KITTY HUDSON WAS BORN IN ARNOLD, NOTTINGHAM in 1765, the granddaughter of Mr. White, a sexton of St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham who she was left with from a young age. During the latter part of that century, Kitty’s strange story became infamous and saw her achieve something of a minor celebrity status due to it’s extreme oddity.
Artist’s impression of Kitty Hudson
As a young girl of six years, Kitty was detailed to help out in St. Mary’s in keeping the place of worship spick and span and worked with a servant at the church, a young woman who would give Kitty instructions as they worked alongside each other. It is said that the servant girl would implore that Kitty pick up and collect any dropped pins and needles while sweeping the pews and aisles of the church and reward the youngster with a stick of toffee for every mouthful that she produced. The young Arnold girl diligently set about collecting the pins and needles and storing them in her mouth as she went about her work and it becoming a firm habit. The habit became so engrained in fact that it was said that Kitty could barely sleep, eat or drink without the strange practise of storing pins and needles in her mouth, even to the point of constantly disturbing her sleep to replenish the store of pins and needles in her mouth, that she might rest peacefully. Friends recorded at this time that Kitty’s teeth were ground down almost to her gums.
After time, the young girl reported an enduring numbness in her limbs and intense pain along with difficulty in sleeping and was taken to hospital in August, 1883 after numerous failed treatments. With inflammation in her right arm, a pair of needles were discovered under the skin adjacent her wrist and were removed. Other needles were also found in her arm and painfully extracted.
In an incredible story, before Kitty was finally discharged from hospital in the summer of 1785, the sexton’s granddaughter underwent a long series of operations to remove huge numbers of pins, needles and bone from her arms, legs, feet and other parts of her body. Both Kitty’s breasts had to be removed as needles and pins were lodged around her breastbone. Amongst various alarming notes taken during her two-year plus incarceration in hospital it was recorded that Kitty passed a needle through her urine and also vomited a needle. The minutes from her hospital stay were said to be voluminous and of extreme interest to the medical profession.
There was an extraordinary ending to Kitty Hudson’s story as she survived her self induced ordeal and was discharged to go on to marry her childhood sweetheart from the town of Arnold. The young man, by the name of Goddard, had coincidentally been an out-patient at the same hospital, being treated for a head complaint from which he subsequently lost an eye. Her to-be-intended would cheer Kitty’s spirits by telling her he would marry her should her life ever be spared. The young Arnold girl would later claim that it was her sweetheart’s faith and love that delivered her through her many sufferings to become well again.
The young couple married and, incredibly, Kitty bore her partner nineteen children. In this period of history with infant mortality so high, the practice was for children of the parish to be Christened within three days of being born. Duly, eighteen of Kitty’s children were baptised though sadly just one survived infancy. That child, a daughter, died at just nineteen years of age.
During her later years, Kitty carried the post on foot from Arnold to Nottingham – a round walk of some eight miles – twice daily. She was described at this time as being six feet tall, stout and somewhat masculine in appearance. She would wear a small bonnet about her way and drab clothing of worsted stockings, a coarse woollen petticoat, strong shoes and with a leather post bag slung over her shoulder.
In 1814 Kitty’s husband died and she remarried to Henry Ludham of South Wingfield in Derbyshire where she bore no further children. Interestingly, her step son, Charles Ludlam the village shoemaker stated in the Marlborough Express of 1907 that the legacy of Kitty’s swallowing of pins and needles remained with her for the rest of her life. That journal recorded thus: ‘To the end of life pins and needles kept coming at intervals from her body. At first a black spot would appear and then it soon began to fester, the head next came in sight, and it was pulled out, and the wound soon healed.’ Her step son stated Kitty’s body to be as ‘a colander, full of tiny holes.’ .
In spite of this, Kitty was able to live a decent and good life and remained fit and able to carry out her daily duties until passing away at seventy years of age. So ended peacefully the remarkable story of Kitty Hudson, the human pin cushion of Arnold, Nottingham.
The town near where I live Arnold has one or two famous sons and daughters like most places of any size or history. Romantic landscape painter, Richard Parkes Bonington is just such a figure from Arnold in Nottinghamshire.
I’ve recently been witness to an informative talk also by a local Redhill resident which included a description of how he had been refurbishing a statue of the artist for the past twelve months which will go on public display. Richard Parkes Bonington is commonly described as coming from Arnold although I have heard a claim of late that this theory is somewhat spurious due to his time spent abroad. Having always been of the opinion that he was an Arnold man and in respect of the talk, I decided to do a little research about this assertion
The artist and his former Arnold home
Bonington was born in Arnold in 1802, his first home was at 79 High Street in Arnold. The fine old manor house has long been the premises for the Labour (Social) Club in Arnold. His mother opened a school in the town just after he was born whilst his father was the Governor of Nottingham Gaol. Bonington’s father nurtured his son’s talent whilst he was growing up in Arnold, resulting in his work being exhibited in the city of Liverpool at the tender age of just eleven years. After this time, his parents opened a lace factory but as a result of great industrial unrest of the time decided to emigrate to France in 1917 when the young artist was fourteen years old, firstly to Calais, before they moved to Paris the year after.
Venice Grand Canal, Sunset – Richard Parkes Bonington
The young Bonington spent parts of 1823 touring Belgium, much of 1924 in Dunkirk and several months of his short life in London in 1825. He further travelled extensively in Italy and made several extended stays to London before later returning to the Capital where he died and is interred.
