Broadmarshageddon!

A pal tells me that part of the refurbishment plans for Broadmarsh Centre involve demolition. The owners aren’t planning just to spruce up the existing structure, but — largely — to begin anew. The old saying, ‘What goes around, comes around,’ springs to mind. When Broadmarsh Centre was built, large portions of the existing street layout were wiped-out and the footprint of the city irrevocably altered.

I took a screen print of an 1875-85 street map off Insight Mapping and overlayed a plan of Broadmarsh Centre. I’ve added some numbers to help highlight features you’ll probably know to help navigate the old map. (1) is the main entrance on Lister Gate. The building just outside our red boundary labelled ‘Hosiery Works’ is where that small branch of WH Smiths is now. (2) shows the position of the road that gave the shopping centre its name. Broad Marsh was a main street, adorned with shops. You’ll notice a little asterix near the (2). In modern times you can see an old street sign for Broad Marsh roughly at this site on the side of the building that currently houses a Cancer Research shop. (3) is the upper entrance to modern Broadmarsh, a little to the east of olden day Drury Hill, a notoriously narrow and steep street clearly visible on the map. In modern times (4) is the Cliff Road exit from the shopping centre. To the north of the number nowadays are the steps leading up to Nottingham Contemporary, which stands roughly where the building marked ‘Town Hall’ stood. (5) marks the subway that takes you under the busy main road of Colin Street into the bus station (with the multi-storey car park above) which occupies the area bearing the number (6).

From a sentimental point of view, I’ll be sad to see Broadmarsh go. I remember fondly visiting Skills with my parents when I was a kid, and hoping for a plastic sword or bendy skeleton to play with. Sounds weird, I know, but I was a big fan of Jason and the Argonauts. The water wheel by the escalator and the wooden grasshopper and frog were landmarks of my childhood. In my teens, Forbidden Planet on the upper level was a Tardis of superhero and space adventures.

However, individual sentimentality can’t halt the progress of a city. We no longer have the medieval castle atop Castle Rock, which has perhaps desensitised us to architectural pruning. Broadmarsh Centre radically altered the street layout, and now its layout is to be radically altered. I’ll remember the past fondly, but I won’t be shedding any tears. Time moves on.

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The silver teapot from the dawn of modernity

A few months back I did a favour for a pal who owns a curiosity shop. As a thank you, he highlighted an item in stock that I might like, and that I could have as payment for the favour. The item was a silver teapot. Anyone who knows me will realise that there would have to be more to the item than silveriness and teapottery to rouse my interest, and so it was. Embossed on the bottom of the teapot were the words, ‘Oriental Café, Nottingham, June 1922’.

The Oriental Café stood on Wheeler Gate, on the spot know occupied by the architecturally mundane Pearl Assurance House (formerly the home of Virgin, HMV, then Zavvi and now Poundland). The café was famously old school, and at one time incorporated a gentleman’s coffee and smoking room. It stood until around 1958 when it was demolished. One of the grand features of the café was an elaborate plaster ceiling that was purchased as salvage after the demolition, and may still adorn some lavish mansion. On the Picture the Past website I found an image of the exterior taken in 1944 by W Spencer. You can see Burton’s on the far right of the picture which will probably help you place the scene, as that shop still stands on the corner of Friar Lane.

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The decade of the teapot’s creation – the 1920s – was an interesting period in Britain. The country as a whole was slowly recovering from the brutality of global warfare for the first time, and a harsh economic decline was tightening its grip upon the population. By the middle of the decade, unemployment in northern England and Wales was as high as 70%. During the war, women had taken jobs in munitions factories, which provided a wage and a model of a successful life independent of men. Women over 30 voted in a general election for only the second time in 1922, and in 1928 some equality was granted when women were permitted to vote at he age of 21 – the same age as men.

As well as the broader economic and sociological changes affecting Britain, Nottingham started to transform into the city we now know. The demolition of the old Exchange Building and construction of the grand Council House is a good indicator of the physical changes that were undertaken that would make it more recognisable to a time-traveller from contemporary times than previous eras.

My new, old teapot was terribly tarnished but a quick search online revealed I could get a cheap polishing cloth and buff it up. This I did, and was pleased with the outcome. The silver had completely come away in certain places, so no amount of polishing would help. I did what I could, though. As I polished I wondered how many maids and café customers had handled or polished the pot, too, in the intervening 93 years. I don’t know how it survived the tempestuous times that have occurred since 1922, or where it hid, but I’m very glad it did.

