8 January 2013

James Prior: Three Shots from a Popgun (1880)

 Three Shots from a Popgun (1880) was Nottingham writer James Prior's first published work and contains three stories: 'Wise or Otherwise', 'Home Again' and 'Tug of War'.
Prior originally gave the copy of the book in my possession to his sister Jinnie Kirk on the year of publication. He signed it 'J. P. K.' as his real name was James Prior Kirk.
Because of the local history interest, I include the first few pages of the first story, 'Wise or Otherwise', below:

'Good-day to you, madam; and good-day to you, sir. Welcome to Nottingham. Have you any engagements, or may I hope you will accept my company for a stroll this sunny September afternoon? You will! I am greatly honoured. You have not seen much of the town, I daresay? As I thought; you have seen the Market-place pump and the Town Hall, and that is all. Well, be good enough, without more ceremony, to follow me, and I will show you a better sight.

Puff! Now we are out of the streets, and can speak and be heard. This broad avenue that you see before you is the Queen's Walk. These buildings that hedge it on every hand are the Meadows, so called because once, thirty years ago, there were meadows here green all the year, save in the springtime, when they were blue over with crocuses. Ah, if it were only thirty years ago! And why not, if we choose to have it so, and for an hour clear our memory of all the dust and rubbish that has been accumulating these thirty years? Let it be thirty years ago now, my companions. Pardon me, I am too soon familiar. Let the Queen and all of us be thirty years younger today; and let us see here nothing but what we might have seen thirty years ago.

So we are now at the end of the Walk, and by the banks of the Trent. This thing that fronts us is not an iron bridge, but a rustic ferry – Wilford Ferry, worked by one man's arm. We enter the boat, and cross in company with a milk-cart, a Nottingham stockinger, with fishing-rod and mat basket in hand, and a pair of sweethearts bound for Clifton Grove.

Safely landed with a bump! The village close at hand, almost hidden by innumerable elms, is Wilford. However, we will not enter it now, but will turn to the right by this White Horse Inn, making for the church, whose tower and spire you can see in spite of the trees.

Allow me, ladies, to assist you over this high stile. Now here we are, with nothing but a low barrier between us and the churchyard that grave-haunted Kirke White loved. But before you enter, sit down and admire the scene.

It is scarcely spoilt even now, though green fields are blotted out with red brick, and a colliery belches smoke on the opposite bank of the river. But yes, I remember we were at thirty years ago. Northward, beyond the Trent, see the broad sweep of rich meadow-land, besprinkled with trees, and bordered by pleasant hills, from which to our left rise the heights of Wollaton, clad with verdure, through which peeps the white face of a solitary mansion. To the right of these lie the houses and gentler slopes of Lenton; and next the bluff on which stands Nottingham, its two most prominent headlands crowned, the one by the Castle, the other by St. Mary's tower.

Further still, and faintly seen through the September haze, Sneinton Church sits on its own hill, like a little St. Mary's. Last of all the bold Rough Hill, covered with wood, flings round to our flank, and cuts off the view.'
Prior mentions the poet Henry Kirke White above, and there used to be a Kirke White Street in the Meadows, although with redevelopment the street was demolished. It was in the 1980s that his memory was preserved in Kirke White Court.
But Kirkwhite Walk, also in the Meadows, preserves his memory less accurately by fusing the two words and omitting the 'e'.

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