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The Disappearances

20 January 14 words: LeftLion
Nottingham's sandstone caves are part of our heritage and the stories they hold never cease to amaze
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(vii) 1831
William Abednego Thompson, the noted boxer better known by the name Bendigo, would have been a young man of barely twenty years old when he was rumoured to have been in the crowd that burned the Ducal Palace on Castle Rock, the Nottingham residence of Henry Pelham-Clinton, the Fourth Duke of Newcastle, during the Reform Act riots of 1831. Whether Bendigo was an onlooker or instigator in the crowd that night is not recorded. What is known is that, whether guilty or innocent, he found it necessary to evade the militias who arrived in Nottingham in the name of the Duke of Wellington after the riots subsided, a feat achieved by the simple act of leading a cohort of his fellows deep into the caves, where they hid out, surviving on supplies gifted by allies above ground, for several weeks, thus escaping retribution for their part in the disturbances. In his later years, while preaching in the aftermath of his own salvation, Bendigo loved to tell the story of the day he met the Devil, who, tricked by the heat of the blaze on Castle Rock, had taken a wrong turn in Hell and found himself face to face with Bendigo and his fellows. During his sermons, to the crowds' delight, Bendigo would re-enact the bout that followed, blow by blow, as he landed the Devil with a left hook only to be caught himself by a right and knocked against the wall of the cave: the outline of his own shoulders could still be seen impressed upon the stone there, he claimed. The bout went on, round after round, with neither the Devil nor Bendigo ever quite winning a decisive advantage, until the Devil himself had lowered his fists, taken a bow, thanked Bendigo for his sport and turned back into the tunnel from which he'd first emerged, never to be seen again. 

(viii) 1937
A carved shelf in one blurry monochrome photograph shows a row of vases decorated in an Egyptian style, like the Canopic jars in which the organs of the dead were preserved for use in the afterlife inside the Great Pyramids and desert tombs of the Pharoahs. The diarist whose journal this pasteboard photograph illustrates, a Mr James Wilbey, resident of The Park Estate, writing in 1937, suggests that the clearly fabricated arrangement may have been inspired by exhibitions of relics from the tomb of Tutankhamun during the 1920s. Tutankhamun had been the heir of Akhanaten, whose own reign had seen the introduction of a soon-overturned monotheistic cult centred on worship of the Aten, or Sun, and his heir, the Boy-King Tutankhamun, had become something of an overnight celebrity in the aftermath of his tomb’s discovery, thousands of years after his premature death. Wilbey's diary speculates as to whether the mock Egyptian tomb found beneath his own house was a mere decorative whim, in the fashionable mode of the previous decade, or something more sinister. The Egyptian jars, he notes, had been containers for wines and preserved fruits, the clay pots sealed with wax to prevent damp laying hold of their contents, but the atmosphere they created in the cellars had been ‘undoubtedly occult’. Wilbey writes that he ‘was relived to pass on the jars to a willing purchaser soon after taking possession of the property. Once they were gone, some pall seemed to lift from the very walls and floors of the place I now called my home’.

A limited number of boxes are still available to buy at New Art Exchange, Nottingham Contemporary and the Sidelong website. Follow the Sidelong blog to keep updated on their events. 

You can also see Wayne's latest exhbition, The Family Bible and Other Fables, which is running at Syson Gallery until Friday 31 January. 

Sidelong Blog

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