NOTTINGHAM AND ITS CHARACTERISTICS - NEWSTEAD ABBEY - MANSFIELD - TALK IN A BLACKSMITH'S SHOP - CHESTERFIELD, CHATSWORTH AND HADDON HALL - ARISTOCRATIC CIVILISATION, PRESENT AND PAST.
From the Belvoir Vale I continued my walk to Nottingham the following day; crossing a grand old bridge over the Trent. Take it all in all, this may be called perhaps the most English town in England; stirring, plucky and radical; full of industrial intellect and vigor. Its chief businesses involve and exercise thought; and thought educed into one direction and activity, runs naturally into others. The whole population, under these influences, has become peopled to a remarkable status and strength of opinion, sentiment and action. They prefix that large and generous quality to their best doings and institutions, and have their Peoples' College, Peoples' Park, etc. The Peoples' Charter had its stronghold here, and all radical reforms are sure to find sympathy and support among the People of Nottingham. I should think no equal population in the kingdom would sing "Britons never, never will be slaves," with more spirit, or, perhaps, with more understanding. Their plucky, English natures became terribly stirred up in the exciting time of the Reform Bill, and they burned down the magnificent palace-castle of the old Duke of Newcastle, crowning the mountainous rock which terminates on the west the elevated ridge on which the town is built. When the Bill was carried, and the People had cooled down to their normal condition of mind, they were obliged to pay for this evening's illumination of their wrath pretty dearly. The Duke mulcted the town and county to the tune of £21,000, or full $100,000. The castle was no Chepstow structure, rough and rude for war, but more like the ornate and castellated palace at Heidelberg, and it was almost as high above the Trent as the latter is above the Neckar. The view the site commands is truly magnificent, embracing the Trent Valley, and an extensive vista beyond it. It was really the great lion of the town, and the People, having paid the £21,000 for dismounting it, because it roared in the wrong direction on the Reform Bill, expected, of course, that His Grace the Duke would set it up again on the old pedestal, with its mane and tail and general aspect much improved. But they counted without their host. "Is it not lawful to do what I will with my own," was the substance of his reply; and there stands the blackened, crumbling ruin to this day, as a silent but grim reproach to the People for letting their angry passions rise to such destructive excitement on political questions.
Hosiery and lace are the two great manufacturing interests of Nottingham, and the tons of these articles it turns out yearly for the world are astonishing in number and value. A single London house employs 3,000 hands in the town and immediate vicinity upon hosiery alone for its establishment. Lace now seems to lead the way, and there are whole streets of factories and warehouses busy with its manufacture and sale. Perhaps no fabric in the world ever tested the ingenuity and value of machinery like this. The cost has been reduced, from the old hand-working to the present process, from three dollars to three cents a yard! I think no machinery yet invented has been endowed with more delicate functions of human reason and genius than that employed upon the flower-work of this subtle drapery. Until I saw it with my own eyes, I had concluded that the machinery invented or employed in America for setting card-teeth was the most astute, and as nearly approaching the faculties of the human mind in its apparent thought-power, as it was reverent and safe to carry anything made of iron and steel, or made by man at all. To construct a machine which should pass between its fingers a broad belt of leather and a fine thread of wire, prick rows of holes across the breadth of the leather, bend, cut off, and insert the shank ends of the teeth clear through these holes, and clinch them on the back side, and pour out a continuous, uninterrupted stream of perfectly-teethed belt, all ready for carding, - this, I fancied, was the ne plus ultra of mechanical inventions. But it is quite surpassed by the lace-weaving looms of Nottingham, that work out, to exquisite perfection, all the flowers, leaves, vines and vein-work of nature. It was wonderful to see the ductility of cotton, as here exemplified. The bobbins, which, I suppose, are a mere refinement upon the old hand-thrown shuttle, are of brass, about the size of half-a-crown. A groove that will just admit the thin edge of a case-knife, is cut into the rim of the little wheel, about one quarter of an inch deep. A cotton thread, 120 yards in length, and strong enough to be twitched about and twisted by a score of vigorous, chattering, iron fingers, is wound around in this groove. But it would be idle to attempt a description of either the machinery or the process.