27 February 2008

Sutton on Trent Windmill, Nottinghamshire

Just continuing to root through what I quickly salvaged while the sale of my house on Carlton Road was going through. Did I really pay £7.50 all those years ago for this Sutton on Trent windmill postcard (in the Frith Series)? Yeh.

A Few Interesting Features of Nottingham Pubs – Mainly Non-Literary!

This photo shows one of several speakers in the former Smoke Room of the Vale Hotel, Woodthorpe, Nottingham. Of note is the 'HB' (Home Brewery) logo. The pub is on the corner of Mansfield Road and Thackerays Lane, and is Grade II listed.

The above photo shows the Piano Lounge of the Five Ways on the corner of Valley Road and Edwards Lane, Sherwood, Nottingham. It was a Warwicks and Richardsons tied house, and is now a Grade II listed building. This was one of Alan Sillitoe's favourite pubs when he re-visited the area.

Once a Home Ales pub on Lower Parliament Street, Nottingham, the Stag and Pheasant had some interesting tilework. The pub was demolished several years ago.

26 February 2008

The Yews, or Maryland, Halford, Warwickshire

John James Britton, solicitor, minor poet, and the paternal grandfather of Lionel Britton, spent his last years (roughly 1896–1913) in Halford. The postcard above shows his house – Maryland, or 'The Yews' as he called his home in 1912 in his Preface to his son Herbert Eyres's first book, The Visions of a Poet.

Did he call the house after the yew trees there? And here I show my ignorance: if yew trees are evident in the postcard, I would be delighted of someone could let me know of the fact either by replying to this blog (your email as username and a password required), or by directly sending an email to anottsquair@hotmail.com. Thank you.

And many thanks as ever to the Britton family's ancestral power researcher, fuelled by just a naked light bulb, the internet, and a crate of beer – Robert Hughes, John James's great-great-grandson.

24 February 2008

St George's Theatre, Tufnell Park Road, London

Directly opposite 66 Tufnell Park Road, the house Lionel Britton owned in London, is St George's Theatre. In 2005, when I visited it with my partner Penny Atkinson, its fate was unknown: it was occupied by squatters, one of whom – Laurence, pictured behind the bar in the above photo – very kindly showed us round and told us that the theatre was in danger of being turned back into a church (1). At the time of our visit, there was a very lively anarchistic atmosphere which, I couldn't help mentally noting, would no doubt have pleased Britton. The ironic thing, of course, is that no play of Britton's has ever been performed at the theatre.

I have since emailed the theatre, and have tried Googling to discover what became of it, but without success. Any information would be very welcome.

(1) The church was built in 1875 partly on a model of one in Salonica, Greece; it ceased to be church in 1963, and continued its existence as a theatre for a number of years.

Raiding the Past: A Study into Our Recent Social History, or Probably Just Plain Self-Indulgence on My Part

This photo of me was taken by my mother Tryphena Joan Shaw (1922–90) in Alexandra Street, Sherwood Rise, Nottingham, in 1955. I’m just taking the car for a spin, always avoiding crossing Mansfield Road and venturing into Carrington beyond (to the top left of the photo).

This is a detail from a Guardian Journal (Nottingham) photo dating from about November 1971. Margaret Thatcher is Education Secretary and trying to get her hands on student union funds. In protest, we march from Trent Bridge to the Old Market Square (which was then – fortunately – in the same state as the architect Thomas Cecil Howitt had designed it, and free of ludicrous big wheels). The photographer took this shot as we were marching up Wheeler Gate, in the centre of Nottingham. I’m the big hair slightly to the left of the bigger hair in the ‘Save Our Student Union’ donkey jacket: ‘Maggie Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher, union basher, out, out, out’ (1). Little did we know that greater horrors were waiting to break forth – Blair, Brown, and hordes of New Labour clones and Stepford wives – who would make Thatcher look positively left wing: the (Old) Labour Party was in opposition then, and acted as a curb to Conservative Party excesses. Today, all English political parties are virtually identical: right wing.

(1) One of Thatcher's earlier attacks on the Welfare State was to abolish free milk. Many state school students such as myself fondly remember daily knocking back an extra one or two third–pint bottle allowances of those who didn't like the creamy stuff (as it was in those days).

The big hair remains, as do the flaired trousers and the wide lapels (although the slightly embarrassed smirk is different). This is a photo from the autumn 1977 issue of L’Albigeois Economique: Bulletin d’Information de la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie d’AlbiCarmauxGaillac. After a year as assistant d’Anglais at the Lycée Technique d’Etat Louis Rascol C.E.S.–C.E.T., rue de la République, Albi, I wanted more sunshine and warm French hospitality. I therefore persuaded Leicester University that it was in my interests to take another year out in France before finishing my BA in French, so I found a job teaching English at the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie, rue Timbal, Albi. My one regret: that I couldn’t stay in France for the rest of my life.

And this is the first book I wrote: Windmills of Nottinghamshire: A historical Account of Existing Mills and Mill Remains (West Bridgford: Nottinghamshire County Council Planning & Economic Development, Heritage Team, 1995).

A labour of sheer love, and it's very unfortunate that Amazon very incorrectly lists it as written by Tony Shaw and Graham Beaumont, when Graham Beaumont merely supplied a few illustrations, organized the paintings by Karl Wood, and supplied the colour illustrations to the cover, the front one of which (Tuxford) is (almost unbelievably) a reverse photo: those should be right-handed sails, not left!

This is Hidden Nottinghamshire: Days out with a Difference (Wilmslow: Sigma Press, 1998), which contains 100 mainly rather obscure features in Nottinghamshire. The four images on the cover show, from top left clockwise to bottom left: The Druid's Stone (Blidworth), Wiseton Hall entrance (Drakeholes), Zakariah Green's monument (detail), Titchfield Park, Hucknall, and a Gash bus (originally from Elston).

For good (or bad) measure, included below is an interview written about me by Mark Patterson in Nottingham Evening Post, October 7, 2000:

He Is The Man Who Knows A Lot About The Quirky And Curious Stories Of Nottinghamshire. But Just Who Is Tony Shaw? Mark Patterson Tries To Find Out

When Tony Shaw was a little boy he would ask his mum and dad a lot of questions. But by his own account he was seldom satisfied with a single answer. If, for example, he asked what sort of bird it was he had just seen and the answer was sparrow then he would have to go off and find out exactly what kind of sparrow it was.
It was the same with herbs, trees and anything else the young boy spotted. He wanted specifics and he wanted to remember the facts. He must have been a handful.

Forty or so years later, Shaw has retained the same "acquisitive and inquisitive mind" as he puts it, but is now in the position where he can satisfy other people's curiosity and not just his own.

As the author of both the Evening Post Weekend magazine's Untold Nottingham column and a similarly themed book called Hidden Nottinghamshire, Tony Shaw is the man who knows a lot about the things which most other people don't know or didn't even know they want to know.

What, for example, is the connection between Nottingham's St Mary's church and a woman who ate pins?

The answer, as Tony rediscovered for his magazine column, is Kitty Hudson, a remarkable woman born in 1765 who kept the pins and needles she collected from the church floor in her mouth. Inevitably she swallowed them, causing her some medical difficulties later in life. Despite that, her boyfriend vowed that he would marry her even if she had to have her arms and legs chopped off.

Then there was James Prior, the Nottingham author of such long forgotten titles as Three Shots from a Pop -Gun, the more successful Forest Folk and a play called Don Pedro, which is said to have sold only one copy.

Or how about poet Robert Millhouse? A stocking frame worker who was described as a "most brilliant example of the might of that genius which has welled up from the ranks of the toil-worn and penury-stricken crowd". Although a bronze plaque at the west entrance to Nottingham Castle remembers his name, another plaque which marked where he spent his last years at 32 Walker Street has long since gone.

Curious characters and half forgotten names and places which tell of a Nottingham now gone - such tales are Shaw's current speciality.

But while they are all interesting stories in their own right, there is rather more behind Shaw's reasons for researching them and writing about them than to simply provide an entertaining read.
This 49-year-old is interested in history, of course, but he also likes the idea of enlightening (if that is not too pompous a word) his readers by illustrating the links between the past and present.

History, the living history which is all around, is not something which is "out there", Shaw might say.

It is here, in your own town and village, in the stone and bricks and mortar which have echoed to the sounds of millions of lives and their daily struggles and dreams.

It might be easy to imagine that Shaw is the kind of bloke who has the time to research these stories because he has nothing better to do.

In fact, he is studying for an MA in English and plans to "rattle off" a novel next year while also aiming to gain a PhD studentship.

With a former career in academia, he has a deep interest in French literature while his political and moral principles are firmly pacifist and anarchist.

He popped into the world at Highbury Vale Hospital, has been married and divorced three times and lives in Carlton Road, Nottingham.

