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