Arthur Mee

by Frank E Earp

Biography: Arthur Henry Mee was born in Stapleford Nottinghamshire on 21st July 1875. He was the second child and eldest son, of the ten children born to Henry and Mary Mee (nee Fletcher). Henry Mee was a mechanical engineer working for the railways and in various biographies Arthur’s upbringing is described as ‘working class’. His father was a Baptist Deacon and throughout his life, Arthur was a devout Christian, although he had an understanding and firm belief in evolution. At school the young Arthur does not seem to have inherited his fathers practical skills, but developed a passion for English. He excelled in both the written and spoken word and his reading skills were second to none. Before leaving school Arthur put his abilities to good use and earned a little money by reading allowed ‘Parliamentary Reports’ and newspapers to blind neighbour and local baker, Henry Mellows.

First Job and Cub Reporter: In 1889, – shortly before Arthur left school at the age of 14, – the Mee family moved to Nottingham. This move gave Arthur the opportunity of taking what seems to be his perfect first job. This was at the ‘Nottingham Express’, where he was employed as a ‘copy-holder’ an assistant to a ‘proofreader’. The worked entailed reading allowed the original hand written manuscripts so that the proofreader might check the typeset text. At the age of around 15 Arthur taught himself ‘Pitman’s shorthand and regularly honed his skills every Sunday morning by taking notes of the sermon at the Baptist Chapel. Arthur found one sermon particularly interesting and after the service hurried home to write up his notes as an article. The following day he submitted his work to an editor at the paper who saw its merit. The article was subsequently published and he was taken on as an apprentice reporter. So began Arthur’s long career as a writer and journalist. At this time, it was the job of a ‘cub reporter’ to gather whatever news they could from Hospitals, Police and Fire Stations, and to report on Court cases, Council meetings and the like. All of this meant long days travelling the streets. Where ever possible Arthur would save his tram-fare and walk between location. He considered his meagre income better spent on pork pies and custard tarts.

Life long friend and holiday romance: Arthur finished his apprenticeship with the Express at the age of 20 and was given an editorship at its ‘sister paper’ the Nottingham Evening Post which commanded a substantial wage of 30 shillings a week. With this new found ‘wealth,’ Arthur was to take up rooms in Nottingham with fellow journalist John Hammerton. Hammerton was also a newly appointed editor, but at Arthur’s former paper the Express. Although the two young men were in many ways polar opposites, – unlike Arthur, John was neither religious or tee-total, – they were to become life-long friends. Whilst on holiday in 1895 Arthur met and fell in love with Amelia Fraston, the woman who was to become his wife.

London calls: The ever ambitious Arthur taught himself to type and to supplement his wages further, took to writing articles for National journals like ‘Tit-bits’, – a popular weekly magazine founded by George Newnes in 1881. Arthur’s interest and style of writing meant that his contributions to the magazine soon became popular with the readership. It wasn’t long before his talents were spotted and in 1896 Newnes in person, offered Arthur £1,000 a year to work for him full-time. This was an offer Arthur could not refuse and he moved to the London based magazine. For the next few years he made a sizeable contribution to its content whilst further supplementing his now substantial income, by contributing articles to the Morning Herald and the St. James Gazette. A year after his move to London, Arthur and Amelia were married and moved into a house on Tulse Hill, London.

1901, eventful year: The year 1901 was a truly significant one for Arthur with some life changing and life affirming events. To begin-with, Arthur had that year, taken the post as editor of a ‘sixpenny weekly paper’ know as The Black and White. Here he was able to employ his friend John Hammerton as literary and dramatic critic. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful cooperation, which produced some of Arthur’s best known works. It was also whilst working for this paper that Arthur was to meet a Miss Margaret Lillie, who was to become another life-long friend and his personnel secretary for the next 40 years.

