The Lost Statue of Pelham Street

Pelham Street always makes for an interesting walk, containing as it does some notable buildings and businesses. Six of the buildings that have Pelham Street in their address are listed. They are – starting from the bottom of Pelham Street – number 10 (the former Boots store, whose entrance is on High Street), numbers 5 and 7 (former houses, the ground floors currently occupied by Gray & Bull and the London Camera Exchange), number 11 (the extension to the former Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Bank), numbers 28 and 30 (Journal Chambers – the former home of the Nottingham Journal), number 27 (once a house, now a shop) and number 39 (part of the former Lloyd’s Bank premises). All are listed at Grade II, with the exception of number 10, which is Grade II*.

Other notable premises en route include the characterful Thurland Hall pub and The Bodega, a music venue and bar. Pelham Street was also once home to a ‘Bathing Establishment’ that offered such delights as a Vapour Bath, an Eau de Cologne Bath and an Artificial Sea-Water Bath.

Advert from Dearden’s Directory, 1834

The street was called Gridlesmith Gate until it was renamed around 1800, perhaps because its tradesmen were fed up with their mail being misdirected to Bridlesmith Gate. Originally quite narrow, it was widened in the 1840s and 1850s.

There are at least two connections with Lord Byron. The Byron family lived in a townhouse at the south-eastern corner (presumably the location where Byron is said to have written his first piece of poetry, as commemorated by a plaque above the entrance to Faradays) and Byron’s funeral cortege passed down Pelham Street to a coaching inn, the Blackamoor’s Head, where his body lay overnight before its final journey to Hucknall.

A slightly more obscure piece of Pelham Street’s history concerns the humble umbrella.

Having been a spectacle wearer for the entirety of my adult life, my trusty Wilko brolly is an almost essential item whenever the heavens open. I still sense, though, that a not inconsiderable number of men regard umbrellas as something to be avoided at all costs – perhaps viewing them as being unmanly. One individual who endured much ridicule due to such attitudes was merchant traveller, philanthropist and author Jonas Hanway.

Hanway was born in 1712 in Portsmouth and died in London in 1786. His many writings include An Essay on Tea, which sets out his opposition to said beverage. The essay’s chapters, in the form of letters, include ‘Tea the cause of weak nerves, scurvy, and bad teeth’ and ‘Lives shortened by tea’.

Detail from frontispiece to Essay on Tea by Jonas Hanway

For the purposes of the present subject, however, we are most interested in the fact that he is said to have been the first male Londoner (and hence, presumably, the first English male) to carry an umbrella. This was deemed to be an effeminate act, and, to make matters worse, the English at this time associated umbrellas with old enemy France, where they had previously become fashionable amongst noblewomen.

Jonas’s actions seem to have attracted particular opprobrium from the drivers of vehicles such as horse-drawn carriages, which had canopies that kept occupants dry during wet weather. The umbrella was, perhaps unsurprisingly, viewed as a potential threat to business, and the drivers, ‘…when they saw Hanway making his way with umbrella aloft…would pelt him with rubbish.’

By the time of Hanway’s death, though, male usage of the umbrella was beginning to become more common. Amusingly, a 1966 article in the magazine Look and Learn tells us that he managed to find an additional use for his rain-repelling device, noting that, ‘On one occasion, the driver of a hansom cab tried to mow him down with his vehicle, at which point Hanway discovered a further merit for his “newfangled” contraption by giving the man a good thrashing.’

Sadly, the name of the first male to walk the streets of Nottingham with an umbrella does not appear to have been recorded. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.

The origins of the umbrella, incidentally, seem to be shrouded in mystery, with different accounts of when and where it was invented. Suffice to say that it was a long time ago in a country far, far away. The word ‘umbrella’ came from ‘umbra’ – the Latin word for shade, or shadow. This gives us a clue to its original purpose – to shade folk from the sun.

But back to our man Jonas.

In around 1859, Samuel Page, ‘Umbrella Manufacturer, and Dealer in all kinds of Travelling Goods, etc.’, who, until approximately 1907, had premises at 9 Pelham Street, established his business.

A guide called Industries of Nottingham and Midlands Business Review, which, though undated, seems to have been published sometime towards the end of the 19th century, was of the opinion that ‘A tour of all the principal streets and thoroughfares of Nottingham would not reveal a more deserving or popular establishment of its kind than that under the energetic and experienced proprietorship of Mr Samuel Page… Umbrellas are the chief speciality of Mr Page, and of these he keeps an unusually large and varied stock always on hand. The “Hanway” silk umbrella as supplied by him is acknowledged to be far the most durable and elegant umbrella made, and is rapidly taking the place of all others… In fact, umbrellas and waterproofs combined furnish the appropriate heading to his advertisement, “Jonas Hanway versus St Swithin.”

