November 22nd – The Nose Museum Open Day

If you read any of the papers from the year of 1745, you’ll be sure to come across at least a mention of the Notorious Nose Nickers, or the Nasal Scoundrels, or the Nose Vandal Gang, or whatever other ridiculous term the headline writers came up with for the perpetrators of a spree of thefts that occurred in the early summer. In all, well over seven hundred thefts were reported, thefts of, as the headlines suggested, noses. Specifically, the noses of various different statues across the City. Whilst its likely (for reasons that we shall shortly come to) that around two hundred of these ‘thefts’ were carried out by copycats, or were damage, accidental or deliberate, caused by the statue owners and misattributed to the ‘Nose Nickers’ as a way of claiming insurance, the vast majority of the thefts were committed by a single group, a group who were never caught.

How do we know that the crimes were committed by a single group if they were never caught? Well, on this day in 1977, builders renovating homes on Gremmish street knocked through a wall and found precisely five hundred and thirteen of the missing noses, all nicely mounted on wooden plaques, inside what appeared to be a hidden art gallery. On closer inspection of the space, which stretched down through the roof of almost all the houses on Gremmish street, the workers found several secret entrances, each of which connected to the servant’s rooms of each house it cut through.

The houses on the street were all designed and commissioned by one woman, Sarrai Witehome, and they are a classic example of her style: huge, elegant town houses in beautiful yellow limestone, complete with extravagant columns, floor mosaics, and chandeliers. These were the houses of the rich, and they stayed that way until the Revolution; many have since been renovated into normal family homes, with less cold, haughty proportions. As was being attempted with the houses on Gremmish street, this renovation necessarily involves the removal of the servants’ quarters, and their accompanying separate staircase, as these elements of Witehome’s houses are miserly at best. The architect was a notoriously cruel woman towards the working classes, and insured that in the houses she built the servants would not get ‘ideas above their station’ by having access to the luxuries of the homeowners; domestic servants were given tiny box rooms, and had to get around the house via their back staircase that was dangerously steep and dark. In most cases their rooms didn’t even get a window.

The strange cavity that cut through the Gremmish street roofs was a common feature in many of Witehome’s houses. It is on the original designs, and is intended to serve no function at all, save for reducing the size of the servant rooms by several feet. Each house has three tiny rooms, and a tiny kitchen (they were expected to use the outdoor privy in the back yard), each of which backs up against the long cavity-turned-nose-exhibition that the Builders found forty years ago today. Whilst the entirety of the servants’ areas would normally be removed to make the best use of the space, the Gremmish street houses fared slightly differently; in the interests of historical preservation, one of the staircases was retained, along with the cavity itself, and all the bedrooms with secret doors. The rest was demolished, allowing a little extra space for all the family flats that were constructed in the building’s shell.

As the houses are all inhabited, this back staircase, which no longer connects to the rest of the main house on each floor, as it once would have, is normally locked to the public. Yet on this day the ‘Nose Museum’ as it is locally known, is opened up and visitors are given guided tours. What with the cramped nature of the space, it is always surprising how many Buentoillitants turn up each year, and many are unfortunately turned away as there simply isn’t time for everyone. Some come to learn about the life of poverty that many Buentoillitants were once forced by economic violence into (this is one of the last surviving examples of servant housing from that era), whereas others turn up to hear the stories of the nose thieves, to see if being in contact with the stolen noses gives them any better understanding of why they were stolen in the first place.

It probably wasn’t until the seventh nose went missing that the pattern of thefts came to the attention of the authorities, and began to be treated as such by the papers. Despite many attempts, the names of the inhabitants of Gremmish street at the time are yet to be unearthed, so we may never actually know the identities of the collectors, or quite why they did it. The most popular theory is that the removal of the noses was intended as a snub to their owners, or to their subjects. At first, many of the targetted statues depicted rich folk, monarchs and Parliamentarians and aristocrats who the servants presumably thought were undeserving of the accolade. Then again, perhaps they were just letting off steam; the thefts are thought to have all occurred on a Wednesday (although this may not have been immediately apparent at the time, as sometimes the damage was not noticed until later in the week), the Chastise Church holy day, when domestic servants were given half a day off, ostensibly to attend Church services.

Most of the original statues have been matched back to each nose, although none have been returned, as the collection is considered a more worthy piece of art than any individual statue. It’s unlikely that any would fit back comfortably, either; the noses were all chiselled off with one swift crack, but then sanded down so that they fitted nicely on their trophy boards. Given the amount of effort and planning the servants must have encountered in the building of their joint collection (many of the later statues were vandalised inside private residences), they were probably quite proud of it, yet for some reason they reached a point where they stopped, and never spoke of it to any others. They were never caught in the act, but maybe they stole other things, enough to get out of the life of poverty and away from their punitively small rooms. Maybe they lived happily ever after.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Mournful Warble Festival
  • The Festival of the Smell of Drying Washing
  • The Festival of Tromping About Angrily