Inspirational daughter: On a more personnel level for Aurther, it was in 1901 that Amelia gave birth to their only daughter, Marjorie. Soon after the birth the couple moved to a new home in Hextable, Kent. No one at the time could have foreseen that it would be Marjorie’s inquisitive nature that seven years later, would inspire Arthur to write The Children’s Encyclopaedia. The work was published in 50 parts between 1908 and 1910 and became one of the most popular children’s books of the day.

Dynamic Duo: In the next two years together with his friend John Hammerton, Arthur came up with an idea for a new magazine with a proposed title ‘Who’s Who This Week’ which they presented to Harmsworth Amalgamated Press, owned by ‘publishing mogul’ Alfred Harmsworth, (Lord Northcliffe). The idea was rejected, but Harmsworth instantly recognised the great potential of both men. Arthur was appointed general editor of The Harmsworth Self Educator which in collaboration with Hammerton, was published as a part-work between 1905 and 1907. Next came ‘The Children’s Encyclopaedia’, the success of which led to Arthur’s editorship of the World’s first weekly newspaper especially for children, ‘The Children’s Newspaper.’ The paper remained in print from March 1919 to May 1965 when it was absorbed by another title. Over its 46 year life, – 25 of which were under Arthur’s editorship, – the paper produced 2,397 issues.

For Arthur and Hammerton their time working for Harmsworth Amalgamated Press was their most productive years. In his lifetime Arthur Mee wrote around 200 books including the most of the 41 volumes of the Kings England series. John Alexander Hammerton, (1871-1949), went on to receive a Knighthood for his services. The ‘Dictionary of National Biogrophy describes him as The most successful creator of large-scale works of reference that Britain has known”.

Unexpected death: Arthur Henry Mee’s death was sudden and unexpected. On the 27th May 1943 he was admitted to hospital for a routine operation on a gland. He died unexpectedly the following day. A service of remembrance was held at St. Dunstan’s Fleet Street, London, on 6th June. Sadly, the house in Stapleford where he was born, – which was behind the parish church of St. Helen, – has now been demolished. A Blue Plaque on the wall of the Arthur Mee Centre, – next to the Library, – is all that marks the town as the birth place of this great man.

A young Arthur Mee at his desk.

Eynsford Hill, Mee’s old house near Sevenoaks in Kent

Posted in Nottinghamshire People, Legends and Characters, Nottinghamshire Suburbs, Stapleford | Leave a comment

Memories of Beeston Zoo

by Joe Earp

Regulars to the Nottingham Hidden History page will remember that a while back we did an article on the Beeston Zoo which brought back a lot of memories for readers. For the original article click on the link below:

Just to remind readers who missed the article, the zoo in question was located at the Victoria Hotel in Beeston. Built around 1839, named after Queen Victoria (1819- 1901) – a popular monarch who is often featured on pub signboards. The Victoria Hotel is situated next door to Beeston Train station and like so many Victorian establishments was built to serve the passengers who used the station.

In 1971 an eccentric landlord use to keep a small zoo at the rear end of the pub, as well as a python inside. The collection included a puma, a lion, a leopard and a baboon. A number of incidents occurred involving these animals- the puma bounded into the public bar and frightened regulars and the leopard bit the landlord. Often he would be seen around Beeston, taking the bear for a walk at the end of a rope. The ‘zoo’ was eventually closed when a terrified elderly couple complained to the police after the baboon escaped, shinned up a drainpipe and tried to break into their bedroom window.

A while back we were contacted by the Landlord’s Granddaughter who shared a few family stories and photos with us relating to the zoo. Out of respect to the family their names will remain anonymous in the article. Rather than trying to rewrite the memories, we have simply displayed them below:

“The previous Landlord of the pub, who kept a mini zoo in the back yard was my Granddad and I recall the zoo and all of the animals. I can recall some fond memories and some not so fond memories of the zoo. I fondly remember in particular the snake he kept and the famous Ben, the beautiful bear.  My Granddad was in the Navy during the war and had quite a war in the South Pacific. Mum said that my Granddad was very business minded and used to charge for the workers to leave their bikes at the Vic. I forgot to ask where they worked but it was a regular thing and her and my Uncle used to collect the money from them.