He has no television set and cares about the beer he drinks.

Why no television set? "Most of the ideas I get come through engaging with literature," he says, in his usual animated way while sipping from a pint of London Pride.

"I don't get any ideas from television. There are very few interesting or enlightening programmes on television. Most people let things happen to them rather than make things happen themselves..."

Conversations with Shaw are a bit like that. They tend to start at the right place and then quickly veer off into the broader expanses of human activity, firmly underpinned by a set of principles which make him sound like a well-read Republican peasant ideologue of the Spanish Civil War.

But to get back to the point.

The origins of Shaw's quest for the nooks and crannies of local history lie in the extensive research he carried out a few years ago into the county's windmills.

This started when he had an "epiphanic moment" one day while sitting near Green's Windmill in Sneinton.

"I just watched these sails going round and wondered how many windmills there were in Nottinghamshire?

"It was just a part of local history that hadn't been recorded," he says.

In all, Shaw recorded 30 windmills "if you include the mounds". His book, The Windmills of Nottinghamshire, was published by Notts County Council five years ago.

During the research Shaw heard some intriguing stories about local people and places.

These included (and this is a personal favourite) Zakariah Barrett, of Gedling, who would have been lost to history if he had not placed an advert in an 1801 copy of the Nottingham Journal which gave notice of a do-it-yourself windmill.
Barrett's contraption could be built in gardens, crofts, on the end of house gables - anywhere the wind blew.

Barrett promised that anybody could be a competent miller after a day's training with his windmill. Obviously it failed to catch on. The one surviving picture portraying the mill shows Gedling House with one of Barrett's rickety looking structures behind it, apparently supported by a giant stick.

Barrett, who also invented an early washing machine and a chimney cleaning gadget, is not to be confused with another Zakariah who has come before Tony Shaw's gaze.

This is Zakariah Green, the 19th Century healer who is remembered by a monument in Titchfield Park, Hucknall. He is said to have ministered to six successive mayors.

As Shaw's body of collected stories grew he realised he had enough for a book. Sigma Leisure published his Hidden Nottinghamshire - Days out with a Difference about three years ago.

His favourite stories include Kitty Hudson, the pin lady of St Mary's, and Ann Harrison, the charitable woman of Bingham whose memory is preserved in the shape of an 18-inch oak statuette in Bingham parish church.

"I'll probably write about Robin Hood at some point," he says.

"There's a lot of interesting stuff in Mansfield and Worksop. And there is Ron Goodapple, or whatever his name is, the Gretna Green vicar from Nottinghamshire."

Shaw tries to include as many working class women as possible in his stories.

"They don't have anything like the written history that men do, particularly middle class men," he says.

His pacifist views and refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the state or global capitalism mean Shaw won't write about war heroes and the aristocracy - unless the aristocrat is eccentric.

"One person's war hero is another person's terrorist. I won't write about battles. I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in war. I don't believe in violence," he says.

Does he think his passion for history and knowledge has undermined his three marriages?

"No, not at all," he replies.

"The first time I got married I thought it might be pleasant just to get married.

"The second marriage was for pragmatic reasons. I was at university and she was working. If we got married she wouldn't have had to pay any tax.

"The third marriage... it's difficult to say. I just thought I'd make up the hat-trick."

There are no children.

"I have never felt the slightest need to perpetuate myself. I've been through childhood and have no wish to go through it second hand. I haven't the slightest paternalistic instinct in me. Being an existentialist and having read Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex I don't believe that any maternal instinct exists either."

So, here we were, back to French literature and old academe.

Shaw studied French at Leicester University and took subsidiaries in philosophy and then English.

"But the philosophy teacher did my head in," he recalls. "We had him for a full hour and that was a long time. Two or three times in each lecture he would take the top off this Thermos flask, unscrew the lid and then put it back on. He never got himself anything to drink. He was doing my head in.

"I'm sure he was the lecturer which Malcolm Bradbury put in his novel Eating People is Wrong."

As Shaw goes to the bar for another London Pride, a young man sitting nearby reveals that he has been earwigging on this strange conversation.

"Oi, mate, who's the intellectual sounding bloke?" he asks.

To be honest, I don't know what answer to give.

20 February 2008

Lionel Britton and the Contemporary Press

The following links are to recent newspaper articles or letters about Lionel Britton:

'Family Helped Make the Town' by Robert Hughes
Redditch Advertiser 6 February 2008
reproduced in
Bromsgrove Advertiser 6 February 2008
Kidderminster Shuttle 6 February 2008
(Interestingly, Edward Parry published the first book of poems by Lionel Britton's uncle, Herbert E. Britton – The Visions of a Dreamer – in 1912 at the offices of the Kidderminster Shuttle.)

