Somewhere in the churchyard lies buried a lad of the age of seventeen called Lieutenant Brown, who was the last person killed in a duel in Nottingham. In 1807 he was here on recruiting duty and had a quarrel with another boy called Ensign Butler, who was attached to a rival recruiting party. What the quarrel was about I do not know, but, judging from the age of the boys I should think that there was a petticoat mixed up with it. They met at a secluded place in the parish of Basford, and upon the word being given shots were fired and Brown fell fatally wounded. Butler and his seconds took to flight, and although the coroner's jury found them guilty of murder they were never apprehended. Brown was buried with full military honours in St. Mary's Churchyard, and the church was crammed with a sympathetic congregation who were addressed by the Rev. J. Middleton at an appropriate length upon the subject of the boy's death. One of the strangest of the many strange advertisements which were given in time past for new industries in Nottingham occurred in St. Mary's Churchyard in 1765 at the funeral of Alderman Fellows. At the time, efforts were being made to introduce a fabric made of the finest China silk, manufactured on a stocking-frame, and apparently this had hung fire. In order to give it a fillip, at the funeral of this great and important citizen, instead of providing the usual crepe scarves for the sixteen pallbearers and principal mourners, scarves of the new material were distributed and thus attention was publicly called to the fabric. Although the scarves were pronounced to be particularly "neat" I do not know what effect the advertisement had upon the subsequent history of the industry.
A ghastly scene was witnessed in the churchyard in 1766. Two highwaymen, James Bromage and William Wainer, had been sentenced to death. They were brought from the Shire Hall to St. Mary's Church to hear the execution sermon, and after that grim ordeal was over they were taken into the churchyard to see their own graves, and they were permitted to lie down in them to see if they would fit. They then proceeded to walk to the place of execution by St. Andrew's Church, and in a few hours they were brought back and buried in the graves which they themselves had "tried on."
At the east end of the church will be found a few remains which have been discovered from time to time during the alterations of the church and the churchyard. They are difficult to understand and to piece together, and include architectural debris and one or two stone coffins of the usual type. There is nothing very particular about these coffins, and beyond the fact that a small silver cross, which is still preserved in the vestry, was found in one of them there is little to record. Coffin burial, although a very ancient custom, fell into disuse in England during the middle ages, and it was only the very important dead who were buried in stone coffins and even they had not a permanent tenure, for after a certain time their remains were generally removed and the coffin was used for somebody else. One constantly comes across the word "coffin" in accounts of mediaeval churches, but that is often a reference to the bier.
At the entrance to the churchyard is a very beautiful modern memorial cross, erected to the memory of the men who fell during the Great War, and in addition to its artistic interest it displays the coat of arms of the city and the county. The county coat of arms is quite modern and is made up quarterly of an oak tree, a wheat sheaf, a hosiery machine, and a pick-axe typifying Sherwood Forest, Agriculture, Hosiery and Lace Manufacture and the Coal Industry. The City Coat of Arms is of far greater antiquity and interest.
The crest which surmounts it is taken from an old town seal of the time of King John, and together with the supporters was only added when the town was made into a city in 1897. The motto "Vivit post funera virtus" has no heraldic authority whatever. It is a stock funeral phrase which can be found upon many tombstones throughout England, and it was added about 1720 quite unofficially; but the coat of arms, the ragged cross and three crowns is of extreme importance and, probably, age. In the reign of Richard II. Parliament enacted that every Clothing Town should adopt a coat of arms and should attach that coat of arms to every piece of cloth produced and offered for sale under the auspices of the local clothing guild. It was in fact a trade mark, which would act as a guarantee of the quality of the cloth. Although we have no reference to the present Nottingham coat of arms earlier than 1640, I think we shall be right in assuming that it is the same as the one which would be originally adopted by the important Clothing Guild of Nottingham in Richard II.'s time. It reads, "Rouge issuant from the base a ragged cross couped vert between two ducal coronets in chief or, the lower limb of the cross enfiled with a like coronet." That is to say, upon a red shield there is a green ragged cross issuing from the base of the shield and cut off its other three extremities. There are two golden coronets in the upper part of the shield, and the lower limb of the cross is encircled by a similar coronet.
This is a herald's way of displaying one of two interesting facts. The green ragged cross refers, of course, to our Lord's Cross, and the three golden crowns may refer either to the three nails which held our Lord upon the Cross and which were looked upon as so Holy as to be only represented by crowns, or else they may refer to the three Magi who sought and found our Lord directly after His birth. The genesis of this coat of arms is very peculiar and beautiful. The most likely explanation is this: The Nottingham coat of arms is identical with the Colchester arms, except that the Colchester cross does not issue from the base of the shield, but is cut off at its lower limb. Colchester was represented to be the birth-place of the Empress Helena, and according to the belief of the mediaeval world it was the Empress Helena who had the good fortune to discover the hiding-place of the True Cross and the Nails. Further than this, she was privileged to discover the burial-place of the Magi. The men of Colchester were extremely proud of this connection between their town and the lady, and so it is easy to understand why they should adopt something in their coat of arms to typify their connection with her discoveries, which were regarded as of the utmost importance during the middle ages. The connection between Nottingham and Colchester is exceedingly difficult and remote; but Nottingham men, if one enters into the mentality of the times, would be equally anxious to be associated with so precious a discovery. It was believed that Colchester was founded by a semi-mythical personage called Coilus, the "Old King Cole" of our nursery rhymes, and it was also believed that Nottingham owed its foundation to this same personage. Our forefathers may have seized upon this very slender thread connecting them with the Empress Helena, and slightly varying the Colchester arms they attempted to participate in any kudos brought by the Empress Helena's discoveries.