Albert Ball

by Frank E Earp 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Thompson’s Grave, Mansfield

by Ross Parish 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of his unusual grave he wrote:

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

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

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

tThompson's Grave Mansfield (28) (1)

Thompson’s Grave Site – Photo Credit: Ross Parish

tThompson's Grave Mansfield (23)

Thompson’s Grave – Photo Credit: Ross Parish


Posted in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment

Secret Nottingham

New Book Available From May 2016

Secret Nottingham 

by Frank E Earp and Joseph Earp


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


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

Telephone: 01453 847800

Posted in Nottinghamshire History News and Events | Leave a comment

Beeston in 1951: At Your Service

by Joe Earp 

Looking at the Beeston and Stapleford Urban District Official Guide for 1951, Beeston had a varied and interesting service on offer to it’s local citizens. Looking through the various amenities which were available to the Beestonian of 1951 makes for an interesting read. Broxtowe District Council was formed on 1 April, 1974, following the amalgamation of the former Beeston and Stapleford Urban District council, part of the Basford Rural District Council and Eastwood Urban District Council. In 1977 the Council was granted Borough status and the first Mayor was elected.

In this article we look back at what services were provided. For the sake of convenience the various services have been listed alphabetical. The names and services appear exactly as they did in the 1951 Guide:

Civic Restaurants

Because of the undoubted demand for a Civic Restaurant at Beeston, in 1948 the Council built a restaurant at Station Road. This restaurant, which was erected on a site of 3,355 square yards, was completed at a cost of £17, 095 and was officially opened on the 20th April 1949. The seating accommodation for the restaurant was 250 and small steel tubular furniture, including tables for four persons, were added to the restaurant’s appearance.

Numerous functions were held in the restaurant. The restaurant offered midday meals, afternoon teas and refreshments during the evenings when private functions were held. In addition it was noted that any hot or cold meals of any description could be prepared and served by the restaurant staff.

Civic Restaurant Beeston 1951

Civic Restaurant, Beeston, 1951- Photo Credit: Nottingham Hidden History Team.


There were four Secondary Modern Schools and nineteen Primary Schools, housing 6,500 pupils. Four schools had been built since the Second World War including, Bramcote Hills Secondary Modern Boy’s School, Stapleford Primary School, Beeston Trent Vale Primary School and Chilwell College House Primary School.


The rate levied for the financial year ending 31st March 1951 was 18/4 in the £, this being 1s. 8d. In the £ less than the average rate for urban districts throughout the country. The greater portion of this rate (12s) was collected by the Urban District Council as the rating authority and was paid over to the County Council to meet the expenses on services carried out by the body.

The services administered by the County Council included Education, Libraries, Local Health Services, Care of Deprived Children, Town and Country Planning, Fire Brigade and Road Repair and Maintenance.

Health Services

The National Health Service Act of 1946 provided every man, woman and child, whatever their financial circumstances, medical, dental and nursing care. There were three Maternity and Child Welfare Clinics, one of each in Chilwell, Beeston and Stapleford. There were two Day Nurseries

one of each in Beeston and Stapleford., where provision was made for the care of children under the age of five.

There were six District Nurses operating in the district. Four were appointed by the Beeston Nursing Association, one by the Chilwell, Attenborough and Toton Nursing Association and one by the Stapleford Nursing Association. There was a Rheumatism Clinic held in the Chilwell Memorial Hall each Wednesday and Saturday afternoon in the months of October to May. Other services included Home Help, Vaccination and Immunisation and Sanitary Inspection.


The library then as it is today is based on Foster Avenue in Beeston. The Adult Lending Library was open daily, 9.30am to 7.30pm, except Thursdays which was 9.30 to 1pm. The Children’s Library was open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday to 6.30pm, Thursday and Saturday, 9.30am to 1pm, Friday 1pm to 7pm. During school holidays the Children’s library was open longer.

The library offered a collection of reference books such as Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Atlases and other reference books. Students were allowed special facilities and the number of books they were allowed to borrow at any one time was not restricted. Classes and groups of students could be supplied with collections of books, and sets of plays for reading or production by amateur dramatic societies. Single copies of musical scores for a wide range of solo instruments and vocal and orchestral works were available for loan.

Beeston Library 1951

Beeston Library 1951- Photo Credit: Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Beeston Library 1951 Interior

Beeston Library 1951 Interior- Photo Credit: Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Public Utility Services

Electricity was supplied by the East Midlands Electricity Board. Gas was supplied by the East Midlands Gas Board. Water was supplied by Nottingham Corporation.