Advert from Murray’s Nottingham Guide by J Potter Briscoe (1890s)

Page had, in fact, in what seems from our perspective like a canny act, registered the name “Hanway” (with accompanying figure) under the Trade Marks Registration Act. The building on Pelham Street that housed his shop was called Hanway House and, most interestingly of all, above the shop front was a life-sized painted wooden statue of Jonas Hanway, complete with umbrella.

The Jonas Hanway statue c.1910

It looks to have been a handsome piece of work, and must have been a real point of interest in the city centre. Unfortunately for statue aficionados, however, by March of 1907, S Page were announcing ‘RETIRING FROM BUSINESS’ in adverts in a local newspaper, advising that, ‘STOCK MUST BE SOLD IN NEXT FEW DAYS’

The statue seems to have survived in situ for at least a while after the closure of the shop. One image, dated c. 1910, shows the statue beneath the signage of a new business name, while Harry Gill, writing in Volume 16 of Transactions of the Thoroton Society (1912) states, ‘The figure has lost all its significance now, owing to a change in the tenancy of the premises’

By the 1920s, the statue had vanished from Pelham Street and reappeared at the front of an ‘Antiques and Curios’ establishment in a place called Friar Yard, which appears to have been off the north side of Friar Lane, towards the Market Square.

Detail of Friar Yard c. 1920

An online Leeds University listing of 20th century antique dealers has an entry for the trading name W V Morten for the years 1928 to 1933, showing that this dealer was located at 90 Goldsmith Street in 1928 and 4 Friar Yard in 1933. Unless there was more than one antique dealer in Friar Yard, it seems likely that this is the business outside which the Jonas Hanway statue was located. The listing also mentions W V Morten’s specialisms in 1929: ‘Curios of Bye-Gone Days’ and ‘Museums and Trade Specially Catered For’.

And here the trail of the statue goes cold. Does it still exist today? It would be nice to think so. Perhaps it will turn up in some remote, forgotten corner of Eastcroft Depot. As far as Hanway House, the original home of the statue, is concerned, it’s difficult to tell from the available historic views whether or not the building that is there today (currently occupied by a cafe on the ground floor and a bar upstairs) is the same one on which the statue was placed. If it is, its frontage has been extensively altered.

Pelham Street c. 1890
Pelham Street in 2021
9 Pelham Street in 2021 (Fox Cafe/Tilt)

Anyway, time to wrap things up, turn the computer off and go to the shops. It looks like rain…

Detail from the drawings for UK Patent No. 747,154 (complete specification published 28 March 1956) – ‘Improvements in or relating to Rain Protective Head Gear’, by Friedrich Wielandt of Switzerland.

Local Interest

Living in one city for many years, as I have, has its advantages – the chance to engage with a place at a deeper level, the sense of security that is engendered by familiar surroundings, and a feeling of belonging, to name but three. On the other hand, it can lead to overfamiliarity, as well as frustration at the gradually diminishing returns in terms of new places of interest to discover.

While trying to think of somewhere to visit in the locality recently, I had the idea of looking at the list of nature reserves on the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust website. Using the page’s search filters, I typed my postcode into the ‘Location’ box and selected the ‘Under 5 miles’ option for ‘Distance from search location’. Gratifyingly, this produced eleven reserves, ten of which I’d never heard of and one of which particularly drew my attention.

Stonepit Plantation is in the Strelley area and is located to the east of Strelley Hall and to the south of the housing estate that is adjacent to Nottingham Business Park. The site hides its secrets well, because within the plantation are the remains of a former quarry – marked on old Ordnance Survey maps simply as ‘Old Quarry’. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust purchased the site in 1983 and, in more recent times, worked with the developers of the housing estate to establish proper public access to it.

Detail from the OS 25 inch map series, 1892-1914

The reserve is easily accessed from Houghton Drive and, once inside the site, it’s not too difficult to descend to the quarry floor to inspect the rock outcrops at close quarters. The Trust website informs us that this is ‘the most southerly exposure of magnesian limestone in Britain.’ This local variant is known as Bulwell Stone, and it has frequently been used as a building material.