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Nottingham: The Early Years

Nottingham as a settlement began in the area we now call the Lace Market. This was high ground, giving views of the surrounding area at a time when territory was gained and lost through combat and conflict. The Saxons who established this settlement were protected on one side by a sheer cliff, at the base of which was marshy land that later became known as Broad Marsh and Narrow Marsh. The leader of the group was named Snot, which probably wasn’t as unfortunate then as it would be now. They dug a ditch around the settlement to hinder possible invaders, and later built a wooden wall. The perimeter of the site’s boundary roughly corresponded with modern Hollowstone, Bellar Gate, Goose Gate, Carlton Street and Fletcher Gate.

The spiritual centre of the community (which initially would have been pagan) was at the site now occupied by St Mary’s church. When paganism made way for Christianity, existing temples and sacred places were converted. I wonder what originally made the site significant enough for pagans to build a temple there.
Commerce was conducted at the market, held at the junction of High Pavement and Weekday Cross, in the area that now lies between Nottingham Contemporary and Piccolino’s.
The small settlement outlined above is how Saxon Nottingham continued until around 1066, when the Normans arrived and set up their base around Castle Rock. They constructed a wooden fort (later replaced with a castle of stone) atop the rock. The Normans had trouble pronouncing ‘sn’, and so ‘Snotengeham’ (meaning ‘place of the people of Snot’) became Notengaham, and this eventually evolved into our modern pronunciation and spelling. The word ‘Sneinton’ (which translates roughly as ‘the farm of Snot’) survived the limitations of Norman pronunciation, though Notintone Street recalls the conqueror’s version of the place name.
The two communities of Saxons and Normans co-existed side by side, and when the market grew too large for Weekday Cross, it was moved to the area we now call the Market Square. The line roughly through the middle of the square represents the divide between the Saxon and Norman portions of the market. The Normans boosted the settlement’s fortifications, and walls were constructed around the area. The route of the walls extended from the Saxon area/Lace Market in the east, along what is now Parliament Street, and onto the Castle in the west. The walls were reportedly expensive to construct, and as a result, generally incomplete. Nine gates punctuated the walls. One was where modern Clumber Street meets Parliament Street, and would have provided access to visitors who had travelled along Mansfield Road. These visitors would have passed Nottingham’s gallows (reputed to have stood upon the precise spot occupied by the modern St Andrew’s font) on their approach. A further gate was on Parliament Street, just before the roundabout Derby Road and Maid Marian Way convene. This one had a chapel built within the gate, and was known as Chapel Bar.
Modern Castle Boulevard roughly marks the route of the River Leen in those days. It passed the foot of Castle Rock, where it helped facilitate a brewing facility serving the castle’s inhabitants; hence the modern name of Brewhouse Yard. Travel out of town on Castle Boulevard nowadays and you come to Lenton, whose name means ‘farm on the river Leen’. The river, its associated marshland, and the natural cliff face, made the southern border of the settlement a naturally difficult area to approach. The area around the castle was fenced off and stocked with deer for hunting by royals and their visitors. This  zone is now concreted over and covered with brick buildings, but remembered in the name, The Park.
This was all a long time ago, but it always makes me smile how many old place names survive, and how many modern ones reflect, respect and remember the past.

Racey goings-on on the Forest Recreation Ground

I’ve never really liked the name of the Forest Recreation Ground. Compare it to Wollaton Park, Woodthorpe Grange or Highfields and it’s clearly lacking some warmth and character. It seems coldly functional as a name, in a Soviet or Orwellian kind of way. I imagine the council had to choose between ‘Forest Recreation Ground’ and ‘Outdoor Leisure Zone’ for the site, and I’m only slightly convinced they made the right decision.

I was perusing some maps of the Gregory Boulevard area earlier and discovered that the wide-open, northern half of Forest Recreation Ground was — around 1875 — the site of a racecourse. I’ve overlaid a portion of the earlier map with a contemporary one (both courtesy of the superb Insight Mapping) and you can see the race course in position.

The strange layout of the modern site is now quite understandable, with the steep banks on the Rock Cemetery side looking down upon the flat area of the Forest where we now walk dogs, play football or cricket or park cars before getting on the tram. In the days of the race course, this would have been a great spot to survey the equine endeavours below. Check the map and — to the left of the race course — you can see the tramlines, whilst in the upper right you can see the shape of the Goose Fair roundabout. The ‘Forest’ bit of the park’s name makes more sense looking at the old map, since from even that quite small portion you can see it’s awash with trees.

if there’s a bit of Nottingham you think’s an awkward or strange shape, or a street that ends or turns abruptly, I recommend doing a comparison with an older map on Insight Mapping, and you might find a reason for the strangeness.It can even help explain strange names that seem inappropriate in modern times.

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