Beeston was served by the London Midland Region Line between Nottingham and Derby. It was a frequent service, the journey to Nottingham taking ten minutes and to Derby about half an hour.

Beeston was linked with Nottingham by buses operated by Nottingham City Transport. Local services were operated by Barton Transport Ltd, Motor Coach Proprietors, The Garage, Chilwell. The company offered services to Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Loughborough, Coalville, Swadlincote, Melton Mowbray, Skegness, Llandudno, Great Yarmouth and many smaller towns. The Company also organised private hire and motor coach tours starting from Great Britain, extending as far as France, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment

The Origins of Mothering Sunday and the Nottinghamshire Connection

by Ross Parish

It seems no sooner have the Valentine’s Day displays have been packed away than it’s up with Mothering Sunday ones! Yet this is a custom with rather confused origins and again like Valentine’s Day nearly died out. And oh yes, it is Mothering Sunday not Mother’s Day, a technicality often forgotten by the card sellers but one I shall explain.

Mothering Sunday is one of a number of ‘feast days’ in the days of Lent. Despite being a period of fasting, ‘breaks’ were given on the Sundays leading up to Easter Sunday for breaks in the fast observation. Mothering Sunday was only one of these. An old Nottinghamshire rhyme records the others:

Care Sunday, care away, Palm Sunday and Easter Day”.


A ‘Traditional Mothering Sunday Scene- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

Before considering Mothering Sunday, it is worth noting Carling Sunday. This is the fifth Sunday in Lent and became probably erroneously associated with a food – the carlin pea. A newspaper cutting from the late 1800s records:

North of the Trent the favourite dish consisted of well-soaked peas fried in butter and seasoned with pepper and salt. These last were called carlings. They were so greatly preferred in Notts that the day was locally given the name of ‘Carling Sunday. ”

Does anyone still eat carlins in the county? I would be interested to know. The food is still eaten in the Northern counties, especially the east, in Driffield there’s a shop proudly proclaiming itself as a supplier – no such shop does so in Nottinghamshire – and those wishing to partake on this rather delicious pulse are best to do so over the net! Yet why should it be associated with a pea you may ask? A legend tells of a ship wrecked off the coast which was carrying these peas which were greatly consumed by the fasters…an unlikely story. The name of the Sunday is thought to derive from the consideration of the Lord’s Passion (it’s official name was Passion Sunday), but like other folk customs and explanation to do with care, that one should consider others on that day, evolved.

Back to Mothering Sunday however. Where did it come from? Some church historians see it as being developed from a feast day in the early church called Laetare Sunday, the aim of which was to make pilgrimage to the ‘mother church’ of the diocese. This custom was thought to have an ancient pre-Christian origin. It is said to have originated from the March feast of the Roman Hilaria, the Mother of the Gods. In its attempt to absorb some of the traditions of the pagans, the early Catholic Church adopted the feast fixing it on the fourth Sunday in Lent, a date always in March. However, not everyone agrees with its religious origin and some state that its history has been back derived. If it was a Catholic feast days, unlike others it did not die out but became generally secularised. It is easy to see how this became converted post Reformation to paying tribute to one’s mother! Indeed the custom is first recorded as such only in the mid-1600s suggesting such. The tradition probably begun with servants of the big houses, who would be given the day off to visit home. John Potter Briscoe in his 1870s Nottinghamshire Facts and fictions records:

One can readily imagine how, after a stripling or maiden had gone to service, or launched out into independent housekeeping, the old bonds of filial love would be brightened by the pleasant annual visitation, signalized, as custom demanded it should be, by the excitement attending some novel, and perhaps, surprising gift.”

Such that like other ‘house visiting customs’ it became known as ‘going a mothering’. John Potter Briscoe continues:

The harshness and general painfulness of life in old times must have been much relieved by certain simple and affectionate customs which modern people have learned to dispense with..  Amongst these was a practice, which existed last century, of visiting the parents on Mid-Lent Sunday, taking for them some little present.  A youth engaged in this act of duty was said to go “a-mothering”, and thence Mid—Lent Sunday itself became to be called “Mothering Sunday”. ….”

Such house visiting of course required provision of food and indeed the custom became known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’ and two particular foods became associated with the day. Another local account records:

Usually a special provision of food was prepared for the delectation of the visitors who were all the more welcome as those were unlettered days and travelling was so difficult that it was only upon rare occasions that families met.”

Briscoe records the recipe for furmety, fermety or frumenty:

There was also a cheering and peculiar festivity appropriate to the day, the prominent dish of “furmety”, which is made of whole grains of wheat first boiled plump and soft, and then put into, and boiled in, milk, and sweetened and spiced.”

