The Last Public Execution in Nottingham

by Joseph Earp

The principal sites used in Nottingham for public executions over the centuries were Gallows Hill (near the entrance to Rock Cemetery) County Gaol (Shire Hall), The House of Correction and Bagthorpe Gaol (Perry Road Prison).

Ogilby’s map of 1674 depicts the town’s permanent gallows as standing at the summit of the forest ridge, the position being at the juncture of the present Mapperley Road. There can be little doubt that it was the common place of execution for centuries. The prior of Lenton was probably hanged here in 1538, and executions were contiued here (or in later times across the road where the Church Rock Cemetery gates now stand) until 1827. It was not unusual for the bodies of hanged persons to be buried at the foot of the gallows, and when some levelling work was done here in 1826 more than 15 skeletons were exhumed. In 1871 St Andrew’s Church was erected on the site.

Ogilby’s map of 1674 depicts the town’s permanent gallows as standing at the summit of the forest ridge, the position being at the juncture of the present Mapperley Road (now the site of the church). It was not unusual for the bodies of hanged persons to be buried at the foot of the gallows. In 1826 more than 15 skeletons were exhumed on the site shown in the above photograph. In 1871 St Andrew’s Church was erected on the site. Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

The execution of Richard Thomas Parker in 1864 was the last public execution in Nottingham. He was executed at the County Gaol (Shire Hall). The earliest confirmed use of the site for official purposes was by the Normans, who appointed sheriffs to keep the peace and collect taxes; hence the site was sometimes referred to as the Sheriff’s Hall, the County Hall or the King’s Hall. The first written record of the site being used as a law court dates from 1375. The first written reference to its use as a prison is in 1449.

The hall was rebuilt between 1769 and 1772. The architect was James Gandon of London and cost around £2,500. Executions were held on a scaffold erected over the stone steps in front of the central doorway, within the small enclosure created by closing the gates of the iron railings. The drop was described as approximately level with the lintel of the door. After the abolition of public executions in 1868, most hangings took place at the Borough Gaol but on 21 November 1877 Thomas Gray was hanged in the yard at the rear of the Shire Hall.

Richard Thomas Parker, 29 years of age, was the only son of his mother’s second marriage and was “so blindly indulged from infancy that he may truly be said to have been ruined by indulgence”. He was hung for the murder of his Mother, originally a Miss Tutbury of Bingham, who was in her 76th year of age.

He had been apprenticed to a Mr Bee, Butcher of Sneinton Street, Nottingham. At the expiration of his engagement he commenced business at Fiskerton where “he might have succeeded well but for his reckless and dissipated conduct”.

He attended a cricket match at Newark. He had been drinking heavily all day and (as he was known to do when intoxicated) was getting into ‘drunken’ arguments with others at the match. When he returned home it is known that he had a violent argument with his father, who after left the family home. His mother ran out to warn father that “our Tom” had a gun. Parker shot both his parents from a top room window of the house. His father eventually recovered but his mother died some weeks later.

After his trial he was hanged outside the County Gaol at 8am on Wednesday, 10th August 1864. The executioner was a Mr Asken of York. He was immediately buried in the precincts of the gaol. This was the last public execution in Nottingham.

The old Shire Hall and County Gaol now the National Justice Museum. Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Crime and Punishment | Leave a comment

Nell Gwyn’s Bestwood

by Frank E Earp

Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn, (1650 – 1687) has been described as one of Restoration England’s most celebrated actresses and more famously was the long-term mistress of Charles II. Three Cities claim to be her birthplace, Hereford, London, and Oxford. Of these, London, or more precisely Covent Garden, – where Nell spent her childhood, – is deemed to be the most likely.

Nell’s father is recorded by some biographers as being of minor Welsh Gentry and the son of ‘Thomas Guine a Cap’. A poem of 1681 indicates that he died in an Oxford prison. Whatever the truth, he disappears from any account of Nell’s life from the time of her early childhood in Covent Garden.

To say that Nell Gwyn had an unconventional childhood is an understatement. She was raised in a London ‘bawdy house’ – a brothel, – ran by her mother ‘Madam’ or ‘Old Ma Gwyn’. From an early age Nell and her notorious elder sister Rose, were involved in the family business. Nell at a tender age probable acted as a servant girl, attending the rich clients who frequented the ‘house’. Even at this stage she was renowned for her beauty and quick wit.

In 1662, Nell escaped her life in the bawdy house by taking a lover, a man named Duncan or Dugan, who moved her to rooms in Maypole Ally.

During the period of the Commonwealth, under Oliver Cromwell, theatres, – along with many other, – entertainments, – was band. With the Restoration in 1660, Charles II quickly set about establishing new theatrical groups. In 1663, one of these, – the Kings Company under Thomas Killigrew, – opened a new playhouse, The Theatre in Bridge Street, – later rebuilt as the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

It was here that Nell was to take on one of her most famous roles, that of an ‘orange seller’. A friend of Madam Gwyn’s and former prostitute Mary Meggs, – nicknamed ‘Orange Moll’ was granted a licence by the King to; ‘vend, utter and sell oranges, lemons, fruit, sweetmeats and all manner of fruiterers and confectioners wares,’ Nell and her sister were hired by Meggs as scantily clad ‘orange-girls’ selling their wares at six pence each to the theatre audience.

Nell did not remain an ‘orange seller’ for long. Her beauty, quick wit and obvious talent soon brought her to the attention of the ‘theatre company’. The rest as they say, is history and Nell became one of the most successful and popular actresses of her time. Moving now in Court circles she came to the attention of the King, Charles I (Old Rolly).

