Victoria and Nottingham

The Queen Victoria statue in January 2022

Nottingham isn’t short of reminders of Queen Victoria – the Victoria Centre, Victoria Park, the Victoria Embankment, the Victoria Leisure Centre, Victoria Street… the list goes on. But what was once Nottingham’s most prominent reminder of the woman who counted Empress of India and Grandmother of Europe amongst her formal and informal titles is now hidden away outside the city centre (of which more later…)

Queen Victoria was born Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent on 24 May 1819 at Kensington Palace, and reigned from 20 June 1837 (aged 18) until her death. She married her first cousin, Prince Albert, on 10 February 1840. They had nine children, but Victoria was grief-stricken after Albert’s death on 14 December 1861 and rarely appeared in public for many years thereafter. She died on 22 January 1901, aged 81, at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and was buried at the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore in Windsor.

Victoria seems to have visited Nottingham only once, on 4 December 1843, aged 24, when she and Albert passed through on their way from Chatsworth to Belvoir while on a tour of the Midland Counties. They arrived at Nottingham by train, arriving at  the present station’s predecessor, which was located where the Magistrates’ Court stands today, before continuing their journey by carriage.

It was a fairly tight schedule. The royal couple were due to leave Chatsworth at 9am, passing through Chesterfield at 10am, Derby at 10.50am and Nottingham at 11.30am, before reaching the final destination of Belvoir Castle at 1.45pm. The Corporation must have been disappointed to learn that, as its Royal Visit Committee reported on 29 November, the Queen would ‘only pass through the Meadows and will not be able to receive addresses personally’, though any that were prepared would be ‘laid before her afterwards’.

The Illustrated London News of 9 December 1843 described the weather on the day of the visit as ‘… truly beautiful and, for the time of year, remarkably warm.’ It goes on to say that, ‘The reception given to the royal party at Nottingham was brilliant in the extreme … The arrival terminus had been boarded over for the accommodation of spectators, and, along with the adjoining promenade, held, it was computed, about 3000 persons, each of whom was admitted by ticket only. … Galleries were erected at various places on the line of the road, for the accommodation of the thousands anxious to catch a glimpse of royalty. Eight triumphal arches were also erected…’.

Quite a fuss for what was actually a fairly brief transfer between modes of transport. We are further informed that, ‘Precisely at twenty minutes past eleven, the discharge of cannon from the Castle announced the arrival of her Majesty. … Her Majesty … was conducted to the waiting-room, where a collation was provided for the royal visitors by Mrs. Ward of the George the Fourth Inn. … In about ten minutes after, the royal party appeared in front of the station, where the Duke of Rutland’s carriage was in waiting. They immediately entered it, and proceeded, amidst the cheering of the assembled thousands, the ringing of bells, and the firing of cannon. We should say that there were at least 100,000 persons on the ground.’

The carriage made its way along what was subsequently to be named Queen’s Road in Victoria’s honour, before heading out of the city, and that was that.

Victoria seemed to have been reasonably amused by her brief encounter with Nottingham, for, as we learn from the borough records, on 19 December the Royal Visit Committee was able to report the Queen’s ‘gratification at the brilliant reception given to Her at Nottingham; and which, Her Majesty was graciously pleased to say, had not been surpassed during the whole of her progress through the Midland Counties.’

Queen Victoria’s visit to Nottingham (Illustrated London News, 9 December 1843)
Queen Victoria’s visit to Nottingham (Illustrated London News, 9 December 1843)
Queen Victoria’s visit to Nottingham (Illustrated London News, 9 December 1843)
Queen Victoria’s visit to Nottingham (Illustrated London News, 9 December 1843)

Nottingham, along with Bradford and Hull, was granted its city charter in 1897, as part of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The main jubilee celebrations took place throughout the country (and, indeed, the empire) on Tuesday 22 June 1897, which was declared a bank holiday in Britain, Ireland and India. Events included a six-mile procession through the streets of London and, in the evening, the lighting of a chain of beacons across Britain. The journalist George Basil Barham claimed that thirty-three of them could be seen from Mapperley.

Less than four years later, on 22 January 1901, Victoria’s remarkable reign of more than 63 years came to an end with her death.

The following day, the Nottingham Daily Express reported that, ‘The news of the death of the Queen was received in Nottingham about a quarter past seven [in the evening], and in a very few minutes, by means of special editions of the evening newspapers, was widely disseminated throughout the city. The influence of the tidings – though the demise of our late beloved monarch was not unexpected – was quickly observable. The murmur of conversation from passers by was hushed as the people purchased their news sheet to convince themselves of the sad truth, and for the rest of the evening the death of Queen Victoria was almost the sole topic. Presently, from the belfries of the parish churches came the dull, slow boom of the passing bell, and in the centre of the city the event was further marked by the sudden extinction of the lights of the Theatre Royal, as the audience quietly dismissed, made their way into the streets, and mingled with the crowd. It was not long before the electric wire bore a winged message from the Mayor of the city expressing to the King of England, in terms which all the inhabitants will endorse, the deep sorrow of Nottingham.’