'Bizarre Writer's Work Inspired Orwell' by Andy Smart
Nottingham Evening Post 2 February 2008
(now off line)

'"Bizarre" Work and Life of Town Author' by Ben Russell
Redditch Advertiser 2 January 2008
reproduced (without the photo of Britton) in
Worcester News 2 January 2008
Evesham Journal 2 January 2008
Malvern Gazette 2 January 2008
Droitwich Advertiser 2 January 2008

'On the Trail of a Lost Genius' by Gerald Isaaman
Camden New Journal 23 January 2003

14 February 2008

The Grave of John James Britton (1832–1913) in St Mary's Churchyard, Halford, Warwickshire

Unfortunately, I didn't have the benefit of a churchwarden's guidance when I briefly visited Halford late one Saturday afternoon about five and a half years ago, on my way to seek out schoolboy Lionel Britton's activities in Redditch. As a result, I didn't find John James Britton's grave, which Robert Hughes – who again supplied the photos – informs me is 'near the eastern wall of the graveyard, about 25 yards from the north-east corner (OS map ref.: SP 25921 45616)'. For this information, many thanks: I shall use it on my next visit.

The source of the inscription at the base of this cross – 'I see I know I understand' – is at present unknown.

Maryland, Halford (Warwickshire), a Former Home of John James Britton

John James Britton, the paternal grandfather of Lionel Britton, lived for about fifteen years in the small village of Halford in Warwickshire. For some of that time he lived in Maryland, a house near the parish church of St Mary's (1). By then he would be largely – if not entirely – in retirement from his former profession as a solicitor, although he still continued writing as a poet and made contributions to the Stratford Herald. Many thanks to John James's great-great-grandson Robert Hughes for taking the photo of Maryland during his brief stay at the Halford Bridge, and for no doubt pumping the churchwarden – and probably most of the inhabitants of Halford into the bargain – for any information on a number of subsidiary subjects (including St Mary's Norman tympanum).

(1) John James's Preface to his son Herbert Eyres's The Visions of a Dreamer – dated August 1912, shortly before his death – gives his address as The Yews, Halford.

11 February 2008

Robert Tressell and Lionel Britton

Lionel Britton's novel Hunger and Love has several similarities to Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, a well-known book about house painters: it is a working-class novel, it has much humour, and it contains a number of didactic digressions; perhaps even more significantly, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is set in Hastings on the East Sussex coast, where Britton spent some months renovating a house in 1934–35 (1).

The house was 'Netherwood' on The Ridge, and the choice of location was almost certainly symbolic: Tressell cast a large, avuncular influence over the working-class movement. It was a large, run-down property bought by the actor and playwright E. C. Vernon Symonds to convert into a left-wing haven for meetings, trade union conferences, or simply as a guest house. Britton received free board and lodging in return for manual work, and was eking out the remainder of his advance from Goslit for the Russian translation of his novel. But he hated almost everything about Netherwood. Below is a passage by Britton from a letter to his friend Sinead Acheson: it gives a flavour of the cuisine at Netherwood as seen by Britton, with some of the more stomach-churning pages of Hunger and Love lingering in the language:

'They’ll cook a saucepan of porridge and serve up the same porridge every day for a week. They’ll buy a piece of meat, and a fortnight afterwards they’ll be serving up the same piece of meat. The butter can easily be six to two months in the larder before it’s eaten up. They leave the vegetables soaking all night, stew them until they’re ready to take them off – an extra hour of so means nothing to them – and serve them up full of water' (2).

The house has been demolished and is today generally only remembered as the last resting place of Aleister Crowley.

(1) Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (London: Richards, 1914 (as 'Robert Tressall'); rev. Lawrence & Wishart, 1955; repr. Paladin, 1965)

(2) The letter is held in the Lionel Britton Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL.

10 February 2008

Edward Hind (1817–72), Forgotten Nottingham Poet

With the exceptions of Lord Byron (whose stay in Nottinghamshire was relatively short) and D. H. Lawrence (who is of course principally known as a novelist), there are perhaps not, generally speaking, many well-known poets from Nottinghamshire, although Spencer T[imothy] Hall, William and Mary Howitt and (to a lesser extent) Robert Millhouse and Thomas Ragg are also mentioned on occasions. But there were in fact a very large number of Nottinghamshire poets, although Nottingham-born Edward Hind is almost never mentioned; he was, however, associated with the Sherwood poets along with Hall, who incidentally had some encouraging words to say about Hind. The above book, Ethel's Hope: A Dramatic Poem, (London: Longman, 1860 ), was printed by C. N. Wright of Nottingham.