No one knows if it was love at first sight, but Nell became the Kings most famous long-term mistress. The inevitable happened and in 1670, Nell gave birth to her first son by Charles. A handsome young man, he was given the name Charles Beauclerk. A year later, in 1671, Nell gave birth to her second son James Beauclerk.

Nell Gwyn, portrait by Peter Lely
Charles II, portrait by John Michael Wright

When Charles Beauclerk was 6 years old, in 1676, the King issued a warrant granting him the ‘dignities’ of Baron of Heddington, co. Oxford and Earl Burford in the same county. A few weeks later, his brother James, was granted the title of Lord Beauclerk.

On 5th January 1684, shortly after the death of Henry Jermyn, 1st Duke of St. Albans, the King gave the title to Charles along with an allowance of £1,000 a year. Amongst the estates that the newly created Duke acquired was the Royal Hunting Lodge at Bestwood in Nottinghamshire.

On the edge of Bestwood Park, – to the north, – is the site of Bestwood Colliery. Its old ‘Engine House’ still stands as a testament to this once thriving Pit. Known locally as ‘the miner’s path’, the course of an old railway siding leads in a straight line from the Colliery into the wooded slopes of the Park.

Where the old line terminates at the foot of a steep slope, a modern path climbs further into the Park. By the side of this path is an unremarkable Ashlar (a boundary stone) known as the Centre Stone. The stone is roughly 2’ by 1’ and protrudes from the ground around 18’’ to 2’, – although this may be the top of a much larger stone and further investigation is needed.

Whatever the origin and original purpose of the Centre Stone, – if local legend is to be believed, – it played its part in the story of how Charles Beauclerk, – natural son of Charles II and Nell Gwynn, – acquired the Bestwood Estate as the ‘seat’ of the Dukes of St. Albans.

The story tells how during their many years together, Charles and Nell favoured Bestwood as one of their preferred trysting places. Charles was a king who enjoyed the traditional hunt at Bestwood and he would routinely take Nell with him.

It is said that when Nell gave birth to their son, Charles Beauclerk, the King refused to acknowledge him with a title and name. History tells us that this part of the story is true, for it was six years before the young Charles was given the title Baron of Heddington, co. Oxford and Earl Burford. However, the local legend states that the shrewd Nell Gwynn gained her son status by her own efforts and persistence to the King.

Eventually, frustrated with her lover’s response to her pliés, she dangled the infant out of a window and told the King that she would rather the child died than see him live without a future. Charles relented and being equally shrewd told Nell that the boy would be granted ‘all of the land Nell could ride around before breakfast’. The King was aware that Nell was seldom an early riser and believed he had set her an impossible task. However, Nell was up before dawn the very next morning and with a host of witnesses, – including lawyers, – she set off to ride the bounds of the Bestwood Estate.

As conformation of her course she dropped a coloured silk handkerchief on or by each of the many boundary marks. Completing the entire boundary she carefully placed the last handkerchief on the top of the Centre Stone. At breakfast she confronted the King with what she had done, stating that she had completed her part of the bargain. The astonished Charles is said to have uttered the words, “I can’t believe it! You have taken my best wood (Bestwood?)” He was forced to keep his side of the bargain and granted his son the Estate and the title Duke of St. Albans.

How true is this charming local story? The incident where Nell dangled the child from the window is certainly recorded as true, but not at Bestwood. Some years ago I told this story at a talk I was giving on the subject of Nottingham’s ‘Old Stones’. After the lecture I was approached by a couple whose house adjoined Bestwood Park. They informed me that at the bottom of their garden was an ancient bridle path, – from which they had recovered many horse shoes. The deeds to their property recorded the story of Nell’s early morning ride and went on to say that the path, – the boundary between their property and Bestwood, – had been established by this very act!

Bestwood Lodge

Posted in Bestwood, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | 1 Comment

The Cadland

By Joseph Earp

The Cadland in Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, is believed to be the only pub in the UK bearing that name.

What we know of the Cadland has probably been a public house since the late 18th century-possibly earlier- but has only been known by that name since 1828. It was in that year, or very shortly afterwards, that the landlord changed the name to The Cadland, in recognition of the horse that won the Derby in May that year.

Cadland (1825–1837) was a British Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. In a career that lasted from April 1828 to 1831 he ran twenty-five times and won fifteen races, with several of his wins being walkovers in which all of his opponents were withdrawn. In the summer of 1828 he ran a dead heat with The Colonel in the Derby, before winning the race in a deciding run-off. He went on to have a long and successful racing career, winning a further eleven races before his retirement, and developing a notable rivalry with his contemporary Zinganee. Cadland was disappointing as a sire of winners in England and was exported to France, where he was much more successful. He died in 1837.

The Cadland Thoroughbred Racehorse, circa 1828

Local legend has it that the landlord named the pub after the horse because it was supposedly trained around the fields of Chilwell. This legend is dubious as records show the horse was never trained around Nottinghamshire and most probably never set a single horse shoe on a field in Chilwell. Another legend states that the landlord at the time named the pub after the horse after winning a very large sum of money betting on Cadland. Again this is only conjecture.

What we do know is that surviving licences show that between 1810 and 1825 the pub was known as The Bulls Head and that throughout this period the landlord was John Felton.