To summarise, Bonington was born in Arnold of parents who lived in the town. His first home was in Arnold and he spent fourteen of the twenty-five years of his life being brought up in Arnold. He is also known to have been a skilled artist, with at least one exhibition, at a very young age (though not yet formally trained) whilst in Arnold. In addition to hailing from the town, he has not been in any other part of the world for nearly the length of time that he spent in the Nottinghamshire town.
I’d have to offer the humble opinion that it’s a perfectly reasonable claim that Arnold can call Richard Parkes Bonington one of its own. The artist is additionally, rightly celebrated with a local school and a theatre named after him.
The word ‘twitchell’ appears to be a peculiarly Nottingham word. I have never heard its like elsewhere. It denotes an alleyway, a wynd, a ginnel or whatever is the favoured word in your part of the world.
My parents’ house when I was growing up had a short twitchell next to it which was a short walkway from Redhill through to a small housing estate leading to Arnold. It was unremarkable and only characterised by the six to seven-foot private hedges that so many people used to own in the 1960s lining it on either side.
Nearby ‘Back Twitchell’ had much more of interest. It lined, as it still does, an outer perimeter of Redhill School. The other side had the one-after-the-other ends of back gardens of the neat council semi’s from a nearby crescent. Half way along the twitchell lived Ted, the car mechanic with his higgledy-piggledy little wooden workshop at the end of his yard. A trusty blue overall which was mostly oil and a French beret at a jaunty angle. A big bear of a man, a former RAF serviceman with a long bushy beard and always a kindly word for us young laddies – especially if he knew our dads. For decades Ted had a row of motors in various states of decay and disablement along the black ash twitchell. We knew it was the end when all those old motorised carcasses were finally strapped up and towed away…
The twitchell was also used for conkering, hide and seek, practical jokes on passers by, football, letting off fireworks and many other childhood pastimes. Then came a certain age and girls…
All grown and at work, still that twitchell persisted as a short cut through from a pint or two in Arnold back to Redhill, under the stars last thing at night, considering the world. Halley’s Comet came along and I remember standing transfixed for several minutes on that old twitchell of my childhood, looking up at this wonder in the skies from the inky blackness and thinking of the several decades I tramped that familiar, dark ashy path.
Most of all I remember the wonderful distant childhood sight of my dear dad walking home from Arnold during the afternoon. Always clad in an immaculate navy blue suit incongruous with the overgrown old twitchell, head held high and his unmistakable, slightly nautical gate earned from many years at sea in the Merchant Navy. As he got closer and smiled at me I would see the familiar sprig of hawthorn he would always pick from the hedges and pop in the corner of his mouth. I would give everything I owned to see that sight just one more time on that little pathway.
A little more local stuff today and something about the town I’ve lived close to for a long time, Arnold, Nottinghamshire. I always liked the situation of the old King George’s Rec just behind Arnold market place. As a boy I attended the old ‘British’ School which stood approximately where the market place is now and would often attend Arnold St. Mary’s football games just over the road. I came to play a bit of cricket on those same playing fields too, not to mention tennis and in younger days the playground adjacent for general tomfoolery and falling off the slide and swings scraping my knees and tearing holes in my clothes regularly. Often the latter arose from balancing on top of the playground slide, fighting with several others for a free view of the game going on over the hedge.
King George V Playing Fields, 2010
I particularly loved the odd Midland League evening games that Mary’s would play, the two Scots forwards Joe Boucher and Bobby Tait and the midfield playmaking skills of Pete ‘Shonkey’ Burton et al. After the game my pals and I would head for the delicious chips from one of the several chip shops on Front Street before heading back to Redhill, just in time for the latest episode of Dad’s Army! Read more »
The year was 1966. Here I was, a young laddie dawdling down through the streets of Arnold in Nottinghamshire down towards the main shopping place. I had my new school uniform on for the first time, never having worn one before it was causing no little irritation. A black blazer, grey short trousers and a black cap with an embroidered badge on the front proudly proclaiming The British School in a white on black design. The cap was too big and was slipping down over my ashen face, the shorts were itchy and the jacket stiff unyielding and boxy. I really, really didn’t want to be here
Walking to junior school that first morning was a trial. Stomach churning and gurgling, I looked around for a familiar face only to see much bigger lads who looked like they could easily bully me, especially in the slightly sneering gangs they appeared to be formed in. Finally I spotted a friendly face. It was my friend Victor, also traipsing forlornly along in his brand new uniform. Although Vic was a big raw-boned lad, his own new school cap was pulled right the way over his face, the brim almost touching his chin. Vic liked to wear his cap that way. For some reason he thought it made him cut a dash. It’s not recorded what he said when he inevitably bumped into lampposts and other various inanimate objects.
Now it has to be said, I live in a quite respectable area. It’ s possibly one of the oldest areas of Nottinghamshire being situated adjacent what was once called ‘The Great North Road’ from many hundreds of years ago. Redhill is a neat and tidy and well-established suburb a few miles north of Nottingham and is close to open countryside and cheek by jowl with the larger suburb of Arnold with it’s shopping area, facilities, and a population of approximately 38,000 people.
I’ve lived here in Redhill a long, long time and I like it. It suits me.
Opening the curtains the other day though I noticed a sight that is becoming more common these days – that of a collection of used beer cans stood outside my neighbour’s garage. It’s a trivial thing, maybe just a couple of young guys having a drink on the way home from the pub or youngsters messing around. It’s not the dawning of Armageddon or the end of civilisation in Redhill as we know it. In fact in nearby Arnold there are reports that the huge proliferation of litter, and particularly beer cans, gathered up on the main shopping thoroughfare, Front Street, is now being used in some very ingenious ways. Hurrah for Arnold! Well done to the neighbouring conurbation. It’s very much a case of waste not, want not in Arnold these days. Read on to view some great examples: