GeneaBloggers

Friday, 15 November 2013

Where is Bendigo’s Ring?


There is no doubt that Bendigo’s Ring is a hillock in a suburb of North Nottingham, England, but where exactly? I do not normally research places to this extent but this one had a personal significance for me. It was a surprisingly hard bit of micro-history since the name is merely a local one and very few reliable sources exist. I apologise in advance to those readers who have no local knowledge or connection with this region.

Until recently, I assumed that the answer to this question was obvious since from the early 1960s I had lived next to a small wood called Glade Hill[1] that was known locally as Bendigo’s Ring. Unfortunately, I’d since become aware that there was another nearby location, called Sunrise Hill, that was also associated with the same name. I had to take on this challenge in order to compare folklore with evidence, and ideally to set the record straight.

Bendigo was the nickname of William Abednego Thompson who was born in Nottingham on 18 Oct 1811 and became champion bare-knuckle prize-fighter of England — twice!. He retired undefeated in 1850 but was subsequently imprisoned 28 times for drunk and disorderly behaviour before finally becoming a renowned local preacher. He died on 23 Aug 1880 due to a fall at his home and was buried at Bath Street Cemetery in Nottingham[2].

The Wikipedia page for Bendigo (accessed 1 Nov 2013) states that:

In Bestwood, a suburban part of Nottingham, there is a small copse known locally as "Bendigo's Ring". Legend has it that his spirit haunts the place, trying to exact revenge on the children that taunted him when he was often found there drunk.

It is well-documented that children used to tease Bendigo during his drunken years but this vague reference is un-sourced.

The Picture-the-Past Web site shows a picture of Sunrise Hill, Arnold Road, Bestwood, 1936 (accessed 1 Nov 2013) claiming that ‘This is where Bendigo's Ring was’. However, this statement is also un-sourced. The page credits the picture to the Guardian Journal newspaper with a date of 12 Oct 1936. This is a little suspect because the Guardian Journal wasn’t formed until 1953 by a merger of the Nottingham Guardian and Nottingham Journal. The picture shows a small copse of relatively young trees on a hilltop dated at 1936. Maps of 1937-1940[10] show Sunrise Hill as having a small number of trees on its southern slope.

A little bit about the local geography and history first. The area was developed into housing estates during this century by Nottingham City Council — Bestwood Estate (pre-war, c1939) and Bestwood Park Estate (c1960). Neither of these should be confused with the old Bestwood Village which is in the Gedling district of Nottinghamshire. There are currently three named hills in this locality:

  • Glade Hill (105m). Currently surrounded by Mosswood Crescent, Bestwood Park Est., and hosting a significant copse of trees.
  • Sunrise Hill (95m). Situated off Landcroft Crescent, Bestwood Est., about 1km SW of Glade Hill. It is now the city’s smallest Local Nature Reserve (LNR) at just 1.6 hectares (see Sunrise Hill LNR).
  • Hazel Hill. About 0.5km NW of Glade Hill. Higher than the other two hills but now completely developed for housing.

Fig 1 - Bestwood Park c1906

The Nottingham City Council Web site has an excellent mapping tool which can be used to view this locality both now and in the past: Bestwood Park Est. This allows you to look at modern street maps, aerial photos, contours, and historical overlays. The previous link should take you directly to the place as it is now, although you may need to give it time to draw and click a few acceptances first. In the ‘Layers’ list, in the left-hand panel, there’s an Environment section to add useful context to the map. In the toolbar at the top, select 'Historical' from the drop-down list where it currently says 'Map' and you'll be able to select overlay maps from a variety of dates.

About 250m west of Glade Hill is a natural valley running north-south. There used to be a farm called Sunrise Farm there, right up to the mid-1950s. Both the farm and Glade Hill can be seen on large-scale aerial photographs from 1953[3]. Those photographs show that Glade Hill was already wooded by that time, and although they are aerial shots the tree shadows suggest that they are at least 20 years old. That valley area was always called the waste ground from when I moved there in 1961, and the remains of Sunrise Farm (a tiled floor and a wooden gate) were clearly visible then. I have been told that these remnants are still there, although you would need a machete to find them now. In January 2008, this land was renamed the Sandy Banks LNR — a great idea but a little sad given that the council culled all the wild foxes recently, much to the disgust of many residents. The reason that this land was never developed was that a bypass to avoid Redhill was conceived in the 1960s. This would have extended from Edwards Lane up through this small valley, under the never-finished Bembridge Drive (still in two pieces), under Elmbridge, over Queens Bower Road, and up to the Leapool traffic island on the A60. Luckily, the plan was abandoned in the early 1970s[4].