My Granddad was always fond of animals and always wanted to collect the more exotic type. At the Victoria Hotel he use to have Piranhas on the bar, which he kept for entertainment. He use to feed them mice, for the entertainment of the customers. He used to love sitting with the old guys and playing dominoes too.

He also had a cage full of Monkeys which all died in a fire. It was apparently an electrical fault but I have heard rumours over the years that it was arson but that is only hearsay and as it was many years ago, we will never know the truth of the matter. It is very, very sad, whatever the cause. Monkeys were my favourite, apart from Ben the Bear. He was the most adorable animal you could wish to meet. Can’t say the same for the Baboon. As a child, I recall hating him, as he was pretty aggressive.

My Aunt recalls that Ben was eventually put into a cage as he became around 6ft in size, which is how I remember him. Also that the Baboon was kept indoors with them and slept in her dolls cot in her room when he was a baby. I really wish there were pictures of that. Again he grew and was caged. He was apparently quite aggressive with most people, except my granddad’s wife, who he took a liking too.  My Aunt also contracted TB back then and it was said that they thought it had been contracted from the baboon, she tells me.

The story of the Baboon escaping and banging on a neighbours upstairs window is true I am afraid. The lady and her husband were said to be terrified, especially as the husband was ill. The story says that Kenneth Clarke MP, was trying to have the law changed in regard to keeping wild animals and that he took this matter to parliament. There is a story about this too, separate to the baboon story. It says that Beeston constituents were in fear of the animals and many had applied for gun licences. The article names the neighbour and speaks of her having lodgers who were also woken up by the baboon banging on the window. Also, that she called the police more than once.

The other story I have heard  tells of the Leopard, biting my Grandfather. The Leopard was male and was 18 months old and on my Grandfathers shoulder, when a train passed by and hooted. This scared the animal, which nipped him and caused him to need hospital treatment. My grandfather was quoted as saying that he planned to buy a female companion for the leopard. The leopard had come from a zoo, in the south of England.

Apparently all of the animals were moved on to a ‘official zoo’ following a complaint by a lady, when the Baboon escaped. His name was Joey, if I recall correctly. I do know my Granddad was on ATV on more than one occasion, due to the antics. My Mum relayed to me that when he was asked what he had to say about the Baboon escaping and going into the neighbours bathroom. He replied in his usual flippant manner, that she was only bothered because the baboon wasn’t a male one. I don’t know how he got away with it sometimes, but he did”.


‘Last orders’. Ben the Bear finishes his pint on the bar at the Victoria Hotel- Photo Credit: Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | 2 Comments

Victorian & Edwardian Nottingham Through Time

New Book Available From February 2017

Victorian & Edwardian Nottingham Through Time

by Joseph Earp


In 1897, Nottingham was granted a city charter to coincide with the celebrations accompanying Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. By then Nottingham already had a history going back to at least the ninth century when the settlement was referred to as ‘Tigguo Cobauc’, which literally translates as the ‘House of Caves’. The Victorian and Edwardian era saw great changes to Nottingham. Rapid growth in its population meant the town had to adapt. Once known as the ‘Garden Town’, Nottingham quickly saw an urban transformation in areas such as housing, industry and transport.

Much of Nottingham’s heritage was lost to make way for progress, even more so with the Enclosure Act of 1845. This book, through photographs, postcards, documents and other images, reflects the changes Nottingham has seen from a beautiful garden town to one of the Britain’s leading cities. We can trace both the architectural development and the social impact brought about by these changes. This book records the historical changes by comparing Victorian and Edwardian photographs with their modern-day counterparts.

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


Telephone: 01453 847800

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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.


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.


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!


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!


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:

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.


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)


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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:

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.


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).


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).


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:

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.


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.


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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