Thursday, 24 November 2016

Henry Mellish and the Nottingham Naturalists’ Society

The only time boys were admitted through the front entrance and the vestibule was when they were late. Once there they were met by a prefect to be entered into the ‘late book’ and the sight of this commemorative plaque* on the wall.

The latter caused considerable amusement (we had to be amused by something on a cold foggy morning with the buses running late) because a word was split at the end of a line without benefit of hyphen, as can be seen. All HMGS boys remember DEVO TED. But we knew little of the man after whom the school had been named when it was built in 1929, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Mellish, other than, as the plaque stated, that he had been Chairman of the Nottinghamshire Education Committee from 1903 until his death in 1927. He clearly like to shoot things, as his photograph in a school magazine showed and there was mention of an interest in meteorology.

Henry Mellish
from David Hallam's website; he attended
the closing ceremony of the school.
The photograph was printed in a school magazine

Only recently and by chance did I find that Mellish was a leading light in British meteorology and an early participant in citizen science. I came across a reference to a Nottingham Naturalists’ Society which I had never heard of and found one of its Annual Reports (for 1904-5) on eBay. The Society had been established in 1852 and was wound up circa 1915. On opening the Report and Transactions, I found that Henry Mellish was President of the Society and that his Presidential Address, Some aspects of meteorology, occupied nine pages, including a map of Nottinghamshire showing mean annual rainfall.

A bit more digging in the archives of The Times showed that the Colonel had what was described as a ‘second class meteorological station’ on the roof of the Tudor gatehouse of Hodsock Priory, his house in north Nottinghamshire. He collected records for more than 50 years and was one of ‘more than 4,500 observers’ recording daily rainfall throughout the British Isles. There was even a British Rainfall Organization with its own premises which collated and published the findings. He was clearly well known nationally for his meteorology and served as President of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1909-10.

H.M. was well qualified to be a gentleman scientist as well as a country gentleman. From Balliol College Oxford in 1879, he had graduated with a First in natural sciences. He went on to qualify as a barrister but never practised law. He lived the life of the country gentleman and pursued his other great interest, rifle shooting. Obituaries in The Times outlined his prowess; he shot at Wimbledon and then Bisley for England in more than twenty annual matches. But he also applied mathematics and physics to shooting. On his private range at Hodsock he had a ballistic pendulum and did experiments to determine air resistance ‘to bullets of different weights and forms’. His results were published by F.W. Jones as The Hodsock Ballistic Tables for Rifles in 1925.

He was an alderman of Notts County Council, a magistrate, Deputy Lieutenant of the county, on the board of a workhouse, as well as being chairman of the county’s education committee. His military rank came from a commission in, and command of, the Notts Volunteers and its successor in the Territorial Army (4th Volunteer Battalion and later, 8th Battalion, Notts and Derbyshire Regiment—The Sherwood Foresters). He was chairman of the Notts Territorial Army Association.

Henry Mellish was born in 1856, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel William Lee Mellish and Margaret, daughter of Sir Samuel Cunard, founder of the eponymous shipping line. The Mellish family bought Hodsock in 1765. The history is shown in Hodsock Priory’s website, the major notable event being the gambling and loss of all his money, house and estate by Henry Francis Mellish, a member of the Prince Regent’s fast set. He had to move in with his sensible sister at Hodsock.

Henry Mellish, our Henry Mellish, never married and Hodsock passed to the Buchanan family by the marriage of his aunt, the sister of William Lee Mellish. It is still owned by the Buchanans and is a wedding and events venue.

But what happened to his memorial, the Henry Mellish Grammar School? Nottinghamshire County and Nottingham City were (and I think at present are also) completely separate entities. The Mellish was a county school within the city boundaries. Pupils were drawn from a large area of Nottinghamshire, all travelling daily by bus, train and trolley-bus. When grammar schools were abolished in Nottinghamshire in the early 1970s, the school was transferred to City Council control and became a local comprehensive. It sank. By 2005 it needed ‘special measures’. After apparently improving in performance it closed in 2009. Demolition followed in 2013. The Boss, Stan Revill, Ernie Burnham, GEG, Freddy White, Froggy Marshall, TES, et al. must still be rotating in their graves.

Part of an educational system that actually worked was sacrificed with the loss of equality of opportunity, upward social mobility and a dedicated non-elementary secondary education. The estimable Henry Mellish’s memorial has gone.

*The plaque is now on a wall at the Mellish Rugby Club in Nottingham. It can be seen in one of the photographs in the gallery section. The club's website states that it was founded in 1931 to commemorate old boys killed in World War I. However, that would be impossible since the school only opened in 1929, eleven years after the war ended. As I recall the original name of the club was Henry Mellish Old Boys.