Amberley Publishing:

https://www.amberley-books.com/secret-nottingham.html

Telephone: 01453 847800

Posted in Nottinghamshire History News and Events | Leave a comment