Friday, 27 May 2011

Nottingham Castle - Exploration and Inspiration

Nottingham Castle
I've just had a two night visit from my youngest son James and his friend Michael, who both came over from Belfast by motorbike. It was a wonderful time, and who doesn't cherish visits from their children? As Michael had his own business to attend to yesterday, James and I had the day to ourselves; the question was, what to do?

James & 1000cc Suzuki
Whatever it was, it wouldn't be as a pillion passenger on a 1000cc motorbike that does 0 - 60 in 2.5 seconds. I am a wuss after all, so we would do something that was sedate and non-threatening (see what I mean by wuss?).

Let's go and have a look around Nottingham Castle, at least we'll be out of the rain. Though being thoroughly soaked getting to the Castle, a coffee and cake helped us to warm up and dry out (I so do hate the rain).

I love Nottingham Castle, and for those who don't know its history, here's a brief timeline. The original Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068; demolished in 1615; bought by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle in 1663 who then built the current Ducal mansion; leased by Nottingham City Council in 1875, and opened as the first provincial Museum of Fine Art in 1878.

The 17th Century mansion still looks magnificent today, with spectacular views over the City, and still having a maze of original caves hidden beneath its imposing walls, which can be seen through organised tours.

The Castle today is still a vibrant museum and art gallery, with a vast collection of silver, glass, decorative items, visual arts, paintings and Nottinghamshire Archeology and History. I think that James and I saw everything that was on display - some areas I didn't even know existed, even though I've visited before. Two spaces were of particular interest. The first was the Long Gallery, which is a beautiful and impressive room. For the current exhibition, they had chosen to follow the French Salon style, which is so different from the usual art galleries where a few pictures take up a whole room. Here, all of the walls were crammed with paintings of all sizes; it took a moment to adjust to it, but I loved it and the catalogue easily identified the paintings for you. However, it will take more than one visit to do it justice. Still, I've got until the end of October.

The second space was an absolute delight to find. It is a new interactive gallery celebrating the story of Robin Hood. Called 'Hood in the Wood', it is a Robin Hood themed gallery where families can bring the legend alive. As the blurb says, "The whole room is a stylised sensory wood with interactive features ideal for visitors and families". Families can enjoy dressing up together in costumes from the era, and explore the world of Robin Hood with puppets and books, and even build a den similar to Robin's or the Sheriff of Nottingham. James and I took a break to sit and watch one of ten videos available. The room is a Robin Hood fantasist's dream world. Oh dear, is that our tummies rumbling? Time to find something to eat.

Captain Albert Ball VC
On leaving the Castle building, we walked down the steep path through the Castle grounds to the main gate. On doing so, you can't fail to see an impressive monument on your right hand side. Eating can wait a bit longer, let's see who is being remembered here.

The monument is to one Albert Ball, a World War One fighter pilot. I try not to glory in war, and I'm not doing that now, but Albert's story is I think an incredible one; a story of honour, determination, success and unbelievable courage.

I'm grateful to the website dedicated to Albert Ball for the following information and pictures.

Aeroplane SE A8907
Albert was born in Lenton Boulevard, Nottingham on the 16th August 1896. After being educated at Trent College, he enlisted in 1914 with the 2/7th Battalion (Robin Hoods) of the Sherwood Foresters. He rose rapidly in the ranks, but was desperate to get to the front and fight, even transferring to the North Midland Divisional Cyclist Company, but he couldn't get transferred out of England.

In June 1915 he paid for private tuition and trained as a pilot, and gained his wish in joining the Royal Flying Corps, where he gained the pilot's brevet on the 22nd January 1916. The following month he was posted to France flying reconnaissance aircraft, but he really wanted to fly fighters. His wish was granted on the 7th May 1916.

His hut with greenhouse
Now he was where he wanted to be; now let's get at the enemy. His dedication and determination can be seen in that he built himself a hut (with an attached greenhouse) next to the aircraft hanger, in which he lived, ate and slept 'over the shop' so that he could be airborne almost immediately and into combat.

Albert preferred to fight alone, and during the next twelve months, he is credited with shooting down 43 enemy aircraft and one enemy balloon. The stories of his fights read like something out of a boys own magazine, but they were all true. You can read more of these at . Captain Albert Ball was killed in action on the 7th May 1917. He was remarkably 20 years of age.

Granted Freedom of Nottingham 17th February 1917
During his short life, Albert Ball received many honours. In July 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross; in September 1916 the Distinguished Service Order; in the same month he received the DSO with bar; in November 1916 he received the DSO with bar number 2, the first person ever to get this; in February 1917 he received the Russian Order of St George. He was given the Honorary Freedom of the City of Nottingham on the 19th February 1917.

One month before he died
On the 8th June 1917, King George V awarded posthumously the Victoria Cross to Albert, and this was presented to his parents. The citation is worth repeating.

"For most conspicuous and consistent bravery from the 25th April to the 6th May 1917, during which period Captain Ball took part in twenty six combats in the air and destroyed eleven hostile aeroplanes, drove down two out of control, and forced several others to land. In these combats, Captain Ball, flying alone, on one occasion, fought six hostile machines, twice he fought five and once four. When leading two other British aeroplanes he attacked an enemy formation of eight. On each of these occasions be brought down at least one enemy. Several times his aeroplane was badly damaged, once so seriously that but for the most delicate handling his machine would have collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away. On returning with a damaged machine he had always to be restrained from immediately going out on another. In all, Captain Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes and one balloon, and has always displayed most exceptional courage, determination and skill". - extract taken from the London Gazette of the 8th June 1917.

Little wonder that such a magnificent monument was erected in the grounds of Nottingham Castle. Standing 21 feet tall, it is a bronze sculpture standing on a base and pedestal of granite and Portland stone. It depicts Albert gazing upwards and tightening his belt before flight. Above is an allegorical robed figure of a woman representing the air, one hand pointing skywards, the other resting on Albert's shoulders.

On the front and back of the monument, underneath the inscriptions are the words


which is the RAF motto meaning, "Through Struggle to the Stars". Surely no one epitomises that more than Captain Albert Ball VC.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.