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

ST ANN’S LOST CHURCH

If my mum’s parents were still alive, they would have celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary this year (assuming they hadn’t divorced). They married at St Ann’s Church on St Ann’s Well Road in 1936.

St Ann’s is one of the many lost churches of Nottingham. It stood on the northern side of St Ann’s Well Road, a short distance from the entrance to Robin Hood Chase. On Picture The Past there’s a nice photograph of the church from around 1910. On the left of the image are some railings, and the entrance to Robin Hood Chase. Beyond the railings, a number of tall trees grow. There seems to be a group of three or so people walking up the Chase. There are four people in the centre of the picture, on or near the pavement. One of them may be riding a bike towards town, while the others are headed up St Ann’s Well Rd. One of them – a woman, I think – has paused at the corner of the now vanished Corporation Rd and looks back down St Ann’s Well Road.

The church is visible beyond the turning for Corporation Road. It seems a tall, striking building, and would doubtless have been central to the heart of the community in a time when organised religion played a more pivotal role than today. Two whitewashed gateposts are visible, flanking an entrance to the church grounds. A blurred figure crosses the cobbled road, and behind them a tram is visible. There are three (or maybe four) figures walking along the pavement by the church.

I went out earlier today and took an image of the modern scene. It was a grey but pleasant morning around 7am. The entrance to Robin Hood’s Chase is largely unchanged from the 1910 picture. The pavement outside the Chase entrance has been modified to make a crossing giving pedestrians priority when trying to traverse what can become a busy road later in the day. The trees of course are thriving, and in the colour picture look so much more alive than the grey representations of their earlier selves. Corporation Road and St Ann’s Church are no more, and the areas they occupied are now paved land leading to a relatively new building housing a Post Office and One Stop shop with residential flats above. You often hear people moaning about the closure of suburban Post Offices but not much is said when a new one opens. The skyline of the modern scene is far shorter than the image of yesteryear, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of picture comparisons. Beyond the shop is the St Ann’s Valley Centre, a combination of library, open access computers, and NHS services.

St Anns Well Road

As much as I love pictures of the past, I don’t want the world to remain unchanged in any particular time. I appreciate that cities and their suburbs need to shift and evolve, but I enjoy noting the changes. People were married and christened at St Ann’s Church, some of whom may be alive today. Others may have benefited from a collection for the local needy, or found words of inspiration or enlightenment in a particular sermon. I suspect my grandparents were married there as my granddad’s family were very local to the church, living on either Northampton or Southampton Street depending on whose information you listen to (or maybe different elements of the family lived on both).

St Ann’s is much derided, especially because of the new housing and street plan that was stamped onto the area in the 1960s, but in truth it’s an area with a rich and diverse history. I’m certain your neck of the woods will be similar. Nottingham and the surrounding shire aren’t new settlements, and I’d wager there’s a rich social history underpinning all of our local neighbourhoods.

1940s day at Brewhouse Yard

On May bank holiday I had a lovely time at the annual 1940s day at Bewhouse Yard. There were displays of vehicles of the era, people sporting 1940s fashion, dancing and of course music.

Brewhouse Yard is often considered little more than an appendage to Nottingham ‘Castle’ but in truth this council-owned site has its own rich history, and regular family events all of its own.

I made a little slideshow of my photographs from the day, accompanied by a piece of music by French group Latche Swing. You can see the slideshow here:

THE FORGOTTEN FOTHERGILL OF HUNTINGDON STREET

Much is made of the destruction of legendery architect Fothergill Watson’s Black Boy Hotel on Long Row East and it’s replacement by the functional concrete box that now houses Primark. Terms such as ‘bureacratic vandalism’ are often employed in criticism of the Council (or Corporation) on the matter. However, the Black Boy was not the only glorious Fothergill building to be whisked away and replaced by a nonedescript cuboid.

Huntingdon Street – along with the streets that spring from it – is an unofficial museum of both architectural forms, and Nottingham social history. Flat-fronted terraced houses rub shoulders with tarmacked car parks, deserted print shops neighbouring shisha lounges face high rise student housing, and large 1970s retail buildings are positioned opposite steam-stained brick walls from a Victorian train station. This patchwork quilt, along with the Robin Hood allusion in its name (presumably from the outlaw’s historically dubious title, ‘the Earl of Huntingdon’) makes Huntingdon Street a neat micrososm of Nottingham as a whole.

On the eastern side of Huntingdon Street, between Watkin Street and Wellington Street, is a building that houses digital printing business John E Wright. The building’s exterior is a bland, brown brick affair and stands on the site of Fothergill’s old St Mark’s Hall. I found a picture of St Mark’s Hall on Picture The Past and this morning went and took a photograph from a similar viewpoint. I’ve put them side by side below. You’ll notice that the house on the left of both images (at the top of Wellington Street) remains largely unchanged, much like the house on the right.

You don’t hear many people talking about St Mark’s Hall by Fothergill Watson, even when discussing the great man’s impressive portfolio. For all new buildings there’s a chance that something more beautiful was swept aside to accomodate it. This is both inevitable and subjective, but it’s a shame to me that something as wonderful as St Mark’s Hall can disappear without many of us even knowing of its existence.

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NTGM019592.ti