The region where Glade Hill and Sunrise Hill both lie used to be known as the Bestwood Park[5]. This was part of the old Sherwood Forest, fenced off since the mid-14th Century as a royal deer park. The park perimeter was around nine miles and enclosed a hilly terrain. The above three named hills must correspond to the ancient hills of ‘Kyngg’us hoc hill’ (King’s Oak Hill), ‘Syre hill’, 'ye kosckshote hil’ (cock shoot hill) and ‘Beskwode hede’ but I cannot find specific associations[6].

From the 15th Century, the enclosing of common land for the grazing of sheep was becoming popular but this clashed with the open-field system of poorer people. By the 18th Century, large-scale enclosures were introduced into the county for the grazing of sheep. The Bestwood Park had been in decline for a while and neither the stock nor the perimeter had been well-maintained. Timbers were plundered by the Royal Navy for shipbuilding in the 18th Century and the land eventually gave over to farming[7].

MAPS

I consulted a number of map sources to try and get an idea of how the area had changed over time. Given the variety of these sources it is hard to prove that they are all independent (i.e. not derivatives) but they do show a general pattern to the changes.

1955-1956[8]
Glade Hill is wooded. No trees visible on Sunrise Hill. Beginnings of Bestwood Estate development. Padstow and Henry Whipple schools labelled. High Pavement School visible but not labelled.

1938-1944[9]
Glade Hill is wooded. Small group of trees on south bank of Sunrise Hill. Landcroft Crescent visible.

1937-1940[10]
Glade Hill is wooded. Small group of trees on south bank of Sunrise Hill. Landcroft Crescent visible.

1921[11]
No trees on Glade Hill. Small group of trees on south bank of Sunrise Hill.

1912-1919[12]
Glade Hill is wooded. Small group of trees on south bank of Sunrise Hill

1906[13] and 1902-1903[14] AND 1893[15] and 1885[16]
No trees on either hill.

1875-1885[17] and 1887-1899[18]
No trees on Glade Hill. Small group of trees on south bank of Sunrise Hill

1836-1839[19] and 1836[20]
Sunrise Hill not labelled. No trees on either hill. Sunrise Farm is called Spring Farm.

The mapped details are not totally consistent with the timeline. Glade Hill wasn’t wooded until approximately 1912-1919 which tallies with the tree age estimated above. Sunrise Hill had a very small group of trees on its south slope at the 90m contour but they are not consistently recorded. It may be that the original group disappeared c1890 and a different group appeared c1910 but it’s hard to determine whether their omission is a mapping error or not since they were so small. Their presence in the late 1930s substantiates the aforementioned Picture-the-Past photograph.

Any trees on Sunrise Hill appear to have been finally lost during WWII. The Army had a large camp at Bestwood Lodge, which later became the East Midland District Army Headquarters[21], but they also had a huge presence on the Bestwood Park[22] [23], including the site of the former Padstow School and Sunrise Hill itself. The following article appeared in a 1949 newspaper[24]:

About 150 members of the 3rd Derbyshire Battalion Army Cadet Force left the Drill Hall, Becket-street, Derby, this morning for a week-end's training in camp at Sunrise Hill, Bestwood Estate, Nottingham. They will return on Tuesday. They will use live ammunition in "shoots" at the camp, and refresher courses will held for cadets intending to sit for certificates of competency.

BOOKS

Iliffe and Baguely’s Victorian Nottingham – A Story in Pictures[25] contains an undated picture on page 104 with the caption:

BENDIGO’S RING, OR SUNRISE HILL. Reputed to be the site of some of his bare-knuckle fights, it is now part of Landcroft Crescent on the Bestwood Estate.