The density of the tree canopy above the quarry means that the light sometimes struggles to make its way through to the lower level. Sounds are blocked out and the lush vegetation lends a hint of the exotic.

This is a small site, but a very atmospheric one. It’s the sort of place where you are quickly transported into a world that is quite at odds with its surroundings. I was glad to discover it, and will certainly  be investigating more of these local nature reserves in the future, alive once again to the possibilities of the city.

Blast from the Past

I have a few editions of something called the Nottingham Official Handbook – a rich source of local history information, presumably produced for the purposes of promoting the city. The image above shows the front cover of my copy of the Twelfth Edition, which was published circa 1950. As you can see, it appears that this particular copy was issued to a ‘Councillor A. E. Sellers’. The handbook’s foreword, written by the Town Clerk, makes the somewhat dubious claim (for that time) that ‘…the visitor will find that industry has laid a light hand on the city.’

Among the many interesting adverts contained in the handbook, one that caught my eye was for the Bar-Lock Typewriter Company, whose location was given simply as, ‘Bar-Lock Works, Nottingham’.

What a beauty that typewriter is!

I can’t imagine that many of today’s young people will have encountered, let alone used, a typewriter. It marks a person out as ‘getting on a bit’ if they can remember using one. As I’m in the latter category myself, the clickety-clack of a manual typewriter isn’t an entirely alien concept, and I’m sure that I even remember using an electric typewriter at work as late as the early ’90s.

Aside from the passing thought that, if I ever somehow acquired a bulk load of second hand Bar-Lock typewriters, I could quite reasonably refer to the collection as ‘a load of old Bar-Locks’, I was prompted to find out a little more about the Bar-Lock Typewriter Company.

The Bar-Lock typewriter was invented by Charles Spiro, an American, in the 1880s. Its name refers to a feature which used a set of metal pins to ensure that each individual typebar was properly aligned and locked into position when it arrived at the contact point.

The works mentioned in the advert were in Basford. The company’s products must have been held in high regard, because in early 1928 it placed adverts announcing that it had ‘been honoured with the Royal Warrant of Appointment as Typewriter Manufacturers to H.M. King George V.’

The Nottingham Journal, reporting on a visit of the Nottingham Society of Engineers to the factory in September 1948, informed its readers that, ‘Every 18 minutes, a new standard typewriter is completed at the factory of the Bar-Lock Typewriter Company, Nottingham. This rate of production means that 160 finished machines are turned out each week. Up to a month ago, 70 per cent went to the export market, but it is now hoped that more will reach the home market, and next month production of portable models, stopped since 1940, will begin. With certain adjustments the standard machines are sent to all parts of the world, including the Argentine, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and the Malay States… Each machine contains over 2,000 parts, and more than 10,000 operations are needed.’

By 1951, the Journal was reporting that, ‘Today, more than 500 people are employed in the works, where the Bar-Lock typewriter is manufactured from start to finish, and where every 15 minutes a new standard typewriter is completed.’ (Note the not-unimpressive reduction in the amount of time taken to produce each machine).

The company had a somewhat convoluted history thereafter, becoming Byron Business Machines in 1953 and surviving, in part at least, under a succession of names, including (amongst others) Jardine, Petite and Britains Petite – the office machine business having been sold to Oliver Typewriter Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in 1958, before that company closed in 1959. The name Petite gives us a clue as to what the firm (or whatever organisation it was subsumed into) became known for in later years – the manufacture of toy typewriters.

The Bar-Lock Typewriter Company may not still exist as a going concern, but it is remembered in the name of Barlock Road, which runs between Arnold Road and Valley Road.

Right then. Which advert is up next?

Off with Their Heads

‘Pillar of Famous Faces’ – Image © Zoe Clarke (https://www.flickr.com/photos/elstruthio)

One of the more recent entries in the increasingly lengthy list of lost Nottingham monuments was a curious brick pillar upon which were fixed ten sculpted heads of historical figures, each accompanied by the name and years of birth and death of the individual in question. Not the most handsome monument, it is true, but one that was, nonetheless, full of character.

It was located between Middle Hill and the Great Central Railway viaduct (which was succeeded by the current tram viaduct), in a paved area with brick mounds near the subway that led to the Broadmarsh Bus Station.