To make it today soak the wheat overnight! Readers may be more familiar with Simnel cake – a fruit and almond icing cake. Indeed it appears to be being sold in slices at a well-known high street bakers, albeit now provided as an Easter cake, with associated twelve apostle almond ball. The Simnel cake, said to have arisen over whether it should be boiled or baked by Simon and Nell, is a delicious cake, of which an old recipe is recorded below:

Chop 4oz of chopped almonds, 28oz of mixed fruit with 11oz flour and 2 teaspoons of mixed spice. Add 8oz of butter and 4oz of sugar cream to together and beat until fluffy. Beat in 5 eggs one at a time. Mix thoroughly and then add ¼ teaspoon of bicarb. Cook on a medium for 4 hours. To make the almond paste add 4 oz icing sugar with 12 oz ground almonds. Add vanilla, 2 eggs and lemon juice. Knead and roll. Once cake is cool, glaze with 3 tablespoons of boiled apricot jam and then once this is cool, roll out the almond paste and place over the cake. Brush with beaten egg and place in a very hot oven for seven minutes to brown.”


Frumenty- Photo Credit: RB Parish.


Simnel Cake- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

Despite the provision of cakes and continual observance by the church, Mothering Sunday was dying out. An account at Bleasby in 1877 records that ‘distant members of the family gathering around the home fireplace’ was still current at the time of writing, but this may have been already in decline. The changing in working patterns from working on the estates to working in factories? A general change in work patterns and the movement to have more holidays? Was it the increased secularisation of society? Was it the First World War? In truth it was probably a combination of all of these. By the 1920s it was thought to have died out in most if not all places. However, its demise would be averted…and its revival was straight out of Nottinghamshire.

By the 1920s Mothering Sunday was in decline. Its final death was prevented by a Nottinghamshire lady, Constance Penswick-Smith, who by her actions should be annually celebrated by card manufacturers the county over, although he aim was religious not secular one I must add!

I also noted that Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day are not the same and that the majority of the cards available in the shops are wrong! But why you may ask? Those with transatlantic or Australasian relatives will know why – there mothers are remembered in May. This Mother’s Day is a ‘modern’ secular tradition established in the USA. This was established in 1907 by a Philadelphian called Anna Jarvis, a schoolteacher who wished to do something to celebrate her mother and had read about Mothering Sunday. Her actions proved popular and many people took up the observation and as such by 1913 Congress had recognise the new day being set on the second Sunday of May.

The story of Mothering Sunday’s perhaps revival starts at Coddington. Now I don’t think I’ll be offending the village by saying it is fairly ordinary place. Nestled just outside of Newark, there is nothing which would suggest here would spawn a revival which would spread to every corner of the UK and keep many card sellers in business ever more. However, Coddington was where a 12 year old Constance Penswick Smith came with her six other siblings to live with the Reverend Charles Penswick Smith who father and vicar of All Saints Church Coddington.

It was in 1913 that Constance that the idea of reviving the custom arose and it was thanks indirectly to the aforementioned Anna Jarvis. Being a devout Christian she was concerned that this secular commemoration would water down and remove the spiritual message of the day. She apparently at that moment decided to dedicate her time to campaigning for its restoration. It was a campaign which would last for 30 years.

Many thought a revival was impossible. The Mother’s Union understandably were keen to support one but thought it too long gone that a restoration was unlikely. Setting up an office at 15 Regent Street Nottingham, she and her friend Ellen Porter, the Superintendent of Nottingham’s Girls Friendly Society Hostel set about designing Mothering Sunday Cards, and doing research collecting hymns, writing articles and plays all of which in 1921 was distilled into a book on the subject Mothering Sunday written to engender interest – it’s foreward starting Coddington Vicarage, Newark-on-Trent Lady Day 1920. She established ‘The Society for the Observance of Mothering Sunday’ but despite the work her ideas were not warmly accepted.

However, Constance had a secret weapon, her four brothers who had joined the church and being converts to the idea started to establish services in their churches. In Nottingham, the first church to take on the revived service was the new St Cyprian’s church and a time capsule of Mothering Day materials was buried at its construction. Thanks to the Reverend Killer it became an established event. Slowly but surely.

image (1)

St Cyprian’s Church- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

In the parish where Constance first cemented the ideas, today the church are rightfully proud to remember their evangelist as well as their mothers. The church on this day a 100 on is a packed one, with some congregation even having to sit in the bell tower. The service led by the Rev William Thackrey and the curate Rev. David Anderson included a number of hymns ‘Our Sorry Prayers’, hymns ‘This is the day’ and ‘Tell out my soul’ and a bible reading ‘John 10 25-27’. There was a delightful touching tribute to mothers made by the children of Coddington primary school.