This shows a very sorry looking group of dead or dying trees, with some stumps also visible. At the end of page 108 is a list of places reputed to have been the setting for some of his fights, including ‘Bendigo’s Ring, near Arnold Road on the Bestwood Estate’.

M. W. Spick’s collection of old photographs of Arnold and Bestwood[26] contains adjacent photographs of these two hills on page 156 with the following captions:

  1. GLADEHILL, BESTWOOD, often confused with Bendigo’s Ring. This whole area is now covered with residential building.

  1. BENDIGO’S RING. This small clearing on the western side of Bestwood Park (now part of the housing estate) was the site where Bendigo, the famous Nottingham boxer, trained for his fights.

Glade Hill is actually in Bestwood Park rather than Bestwood, and it is surrounded by residential building rather than covered by it. No specific location is given in the second picture but we can assume it must be Sunrise Hill since it is the same picture as appears in Iliffe and Baguely[25]. No date is given for either picture.

NEWSPAPERS

Newspapers are usually an excellent source of information but less so in this case since the hills are so small, and “Bendigo’s Ring” is only an unofficial local name.

I could find no references to Glade Hill but did find a very early mention of Sunrise Hill in 1861 in a report of the death of the pugilist Benjamin Caunt. This was an important reference since it established a connection with bare-knuckle boxing. Caunt was born in nearby Hucknall Torkard in 1815 and fought Bendigo in no less than three famous fights. His debut in 1836 was against Bendigo and it was to cement the latter’s reputation. Caunt was much larger (14st 8lb compared to 11st 10lb, and 6’ 2” compared to 5’ 9”) but Bendigo fought more cleverly. This article contains the following place reference[27]:

In the same year the “young big ‘un” beat one Boneford at Sunrise-hill, Notts, in six rounds, for a small stake, and was again matched against the renowned Bendigo.

There is just one reference to Bendigo’s Ring in a Sep 1936 report on the loss of facilities for local football (soccer) matches[28]:

Much to the surprise of several teams, Arnold Road ground will not be available this season. The original playing pieces at the corner of Arnold-road and Hucknall-road are being built upon, but that was known last season, and a move made to a fine, level, large field further away from Arnold Road, towards Bendigo's Ring, which gave accommodation for five excellent pitches. This ideal site, for some reason, is not now available.

This is intriguing because it doesn’t give a clear location and it requires some deeper analysis. If Bendigo’s Ring was “further away from Arnold Road” then it would suggest Glade Hill, which would be visible on the skyline, since Sunrise Hill is virtually on Arnold Road (actually about 150m north of the closest point). However, there were very few available places of sufficient size and levelness for “five excellent pitches”. The existing playing fields at the corner of Arnold Rd and Beckhampton Rd were still tilled fields[3] back then.

One possibility is the site of the future location of the High Pavement School. Although the new premises were not opened until 1955[29] planning was actually started before WWII. The Evening Post ran the following article in Jan 1937[30]:

Subject to the approval of the Council Finance Committee, and the Board of Education, the committee accepted the tender of Lewis and Grundy, Ltd., for the fencing of 3,310 acres of land on the Edwards-lane Estate for use as playing field for the new High Pavement School which is to be built on the Bestwood Estate. The tender amounted to £553 5s. 6d.

This planning of the new premises could certainly have caused the withdrawal of the land for football matches. The aforementioned PDF resource actually has more information on the planning and purchase of the new premises on p.5, and a picture of the school’s extensive playing fields (looking SSE) on p.9. If this was the location mentioned in the earlier newspaper article then it would suggest that it meant Sunrise Hill was Bendigo’s Ring.

One last, potentially important, reference to Sunrise Hill occurs 26 May 1937, less than one year after the loss of the football ground[31]. The council of the Thoroton Society had prepared a list of objects of antiquarian interest in and about Nottingham, which it thought should be preserved if possible, and this included “Sunrise Hill, Bestwood Park”. This suggests that the hill was generally not well known, either by name or by any historical significance.

AUTHORITATIVE SOURCES

I approached a number of authoritative sources to try and obtain some documented historical association of either hill with Bendigo but with very little success.

