Slumming it: A short walk around the Glasshouse Street slum yards

It’s hard to find a lot of in-depth information about Glasshouse Street when researching local history, though it crops-up quite a bit in the supporting cast in other location’s tales. It gets mentioned in relation to ‘The Charlotte Street area’, a slum that used to sit immediately to the west of Glasshouse Street. It’s also heard of in discussions regarding Victoria Station, which replaced the Charlotte Street area. Central Road (later Union Road) and a public footpath passed over the platforms and tracks of the station, connecting Milton Street and Glasshouse Street. The building of the station also diverted Glasshouse Street somewhat, causing it to curve abruptly north-eastwards and connect with Huntingdon Street, when it previously ambled north-west, eventually adjoining York Street (another under-appreciated thoroughfare). It modern times, Glasshouse Street grants access to Victoria Centre’s underground car park, and also hosts a pedestrian entrance to the centre for people approaching from St Ann’s. The modern situation illustrates Glasshouse Street’s problem neatly; you utilise it, but it would rarely be your destination in itself. This situation is a shame, since amateur urban history hunters can find much of interest in and around Glasshouse Street. All of the streets to the east of Glasshouse Street were punctuated with little alleyways and yards, a common feature of poorer Victoria urban areas. Let’s take a short walk beginning at the junction with Lower Parliament Street, to understand the location of such yards.


The southern end of Glasshouse Street is best viewed from the junction of Broad Street and Lower Parliament Street. Look to the right of Glasshouse Street at the brown brick buildings. On this site, and stretching all the way to Convent Street sat a large prison complex also incorporating a police and fire station (1800s-1912). This was replaced by the Empress Picture theatre (1912-1928) and then the Central Market (1928-early 1970s). When Victoria Centre was completed, the traders who occupied Central Market were rehoused within the new complex and the old one demolished. Those that still trade on Victoria Centre’s upper floor are the remnants of the old Central Market community.

The old gas showroom building (43-55 Lower Parliament Street, circa 1920) marks the western side of Glasshouse Street’s southern entrance. It’s hard to imagine a time when simple gas fires aroused enough excitement in the populace that they required such a grand building to showcase them, but apparently this was the case. That building has remained empty and in limbo for many years now, allegedly caught in the bureaucratic vortex of Victoria Centre’s redevelopment. The same can be said of the neighbouring TN Parr buildings. TN Parr was a pork butcher and pie crafter extraordinaire (with three sites around the city centre as well as a base on Lilac Grove in Beeston) who owned the buildings between 1874 and 1928. The Parr family were big players in the pork pie market, since Ken Parr (nephew of TN Parr) started Pork Farms, which TN Parr (the business, not the individual) bought-out in 1969. I like to imagine that Parr family gatherings were somewhat akin to an episode of Dallas, but with pork jelly instead of oil causing tension between different factions.


The wonderful row of buildings has hosted a varied array of businesses over the years, including Broughton Locksmiths in the late 1990s. A peeling sign above one doorway indicates that it was once home to the intriguing-sounding Central Investigation Service, whilst the sign of the neighbouring property shows that it was the Gas Fire Shop. Clearly this part of Nottingham was the place to go for the discerning gas fire enthusiast. I’m sure as a sometimes-inebreated youth in the 1990s I used to stumble into a kebab shop that was part of the buildings. They are boarded-up at the moment, and a notice posted on them last year stated they were due for demolition in April 2015, again as part of Victoria Centre’s redevelopment. I asked owners Intu if I could go inside to make a photographic record of the buildings after glimpsing this sign, and they stated they’d look into it but sadly never got back to me. The Parr buildings seem to have a stay of execution, though, and remain for the time being. You can get a lovely view of their ramshackle rears via Clare Street.


