Robert Millhouse (1788-1839)

Poetry, The Park and the pressure of choir practice!

The “weaver poet” of Nottingham, Robert Millhouse published several books of poetry - now almost completely forgotten - on the basis of “very superficial” knowledge and despite being “totally ignorant of grammar” (that’s what his brother John wrote about him!)

The reason for this ignorance can now be revealed. It was due to the heavy demands placed on St Peter’s Choir around 1798!

John’s biographical note about his brother tells us that he was put to work at the age of six, and at ten was working at a stocking loom. He had been constantly sent to a Sunday School - not for religious training but for general education on the only free day of the week - and had learned to read and also “the first rudiments of writing”. Then Dr Staunton, the Rector of St Peter’s, asked the Master of the Sunday School to recommend six boys to become “singers at the church”. The ten-year-old Robert, says his brother, was one of those selected “and thus terminated his education”. Clearly you could not both sing and go to Sunday School.

We don’t know anything else about his connection with St Peter’s, though Dr Staunton’s successor as Rector, Robert White Almond, did subscribe to his books. However, Millhouse did write a long poem about The Park, which may be appreciated by those who now live there (at the time it was not yet built over):

Thy Park Oh! Nottingham! inspires my strains,
For freedom revels on thy smiling plains;
Dear fairy-land of bliss! be now my song,
Pleased let my fancy wind thy walks along,
And though far distant from thy placid smile,
To sing thy charms shall every care beguile.

He continues in this strain for another ten pages, including a song by the “Thin airy forms of pure celestial mould” (not leaf-mould presumably...) who magically tend this wilderness:

Those gardens we secure from noxious weeds,
And chase the insect from the new sown seeds…

Robert Millhouse was a soldier for some years before returning to the stocking-frame, then married and raised a family: he took up writing again as a way of earning a living, and attracted enough attention to receive a pension from the Royal Literary Fund. I’m afraid this may have been due more to his friends and patrons than to the intrinsic merit of his verse, though he is commemorated by a bronze plaque on the facade of the Castle Museum, together with Byron and other more notable Nottingham writers.

Who else could have written a poem beginning: “Chickweed! will no one sing thee”? Maybe Dr Staunton knew what he was doing when he terminated Robert’s education...

Peter Hoare
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 17th March 2001