I first approached the Local Studies department of the Nottingham Library in Oct 2013[32]. They were very helpful but the only source that they could find which I hadn’t already seen was a mention in the Basford Bystander no. 76 (Mar/Apr 1999): p.5, which said: "Hilltop circle of trees (Glade Hill) used as venue for boxing bouts". However, the recent date on this (1999) merely confirms my own usage of the name and that of most of the current residents.

I next approached The Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire in Oct/Nov 2013. This historical society did have an article on Bendigo in their newsletter[2] but they could find no specific mention of Bendigo’s Ring. They did provide the following recollection from a member:

Yes, Bendigo's Ring was a hillock in Bestwood Park, on what were known as 'Bulwell Fields' because a pathway led to Bulwell from Redhill. The area is now covered with housing. I often walked this pathway with my parents when I was smaller than I am now !  Alan.

Bulwell Fields (or “Bully”) was a strip of grassy land extending from the site of the former White Hart Inn, Arnold, through to what is now the Bulwell Forest Golf Club. There was a footpath that followed a natural valley for some of the way, passing by Top Valley Farm near the other end. It was roughly where Queens Bower Road and Bestwood Park Drive are today, and it can be seen in the 1906 map above. This recollection must therefore associate the name with Glade Hill.

In 2000, 245 green areas were created across England called Millennium Greens. This was funded by the National Lottery via the Countryside Agency. One of the Nottinghamshire greens was called the Bendigo Millennium Green. After a surprising amount of digging, I eventually managed to establish that this was, in fact, Sunrise Hill. It would be reasonable, therefore, to assume that there was some verifiable connection between Sunrise Hill and Bendigo so I approached the Nottingham City Council’s Parks and Open Spaces department in Nov 2013. Although they had no information themselves, they offered to contact the trustees of the Bendigo Millennium Green Trust (http://opencharities.org/charities/1078198). At the time of writing, I hadn’t heard back on this but I will update the blog when I do.


OTHER SOURCES

Email correspondence with the author Richard Rutherford-Moore during Oct 2013 revealed another connection between Sunrise Hill and bare-knuckle boxing. Richard had previously interviewed a group of gypsies in Doncaster about the death of The King of the Gypsies in Bestwood Park.  They confirmed that fights did take place there, but also that the 'king of the gypsies' was buried at Doncaster rather than Bestwood and each year after the deaths for a while the family poured a bottle of brown ale over the grave.

In a BBC feature on Bendigo by Richard Studeny[33], Graham Allen, MP for North Nottingham, added the following online comment:

There aren't many places that can claim to have staged the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship and for it to have been won by a Nottingham lad but Bestwood can. What better focus could we have than this 'bad boy made good’? A circle of oak trees on the estate's Sunrise Hill formed the natural setting for many of Bendigo's fights. The trees are long gone but the land next door on the former Padstow School site is vacant and has been earmarked for regeneration.

Neither of the two pictures claiming to be that of Bendigo’s Ring show any significant circle of oaks, and certainly nothing old enough to have existed in Bendigo’s times.

CONCLUSION

There is no doubt that the majority local people now associate Bendigo’s Ring with Glade Hill. The exceptions seem to be those with historical knowledge who associate it with Sunrise Hill, although no verifiable associations between Bendigo and Sunrise Hill have been cited by them.

No connection between boxing and Glade Hill were ever found. In fact, I could find no historical mention of this hill. It is clear from the cartographic record that it was planted with trees in c1912-1919, and that it was bald before then. This befits the description as a “glade” which would have been a grassy clearing in a wood at some earlier time.

In contrast, Sunrise Hill had a small copse of trees from some time after 1840. This date is consistent with its established usage as a venue for bare-knuckle fights. There is a gap in the cartographic record suggesting that these original trees may have been lost c1890-1910 and replanted later. If this is true then any “circle of oak trees”, as described by Graham Allen, could have been replaced with the younger ones visible in the Picture-the-Past photograph dated 1936. A possible reason is that the nearby Bestwood Colliery opened in 1871 and this consumed many timbers for pit supports. In fact, this continued until its closure in 1967, and especially during the war years. Spick’s photographic collection[26] contains an image of an advertisement dated June 1940 for the sale of the Bestwood Estate “as a whole, in blocks, or in lots”, and with a mention of “large areas of valuable mixed timber and pitwoods”. The trees present in 1936, whether new or old, were certainly lost during WWII.