On the west side of Glasshouse Street, behind Central Buildings (adjoining the Parr building) once sat Union Place, the first of today’s slum yards. Union Place is mirrored somewhat in the modern space used for deliveries to Argos on Parliament Street, though the old site would have been cramped and overcrowded. Many people seem unaware that you can cut the corner by going across this area and through the little gate onto Clare Street. We’re headed in the opposite direction, though, so turn back around and let’s continue with the tour.


ABOVE: Union Place in the early 1900s. Image from Picture The Past.


At the junction, turn onto Kent Street, then pause when the entrance to Victoria Court is on you left. Turn back to face north-west, and you’ll be more-or-less looking upon what was once the entrance to Kent Place.


ABOVE: The entrance to Victoria Court in 2016. The entrance to Kent Place overlapped somewhat with this site. BELOW: Kent Place shown in red on a modern map.



Keep walking west down Kent Street, then take a left onto Huntingdon Street. Keep walking until you spot Howard Street on your left, and walk up this thoroughfare back towards Glasshouse Street. About two thirds of the way up, to your right, is the site that was once the entrance to Castle Court, another of the neighbourhood’s residential yards.


ABOVE: Castle Court around 1932. Image from Picture The Past. BELOW: A map overlay showing the site of Castle Court over a 2016 map.



At the top of Howard Street, take a right onto Glasshouse Street then another right onto what is now Perth Street. In days gone by, this was called Milk Street. On your right about a third of the way down would have been the back of Castle Court, and a short distance further (still looking right) was where Milk Square stood.


ABOVE: The Orchestra of Circus Street Hall Men’s Sunday Morning Institute playing in Milk Square for the Sunday School in celebration of the anniversary of the Milk Square Mission. Image from Picture The Past.


At the bottom of Perth Street was the entrance to Apple Row. Turn left onto Old Street (which was called Old Street even in Georgian times, so could now possibly be considered Really Old Street), and on your right you’ll be passing the site of an unnamed alley that provided an alternate way in and out of Apple Row.


ABOVE: Apple Row circa 1912. BELOW: A close-up of the 1875-85 map from Insight Mapping,  showing Milk Street (diagonally through the centre), Castle Court, Milk Square and Apple Row.


On St Ann’s Street, take a left and admire the facade (and — if you’re thirsty — the interior!) of the LGBT-friendly New Forester’s Inn. At the corner of Glasshouse Street, you’ll have a good view of Victorian boozer The White Hart Inn, a pub and hotel. It was renamed The Owd Boots in 1983, when it began to attract a leather-clad rock crowd. The large premises have since been split into separate units, the north-most section trading until recently as a cafe, the middle section as a pub, and the southern portion as a barber. Just south of this building you can see the coach house, stable and hayloft that once serviced the Victorian premises.

This is a very short walk around an area that in days gone by would have been smelly, noisy, and unhygienic. Such locations are lamented, but it’s worth noting that Nottingham would have been unlikely to achieve its prosperity and city status if not for the slum areas. As squalid as they became, such areas housed the thousands who flocked here to work in the booming textiles industry. The workers needed somewhere to live, but let’s not forget that the city’s entrepreneurs desperately needed those workers, too. Without the huddled, slum-dwelling masses to churn-out the lace for them, the businessmen would have had nothing to sell.

Doing the ABC in Sneinton’s old wholesale market

Sneinton’s old wholsesale market is a curious collection of buildings dating from the late 1930s. In days gone by, retailers in the city visited Sneinton to stock-up on fruit and veg, fish, eggs, flowers and sundries to sell in their stores. The market moved to an area just off Meadow Lane, and the original site has been deserted (and rather ramshackle) for years. However, it has now been renovated by the council, and has units up for rent.