Unfortunately, no further licences survive for subsequent years, but White’s Trade Directory for 1832 indicates that the landlord was John Hopewell. It is not known exactly when he took over from John Felton, but one of these landlords was presumably the one who changed the name of the pub.

The Cadland Public House, October 2017.
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Attenborough Nature Reserve

by Joseph Earp

Attenborough Nature Reserve is a complex of flooded gravel pits and islands, covering one hundred and forty five hectares. The reserve lies to the south west of Nottinghamshire. The nature reserve was established in 1966 and opened by Sir David Attenborough. A process of decolonisation over some forty years has created a wide range of aquatic and waterside habitats. Other drier areas include scrub and grasslands as well as areas of native Willow and Old Stream Courses. The reserve has a wide range of fish and invertebrates including rare species of Great Diving Beetle, Damselflies, Dragonflies and Amphibians.

Excavations started on the floodplain of the River Trent at Attenborough in 1929 and gravel workings, including the fully restored areas, now cover more than 365 acres. The Process of mineral extraction has led to the creation of many areas of open water. Most of the soil removed in order to reach the gravel has been deposited back into the water-filled excavations creating a patchwork of lakes and islands. The many islands created over the years provide shelter, food and perhaps most importantly, freedom from disturbance, creating ideal conditions for the many species of wildlife that thrive here. As the vegetation has matured, so has the type and variety of habitats.

One of the many areas of the reserve created from gravel extraction. Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

Since recording began in 1944, over 250 species of birds have been sighted here, from swans and starlings, to the elusive kingfisher and the even rarer bittern. The site is particularly noted for the wide range of waterfowl which can be found. Many species are migrants passing through on their way to spend the winter in warmer climates. Others return to their breeding grounds here each spring. In 1982, the site was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to the importance of its over-wintering waterfowl population, particularly pochard and shoveler.

Other wildlife includes foxes, stoats, toads, newts, and many species of butterflies, moths and other invertebrates. The network of islands and paths is home to a wide range of trees, shrubs and wildflowers such as water forget-me-not which grows at the water’s edge. Recently otters have been recorded in the Attenborough area and it is hoped that they will establish a breeding population in the future.

In addition to being a haven for wildlife, the site is very popular with visitors, many of whom come to enjoy the wildlife or simply to relax in the peaceful surroundings of the nature reserve. Within the gravel pit complex there are a number of areas set aside for activities such as sailing, water-sports, horse riding, fishing and walking. The various pressures placed upon the site are managed to protect its wildlife value.

Attenborough Nature Centre is a great place to visit and learn more about the reserve. Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

Attenborough Nature Reserve forms part of what was ‘Attenborough Quarry; and is a result of over seventy years mineral extraction from the River Trent washlands. Quarrying from this site has supplied significant quantities of raw materials from which much of the infrastructure of Nottingham has been built. Whether found in house, hospital or highway the products of the industry are very visible.

The site was used as gravel pits between 1929 and 1967, and was latterly still owned by CEMEX, the gravel extraction company, who continue to extract sand and gravel from neighbouring areas. As sections of the site are worked out they are restored as wetland. In 2010 an area known as Thrumpton’s Land was restored in this way.

In late 2019, the owners announced their desire to sell the site, and an appeal backed by Sir David Attenborough, whose family traditionally hail from the area, was launched to raise one million pounds needed to enable transfer of ownership to Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, which had helped to maintain the site with the owners for 60 years.

The purchase of Attenborough Nature Reserve from Cemex UK was concluded in December 2020, following a £750,000 grant allocated as part of the Landfill Communities Fund from Biffa Award. The derelict concrete plant owned by Cemex and located on Long Lane was sold to developers in 2020. The former Cemex site will include 20 new homes on the land. Property consultants Fisher German agreed the sale of the old CEMEX site off Long Lane, in Attenborough, to the Staffordshire-based Cameron Homes. CEMEX previously operated a concrete plant at the site in Long Lane, Attenborough, alongside a satellite office and concrete testing laboratory for its Midlands operation.

Demolition under way of the old derelict concrete plant owned by Cemex. Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

With the sale of the reserve to Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust the future of the site looks safe and secure. Speaking on behalf of the Trust, chief executive Paul Wilkinson said: ‘The support of Biffa Award and the backing of the public and our supporters has delivered a prize that we have been working with CEMEX to achieve for some time. ‘Attenborough is a cherished site where so many come to connect with nature. Our aspiration has always been to take the site into our ownership so that we can plan for its long-term future, and that future begins today. ‘We would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone that has made it possible, including Biffa Award, our supporters and CEMEX.’

Attenborough Nature Reserve is a cherished site where so many come to connect with nature. The future of the reserve begins today. Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

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Nottingham’s Great Victoria Station

by Bill Carson 

Nottingham Victoria Station opened on the 24th May 1900- over a year after the start of main line services from London to Sheffield were passing through it.

The construction was on a grand scale- around 700,000 cubic yards of sandstone rock was excavated from its cavernous site. Some 1300 houses and 24 public houses previously on the site had to be demolished. The site was approximately 13 acres big and 650 yards long from north to south. It had an average width of 110 yards with a tunnel at each end of it for access.

Construction works for the then new Victoria Station, circa 1899/ early 1900? Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

Both the Great Central and Great Northern railways shared the station (they split into two lines at Weekday Cross junction) and this, after much argument, was why it was called Nottingham ‘Victoria’ rather than ‘Central’.

The main station building was in true Victorian splendour. It was constructed using the best quality faced bricks and Darley Dale stone with space out in front for Hackney carriages which was covered by a canopy. The three story building had a large 100 feet clock tower in it’s centre topped with a cupola and weather vane. At the north end of the building access could be gained to the parcels office via two large metal gates.

Inside the building, on the ground floor, you reached the spacious booking office. It was over 100ft long and 66ft wide and contained the best quality pine and a hard wearing oak floor along with a balcony to gain access to offices.

The station itself had two large island platforms, each 1270 feet long, with four bays for local traffic giving a total of 12 platforms. Large steel pillars held up an enormous 3-part canopy – the two outer sections being 63 feet across the central one being 84 feet across. These were glazed and gave the station a very impressive ‘cathedral’ look. The main station building was located on Milton Street along with the station hotel.

The platforms both had very similar buildings with a variety of facilities including a telegraph office, refreshment rooms, toilets, many waiting rooms and even a ladies only tea room! The station boasted many facilities for the comfort of passengers – far more than many other stations in the area.

Nottingham Victoria Station circa 1906. Photo Credit: Ed Dexter.

A subway system, below track level, could be used for the movement of luggage in order to avoid carrying it over the footbridges. The station had passing loops round all platforms (for freight), two signal boxes and its own turntable. The two signal boxes were positioned at the north and south ends of the station and controlled entry and exit to the tunnels that allowed entry to the complex.

The traffic that passed through was very varied. It included London-Manchester expresses, local services, cross-country services (from say York to Bristol via Oxford) as well as freight workings. As the station was shared with The Great Northern Railway (already well established when Victoria opened) a superb network of lines going to many destinations was available from the one station.

In its hey-day it was a busy, friendly and grand station which many people loved and thought would last forever. But this was not to be. During the 1960’s the whole Great Central route was being run down by diverting services away from it, cutting others and slowing down expresses to very slack timetables. Locomotives and rolling stock was unreliable and old- the line did not benefit from British Rail’s new diesel locomotives. As passenger numbers fell, either going by car or other lines, closure seemed inevitable. The last through service from Nottingham to London ran on 3rd September 1966. All that was left was a DMU service between Nottingham and Rugby.

The now largely silent Victoria station was finally closed on 4 September 1967 and demolished leaving only the clocktower to survive amongst the Victoria Shopping Centre and flats. The loss of the station was described as one of the worst blights on any UK city. The superb grand station which, if still in existence, would be in great need has now been transformed beyond all recognition.. The clocktower was spared but does not blend into its surroundings at all and stands as an overlooked monument to a once truly great station.

The Clock Tower June 2015.

The Clock Tower June 2015. The clocktower was spared but does not blend into its surroundings at all and stands as an overlooked monument to a once truly great station. Photo Credit: Joseph Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Industrial History | Leave a comment

Nottingham’s Last Antiquarian and Second-hand Bookshop

by Joseph Earp

The Mansfield Road has always been the main road out of Nottingham, it is still true today. This in mind, the section of road now within the City has become a very busy shopping thoroughfare. The Mansfield Road was once renowned for the number of ‘antique’ and specialist bookshops. By the 2000’s only one of these bookshops would remain, Jermy and Westerman.

The bookshop was established in 1978, by original owners Pete Jermy and Roger Westerman. The bookshop was ran by one of the owners, Pete Jermy. Roger Westerman acted as a ‘sleeping partner’, he would work one weekend a month. By the mid 1980s Pete Jermy decided to move to Tasmania to be closer to family. Pete would later set up a small bookshop ‘Pete Jermy Antiquarian & Second Hand Books Services’ in Ulverstone, Tasmania.

With Pete Jermy now living abroad the shop was put up for sale. The shop was for sale for two years with no buyers. That was until retired Coal Miner Geoff Blore brought the bookshop in 1987. Geoff saw the potential in the business and set up shop with his son Richard Blore. Already running their successful bookshop in Sherwood, Father and Son, were more than experienced for the new business venture.

Jermy & Westerman, 203 Mansfield Rd, Nottingham NG1 3FS – Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

The shop covered two floors and had a collection covering all subjects from popular reading to rare and interesting books, magazines and comics. The ground floor housed antiquarian books of local relevance as well as a tearoom. As the stairs climbed upwards, so did the eclectic mix of books, which covered every wall and crevice. The shop had been host venue for the Nottingham Poetry Festival, showcasing performances from the likes of Rosie Garner and Henry Normal.

Jermy and Westerman Interior- Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

The shop would become very successful through the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000’s. Richard Blore remembers “books would come in from local auctions in their volumes. We are talking tonnage, that we would get through in a week. People would come into the bookshop needing a book on cookery, gardening or something relating to school work for their children. So they would come in and ask have you got this and that. We had customers coming in since the shop was started. When we first started our customer base was regional, but it was also national. We had regulars we knew would travel to Nottingham just to come to our bookshop. When we first started there were eight second hand bookshops in Nottingham as well as numerous book dealers. We were the last to survive”.

By the early 2000s antiquarian and second hand bookshops started to struggle for trade and to survive. Before the internet came along you could see the impact on the trade from CD-ROMS. People who had computers could now access books through their computers. Then the internet was born, websites with information on every subject you could think of impacted on the second hand book trade. In general a reference book will be better than a website on a subject area. It is the convenience of the internet which has won. You can now access literally any subject from your computer and phone, books have now in some cases become obsolete.

In 2019, after over 30 years of trading, Geoff and Richard Blore decided to close their Mansfield Road shop. Geoff had already closed his Sherwood book shop a number of years before that because of competition from over ten charity shops in the area. They officially announced the closure of the shop on their Instagram page on the 7 June 2019: We are very sorry to announce our closure this month, Jermy & Westerman’s last day will be June 15th. We would like to thank all of our customers for their support over the years and we hope that our followers here have enjoyed the images of the shop. We will be open until the 15th June and will continue to post on here until then – Richard & Geoff”.

Notice Announcing the Shop’s Closure- Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

Although the bookshop has closed Geoff and Richard continue to sell books through the internet. With the closure of Jermy and Westerman, Nottingham in a way has lost a great part of it’s retail history. For hundreds of years second hand bookshops were to be found in every village, town and city in Great Britain. Nottingham had at one time over eight bookshops in the city. It is sad to see Jermy and Westerman go but happy memories of the bookshop will live on for many years to come.

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The Old Stones of Nottinghamshire

by Frank E Earp

What eyes inumerable, O ancient stone,
Have gazed and gazed thy antique form upon?

So wrote H.S. Sutton concerning an enigmatic sandstone outcrop at Bramcote near Nottingham, popularly called the Hemlock Stone. In Sutton’s poem, he speaks proudly of the countless generations who have stood by its brooding bulk ‘from woad-dyed savage’ he says, ‘to cavalier.’

Today the Hemlock Stone is largely disregarded, to the extent that in the last few years it has been removed from the list of ‘sites of special scientific interest.’ The old idea of the stone being nothing more than the result of bad quarrying is once again popular and has probably been encouraged by property developers with an eye on the land surrounding the stone. This current lack of interest in the Hemlock Stone has not always been the case and the folk-lore and legends woven around such stones are an essential part of our heritage.

Legend has it that the Hemlock Stone was hurled at Lenton Priory, some four miles west of the stone, by the Devil. This tale of the Devil or some mischievous force hurling a stone and missing its mark occurs throughout the folk-literature of Europe. It is generally accepted that such legends reflect conflict between the early christian Church and their pagan contemporaries. The tale is more often than not associated with prehistoric sites like the large monoliths or standing stones erected by neolithic and bronze age man. Such stones were the centre of pagan worship well into the christian era.

The Hemlock Stone, May Morning 2020- Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

The village of Kinoulton in south-east Nottinghamshire once possessed a stone with an similar legend to that of the Hemlock Stone. This stone was, from its description, probably a glacial erratic and stood in the church yard close to the old church. Sadly, both church and stone are now destroyed,

It is interesting to compare the Hemlock Stone and Kinoulton legends in more detail. Both stones were believed to be missiles of diabolic origin aimed at ecclesiastical sites, Lenton Priory and Kinoulton church, respectively. The sites from which the stones were reputedly hurled are also of interest. Both are approximately thirty miles from their targets and both have legends of demonic occupants.

The Hemlock Stone was reputedly hurled from the hill above Castleton in Derbyshire. Below this hill, upon which stands Peveril Castle (from which the town derives its name), is the Treekcliff Cavern. This massive limestone cave, once the home of prehistoric man, is reputed to be one of the entrances to the ‘underworld’ and the haunt of the Devil. Moreover, when heavy rain issues from the cave in the form of streamlets, it is said to be the Devil urinating.

In the case of the Kinoulton stone it was supposed to have been thrown from Lincoln Cathedral, where the Devil once let loose that evil entity ‘The Lincoln Imp’ who, after running amock, was turned to stone by an angel.

To return to the Hemlock Stone and how attitudes have changed regarding such wonders. Writing in the mid-eighteenth century, Dr Spencer Timothy Hall, a.k.a. ‘The Sherwood Forester’, provides us with yet more reasons for believing that the Hemlock Stone was once venerated by our pagan forefathers. The good doctor believed the stone to be of natural origin but to be man-enhanced, the result of deliberate quarrying. He goes on to say that when he was a young boy the old folk could remember a time when a fire was lit upon the top of the stone annually on Beltane Day.

Nearby the Hemlock Stone was once the ‘Sick Dyke’. This spring was regarded as a healing well, especially effacacious to rheumatism sufferers. More than one writer on the subject has suggested that the ell was connected with rituals performed at the Hemlock Stone. The Hemlock Stone also has connections with three other stones, a possible standing stone on the nearby Crow Hill  and two other local landmarks, the Cat Stone at Strelley and Bob’s Rock at Sandiacre.

Bob’s Rock, 2013- Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

Another fascinating Nottinghamshire stone about which little has been written is the Druid Stone at Blidworth. This stone is an eroded glacial deposit, a conglomerate of pebbles and sand, cemented together by stalagmatic limestone. It is over fourteen feet high and has a curious hole bored through it in its base. Through this it is possible to enter the stone looking to the east to see a hole or window cut in the far wall. It has long been claimed that this hole is aligned to the midsummer sunrise. However, a survey carried out by Barry Christian some ten or more years ago revealed that it is in fact aligned to Thom’s megalithic May Day sunrise. Like the Hemlock Stone this stone may well have been associated with the Celtic Beltane. Close by the Druid Stone are the sites of a number of prehistoric tumuli and within a few miles the legendary Friar Tuck’s Well at Fountaindale and yet another of Nottinghamshire’s ‘old stones’, the Forest or Lyndhurst Stone which marks the site of a large boulder called the White Stone.

The Druid Stone, 2017- Photo Credit: Joseph Earp.

This article contains references to just a few of Nottinghamshire’s ‘old stones’. I hope that it serves to provoke interest in these ancient landmarks.


