What the parks committee archives tell us about life in Nottingham during WW1

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By Malcolm Prosser and Jonathan Coope.

Nottingham’s Public Parks and Burial Grounds Committee met every two or three weeks on weekdays at 10.00am in the Guildhall. The committee minutes indicate an average attendance of between six and nine members out of a possible eighteen or so. Ostensibly, the members would be drawn from a certain stratum of society and were not representative of society as a whole. This was true of society generally in the early 20th century. There were no women on this committee, for example, and presumably little representation of the working class.

It appears odd that there is barely a mention of the war in any of the minutes. While the full Council minutes acknowledged “deep sympathy” at the loss of the sons and nephews of the treasurer and surveyor and many other councillors, the Public Parks and Burial Grounds Committee busied itself with the more mundane matters of the day. Indeed the committee met on 11th November 1918 as the Armistice was being signed, yet in spite of the local newspapers excitedly signalling the event for days beforehand, no reference is ever made in the minutes. Nor is there any subsequent reference in the months that followed as to the effect that ending the war would have on finances or the return from the military of former Corporation employees.

Nottingham Corporation Tramways Employees in 1919, in front of the tank on The Forest Courtesy of Nottingham City Transport and www.picturethepast.org.uk

Nottingham Corporation Tramways Employees in 1919, in front of the tank on The Forest
Courtesy of Nottingham City Transport and www.picturethepast.org.uk

The overriding impression coming from the Public Parks and Burial Grounds committee members is of a determination for City life to carry on as usual. There appears little outward concession to acknowledge the horrors of which they were only too aware.

Patriotism was very obviously evident including pageants and a patriotic fair on the Arboretum in 1917 featuring “a clever display of artistic skipping by the Beeston Brownies Troup of Girls”. At the same time, as we saw, one City employee came within an inch of losing his job for making a speech in the Market Square “which was detrimental to recruiting”, the assumption being that it was along pacifist lines. In a rare reminder that enemy prisoners of war were held at Donington Hall, two German officers were found and arrested on Queen’s Walk having escaped two days earlier.

Soldiers sitting on beer crates at Armistice celebrations in the marketplace Courtesy of Nottingham City Council and www.picturethepast.org.uk

Soldiers sitting on beer crates at Armistice celebrations in the marketplace
Courtesy of Nottingham City Council and www.picturethepast.org.uk

Life was drastically changed in so many ways for the citizens of Nottingham, yet the fabric of local government remained firmly intact. Green spaces provided important areas during these traumatic years though it was mainly the two larger and more prestigious spaces – The Forest and The Arboretum – that figured most. The Forest in 1919 was the venue for a St Dunstan’s Day event in aid of the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors After-Care Fund which required a grandstand for a total of 5000 attendees. Quite different but none the less informative was a 1916 occasion when the ‘Bulwell and Basford mothers and babies’ were granted permission to close The Arboretum to the public and charge entry in aid of “the comfort of the troops fund”.

[DRAFT. This is an extract of a forthcoming article by Malcolm Prosser and Jonathan Coope. Please do not quote without permission of one of the authors. Comments welcome at jonathan.coope@nottingham.ac.uk]

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