The main streets of the wholesale market are named Avenues A, B, C, D and E. Comparing an Edwardian map of the area (courtesy of Insight Mapping) with the modern site, I was quite saddened to see that the streets demolished to make way for the wholesale market had much more interesting names; Pipe Street, Lucknow Street, Brougham Street, Sheridan Street and Finch Street all made way for the market buildings in (or perhaps just before) 1938. The Avenues don’t match the location of these residential streets exactly, but are pretty close. It’s interesting to see that the Fox & Grapes public house (nicknamed Pretty Windows, and later renamed Peggers) was built on the site of an earlier pub that dates from at least the late 1800s. The name of the Pretty Windows Day Nursery that is based on Avenue A is a reference to the tavern, though the striking panes are no longer visible on the deserted pub building.



Freckingham Street (shown in the Google image at the top of the post) is named after the Alderman who opened the wholesale market in 1938, and I wonder if Pipe, Lucknow, Brougham, Sheridan and Finch were similar figures from an earlier time. It’s sad when a street’s lost and replaced with something as impersonal as Avenue A. Although we mightn’t know (or care) why a street is named Lucknow Street (for example), there’s no denying it is more characterful than simply being assigned a  letter.

Those lost streets were demolished as part of the city’s bid to clear the slum housing and modernise the city. People nowadays often mourn the disappearance of such neighbourhoods, but in truth we couldn’t keep them. They were structurally unsound, unhygenic and degrading to live in. I think what people really mean when they say they wish those buildings remained is just that they’d be curious to see them, or would like to travel back in time to see them. Photographs will have to suffice nowadays, and we’re lucky that in Nottingham we have Picture The Past to consult on such matters. If you click here you’ll see a picture of long-forgotten Pipe Street, Sneinton courtesy of Picture The Past.

24-26 Howard Street

Glasshouse Street and its offshoots get short shrift from local history resources generally. The site is frequently mentioned as an aside, but rarely discussed on its own merits. Always one for an underdog, I therefore peruse the locale regularly, both in person and in terms of online research.

At the junction with Howard Street there is a wonderful Victorian building (officially 24-26 Howard Street) that always catches my eye. I love the brickwork over the windows, and the soot and grime on the bricks on the upper levels. I imagine some of this would have been from steam blown out of engines passing through Victoria Station. The businesses housed within it change fairly regularly. I remember buying balloons from a party shop there in the early 2000s, and it now seems to be a beauty salon. There seems to be a residential element nowadays, with some doors and letterboxes on Glasshouse Street itself.

In the hours I’ve spent looking through old photographs of Nottingham, this building has cropped-up a number of times, standing in the background like a silent sentinel overseeing the many changes around it. I bought a colour photograph from eBay of an engine being manoeuvred on a turntable in Victoria Station circa 1960, and sure enough my old pal 24-26 Howard Street was visible at street level in the background. In researching Glasshouse Street generally, I chanced upon an image from Picture The Past of several women enjoying an outing in a charabanc, and they had — of course — paused just by the building for a quick photoshoot. I’ll be mortified if it ever gets knocked down.

I’m in the process of assembling info on Glasshouse Street and its surrounds for a longer post, but thought I’d whet your appetite with this little appreciation of a long-overlooked artifact of yesteryear.

Howard Street

Looking west from Nottingham Station

I took a tram out to Lenton from Nottingham Station on the newer portion of the network the other day. I was pretty early so took the opportunity to go up to the top of the multi-storey car park and take a few pictures.

It’s a great view up there; the patchwork quilt of architectural styles, the clashing angles of different structures, and the contrast of shiny new buildings alongside crumbling old ones. On the skyline are trees,  punctuated by iconic buildings. They’re not easy to spot, but the University of Nottingham’s Trent Building and Wollaton Hall are visible up there.

The best picture I took that day was looking west from the top of the car park. I’ve included it here.

West from Nottingham Station car park

Graham Greene’s Alternate Reality Nottingham

Writer Graham Greene’s most celebrated works are Brighton Rock and The Third Man, but for Nottingham residents there’s another that will be of much more interest. A Gun For Sale was first published in 1936, and is a dark thriller concerned with the escapades of a cold-blooded, disfigured assassin. Beginning in London, the story quickly shifts to the fictional city of Nottwich.