This relatively secluded area became, perhaps inevitably, subject to vandalism, before becoming popular with skateboarders and BMX riders, who referred to it as Broadmarsh Banks. Sadly, ‘improvements’ in 2009 saw the removal of the brick mounds and the pillar, and thus the end of an era. At the time of writing, the site is changing once again – remaining as public realm, but now designed to complement the recently-opened Nottingham College City Hub.

Looking towards the former site of Broadmarsh Banks and the brick pillar, April 2021 (Image credit: https://nottinghamandbeyond.wordpress.com)

But back to that curious pillar.

The sculpted heads had originally been retrieved from a building that was situated at the corner of Broad Marsh (the street) and Carrington Street in the days before the latter was truncated by the shopping centre.

‘Corner of Broad Marsh and Carrington Street, Nottingham, 1968’ (© Picture Nottingham/Bernard Beilby)

The building contained a large Burton menswear store and was demolished in 1972 during the redevelopment of the Broad Marsh area. According to an article by Geoffrey Oldfield, the heads ‘formed the keystones of the curved pediments above the first floor windows’. Oldfield adds that, ‘When the time came for demolition, Mr Terry Doyle, an architect acting for the developers, suggested that the heads be preserved and so special arrangements were made so that they were retained for preservation.’

One of the sculpted heads that later formed part of the pillar, shown in its original location in detail from a 1970 photo
View of the former site of the Burton store, April 2021; note the building to the left, which is also present on the 1968 Beilby photo ( Image credit: https://nottinghamandbeyond.wordpress.com )

The heads were duly used to create the structure previously described, bringing into existence a unique and diverting artefact that provided a link not only to the loss of an impressive Nottingham building, but also to a venerable British institution.

Burton’s was founded by Sir Montague Maurice Burton, who was born Meshe David Osinsky in Lithuania in 1885. Burton had set up as an outfitter in 1903, having come to Britain in 1900. His business, originally called The Cross-Tailoring Company, was registered as Montague Burton the Tailor of Taste Ltd in 1917. The firm is said to have made a quarter of all British military uniforms in the Second World War and Burton was knighted in 1931 for ‘services to industrial relations’.

The Burton pillar became a familiar part of the Nottingham streetscape over the years and has an important place in many people’s memories (and therefore in the social history of Nottingham).

The heads attached to the pillar represented the following figures:

South face: William Shakespeare and Robert Burns
West face: Horatio Nelson, Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Joshua Reynolds
North face: Captain James Cook and David Livingstone
East face: The Duke of Wellington, Cecil Rhodes and James Wolfe

The loss of the pillar, along with that of a well-known and much-loved (albeit unofficial) skatepark, was, and is, regrettable.  At the time of the changes, a spokesman for Westfield, the then-owners of the Broadmarsh Centre, stated, ‘The works are part of a wider scheme to improve the look and feel of this area. We have listened to the views of our shoppers and local residents who have expressed their desire for a refurbishment of this important route to make it more attractive and in keeping with the new arts centre. This is part of our ongoing commitment to the local area and we hope everyone who uses this part of town will be pleased with the results.’

A BBC News article in January 2010 reported that, after the brick pillar had been pulled down towards the end of 2009, the Burton heads were, incredibly, ‘left lying around until Nottingham City Council collected them.’ It was subsequently felt that only four of the heads (one online source states that ‘half’ of the heads had ‘been knicked [sic] already’) were in good enough condition to be preserved, and they were stored at a council depot, only to be stolen. Lamentably, a council spokesman is quoted as saying, ‘It is regrettable that our attempts to salvage these unusual pieces of local history have ended in this sad way.’

Two of the heads after removal from the pillar and before collection (image courtesy https://hookedskate.com/)

The BBC article also informs us that the Nottingham Civic Society had turned down an offer to take the heads, with Ken Brand of the Civic Society commenting, ‘ I don’t think they were really worth saving. They had broken noses, broken chins and so on. I don’t want to get too nostalgic about this…The cost was too prohibitive to repair them…It’s not really a loss to Nottingham.’

And so, after a catalogue of negligence and apathy, and seemingly without any attempt to involve the wider citizenry of Nottingham in a conversation about a possible new home for these fascinating objects, an intriguing link to our past was itself consigned to memory.