From Original Research by Frank Earp and Pete Hannah .

Originally published in Mercian Mysteries, No.6 February 1991. With Thanks to Bob Trubshaw. 

Posted in Bramcote, Nottinghamshire Folklore, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment

Bestwood Lodge

by Frank E Earp

Bestwood Lodge, – now a hotel, – is a large 19th century ‘Country House’ on the edge of Bestwood Country Park. It was originally a medieval Royal Hunting Lodge set within what was once a part of Sherwood Forest.

It is likely that there was some form of hunting lodge in this part of Sherwood from Norman times. The earliest written reference to Bestwood comes from 1160. In that year Henry II granted the Priory at Lenton; ‘two carts to fetch dead wood or heath, as much as they should need for their own use’. This was a great privilege, as the estate at Bestwood was subject to ‘Forest Law’ which meant that all rights and privileges belong to the monarch.

In 1329 Edward III granted Bestwood to Richard De Strelley, ‘for his life’. It is clear that Edward continued to enjoy the rights and benefits of the estate, for we find that in 1335, the King granted De Strelley; ‘all the dry brunches which in English are called slovens or stubbs, within the Hay of Bestwood’.

It is unclear if, at these dates, there was an existing building on the site now occupied by the current house. In 1363 Edward III sent instructions to Robert Maule of Linby, – custodian of the loge, – to fell sufficient timber at Bestwood to enclose the park in order that he might build a lodge in the most attractive part of the enclosure. In 1364, he signed ‘letters patent’ dated at his lodge in Bestwood.

Both Edward IV in 1469 and in 1485, the ill-fated Richard III, hunted in Bestwood whilst staying at Nottingham Castle. Passing into the stewardship of various noble families, Bestwood continue to be one of Royalty’s favourite hunting grounds until the reign of Charles II – when it became a private house.

Three Earls of Rutland have managed the estate. In the reign of Henry VIII, Bestwood was in the hands of Sir Thomas Byron. Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, gave Bestwood to the celebrated courtier, Thomas Markham.

Markham received a royal warrant to fell 86 trees from Bestwood to repair the Lodge. It is from this warrant we have our first idea as to what the Lodge looked like. It is described as containing 38 rooms, being built of wood, plastered and roofed with slate and tiles.

We might be fool into thinking that the granting of Bestwood Lodge by Royalty to various Noblemen was a great kindness. However, this is not the case; it was merely a way of getting someone else to pay for the upkeep of the estate. The Royals continued to use the Park for hunting and would expect to stay in comfort at the Lodge whilst doing so.

Bestwood continued to be used as a Royal Hunting Lodge until the reign of Charles II. In 1683 Charles gave the house and entire estate, along with the title 1st Duke of St Albans, to his natural son, Henry Beauclark. It was Henry’s descendant, the 10th Duke of St Albans who in 1860, demolished the medieval hunting lodge and built the house we see today. The house was built in the ‘Gothic’ style and was completed by 1863.

If Bestwood had a ghost, it would be that of the 10th Duke, who would haunt the grounds as a grey suited figure armed with a hoe or other gardening implement. The Duke was very fond of gardening and when in residence at the Lodge would spend his time alone in the grounds tending his plants.

It is the fascinating story of ‘Nell Gwyn’ and how the Lodge and estate passed into the hands of the Beauclark family, which is the subject for another article.

Bestwood Lodge, c.1905

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Just One in Six Million, But His Country Needed Him

By Mitch Peeke


Photo Credit: Mitch Peeke

Photo Credit: Mitch Peeke

This medal was purchased by chance, purely in passing, by my daughter, Katie; from Fieldstaff Antiques in Rochester High Street, in September of 2019. She saw it and just thought that it might cheer me up whilst I was laid up, having had a serious motorcycle accident. (I think she also knew that I wouldn’t just say “Thank you” and leave it there)! I have to say, curiosity aroused, it certainly gave me something positive to do!

The medal was easily identified as the Great War Victory Medal, which was awarded to every British Serviceman who’d survived that war. On the bottom edge of the medal, there is an impression which reads: “83870. Gnr. E. Ashley. RA”. Beyond that, there was no other information that came with the medal. So; who was 83870 Gunner E. Ashley? Time for some online detective work, and Army serial numbers are a great starting point!

83870, Edgar Ashley, was born on 14th December 1889 in Nottingham. His Army papers show that he was 5 feet 7 and three-quarter inches tall, weighed 151 pounds and was in good physical condition, having a 38 and a half inch chest that he could expand by three and a half inches. He had a short scar above his left eyebrow and he was a “Telephone Instrument Fitter” by trade. An early phone engineer.

His exact date of enlistment is not shown but it was around mid-May 1916, as his papers give a declared age at enlistment of 26 years, 156 days. His Army medal card shows he was not entitled to either the 1914 Star or the 1914-1915 Star. To qualify for either of those medals, a soldier would have had to have volunteered before conscription was introduced, early in 1916. Therefore, he; like many others, was a conscripted soldier.

He enlisted in his native Nottingham, at No 4 Depot, Royal Garrison Artillery and passed the Army medical at Nottingham Recruitment Centre. Initially, he was posted to the 111th Battery, RGA. There he would receive three months basic Army training, before moving on to a further three to six months of specific Artillery training. After training and practice, he was posted to the 181st Siege Battery, RGA, in France.

The 181st Siege Battery was one of two such units raised at Forth in June of 1916. It was one of ten new Batteries raised that month, the other eight all being raised down South. Armed with BL 6 inch, 26cwt Medium Howitzers, the 181st were sent to France on 12th October 1916.