Greene had worked in Nottingham as a journalist at the Nottingham Journal newspaper in the mid 1920s, and for me there’s little doubt that Nottwich is based on our city. The etymology would work, since ‘-wich’ simply means village, and ‘Nott-‘ would be from the Saxon chieftain Snott, so Snott’s village (losing the ‘S’ after 1066 as Normans found it impossible to pronounce) is entirely reasonable as place name.

Anyway, onto specifics. Here are three quotes from the book concerning the setting, along with my own comments.

‘The street was full of people; they stretched along the southern pavement, past the theatre entrance, as far as the market. They were watching the electric bulbs above Wallace’s, the big drapers, spelling out the night’s news.’

This section mentions a theatre, a market, and a big drapers store. In the 1920s, Griffin and Spalding’s huge shop on the corner of Market Street and the Market Square was subtitled ‘the General Draper’s Store’. At the top of Market Street was the Theatre Royal. The geography doesn’t match exactly, but maybe reinventing Nottingham as Nottwich allowed Greene to condense or simplify the environment to ensure more concise writing.

‘It came in sight all along one side of the market place, as big as a railway station, of red and yellow stone with a clock-face in a pointed tower… There were sculpted figures in between every pair of windows; all the historic worthies of Nottwich stood in stiff neo-Gothic attitudes, from Robin Hood up to the Mayor of the Nottwich in 1864.’

This description of the Metropole hotel strikes me as an amalgam of several Nottingham landmarks. Victoria Station’s facade was crafted from red brick and yellow stone cladding, and featured the clock tower we now know as heralding Victoria Centre’s side entrance. The Elite Building on Upper Parliament Street would have been recently opened and a huge attraction during Greene’s time on the Nottingham Journal. It was also a short walk from his place of work, so I wonder if the sculptured figures on the Metropole may have been influenced by the representations of St George, Shakespeare and others that adorn the Elite. The old Black Boy Hotel stood ‘along one side of the market place’ (more or less) in Greene’s day, and was considered a landmark hotel. Designed by Watson Fothergill, it is conceivable that the Black Boy featured sculpted figures since many of Fothergill’s surviving buildings do, too. The Black Boy stood on the site now occupied by Primark. The mention of Robin Hood can hardly leave any doubt to Greene’s intentions.

‘Over the way, fifty yards down towards the market, he could see the portico of the Royal Theatre.’

Another reference combining the market and the theatre; this time named as the Royal Theatre. Our own Theatre Royal features a portico entrance atop Market Street, a scant two minute walk from the Market Square.

I began reading A Gun For Sale purely because of my interest in Nottingham history, but quickly became immersed in the tale. It’s masterful story-telling in the noir tradition, featuring long shadows, fedoras, cunning women and brutish men. I’ve only listed three short Nottwich/Nottingham references here, but the book is peppered with them. There are liaisons in restaurants, altercations in office buildings, and hideouts in housing estates. It was a pure delight for me because it felt like being whisked back in time to Nottingham ninety years ago. Sadly, it’s the only novel set in Nottwich as far as I can tell. That’s a shame, but I’d heartily recommend it to fellow history-loving Nottinghamians.

A Gun For Sale on Amazon

Graham Green on Wikipedia

The view from Holy Trinity tower

I was lucky enough to be invited to tag along on a visit to the recently reopened Holy Trinity Church, Lenton (NG7 2FF), last Sunday. As if glimpses of a genuine 12th century font and a hidden crest from the once majestic Lenton Priory weren’t enough, I was also allowed to clamber up through several layers of cobwebs, bellframes, creaking ladders and startled pigeons to the roof of the 1842 church tower, where a splendid view awaited me.

I’ve stitched together a panorama of the snaps I took from up there, and added a few labels of some of the more noteworthy sights.

View from Holy Trinity tower 19 Feb 2016