The Old General

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From "Notes About Notts"

By Cornelius Brown

The book Notes About Notts by Cornelius Brown, published in 1874, has the following to say about the Old Genaral:-

Benjamin Mayo, otherwise known as the old " General," was
a popular individual in Nottingham, especially amongst the juvenile portion of the community. He was an eccentric, poor, 'and harmless man, and his eccentricities gained him considerable notoriety.

During most of his life he was an inmate of St. Peter's Workhouse, Broad Marsh, but he frequently sallied out in order to sell cheap literature, such as accounts of murders, shipwrecks, &c.

Several anecdotes are related of him, and they have been fully authenticated. Oue day Ben. commenced shouting in the street, " Here's the grand speech of the Duke of York for a penny." A passer by at once purchased a copy, and found he had bought nothing but a blank sheet of paper. ''Why, General," says he, "here's nothing on it." "No," replies the General, "he said nowt."

At the workhouse he was set to turn a wheel ; he did so industriously
for half-an-hour. Becoming weary of the occupation, he began to turn backwards, and neither threats nor exhortations would alter his course.

One day he was walking along the road when he picked up a sixpence, and instead of pocketing it quietly he asked the people around if they had lost one. A person soon laid claim to it, but the General was not to be cheated. " Had your sixpence a hole in it ?" he asked. "Yes," was the prompt reply. " Then mine hasn't," replied the General, and on he went along the street in triumph.

A great day with Mayo was on Mickleton Monday, on which day the Mickleton Jury perambulate the boundaries of the borough. The nature of his performances is thus narrated in a brief but interesting account of the General's life, published in 1843 : —

" Previous to the jury commencing their survey, away trots  'General' with several hundred boys at his heels, to secure the right of a holiday. Two or three urchins, with smiling morning faces, lead the way to their own schoolmasters, who, in violation of the 'orders of the day,' are seated amidst the few children whose parents have refused to grant a holiday, and therefore dare not play truant. Some devoted Decius in miniature ventures in, on the forlorn hope of procuring liberty for the rest. Down drop the books, pens, pencils, to the increasing cry of ' Out, out, out.' The Commander-in-Chief arrives, amidst the cheers of the devoted and enthusiastic troops, takes up his position opposite the door, and commands the onset. The advanced guard assail the portal with redoubled blows of their pocket handkerchiefs, and old rope ends, knotted into tommies, and the main body throw the missile-mud. Ere long a random stone breaks some .windows ; this is speedily followed by others; out sallies the
master to seize the culprit, his sentinels are overpowered, the invaders rush in, the besieged are unmercifully belaboured until the .capitulation is completed ; but no sooner do they join the 'liberty airay' than a shout of triumph is raised and the place abandoned. View 'General' at eleven o'clock, with his forces drawn up in front of the Castle Lodge, demanding with them admittance into the Castle Yard, a summons always evaded by the distribution of a quantity of cakes and gingerbread. On the 'Generals' word of command the precious sweets are thrown over the gates, and the confusion of a
universal scramble ensues. After the whole are distributed they disperse."

On the passing of the Poor Law Act Mayo was removed to St. Mary's new workhouse, and whilst there, accidentally falling down a flight of steps, he fractured his skull, Jan. 12, 1843. He was buried on the following Monday, in St. Peter's burial ground. No stone marks the spot, but a memorial tablet has been affixed in the wall of the Clarendon Street entrance to the General Cemetery, bearing the following inscription : —

"Benjamin Mayo, commonly known by the name of ' The Old General,' died in the Nottingham Union Workhouse, 12th January, 1843, aged 64 years. A few inhabitants of this town, associating his peculiarities and eccentricities with reminiscences of their early boyhood, have erected this tablet to his memory.'

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