3 September 2011

Benjamin Mayo, aka The Old General, Radford Road, Hyson Green, Nottingham

The Old General pub on Radford Road, Hyson Green, Nottingham, is now closed down, and perhaps permanently, but it remembers one of Nottingham's well-loved eccentrics.

At the corner of Radford Road and Bobbers Mill Road, on the edge of Basford, a neon sign proclaimed 'Welcome to Hyson Green'.

And at the side, the prominent case contains a statue of the Old General, or Benjamin Mayo. It was carved by mason Joseph Holmes in his open field studio close to Radford Road and was first put on show at Nottingham Castle Museum before being moved to a showroom on Radford Road. When Joseph's brother John built the Old General pub and became the landlord in 1883, the statue was moved to its present position.

In 'An itinerary of Nottingham: Broad Marsh' in Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 30 (1926), J. Holland Walker gives perhaps the longest account of the man:

'Th[e] poor house of St. Peter's was the home of Benjamin Mayo better known as the "Old General." He was born sometime about 1779 and he died in 1843. He was a half-wit but a great character in the town. He must have been rather an attractive character for when St. Peter's poor house was dissolved Mr. Hudson the master took him into his own house and provided for him for a number of years rather than let him go to the new Union Workhouse in York Street, which speaks volumes both for Mr. Hudson's charity and for Old General's popularity. Eventually Mr. Hudson left the town and Old General went to St. Mary's workhouse. After a time he had a fall, from the effects of which he died and he was buried in Broad Marsh burial ground. There is however, an epitaph to him in the top walk of the General Cemetery close to the permanantly closed gateway which leads into Clarendon Street which reads "Benjamin Mayo commonly known by the name of "The Old General" died in Nottingham Union Workhouse 12th January 1843, aged sixty-four years. A few inhabitants of this town associating his peculiarities and eccentricities with reminiscences of their early boyhood have erected this tablet to his memory." In stature Old General was of medium height but very much bent. One of his legs was badly deformed so that his progress, which was generally a jog-trot, was very peculiar. His clothing was of the usual pauper grey but towards the end of his career he obtained a red coat which he wore with great pride. He wore no hat to cover his closely cropped head until he reached the age of about sixty when he adopted a military cap. He regarded himself as second only to the Mayor in importance within the confines of Nottingham. His great day was on Mickleton Monday. The Mickleton jury were accustomed to beat the bounds of the town on the first Thursday in September and the following Monday they proceeded through the streets of the town to take note of any obstruction or irregularities and that was when Old General was at the height of his glory. Followed by all the school children of the town whom he marshalled in some sort of military array and over whom he acted as general, he followed the jury prepared to remove any offending obstacle immediately. Did a doorstep project into the thoroughfare it was immediately turned up by Old General's followers acting under his instructions, or did a sign not meet with the approval of the Mickleton Jury Old General and his troops made short work of it. It was a great day for the school children, they demanded a holiday and most of them got it. Some few school masters however, held out against Old General and refused to liberate their pupils, when sieges were undertaken and mud and stones plentifully thrown. Old General however, was open to bribery and twopence would usually buy him off. The proceedings terminated by the army demanding admission to the Castle which was of course always refused but as compensation sweetmeats were thrown over the gateway for the children to scramble for.

'Like most half-wits Old General had a keen sense of humour which is well displayed by the following two stories. He used to be fond of drilling boys in the Market Place and upon one occasion he was so engaged when a party of officers from the barracks on the top of the Park came up and watched his proceedings. One of Old General's recruits was particularly dull and stupid and was constantly making mistakes in his drill. Laughingly an officer said to Old General "What will you do with him, he is too stupid for a soldier? "Old General said nothing to the officer but called the boy out of the ranks and standing him in an appropriate place said, "There lad you'll never make a soldier you are too stupid so I'll make an officer of you." Upon another occasion he went running through the town calling out "Speech by the Prince of Wales, full account of what his Royal Highness said yesterday." A customer purchased one of these speeches and found he was presented with a blank sheet of paper. Protesting against the imposition he received the reply "Quite correct Sir, 'is Royal 'ighness never said now't." Well, peace be to his ashes; judging from his face which appears in a picture in the Castle Museum he must have been a rather lovable old character.'

I took the above photo in the pub's more fortunate days for my book Hidden Nottinghamshire (Wilmslow: Sigma Press, 1998).

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