Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

Jeremiah Talbot : a peculiar Nottingham entrepreneur

By Stephen Best

Nowadays hardly anybody remembers Jeremiah Talbot but few Nottingham men of the 19th century matched him for ‘inventive genius and downright effrontery’. He was never a figure of the establishment, rather a ‘one-off’. He was born in 1820 and educated at Standard Hill Academy. His father had to remove him after Jeremiah challenged the headmaster’s, Dr. Goodacre, qualifications to teach science and maths. Thereafter his education consisted of working in foundries and workshops in Nottingham. But Jeremiah was not content to work for long for somebody else. He was a born entrepreneur who liked developing his own projects. At the age of 29 he surprised the people of Nottingham with his plans to harness steam power in an entirely novel way. He came up with the idea of hauling carriages and wagons up Derby Road to Canning Circus from the MarketPlace, after noticing the suffering of horses on steep hills. He built an engine house on the top of the hill where a drum paid out a cable to which was attached a flat truck running on rails. To it two ascending road carriages and their horses were secured and hauled up Derby Road. However, this extraordinary scheme did not last long. He ran out of funds. His attempts to borrow money were difficult, partly due to annoying older members of the Town Council. He said that election to the Council should require an examination, and if candidates failed reading and writing tests they should be debarred from office. Talbot’s financial backers soon foreclosed on him. He was unable to pay back loans and in months the revolutionary steam railway was dismantled. The rails were sold for scrap and eventually were used in construction of Wilford Toll Bridge. To escape his creditors Talbot sailed to the United States and became a consultant engineer, as well as taking a great interest in agriculture. He believed that the huge population increases could best be fed by growing rice so grew thousands of acres of this crop in Virginia. After the American Civil War, he joined President Ulysses Grant’s Reconstruction Commission. He came up with the audacious idea that the Federal government should purchase the ruins of Nottingham Castle and re-erect them outside Washington.

The idea made little impact in Nottingham till Punch got wind of it and produced an amusing rhyme (and cartoon):

‘Young Jerry Talbot’s had another dream.
The President approves his Castle scheme.
Our Hero’s plan he’ll back up to the hilt,
Till Washington itself is Jerry-built.’

That was as far as the scheme went. News came from the USA that President Grant had, very late in the day, seen a photograph of the Castle ruins. He had imagined a picturesque mediaeval castle and was outraged when he clapped eyes on what he correctly thought was a 17th century palace. He accused Talbot of being a swindler and got rid of him. Now in his early fifties Jeremiah returned to Nottingham where he was, surprisingly, well received. His remaining thirteen years were tranquil, marred only by controversy when he planned to dam the River Trent and so turn West Bridgford into an enormous paddy field to supply Nottingham with rice. Eventually Nottingham forgave him and even named a street after him. Jeremiah Talbot, that stormy petrel of 19th century Nottingham, died on March 31st 1884 and was buried, according to his wish, the next day. Every year since on the anniversary of his funeral a few admirers celebrate the life of this neglected son of Nottingham.

Terry Fry

(This is an edited version of a talk given on Radio Nottingham on April 1st 1984 by the late Stephen Best).