Although we have no conclusive proof, it is fairly clear that Bendigo’s Ring must have originally been Sunrise Hill but was later associated with Glade Hill. Although Bendigo may have fought or trained there, it’s reasonable to assume that this name was not used during his lifetime as others fought there too. Sunrise Hill must have lost any “circle of oaks” a long time ago since the trees in the 1936 picture are too young to have been around in Bendigo’s time. We know that in 1937 the official name of the hill was considered in danger of being lost, and the site is now a tiny LNR marked by a toppled trig-point and some sort of transmission mast rather than any significant trees. In contrast, Glade Hill has had a significant “ring” of trees since c1920, and even today it dominates the skyline when one approaches via Edwards Lane from the south. My conclusion is that the name mistakenly became associated with Glade Hill from the period of WWII since that was the only visible marker.

This bit of micro-history was about as “micro” as you can get. The hills lie within a 1km radius, and the name being researched was never an official one. However, researching the title question opened up new and interesting areas of local history for me, including Bendigo himself, pugilism in the 19th Century, the royal deer park, Bestwood Colliery, WWII and the evacuation after Dunkirk, and the development of the local schools. In reality, micro-history is a network of interconnected local events, people, and places that forms the fabric of real history.




[1] National Grid reference SK 57028 45245, Coordinates E: 457028.5 N: 345245.5. Information generated by the Ordnance Survey geograph tool (http://www.geograph.org.uk/showmap.php?gridref=SK57034525 : accessed 30 Oct 2013).
[2] "Bendigo - A Nottingham champion ", Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter, online (http://www.thorotonsociety.org.uk/publications/articles/bendigo.htm : created 21 Dec 2011, accessed 14 Nov 2013).
[3] High-resolution, black-and-white, vertical aerial photograph of National Grid reference SK 569 444, taken 22 Apr 1953. Image reference: RAF/58/1096 Lb 1438 Fr 186 Cp F21 22/04/1953. Obtained from English Heritage Archives (www.englishheritagearchives.org.uk) Aug 2012.
[4] I can find no official record of this but confirmation of my own recollection can be found in the section entitled ‘History Lesson’ on the A60 page at http://www.sabre-roads.org.uk/wiki/index.php?title=A60, accessed 5 Nov 2013.
[5] Heinrich Mutschmann, The Place-Names of Nottinghamshire – Their Origin and Development (Cambridge University press, 1913). This explains that Bestwood was originally spelled Beescwde because of ‘t’ being mis-transcribed as ‘c’, and that this later became Beskwood.
[6] “Bestwood Park”, Archaeology & History of Medieval Sherwood Forest (http://sherwoodforesthistory.blogspot.ie/2012/02/bestwood-park.html : updated 27 Feb 2013, accessed 3 Nov 2013).
[7] Richard Rutherford-Moore, Bestwood Park - A Thousand Years of History. This work is currently unavailable. Explanation from the author: “This work was prepared for the Millennium time-capsule buried in Bestwood Village. By request, a print-out copy went to Gedling Borough Council and another to Notts County Council ; in 2005 the Gedling copy was subsequently requested by 'The Friends of Bestwood Park' - but it turned out that both copies had been lost. It was never a book as a local publisher could not be found by Notts County Council who were to part-fund it”.  The time-capsule isn’t due to be opened until 2200 but a much-abbreviated copy can be found online at: http://www.sthubertsrangers.org/bestwood_park.htm, accessed 3 Nov 2013.
[8] Nottinghamshire (1955-1956) (Ordnance Survey, 2012); Scale 1:10,560.
[9] Nottinghamshire (1938-1944) (Ordnance Survey, 2012); Scale 1:10,560.
[10] Nottinghamshire (1937-1940) (Ordnance Survey, 2013), online, Nottingham City Council Insightmapping (http://info.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/insightmapping/# : accessed 13 Nov 2013); Ordnance Survey Licence number 100019317.
