Night of the Zeppelin (1916)

Night of the Zeppelin (1916) mixed media ARTFACT [270 x 120 x 90 mm] CONTAINER. above: Pencil on paper Drawing [400 x 300 mm].

On February 2nd 2015, Netherfield Primary School building a new classroom on school grounds, excavated an unexpected object whilst digging for the foundations. Contained within a heavily patinated tin box was a series of objects belonging to two young children, who had buried the object sometime in the 1920s. Letters, drawings, maps, photographs and other personal items document the experience of Peter and Maude, who witnessed a Zeppelin bombing raid over the city of Nottingham during WWI.

“On the most exciting night of my life, I should have been in bed asleep, but I had just read a letter from George and came back from scouts.  There had been talk of the scouts acting as lookouts at night.  Excited, I had borrowed some binoculars from the school master, mostly to see if I could spy dad coming home from the pub.  It was definitely well past midnight when I heard a strange hmmm and then a ghostly apparition (I learnt this new word at Sunday school) at a distance in the sky.  It looked like an air balloon, but then I heard the air-raid warning.  What lights that were on were suddenly extinguished, and looking from my window I saw people appearing at windows and doors up the street.  While the whole village plunged into darkness, the shape grew closer even though I could see it was very high in the sky, as it passed directly over us.  The bottom my street exploded with a loud bang and the street lit up like a bonfire…”

Extract from Peter’s letter

The story of the bombing (while not reported nationally at the time for security reasons) is well documented. In the early hours of September 25th 1916, the bombing sent the city into near-panic and lights in households and businesses across the city were immediately extinguished. Unfortunately, the railway companies didn’t follow suit. A single Zeppelin made a beeline for the illuminated buildings, dropping a clutch of bombs in a line from Eastcroft through the Meadows to Nottingham Midland Station, along Carrington Street, Greyfriar Gate, Wheeler Gate, Lister Gate and on to Victoria Station where windows shattered. Netherfield in Nottingham, suffered a bomb dropping on Dunstan street, demolishing six houses. The site is level to this day housing a children’s playground.

The artefact led to an arts and heritage residency at Netherfield Primary School—a mere two streets from the site of the explosion. The whole school explored its discover and the heritage around it through a range of creative activities, sharing the research throughout the region through the Nottingham Post, and the community of Netherfield through an exhibition of artwork and a community sharing event.

Nottingham Post ‘Amazing’ artefacts dug up on Netherfield school construction site By Nottingham Post  |  Posted: February 02, 2015  By Tracy Walker.

A school caretaker digging up foundations for a new classroom unearthed an “amazing” piece of history. Mick Blount, site manager at Netherfield Primary School in Chandos Street, Nottingham, dug up a box which turned out to be a time capsule, thought to date back to around the time of the First World War.  Archivists drafted in to help find out more about the artefacts have hailed the discovery as “amazing”. Now members of the community are being asked to help shed more light on the finds.  

The box contains three black and white photographs; two of a soldier in formal and informal dress and one of a family in a rural setting.  The tin box also has handwritten notes signed by Maude Chambers and Peter Wooley.  One note says: “In this box are the precious objects of and belonging to Maude Chambers (aged nine-and-a-half) and Peter Wooley (aged 10).  If you find these special things please look after them. We bury them at the old beech tree at the back of Chandos School and really hope that one day someone will find them and know of our adventures.”  There are also shells, a note with the words “memories of Nana”, a 1912 coin on a string, a pen-knife, a drawing, possibly of an airship, local maps, a cameo, chestnut seed and an object that resembles a tobacco pipe.  Mr Blount said: “I turned a bit of soil over and hit a tin box. I didn’t know what it was.  “We did find some coins there a few years back.”  But he finished his shift before he could find out what was inside.

School headteacher Sharon Gray said she was leading an assembly on Monday morning when Mr Blount made her aware of his discovery.  She said: “Mr Blount said he heard a metal clang and immediately came to get me.  “One of our teachers, an historian, Sue Sentance, came out with me and advised we put gloves on to handle it and get specialists in before we opened it.  “It’s incredibly exciting.”

Independent archivists Professor Jo Loki and Dr Richard Shrewsbury were called in to open the box, and pupils were in awe as the historic items were revealed.  Daisy Donoghue, 11, from Colwick, said: “It’s just amazing to think we have found something where we have been doing normal things all this time.”  Max Armstrong, 11, from Netherfield, added: “We were pulled out of assembly to help get the box. I was amazed and eager to see what it turned out to be.”

Professor Loki said: “I don’t think finds like this happen very often, it’s just amazing really. I’m so looking forward to unpicking the story with the children.”  Dr Shrewsbury added: “It’s very rare to find so many historical artefacts in one place at one time.”

The new classroom will be a base for training for teachers after the school was awarded Teaching Alliance status to be able to support other schools.  Construction work will start in the February half-term and is expected to be complete by late spring.