By 1916, the RGA had grown into a very large component of the British Army and it was still growing at a rate of ten new Batteries per month. The Siege Batteries were all armed with heavy, large-calibre guns and howitzers that had immense destructive power. Hurling its 100lb shells aloft in a high, plunging trajectory, the BL 6 inch, 26cwt Howitzer, with its combination of firepower, (two rounds per minute) range, (9,500 yards) and (for its day, anyway) mobility, was arguably one of the British Army’s most important weapons of World War I. A later variant, fitted with solid rubber tyres mounted on solid metal wheels, was still in active front line service during WW2, such was its design quality.

In WW1, the Artillery would be positioned well behind the infantry battle line, firing at unseen targets and controlled by a Forward Artillery Observer. As the war progressed, the heavy artillery and the techniques of long-range artillery were massively developed. By mid-late 1915, the RGA was often supported by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) who had devised a system whereby the crew of a spotter aircraft could use wireless telegraphy to give corrections of aim to the guns. The two-man RFC spotter aircraft carried a wireless set, a hand held Aldis Signalling Lamp (in case the wireless set failed), and a map divided into squares. After identifying the position of an enemy target the Observer in the aircraft was able to transmit messages such as “Square A5” (or B3, or C1, etc) in Morse code to a RFC land station attached to a heavy artillery unit, such as the Royal Garrison Artillery’s Siege Batteries. Later advances in the science of Gun Laying enabled the guns to be aimed at co-ordinates on a map calculated with geometry and mathematics; a technique later used in WW2.

The RGA, especially the Siege Batteries, had significantly increased in size by the time Edgar Ashley joined their ranks. The RGA had increased from 32 Regular and Territorial Force Batteries in 1914, to 117 by the end of the war. The Siege Batteries increased from just three Regular Batteries in 1914, to an incredible 401 by the end of the war. Siege Batteries had the largest guns such as 5 inch 60 pounders, 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers. There were even a few of these Siege Batteries that had huge 12 inch Howitzers, specially mounted on equally large railway flat cars or on fixed concrete emplacements.

A 6 inch 26cwt Howitzer Battery of the RGA in action on the Western Front in WW1.

Being an Artilleryman in WW1 was not an easy posting. Whilst not quite as risk exposed perhaps as an Infantryman in the trenches, the Royal Artillery collectively lost about 10% of its personnel in WW1, with countless others wounded, or returned home having survived being gassed, but incapacitated. One of the main objectives for the German Artillery was of course to neutralise the British Artillery! To that end, the Germans constantly targeted the British Artillery positions, raining High Explosive, Shrapnel and of course Gas shells onto the British Gunners, who tended to return like for like. Just because the Artillery positions of both sides were behind their respective trenches, did not mean that they were safe positions. Far from it! They were out in the open, not dug in and covered only with light camouflage netting. There was also no crew shield fitted to the guns for the Gunners to get behind either.

Gunner Ashley arrived in France to join the 181st Siege Battery around February of 1917. His arrival amid the cold, the wet and the legendary mud of the Western Front, must have been something of a shock to him. As the Spring came, the weather may have improved and the mud may have dried out somewhat, but the war still raged on with no let up in its ferocity. It was almost inevitable: Near the end of April 1917, Gunner Ashley was badly wounded by Shrapnel to his left forearm. He was sent home to England for treatment and recovery, arriving at Fort Pitt, Rochester, on 20th April. Six days later, he was transferred to the Military Hospital at Lees Court in Faversham, where he remained till 29th May.

The following day, having been discharged from the hospital, he received a ten day leave pass and went back to Nottingham, to the family home at 56, Lees Hill Street, Sneinton; which was and still is, a tall and slim, three-storey, Victorian terraced house that had been their family home since April 1911.

He seems to have been fortunate enough to have come through his time in that awful conflict relatively unscathed, with only the Shrapnel wounds to his left forearm. His wounds were evidently bad enough for him to be sent home, but not bad enough for him to remain there. Ashley returned to his unit on the Western Front at the end of his ten day leave. He remained in France till the Armistice, after which, his unit returned to England.

Gunner Ashley’s military service ended in October of 1919, when the 181st Siege Battery, RGA, was sent to the Reserves. His Discharge Certificate shows that he had obtained a special Army qualification in Gun Laying for a six inch Howitzer Battery. Quite how that was going to help him in Civvy Street is unclear!

After leaving the Army, Edgar Ashley returned home to Nottingham and one might have thought, back to his pre-war occupation as a telephone engineer. However, he ended up working on the Nottingham Fruit and Veg Markets instead. He was awarded the British War Medal in Silver (Combatant) and the Victory Medal, for surviving!

WW1 Victory Medal (Left) and British War Medal, known colloquially as “The Mutt and Jeff Pair”.

There was no sign of his British War Medal in the Antiques shop, just his Victory Medal. This is not uncommon. The War Medal was made from solid Silver, so it had value. During the Great Depression of the 1920’s, it was very common for ex-servicemen to pawn, or even to sell their British War Medal for its scrap value, to help financially. The Victory Medal is not made from precious metal, like the War Medal was, so the Silver-coated Bronze Victory Medals tended to survive.

In July of 1922, Edgar Ashley married Ethel Cheatle, also of Nottingham. They had one child, a son called Roydon, but for whatever reason, the marriage didn’t last. In July of 1928, Edgar re-married. His second wife was Mary Elizabeth Carter; “Polly” to those who knew her, also of Nottingham.