A notable feature was the clyping of the church. This is done in a number of churches, including some Nottinghamshire churches, although usually this is done outside, the horrendous wintry weather meant it was more sensible to clypp the inside of the church. The origins of this custom are obscure but it is associated with Mothering Sunday in Staplehurst in Kent. Some authorities have tried to link the custom to pagan origins but certainly the idea of embracing the mother church is wholly appropriate to the theme of the celebration. Whilst clyping a special hymn ‘We love the place O Lord’ was sung to recognise the importance of the church. The children in this circle then processed through the vestry and into the chancel where the vicar and curate awaited holding trays of primroses; free gifts for their mothers. With a final hymn and blessing the congregation were given a bookmark commemorating Constance Smith and Simnel cake. If you remember this was the food most synonymous with Mothering Sunday and tasty I am sure it was too – no being a mother I would not be allowed to try it.

image (2)

The Clyping of the Church Ceremony- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

Overall the ceremony was an uplifting and joyful celebration of the importance of motherhood and I am sure Constance would be very pleased, she is buried with her father in the churchyard. Sadly, though when Constance died at the age of 60 in 1938, the movement had not reached its peak and despite some parishes adopting it, it had not become nationwide. Her friend Ellen Porter, who later carried on the work of the Movement from her home in Marston Road, Nottingham, died in 1942 at the age of 74. By then Mothering Sunday was beginning to see roots, but ironically perhaps it was at this time with the flux of homesick GIs that caused the custom to be so firmly established in the public’s mind. Bringing with them Jarvis’s Mother’s Day a hybridisation was established and forever more in the UK the Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday fusion survives. However, you celebrate make sure you remember your mum!


The Grave of Constance Penswick Smith- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies | Leave a comment

Wife Selling in Nottingham

by Joe Earp

The auction of a wife in the public market by her husband to us today appears to be a degrading and obscure act, to say the least. Thomas Hardy’s famous account of a wife being sold to a sailor for five guineas in the opening chapter of The Mayor of Casterbridge shows clear disgust at the practice.

It should be remembered, however, that divorce was only obtainable by private Act of Parliament until 1857. Even after that date, it remained extremely expensive. Ordinary people could have recourse only to the custom of wife selling, which was the poor man’s form of divorce. The buyer of the wife was prearranged, and the proceedings were by mutual consent. They were regarded as legal and binding (though they were not in fact so).

This obscure English custom probably began in the late 17th century, when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthiest. After parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder.

Although the custom had no basis in law and frequently resulted in prosecution, particularly from the mid-19th century onwards, the attitude of the authorities was equivocal. At least one early 19th-century magistrate is on record as stating that he did not believe he had the right to prevent wife sales, and there were cases of local Poor Law Commissioners forcing husbands to sell their wives, rather than having to maintain the family in workhouses.

Wife selling persisted in England in some form until the early 20th century; according to the jurist and historian James Bryce, writing in 1901, wife sales were still occasionally taking place during his time. In one of the last reported instances of a wife sale in England, a woman giving evidence in a Leeds police court in 1913 claimed that she had been sold to one of her husband’s workmates for £1.

There are a couple of records of wife selling having occurred in Nottingham. J Holland Walker (1931) in his ‘An itinerary of Nottingham: The Market Place’ takes up the story:

It seems almost incredible to think that in 1779 a man sold his wife and children in the Market Place. The woman was aged seventeen and she with her two children was put up for sale and sold for 27/6, but that is not the worst. In 1852, the year in which the Arboretum was opened, another similar sale took place. On April 25th a man named Stevenson living in Millstone Lane brought his wife into Nottingham Market Place with a new rope round her neck and standing near the sheep pens on Beastmarket Hill, offered her for sale: “Here is my wife for sale” he announced, “I shall put her up for 2/6, the rope is worth 6d.” Ultimately she was bought for 1/- by a man named Burrows, and they all went to the Spread Eagle which was in the old Sheep Lane which is modernised in the Market Street to sign the articles of agreement, the lady being the only member of the party who was able to sign her name”.

Woodcut from a 19th Century Street Ballad

Woodcut from a 19th Century Street Ballad- Credit: Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Posted in Nottingham History, Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies | Leave a comment

William “Bendigo” Thompson

by Joe Earp

William “Bendigo” Thompson was born in 1811 in New Yard now Trinity Walk, off Parliament Street. The area Bendigo was bought up in were no more than slums compared to modern social housing. Naturally, the slums were rife with pestilence and disease, and the life expectancy here was less than half the national average — a shocking 22 years. The town boundaries had not changed since they were erected nearly 800 years before, and the Industrial Revolution led to massive overcrowding. A town that probably housed around 1,000 people when built now squeezed in about 50,000. One government official even labelled Nottingham as the ‘Worst town in England’. The worst affected areas were Narrow Marsh and the streets crowded between Long Row and Parliament Street, the people here said to “be the poorest of all Queen Victoria’s children”.


