The second part of the interview with Constable Richard Nottingham, published in the Leeds Mercury in 1733 as the gentleman recovered from a grievous wound sustained in his service of the people.
Your own upbringing was, one might say, unusual. You experienced both wealth and poverty in your childhood.
I did. My father was a merchant here, as some might remember, and also a gambler and a rake, a man with little regard for his family or the fact that it was his wife who’d brought the money to their marriage, the money he was all too happy to spend at the tables and on drink and whores. From all I’ve been told, his business never fared well when he was running it. But we lived comfortably. I still pass the house where I grew up on Briggate every day. Sometime, perhaps, someone will tear it down; it’ll be no loss to memory.
And then, when you were eight…
My father discovered that what had been sauce for the gander was also sauce for the goose, is that your meaning? It was his excuse to stand on his philandering honour and throw his wife and son from the house without having to be called to account. After that he moved to London. But from there, you’re right, we knew poverty, my mother and I. She died when I was twelve and I learned about the other Leeds, the one its citizens don’t notice. The children who are invisible, who sleep wherever they can and hope they wake the next morning. The old who slowly fade away until they’re walking ghosts and the poor who shout out but must be silent because no one seems to hear them. Aye, I learnt about all that, right enough.
Yet you’re here now, and a man of account.
With gratitude to Mr. Arkwright, who was Constable before me. For…whatever reason, he took me on as a Constable’s man after I’d worked all manner of jobs and then made me deputy constable when he believed I was ready. Am I a man of account? I don’t believe so. I’m not like Ralph Thoreseby who wrote down the history of Leeds and the areas around it and made his house into a museum of items from the district. He was a man of account; I simply do the job I’m paid to do.
Many here feel you do that job very well.
What’s a man unless he tries his best in everything? My position is an honour and a trust and my debt’s to the people in Leeds. I owe them the best I can give and that’s what I try to do.
Will you be glad to be back at work?
Very. My men have been hard pressed these last few months and I feel I’ve been away too long. I’m close to full health again and I’ve regained the weight I lost after my injury. I can walk well enough now with the aid of a stick. Within four weeks I shall return, for better or worse.
How do you see Leeds in the future?
I was born here, I’ve lived here all my life and with God’s good grace I’ll die here. In my lifetime we’ve built the White Cloth Hall. Every Tuesday and Saturday thousands of pounds change hands at the cloth markets. It’s a trade that grows bigger each year. We’re already the centre of the woollen business in England and that will grow. Leeds will grow with it, the dyers and finishers, even the tanneries and shoemakers and the mercers and grocers. More people come here every month with their dreams. In another ten years, twenty, fifty, Leeds will occupy more land. We’ll push past Town End, out beyond Cavalier Hill and out to the West. If we come back as spirits in the future it will be a place beyond all recognition, except for the space that separates rich from poor. That will never change, I’m sure of that.
And, to finish, a reminder that the next novel featuring Richard Nottingham, At the Dying of the Year, is published in hardback in the UK on February 28th.