[11] Ordnance Survey Popular Edition (1921) (Cassini Past & Present Series, 2007); www.cassinimaps.com; Scale: 1:50,000.
[12] Nottinghamshire (1912-1919) (Ordnance Survey, 2013), online, Nottingham City Council Insightmapping (http://info.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/insightmapping/# : accessed 13 Nov 2013); Ordnance Survey Licence number 100019317.
[13] Derby, Leicester and Nottingham 12: Arnold and Woodborough. Sheet 2: Surveyed 1877-1887, revised 1906, published 1908 (Unknown); Scale: 1” to 1 mile; Purchased from Hampden Maps Ltd, Tottenham, June 2008.
[14] Ordnance Survey New Series (in colour) (1902-1903) (Cassini Past & Present Series, 2007); www.cassinimaps.com; Scale: 1:50,000.
[15] Derby, Leicester and Nottingham 12: Arnold and Woodborough. Sheet 2: surveyed 1877-1887, revised 1893, published 1899 (Unknown); Scale: 1” to 1 mile; Purchased from Hampden Maps Ltd, Tottenham, June 2008.
[16] Nottingham (Northern Section, 1885). Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England and Wales (Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1885), online (http://www.londonancestor.com/maps/bc-notting-n.htm : accessed 7 Nov 2013).
[17] Nottinghamshire (1875-1885) (Ordnance Survey, 2013), online, Nottingham City Council Insightmapping (http://info.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/insightmapping/# : accessed 13 Nov 2013); Ordnance Survey Licence number 100019317.
[18] Nottinghamshire (1887-1899) (Ordnance Survey, 2013), online, Nottingham City Council Insightmapping (http://info.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/insightmapping/# : accessed 13 Nov 2013); Ordnance Survey Licence number 100019317.
[19] Ordnance Survey Old Series (1836-1839) (Cassini Past & Present Series, 2007); www.cassinimaps.com; Scale: 1:50,000.
[20] Derby, Leicester and Nottingham 12: Arnold and Woodborough. Sheet 1: published 1836 (Unknown); Scale: 1” to 1 mile; Purchased from Hampden Maps Ltd, Tottenham, June 2008.
[21] Audrey Robinson, Bestwood. The Story of an Estate (Dalebrook Publications, 1987).
[22] “The History of Bestwood”, Nottinghamshire County Council (http://www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/enjoying/countryside/countryparks/bestwood/history/ : accessed 7 Nov 2013).
[23] “Timeline for BCP”, Friends of Bestwood Country Park (http://www.fbcp.org.uk/timeline-for-bcp.html : accessed 15 Nov 2013).
[24] "CADETS TRAIN: Week-End In Camp", Derby Daily Telegraph (Saturday 4 Jun 1949): p.6.
[25] Richard Iliffe & Wilfred Baguely, “Bendigo” in Victorian Nottingham – A Story in Pictures (1971; reprint, Nottingham Historical Film Unit, 1977), vol. 2. This 20-volume work is highly recommended for anyone interested in Nottingham’s history. Now out-of-print and with second-hand volumes being sold independently, it can take some effort to acquire the full work.
[26] M. W. Spick, Arnold and Bestwood in Old Photographs (Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1991).
[27] “Death of the Ex-Champion of England”, Reynolds's Newspaper (Sunday 15 Sep 1861): p.9.
[28] “Homeless Teams”, Nottingham Evening Post (Friday 11 Sep 1936): p.14.
[29] Sir Ronald Gould, M.A, “High Pavement Grammar School Official Opening of New Buildings” (CITY OF NOTTINGHAM EDUCATION COMMITTEE, 5 Oct 1955), online (http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/milbourn/NewPavior/booklet1.pdf : accessed 14 Nov 2013).
[30] “Nottm. Education Committee’s Grants”, Nottingham Evening Post (Thursday 21 Jan 1937): p.5.
[31] “Some of the Things That Should be Preserved – Council Committee and the Thoroton Society”, Nottingham Evening Post (Wednesday 26 May 1937): p.7.
[32] Local Studies Library, Floor 1, Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row, Nottingham NG1 6HP. Tel: 0115 9152873, E-mail local_studies.library@nottinghamcity.gov.uk.
[33] Richard Studeny, “Bendigo Fights for Nottingham”, BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/content/articles/2005/09/15/bendigo_bestwood_regeneration_feature.shtml : updated 15 Sep 2005, accessed 7 Nov 2013).