The pillar at night (image from https://www.nottskate.org.uk/)

Selected Sources:

‘A curious structure’ – Geoffrey Oldfield – Issue 4 (Nov-Dec 1978) of Nottingham Quarterly (General Editor: John Sheffield), pp. 14-16 (http://www.thesparrowsnest.org.uk/collections/public_archive/9857.pdf)

‘Skatepark ‘flattened’ without notice’ – Claire Carter, Nottingham Evening Post, November 2009 (https://web.archive.org/web/20091130041317/http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/homenews/Skatepark-flattened-notice/article-1552912-detail/article.html)

‘Thieves steal historical Nottingham busts no one wants’ – BBC News, January 2010 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/nottingham/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8470000/8470916.stm)

‘From Slums to Skate Parks to Shopping: The History of the Broadmarsh’ – Dan O’Neill, Left Lion, June 2020 (https://www.leftlion.co.uk/read/2020/june/broadmarsh-centre-shops-history-nottingham-skate/) – Twitter: @danoneill87

(The Burton pillar can be seen in a video featuring some dizzying BMX stunts at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ry-PIPc5II&t=155s)

Star of the Show

By the time I was allowed to go to the cinema on my own or with friends, the ABC on Chapel Bar, the Odeon on Angel Row and the Classic  on Market Street had all been converted into multi-screen cinemas. The Odeon had actually been twinned before I was born, and I don’t remember visiting either the ABC or the Classic with my family when they were still single-screen venues.

I only became aware of the Elite on Upper Parliament Street, which remained a single screen cinema until its closure in 1977, much later in life, but it has fascinated me ever since.

The Elite Picture Theatre, to give it its full original name, was Nottingham’s first ‘super cinema’, offering features and facilities above and beyond those of its local rivals, and it was opened on Monday 22 August 1921 by the Mayor of Nottingham, Alderman Herbert Bowles.

In an article about the opening, the Nottingham Journal reported that, ‘The Mayor expressed the hope that the people would support the promoters to their utmost capacity. He was one of those who firmly believed in the old adage: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” ‘

The Mayor was presented with a ‘suitably inscribed’ gold cigarette case, which is presumably still in someone’s possession to this day. The opening film was Pollyanna, starring Mary Pickford and based on the novel by Eleanor H Porter.

The Nottingham Evening Post noted that, ‘The picture…is still “the thing,” but the big house at the top of King and Queen-streets also comprises beautifully furnished writing rooms, lounges, and restaurants, and in the largest of these, the delights of dancing may be enjoyed. There is a Jacobean restaurant, a French café (in the Louis Quatorze style), and a Georgian tearoom. Electric elevators give access to each of the three floors, there is comfortable seating accommodation in the theatre for 1,600 people, and such items as a full orchestra and the newest type of organ – a magnificent instrument, which alone cost £10,000 – will add to the enjoyment of the visitor.’

Illustrated weekly The Bioscope added that ‘…it is the intention of the managing directors of the Elite to encourage the production of British films in every possible way. Mr. Finch [one of the managing directors] is convinced the best British productions can hold their own with any in the world, and in the future he thinks their superiority will be undisputed.’

After epitomising the glamour of cinema in its golden age, the Elite’s trajectory over time was to follow that of many other picture houses.

Cinema admissions went into decline from the 1950s onwards, mainly as a result of TV ownership, but also due to other factors such as diversification of leisure interests and the growth of consumer culture more generally. The Elite, which had been taken over by Associated British Cinemas in 1935, having shown the first ‘talkie’ in Nottingham in 1929, limped into the 1970s and survived a demolition proposal, before being converted into a bingo hall in 1977. The bingo hall remained open until the early 1990s.

The cinema closed with an X certificate double-bill of Erotic Young Lovers and Take an Easy Ride. The former was presumably the 1973 West German film of that name, while the latter, although a British production, was possibly not one that would have contributed much to Mr Finch’s sense of national pride.

The Elite building’s exterior remains impressive and has had a restoration and clean-up. The interior, meanwhile, retains some of its original features, including elements of the ornate auditorium, which was eventually converted into (and seemingly still is) a nightclub. Street-facing businesses remain on the ground floor, while there appear to be (or have been) offices and other businesses in the rest of the building. 2019 saw proposals to convert vacant office space on the first, second and third floors into student accommodation, which is good news for the future viability of the building and a hopefully sympathetic treatment of the remaining original features.

Cineworld lies a stone’s throw away, offering a contemporary cinema experience to the masses. Will home streaming of films prove to be the kiss of death for such venues in much the same way that television and other factors were for the traditional cinema? Only time will tell. One encouraging sign, though, is that a small chain called Arc Cinemas is part-way through a programme of opening new sites, including two locally, in Beeston and Hucknall (the former an 8-screen new-build due to open later this year, the latter a classy 4-screen resuscitation of the Byron).

