It’s not a bold or new claim to say that Raleigh has played an important part in Nottingham’s economy, society and pop culture since its inception in 1885. For me, its part in the city’s history was cemented when local lad Alan Sillitoe penned Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The novel featured Raleigh as the employer of its stubborn, working class anti-hero Arthur Seaton and his pals, many of whom lived in the sprawling terraces around the factories. We get a stark picture not only of their lives but also of Nottingham’s working class generally in the 1950s. We read of them bantering at work, getting smashed in the pub, bickering at home, and getting saucy wherever (and whenever) they can.
if you live on Sandpiper Way, Falcon Close, Hazlemere Grove, Braddock Close, Wicket Grove, Kittiwake Mews or Hinchin Brook in modern Nottingham, you’re living on a deeply significant site. I grabbed two images from one of my favourite websites (regular readers will not be surprised to learn this is Insight Mapping!) showing maps of the old Raleigh factory, and overlaid them. It’s a sizable site, and many people now reside where Seaton and his workmates toiled, moaned, sipped tea, quibbled, and played practical jokes involving dead rats. The second image (below) is a title frame from the film that was made of Sillitoe’s book. Several scenes feature shots inside the cycle works.
Visitors to our city will always look for the castle (good luck with that) and Robin Hood (good luck with that, too), but for us natives, I think the former Raleigh factory site holds much more immediate significance.
Fothergill Watson (aka Watson Fothergill) is a much celebrated figure from Victorian Nottingham, and rightly so. His buildings are bold, startling, and eye-catching, and frequently adorned with striking reliefs and sculptures. One of my favourite Fothergill buildings is one of his less celebrated. It’s Station Buildings on Lower Parliament Street, which is dated 1896. You get a good view of it when you leave Victoria Centre via the footbridge. It’s over on the right, a red brick building housing Lloyds Bank. I love the elevated view we get from the footbridge. There aren’t many places in Nottingham where you can glimpse a building in this way; on the ground level, from Clinton Street West and Lower Parliament Street, then close-up but elevated from the bridge. There’s often talk of knocking down the bridge and I always hope it won’t happen, mainly because of the view we’d lose of Station Buildings. The name of the building comes from the days of Victoria Station. The strange and lonely southern portion of the shopping centre, clad in dark bricks, and seemingly too enormous for the few shops it houses/housed, was once the southern cutting of Victoria Station. There’s a little image accompanying this post for the more visually-minded showing Fothergill’s building in relation to the cutting. Its upper reaches would have provided a view of trains plunging into the entrance of the tunnel that ran directly under Thurland Street and out to Weekday Cross. These trains would undoubtedly have rattled the bookshelves and ink pots of those in Station Buildings.
On the north face of the building are reliefs showing scenes of work, toil & industry. A relief is a sculpture carved onto a surface, such as the queen’s head on a coin. I’ve read the scenes relate to the growing, processing and trading of sugar beet. This involves people from diverse ethnicities trading and working together; a nicely prophetic idea, given how cosmopolitan our country and county were to become.
The eastern elevation of Station Buildings features decorative tiling that lend an otherwise bland and modern street some much-needed character. The colour of the tiles seems remarkably vivid, and I assume at some points in the past they have had the grime of Victorian steam trains washed away.
Next time you’re visiting the cash points at Lloyds bank, awaiting your bus home, leaving Boots or walking over the footbridge, give Station Buildings a bit of your time. It’s not as grand or ostentatious as other Fothergill creations, but still oozes class, character, and history.