Mary’s first husband had died in 1926 and using a £40 loan from a relative, Mary had opened a Greengrocer’s shop. She subsequently met Edgar at the Fruit and Veg Markets. They too had one child, a daughter, but sadly she died young. They both had children from their previous marriages though. Edgar’s son Roydon, died in 2018, aged 94. Mary had three daughters from her previous marriage.

Edgar and Mary moved to Skegness in Lincolnshire at some point later in their married life, becoming very successful Hoteliers. After 43 years together, Mary died, in 1972.



Edgar Ashley died nine years later, in October 1981, at home in Spilsby, Lincolnshire. He was almost 92. What seemed something of a mystery though is this: Although he was temporarily hospitalised at Fort Pitt, Rochester; Edgar Ashley had absolutely no other local connection to the Medway area. He did not return to the Rochester/Chatham area after the war. He spent most of the remainder of his long life in his native Nottingham and he died in Lincolnshire. So of all the places that it could have ended up; how on Earth did his Victory medal come to end up in an Antiques shop just half a mile down the road from where he was initially hospitaised, 100 years after it was awarded and sent to him in Nottingham?! It turns out that one of Mary’s Nephews, John, was last heard of living in Rochester. It would seem likely that he has either recently passed away or perhaps gone into care and his house was cleared, as the proprietor of Fieldstaff Antiques says he acquired the medal as part of a household lot.

Despite my enquiries in specialist online medal forums and the like, no trace of his Silver British War Medal has materialised. Perhaps it went the same way as so many of them. In the meantime: Here’s to the memory of the late Edgar Ashley of Nottingham; who, like so many others of his era, answered his Country’s call in its hour of need. Two, or even three generations down the line, we salute you:

“Lest we forget”


Mitch Peeke has a keen interest in aviation, and is a former member of the Kent Gliding Club. He was also an Air Cadet, many years ago! In his spare time, he is often to be found roaring around the countryside on his classic custom 1,450cc Harley Davidson.

A founder member of Lusitania Online (website, Mitch co- authored Lusitania and Beyond: The Life of Commodore William Thomas Turner (Avid Publications 2001), as well as The Lusitania Story (Pen and Sword Books, 2002 and updated Centenary edition 2015). He also wrote Lost Souls Of The River Kwai (Pen and Sword Books, 2004) with the late Bill Reed, as well as writing 1940: The Battles To Stop Hitler. (Pen and Sword Aviation 2015).

Mitch writes for numerous websites and journals and has contributed to programmes on BBC Radio Kent. He has also acted as a historical advisor to The Discovery Channel as well as smaller, independent film makers. Mitch lives with his wife Jane with whom he has one daughter and one son, (plus Jane’s menagerie of rescued animals!). The family live at Allhallows-on-Sea, near Rochester, Kent; where in June 2019, having recently researched the story, he raised a memorial to the crew of an American B 17 “Flying Fortress” Bomber, which crashed on the beach at Allhallows in 1944 following its first combat mission.

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How Goose Fair Acquired its Illustrious Name

by Joseph Earp

Traditionally it is thought that the Nottingham Goose Fair got its name from the hundreds of geese which were, at one time driven from Lincolnshire and Norfolk to be sold in Nottingham. However the below tale suggests an alternative origin. A squire is left to bring up his son after his wife’s death, and he prevents the boy from having any contact with women. When the son is older they go to the fair, inevitably they run into some women, and the son is bewildered. The father explains that they are ‘geese’.

Below is the tale which supposedly explains how the name ‘Goose Fair’ came to be. It is taken from a London Magazine from the year 1863:

“Once upon a time there was a certain squire, whose experience of wedded life was such as to induce him to vow that his only son, who had been motherless from his infancy, should never so much as cast eyes upon one of the fair sex until he arrived at that certain age known as ‘years of discretion’. This praiseworthy intention was carried out with the greatest scrupulosity, insomuch that the young hopeful arrived at the time when most youths imagine they have put away childish things, and was in ignorance of the existence of the daughter of eve.

It was, then, in the month of October, that the squire conceived the fatal idea of introducing his son to the enjoyments of the Nottingham Fair. It was a perilous experiment; but it was possible that the youth’s early education would render him wholly insensible to feminine charms, and that he would accord no more notice to the gentler sex than to the gingerbread, ‘learned’ pigs, giants and dwarfs.

The busy scene of the fair was new to the young man, and his eyes wandered wonderingly from one thing to another, until at length they rested upon a fine hat and feathers, and upon the owner thereof into the bargain. ‘What is that Father?’ was the query resulting from the examination. ‘A goose, to be sure!’ was the surly reply. ‘And this? and that? and these? and those?’ continued the son, growing excited as crowds of gaily-attired and merry laughing maidens passed them by. ‘Geese boy, all geese’ quoth the culpably satirical or wilfully mendacious parent. The parent immediately drew the attention of his charge to more instructive objects, and strained every nerve to hit on some all absorbing device which might effectually prevent his thoughts from straying on forbidden ground.

In such attempts the day grew old, and it was time to think of returning home. ‘Well, Joe,’ said the squire, ‘choose something for a fairing. What would you like best?’ Joe did not hesitate. He looked delighted, and astonished his parent by exclaiming ‘A goose, father, please buy me a goose!’.

The story getting wind, that mart (so ’tis said) was ever afterwards known as ‘Goose Fair’”.

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