An Ancient Ceremony in Nottingham (Plus Robin Hood?)

St Mary’s Church, Nottingham.

On Saturday I was very lucky to be able to go along to one of the most ancient ceremonies in the East Midlands (a region of England that includes several shires). St Mary’s Church in Nottingham hosts a ceremony giving thanks for the life and work of the founder of Nottingham High School, Dame Agnes Mellers. As one of the largest and oldest institutions in the East Midlands area, the school has always been keen to commemorate its founding in 1513.

St Mary’s churchyard is a smashing place of ancient greenery in an otherwise bustling metropolis.

The grave of Henry Plumptre (1718/1719), which is a cracking example of non-standardization in spelling. In this period of English history, “f” and “s” were pretty much interchangeable in inscriptions, which meant that the monuments relied on people reading aloud to get the right kind of sense from them.

The grave of Lieutenant James Still (Royal Navy) who died at the age of 22, having spent the past four years of his life combatting the slave trade. By 1821 the spelling has settled down somewhat, but the “f”s and “s”s are still interchangeable in some words.

Some lovely wild wall flowers.

The Founder’s Day service is a great way of bringing together the whole school: pupils, staff, governors, and alumni. But the ceremony is much more than a church service reaffirming the sense of continuity between current pupils and the long, noble history that stands behind them. It is also a chance for the school to remember its ancient allies in the City of Nottingham such as the Mayor, the Sheriff and the Lord Lieutenant (the Queen’s representative for the wider jurisdiction of Nottinghamshire), who are all present in the procession. Some of the most ancient ceremonies in England begin with a procession, which is a symbolic entrance of notaries in uniform or academic dress in formal order. It’s a very impressive sight, full of the historic pageantry which you would expect from such an ancient custom.

The congregation of so many notaries from the whole county in one  ceremony at St Mary’s Church also provides the backdrop for a great ripping yarn. Legend has it that a ceremony at this church was once interrupted by the great Robin Hood himself, who no doubt saw such an affluent congregation which included his arch-nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham, as an opportunity too good to miss. Sitting in St Mary’s Church on Saturday, I could see it all happening – the doors flying open as Robin Hood (who I imagine looks just like Errol Flynn) swaggers in, taking from the rich to give to the poor, no doubt stopping to make some smart remark as he steals the purse of the Sheriff. While I’m sure that I have a very romantic notion of highway robbery, I am very glad that Robin Hood didn’t turn up on Saturday… I am rather attached to my string of pearls, after all.

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