But let us return one final time to the Elite, where a mystery presents itself.

There are twenty five niches at the top of the building that originally (and until relatively recent times) contained statues. When I looked at the building recently, only three statues remained. Initial research seemed to indicate that at least some of the statues were found to be unsafe during the restoration/cleaning works and that one or more of them had suffered damage over time while in situ. Details still seemed to be thin on the ground, though, until further digging unearthed more information.

It seems that safety concerns were indeed the primary reason for the removal of most (possibly all) of the statues. In fact, the upper section of one statue had fallen off, due in the main to rusting of the iron bar that secured it to its niche.

The statues that are not currently present are said to be inside the building and the intention is that replacements will be commissioned where necessary (presumably where restoration/repair is not feasible). This will result in a mixture of original and new statues at the top of the building.

In fact, one of the three statues that are in place at the moment was the first replacement to be commissioned and completed – a Shakespeare (or Shakespeare-esque) figure created by a company that has links to the organisation involved in the original work on the building. The original version of the figure was returned to the Elite’s owner/developer after being used to model its replacement.

So let’s raise a glass to this continuing, very worthwhile project to restore one of Nottingham’s most respected buildings to something as close to its former glory as can possibly be achieved in this day and age, with 2021 marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of what was once one of Nottingham’s finest picture palaces.

Selected Sources:

Going to the Pictures: A Short History of Cinema in Nottingham – Michael Payne
Ninety Years of Cinema in Nottingham – Brian Hornsey
Cinema Treasures – Elite Picture Theatre – http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/21746 (accessed 20/02/21)
Nottingham Journal, Saturday 20 August 1921 (via https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/)
Nottingham Evening Post, Saturday 20 August 1921 (via https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/)
Nottingham Journal, Tuesday 23 August 1921 (via https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/)
The Bioscope, 25 August 1921 (via https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/)

Middle-Aged Kicks

‘You were lucky…’

What might constitute middle-aged kicks for those of us racing through the survey age-range tick boxes at a rate of knots? For my part, I’m not particularly interested in becoming a MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra), but, in much the same way that I personally am baffled by the popular pursuit of spending a month’s salary on a bike, acquiring a Tour de France fancy dress costume and pedalling off in the direction of Skeggy, I suppose one of my own favourite pursuits – exploring abandoned spaces – might attract a similar level of amusement and bemusement (possibly even opprobrium) were it to come up in everyday conversation.

Which, of course, it probably won’t, because most conversations that we have as humans – particularly as middle-aged humans – tend to be stultifyingly dull. Thus, when I go into work on Monday morning, the fact that I spent yesterday afternoon crashing through undergrowth in order to locate an inconsequential ditch in an overgrown brownfield site will likely as not go unmentioned. You know the score: ‘Morning! Good weekend?’ ‘Yes thanks. You?’ ‘Yes, not bad thanks.’

One of my favourite footpaths is the one that bisects the former industrial land (now cleared, other than a single tall chimney) to the south of the Wilkinson Street Park & Ride facility. This wasteland is bordered by the River Leen to the east and (partly) south, and a railway line to the west, and will probably eventually become a housing estate.

The wasteland areas to the north and south of the path, formerly home to factories carrying out soap manufacture and bleaching and dyeing, have tended in the past to be well secured by fencing, but I noticed on a recent walk that a gap had appeared in one of the fences (presumably courtesy of the local ne’er-do-wells), allowing access to the southern portion of the site.

Old and contemporary maps reveal the existence of a short length of watercourse in this part of the wasteland. In its truncated present day form, it appears to feed into the River Leen via a sluice near Meadow Brown Road. This watercourse is, in fact, classed as a drain. Not exactly a lost river, then, but I headed over to the area yesterday to inspect it anyway.

The site in 2006. Note drain in bottom left hand corner
A satellite view of the site as it is today

Stepping through the gap in the fence, and pointing myself roughly in the direction of the point where satellite and map imagery had shown that the drain meets the southern boundary of the wasteland, it was immediately clear that this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park (which, in hindsight, should have been abundantly obvious), so I was glad that I had my sturdy walking boots on. Passing a couple of rudimentary dens, I headed deeper into the site and stumbled my way through brambles and low-hanging tree branches before reaching the southern perimeter.