Other writings by Hind include Poems (London, 1853), which has an Introduction by Spencer T. Hall, If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again? (Nottingham: S. E. Hackett, 1857), and My magazine: Being a Series of Poems, Tales, Sketches, Essays, Orations, Etc. (Nottingham: J. and H. Clarke, 1860).

Edward Hind is mentioned in William Howie Wylie's Old and New Nottingham (London, 1853), and was buried in St Mary's churchyard, Nottingham.

6 February 2008

Herbert Eyres Britton: Poet

With all the manic energy of a permanently starved squirrel on speed, Robert Hughes continues to excavate his past (1). This time he's discovered that the poet Herbert Eyres Britton, who was Lionel Britton's uncle and a great-great-uncle of Robert himself, married Elsie Miriam Hickman (31) of Bishopstone (a village in Wiltshire just to the east of Swindon) in the parish church in 1909. Herbert was then 25 and a bank clerk living in Kidderminster. This led me back to Herbert's first book of poetry, The Visions of a Dreamer (1912), which includes a poem about Bishopstone. The book was published and printed in Kiddermister, and he also wrote a number of poems for the Kidderminster Shuttle; there are other poems about the River Stour, Kinver Edge and the Black Country, and there's a river trip from Holt Fleet to Stourport, which mentions Lincombe and Shrawley.

(1) Actually, I think he's on Budweiser. (Yes, he's informed me that this is the case. Who needs boring real ale?)

5 February 2008

So What Did Lionel Britton Write About?

There are a number of posts about Lionel Britton here – although this blog is by no means exclusively about him and his family: its chief interest is in obscurity – but there's almost nothing on what Britton wrote about. In the near future I shall be posting some of my favourite quotations, but in the meantime I give a brief idea below of what to expect from a Britton book.

Bertrand Russell certainly wrote one or two Introductions to books in his time, but I'm sure Hunger and Love was the only working-class novel which he praised so highly. Russell begins this five-page Introduction to the novel with:

'Mr. Britton's 'Hunger and Love' is a very remarkable piece of work. His hero, Arthur Phelps, who is first a boy and then a young man, possesses a first-rate mind, but nothing else. Every conceivable obstacle is put in the way of his acquiring knowledge; as a bookseller's assistant, he is tempted to read the books in his employer's stock, but when caught doing so, is dismissed with ignominy. He has that difficulty about acquiescing in preventable evil that characterises the best minds, and therefore does not achieve quick success, as a person of a slightly lower order of ability would do. The book relates not only his personal adventures, but the growth of his philosophy and his social outlook. It is filled with a splendid rage against the humbug, the cruelty, and the moral degradation of the possessing classes.'

The final sentence of Russell's Introduction reads: 'Mr. Britton has portrayed his world with passion, with vividness, with a wealth of illustrative detail, and with a considerable power of generalising thought. For these reasons, I am convinced that his book deserves to be widely read.' There could have been far worse recommendations for a first novel.

Britton's two science fiction plays, Brain (1930) and Spacetime Inn (1932), also had their supporters.

Bernard Shaw, among others, commended Britton's first play Brain, which is mainly set in the far future. An artificial brain has been constructed in the Sahara Desert, and it rapidly increases in size as it absorbs all the knowledge on earth. Brain’s main goal is to sever the link with the human in order to dictate things for the good of all humankind without the intervention of human faults. In the end the world is destroyed because human conflict could not be eradicated.

Britton's second play, Spacetime Inn, is also worthy of note. Here, two working-class lottery winners – brutalised by ignorance and a complacent middle class – are stranded in a pub with the Queen of Sheba, Bernard Shaw, Queen Victoria, Samuel Johnson, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Karl Marx, and Eve without Adam. The warmongers want them to join in their war games, and the intellectuals want to play mind games with them. After a misunderstanding, the two working-class characters blow everyone up: Britton's central thesis was that a better world can only be achieved with co-operation rather than competition. J. S. Clarke, MP for Maryhill, Glasgow, had the play put on before his fellow MPs in a committee room in the House of Commons 'on the ground that discussion of the play was important for M.P.'s in their conduct of the nation's business'.