May 17 2011: A Very Short History of Nottingham Castle by Harry Gill (1904)

From Colwick on Sunday, Harry Gill’s account of the history, lore and many transformations of Nottingham Castle up to the date of publication in 1904. Especially interesting is Gill’s quotation, at length, from Ann Gilbert’s account of the burning of the Castle in response to the rejection of the Reform Bill of 1831 in the House of Lords, a rejection partly ensured by the opposition to its passing of the Castle’s owner, the Duke of Newcastle. Gilbert’s account shows that current media tactics of representing political protests as mere drunken ‘mob rule’ (think of recent press discussions about the actions of anarchist groups at this year’s anti-cuts demonstrations in London) have a long history: as in 2011, so in 1831, where few references to legitimate political grievance are allowed to intrude into the sensational descriptions of vandalism and drunkenness.

The full text of Gill’s book is available on the Nottingham History website, and Gilbert’s account of the Reform Bill Riots are included here. Even a brief excerpt shows that there are certainly parallels between Gilbert’s comments and many press stories on recent protests, however, from the echo of Charles and Camilla in her description of Mrs Musters and an unnamed ‘French Lady’ hiding in the shrubbery in their evening-wear, to the continual references to “the fringe of the assembly” and the presence “of the lowest and most despicable characters” – a sinister presence to contrast with the barely acknowledged “orderly mass” to be found elsewhere, and the individual stories and human faces granted to the mayor, aristocrats and others towards whom Gilbert means to direct our sympathies.

These tricks of the trade have been with us a long time, it would seem.

“The speakers, from a waggon in the centre of the space, addressed a dense and orderly mass; but the fringe of the assembly consisted of the lowest and most despicable characters. These renewing the disturbances of the previous day, the authorities, ever loth to do so, found the moment had come to use extreme measures. A troop of the 15th Hussars was called out from the Park Barracks—for Nottingham was for many years a military station. They kept dispersing the mob. One section, however, eluded their vigilance. Making their way Sneinton-wards, they proceeded to Colwick, the original Notts seat of Lord Byron’s ancestors. Entering the mansion, they began to lay about with the railings they had torn from Notintone Place, Sneinton; they ripped up the pictures, smashed everything they could, and finally set fire to a portion of the building. Mr. Musters was away from home; Mrs. Musters—Lord Byron’s Mary Ann Chaworth—and a French lady, a visitor, made their escape to the shrubbery. Here in evening dress Mrs. Musters received that shock to the system which terminated her life five weeks later at Wiverton Hall, the dower-house of the Chaworths. The mob now turned homewards, intoxicated with success and with the wine they had broached from the Colwick Hall cellars. ‘To the Castle!’ was now the cry, and thither the mass surged on…”

2 Responses to “May 17 2011: A Very Short History of Nottingham Castle by Harry Gill (1904)”
  1. Chris Matthews says:

    Good find Wayne. Interesting in light of a recent Telegraph article which basically suggested narrowing the franchise! 1831 lives on:

    • wayneburrows says:

      Yes, I saw that: what with gerrymandering the boundaries, going all-out against any form of PR and this, you definitely get the impression that the present government is well aware it has no plausible mandate, and is determined to ensure it can muster the appearance of one somehow…

      Another way in which nothing much changes: in a note following the above description, it’s explained that soon after the riots, Newcastle was compensated to the tune of £21,000 for the inconvenience caused him by the riots his actions provoked.

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