At this point, tracking the perimeter, I was making my way past fences behind which lay the back gardens of some of the properties on Meadow Brown Road, so it was necessary to make as little noise as possible, given that I was on private land. It wasn’t long before I spotted a manhole cover, which alerted me to the presence of a small channel of running water a couple of metres away, largely hidden by the undergrowth. Excited to have located the object of my quest – yes, I know, not exactly the source of the Nile, but a man must deal with the hand that he has been dealt – I knelt down next to the channel and observed that the water disappeared into a concrete pipeline which did, indeed, appear to lead in the direction of the sluice that fed into the Leen.

The pipe that appears to take the water to the Leen

While retracing my steps, curiosity and a little luck helped me to discover the other end of the drain, which was completely hidden from view behind a bank. There, the water emerged from another pipe, which led from who knows where.

And here my brief tale ends. It would be interesting to discover the history of this short length of water. Late-19th Century maps seem to show that it was once part of a longer channel, which led from the area north of Wilkinson Street down to Bobbers Mill. Perhaps the bleaching and dyeing and/or soap works, when they appeared on the scene, then co-opted part of it.

It seems odd that this one, short section survives in the open.

The drain’s presumed outfall into the River Leen

Rock of Ages

It is a good shrubbery.

Head Knight, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

It is still a source of wonder to me that the University of Nottingham allows the public to roam freely around the grounds of its University Park campus. It’s not something that is widely advertised, but it’s certainly not discouraged either. I’ve explored the campus on many occasions over the years, but I still occasionally happen upon a feature that is new to me.

I particularly like to visit the grounds out of term and towards the end of the day, when they are at their most tranquil. Given the lack of restrictions on pedestrian entry into the grounds, it always surprises me that there aren’t more people around and it often feels almost as if I have the place to myself.

Last week, I decided to go for a short circular walk around the campus, the walk beginning with an ascent of the hill that rises near the University’s west entrance and leads up to an area that includes the Trent Building. It was as I was about to reach the crest of the hill that I spotted an information board that I had never seen before. It concerned itself with something called the Bassingfield Stone.

Most Nottinghamians will be familiar with the Hemlock Stone – mainly on account of its size and location – but relatively few, I’ll wager, will have seen or heard of the the more diminutive Bassingfield Stone, which is, at the time of writing, fairly well hidden inside a shrubbery. So well hidden, in fact, that it is unlikely that any casual passers-by would notice it if they had not already been alerted to its existence by the information board, which states that the stone is, ‘Tucked away in the shrub border to the west of the Trent Building’.

Fortuitously, and in line with the time of day, there’s no-one around as I identify the shrubbery/shrub border (is there a difference? Is ‘shrub border’ a posh way of saying shrubbery?) and make my way towards its interior, where I discover the mottled grey stone, perhaps a metre-or-so in height and rather phallic in appearance, resting contentedly on a plinth.

Attached to the plinth is a plaque, which reads, ‘This large erratic, consisting of hornblende schist, was brought into the district by glaciers from the south-west Highlands. It attracted the attention of Bronze Age man who adapted it for use in agricultural religious rites. Discovered by G. F. Turton Esq.,(N.N.S.F.C.) at Bassingfield Gravel Workings. Presented by B. S. Whiting Esq., Manager.’

As ever in such scenarios, I’m immediately made aware of the glaring gaps in my knowledge of the world. I’ve already realised that I don’t know exactly what a shrub is (some sort of plant, presumably), or at what point an assemblage of such entities may be termed a shrub border or shrubbery, but the words ‘erratic’, ‘hornblende schist’ and, indeed, ‘Bassingfield Gravel Workings’ present further mysteries. Frankly, I’m not even sure I know exactly when the Bronze Age was.

The internet comes galloping to the rescue. An erratic, as suggested by the information board and plaque, is a rock that has been transported by a glacier, then deposited, and is different in size and type to rock that is native to the new place in which it finds itself. Hornblende is a name for a particular group of minerals and a schist is, ‘a coarse-grained metamorphic rock which consists of layers of different minerals and can be split into thin irregular plates’.

Bassingfield, it transpires, is a hamlet that lies between Gamston and Radcliffe-on-Trent, and the name in geological circles for the zone of river terrace deposits in the area in which the object of our attention was discovered is ‘the Bassingfield Sand and Gravel’. The Bronze Age, meanwhile, for anyone else as intellectually-challenged as me, began in Britain ‘around 2,000 BC’ (according to a BBC web page) and ended circa 650 BC.