Trinity Walk, Nottingham, c 1913. Trinity Walk was formerly called New Yard and was the birthplace of Bendigo the Boxer. The house Bendigo was born in is the house on the right with the three steps leading up to the front door. All of these buildings have now been demolished.

Bendigo was the youngest of triplets, called Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, after Hebrews cast into the burning fiery surface. He was the youngest of 21 children which shows his Mother must have been a strong woman, a gene which was no doubt passed on to young William. The house he was born in has now gone, being redeveloped in the 1970s. All there is to show that one of history’s greatest boxers was born and brought up there is a small plaque on the current building wall (see below photo).


Plaque Marking Bendigo’s Birthplace- Photo Credit: Graham Godfrey/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

When he was 15 his father died and William was sent to the Nottingham Workhouse with his mother. After leaving the Workhouse, Thompson sold oysters in and around the streets of Nottingham before obtaining a job as an iron turner. As a young man, William became a superb all round athlete, excelling in all types of physical activities. There is one such tale which tells of Bendigo throwing a brick from one side of the River Trent to the other. No doubt he did this as a bet showing his physical strength and skill.

It was the age old sport of bare knuckle fighting for which Bendigo would be forever linked with. Supported by the violent drunken mob known as the Nottingham lambs, who were likely to intervene if their hero was losing, Bendigo fought epic contests against Ben Caunt, a Hucknall miner four and a half inches taller and three stones heavier, and went on to defeat Deaf James Burke for the championship of England. Between the ages of 21 and 39, he fought twenty one times, losing only once after slipping on the grass and being disqualified for going down without being hit. These were the days when a fight could last over a hundred rounds- a round ending when either man fell as the result of a blow. Faking was hard to prove, and Bendigo exploited this, especially against bigger men, using his own speed and agility to inflict considerable damage in between rests on the turf, when he could taunt his opponents by kicking his legs in the air and laughing.

After his retirement from boxing, Bendigo slid into alcoholism, joining his former supporters, the Nottingham Lambs, in drunken rampages, as a result he was imprisoned twenty-eight times in the House of Correction on St John’s Street (approximately modern King Edward Street). However William’ story was by no means over. In 1872, he visited an evangelical meeting at the Mechanics Institute, saw the error of his ways and was converted. After that, he spoke regularly at revivalist meetings, and more than once (according to legend) found his old boxing skills useful in pacifying a rowdy audience.

To sober himself up Bendigo moved to Beeston to get away from his ‘old crowd’. He moved into a little cottage on Wollaton Road in Beeston and seems to have settled down. The cottage was later pulled down and the Anglo Scotain Mills were built on the site. There is a plaque which marks the site of Bendigo’s cottage and can be found on the wall close to the entrance to the main building (see below photo).


The site today of Bendigo’s Old Cottage- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/ Nottingham Hidden History Team.


Plaque Marking Bendigo’s Cottage in Beeston- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

William seems to have taken to life in Beeston well, his favourite past times being fishing at Attenborough and drinking (in moderation) in the local pubs. His favorite pub apparently being the Cadland in Chilwell. It was during one of these fishing trips along the River Trent that Bendigo showed his old physical strength. At the age of 59 he managed to dive into the river to save three people from drowning. One time he pulled a woman from the river who offered him a reward. “Reward? I am the champion of England” he scornfully rejected the kind offer.

Thompson died on 23 August 1880 aged 69, after falling down the stairs of his home in Beeston. The fall fractured ribs and punctured his lung but he hung on for seven more weeks before he finally died. His funeral procession was a mile long and thousands lined the streets, including many nationally famous people of the period. Even The Times newspaper published his obituary, which was normally reserved for very illustrious people. He was buried in his mother’s grave, marked by a stone in the former burial grounds at Bath Street Rest Gardens (just near Victoria Leisure Centre). It is the only memorial not to have been moved during redevelopment and bears the inscription;

“In life always brave,

Fighting like a Lion;

In Death like a Lamb,

Tranquil in Zion”.

R: 132 G: 255 B: 164 X:54188 Y: 0 S: 0 Z: 52 F: 130

Bendigo’s Grave- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/ Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Posted in Nottinghamshire People, Legends and Characters | 1 Comment