For anyone whose interests range far and wide, life can be simultaneously rewarding and frustrating. Rewarding because there’s a constant supply of things to be, well, interested in. Frustrating because the constant sidetracking means that it can be quite difficult to focus on anything long enough to appreciate it in any great depth. The last few days have provided a perfect example of how I’m affected by this blessing/affliction.
The Twitter account associated with this blog has resulted in interactions with some wonderful folk who, like me, are interested in Nottingham, past and present. One recent exchange concerned a photo that I’d posted of a feature of a building in Basford that used to be a cinema. One of my followers (an unfortunately hubristic term, I always think) shared a reminiscence that prompted me to mention a memory from my time working at a cinema in the city centre. This, by turns (you probably had to be there), led to another couple of Twitter acquaintances offering information – including a map and a link to a web page – about an old graveyard, the Mount Street Burial Ground.
Just as I’m a sucker for old cinemas, I also find old graveyards fascinating. This particular one, used by Baptists, seems to have been established in the early eighteenth century and disappeared sometime during the twentieth. It was situated between Mount Street and Park Row, roughly where the northwest corner of the NCP Mount Street multistorey car park is now.
Reading the web page, I was particularly drawn to the story of someone called George Vason (born 1772, died 1838), who had been buried there.
In 1796, Vason went out as a missionary to the Friendly Islands (modern-day Tonga) and appears to have ‘gone native’ for several years before his situation became perilous and he was forced to escape, finally returning to Nottingham in 1802. Cue much online distraction and a visit to the Local Studies Library in Nottingham, where I borrowed the surprisingly diverting History of Friar Lane Baptist Church, Nottingham, as well as several books entirely unrelated to Vason.
All of which has entirely (though pleasurably) distracted me from other pursuits.
Vason wrote about his experiences in his book, An Authentic Narrative of Four Years’ Residence at Tongataboo: One of the Friendly Islands, in the South-Sea, published in 1810, and there are no doubt many more interesting facts to be discovered about his life.
An article in a 1938 edition of a publication called The Baptist Quarterly states of the Mount Street Burial Ground, ‘The disused burial ground itself is now to disappear, as the new street from Park Row to Friar Lane will pass over its site. The remains contained in the graves are to be removed by the Nottingham Corporation to the Nottingham General Cemetery.’
I’ve already been moved to make enquiries about the location of Vason’s grave, if it still exists.
It’s always gratifying and exciting to discover that, in this age of vacuous celebrity and 15 minutes of fame, there are so many interesting individuals from the past whose stories are patiently awaiting rediscovery.
Now, where was I?
PS: The title of this piece references the biographer Richard Holmes, who wrote a terrific book called Sidetracks, which contains portraits of various individuals whose lives he has been drawn towards over the years, sometimes while ‘pursuing’ an entirely different person. In the introduction to the book, he writes about discovering ‘the peculiar magic of historical research’ and experiencing ‘that sense of imaginative displacement which intoxicates all writers.’
With thanks to @bumperboo1234, @LeeElkWright and @Nottinghasm for the inspiration for this post!