G. F. Turton, discoverer of the stone, is described in the book Quaternary of the Trent as an amateur archaeologist, while B. S. Whiting was presumably the manager of the gravel workings when the stone was discovered in 1949. At least some workings in the area were still operational at that time – a report in the Nottingham Evening Post of 6 October 1950 details the sad story of William Wady Shepherd, 39, of West Bridgford, who was fatally injured when the dumper he was driving at what is referred to in the report as ‘Bassingfield quarry’ fell over ‘upside down, into the pit.’ The truck weighed ‘about 2½ tons and was carrying about 2 tons of gravel’ and death was due to  ‘laceration of the heart, multiple injuries, hemorrhage, and shock’.

Still gazing at the stone, I make a mental note to have a walk around the Bassingfield area at some point. Then it’s time to make my way back out of the undergrowth. Thankfully, there are still no other visitors in evidence. Had there been, they would almost certainly have come to the conclusion that I had gone into the bushes for a wee.

I make my way back down the hill with a spring in my step, invigorated by the knowledge that there is always something new for the curious wanderer to discover on his or her perambulations.

The Bassingfield Stone

Small Pleasures

Virtual commute image courtesy Mr Google

Look for small pleasures
That happen every day;
And not for fortune or fame.

Popular song

Home working sucks.

When things are back to normal:

I will step out at an unearthly hour every weekday and appreciate the relative calm.

I will signal for the bus and not be annoyed by anyone who sticks their arm out at the same time, but is not standing at the Officially Sanctioned Stopping Point.

I will make my way to the top deck, sit in my usual seat and think to myself, ‘Blimey, even after all these years, IT’S BLOODY BRILLIANT SITTING ON THE TOP DECK OF A DOUBLE-DECKER BUS’.

I will watch my fellow commuters board with interest and enjoy sharing this enclosed space with them for the first time in an age.

As the bus draws towards the city centre, I will appreciate my home city anew – its architecture, its vitality and its homeliness.

As the bus draws to a stop, I will wait for everyone else to get off first, before emerging into the fresh air, walking along Milton Street and acknowledging the chap dispensing copies of the Metro.

Turning into Parliament Street, I will appreciate the joie de vivre of the school kids waiting for their onward connections, before crossing the road at a place that is Not an Officially Sanctioned Crossing Point. Divine retribution will catch up with me when I descend into – then trip over the top of – one of the trenches created in the tarmac over the years by the passing buses.

Walking past buildings I’ve walked past thousands of times before, but not since lockdown, I will be hit by a pleasant wave of nostalgia, before this sensation is replaced by thoughts of the MASSIVE breakfast cob I am going to order when I arrive at Mary’s Kitchen (please God, let Mary’s Kitchen have survived all this nonsense).

When I finally arrive at work, I will be in a Zen-like state of mind.

My renewed appreciation of the 40 minutes detailed above may even last for a few days.

Image courtesy Google

Distancing by Default


‘I find industrial cities exciting. I like their toughness.’

Zaha Hadid


Nottingham isn’t quite so tough these days, following the demise of so many of its industrial concerns. Arthur Seaton would barely recognise some parts of the city. But there are a few light industrial estates dotted around here and there, and they are a source of fascination to me.

The industrial area closest to where I live has become a location that I’ve started to visit more frequently of late, and I like to visit it out of hours. There are three main reasons for this:

1. Once everyone has packed up and gone home, it is like a ghost town. Thus, it is possible for me to indulge the fantasy that I am the last person left alive in a post-apocalyptic world.

2. I can nose around and take photos to my heart’s content, without being questioned by burly gentlemen in boiler suits.

3. Social distancing. In Sainsbury’s, I can almost guarantee that some gormless individual will contravene the two-metre-distance rule while I am seeking bananas that have attained an acceptable level of ripeness. But the industrial estate outside of working hours? Glorious isolation.

A business park after hours will serve the same purpose.

Just don’t all turn up at once.

Curtailment


‘I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.’

John Burroughs


I completely identify with the quote above. In fact, bizarrely, given that I have a little more time at the moment by virtue of the fact that I’m not having to commute, I’m finding it even more difficult to fit everything in.

Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that two of the activities referred to in the quote have been curtailed. Daily walks are only supposed to last ‘up to an hour’ and the idea of meeting up with friends to socialise has been more-or-less completely knocked on the head.

Limiting a walk to an hour or less is not easy when I’m used to it being a more open-ended experience, but perhaps a new appreciation of the sights on my doorstep will add a silver lining to the Cumulonimbus.