After Victoria’s death, a local memorial fund was set up, the initial meeting to discuss the matter having taken place in June 1901. Subscriptions were solicited and enquiries made concerning the possibility of commissioning a replica of an existing statue or model, to be sited somewhere in the city centre. Nottingham, it seems, had been letting the side down. As the Nottingham Evening Post opined on 1 May 1903, in reference to a letter read out at a meeting of subscribers to the fund held at the Exchange Hall that morning, ‘Most other cities and towns had long ago had their memorials completed, and it was certainly desirable that no further time should elapse before the matter was bought to a conclusion as regarded the city and county of Nottingham.’

An alternative proposal of putting the funds towards the founding of some memorial cots at the Children’s Hospital having been dismissed, the Mayor moved, ‘ the appointment of a committee to decide upon the precise form of the statue, to appeal to the City Council for the selection of a site, and to make such other arrangements as were necessary…’

In late September of the same year, the Nottingham Daily Express reported that, in spite of the fact that subscriptions had fallen short of the figure aimed at, sculptor Albert Toft had been commissioned to create an original statue of Queen Victoria for the city. Toft had already produced a statue of Victoria for Leamington, so was presumably regarded as a safe pair of hands. He would later produce another statue of Victoria, this time for South Shields. War memorial statues were another of his specialisms, while locally, as well as the statue of Queen Victoria, he produced memorials to Major Jonathan White and the poet Philip James Bailey, both of which are in the grounds of Nottingham Castle.

The Express report includes an amusing tirade about the paucity of Nottingham’s statuary, the paper being of the opinion that the statue of Feargus O’Connor in the Arboretum was ‘kindly hidden by the trees and shrubs’, while that of Sir Robert Clifton was ‘a crude piece of work, and a libel upon Sir Robert’, the most appropriate option being ‘to keep it out of sight’.

The small matter of the location of the proposed statue of the Queen is also mentioned, with the memorial committee proposing that it be sited ‘at the north-west end of the Market place, opposite Bromley House’.

By early 1905, a subsequent proposal to place the statue in the centre of the Market Square had prompted considerable debate amongst the public, with alternative suggestions including the Arboretum, the Castle (which seems, in fact, to have been the original plan), Victoria Embankment, the front of the Exchange, Victoria Park, the top of Queen’s Walk, King Street, the front of the Theatre Royal, the junction of London Road and Arkwright Street, the outside of University College, ‘the west end of the market, at a point between Angel-row and Long-row’, Canning Circus and St Peter’s Square. Some folk were unhappy at the potential effect on the livelihoods of stallholders if the statue was sited in the centre of the square.

Finally, on 20 March 1905, the location was confirmed by the Nottingham Evening Post as being ‘opposite the bottom of St-James’s-street’. The last step in the decision-making process was the use of a wood and canvas model of the statue and pedestal to decide which way the statue should face – ‘square with the Market-place and the Exchange Hall’ or ‘fronting rather towards Wheeler-gate and South-parade.’ The latter option was the one chosen.

Extract from OS 25 inch; rev. 1913; pub. 1915, showing the original location of the Queen Victoria statue
The former location of the Queen Victoria statue in 2021

Details of the statue itself began to emerge. In April 1905, the Nottingham Daily Express quoted Albert Toft as saying, ‘…the figure of the Queen is made from a really magnificent block of Carrara marble. I sent the model to Italy to save time and ensure a good block… In this memorial I have throughout endeavoured to emphasise the womanly and lovable disposition of Queen Victoria rather than her Imperial and powerful character as ruler of the Empire. …the panels of the pedestal depict such human and charitable acts as ‘Feeding the Hungry’ and ‘Clothing the Naked.’

Some still mumbled and grumbled about the location of the statue, with many having preferred the idea of a position in front of the Exchange building. A number of market traders were displaced and the Nottingham Daily Express reported later in the year that, ‘The section of stall-holders most affected by the erection of the Queen Victoria statue was the bird, dog, and dealers in other canine pets, who are now relegated to Cheapside.’

With the unveiling of the statue scheduled to be performed by the Duchess of Portland on 28 July, the attention of the public had been well and truly captured, with one Evening Post correspondent even suggesting that the street names Beastmarket Hill and Angel Row be dropped and ‘the strip of pavement from Wheeler-gate to Chapel-bar be known as Victoria-parade.’ Issues of the Nottingham Daily Express on the day were to include an art plate featuring illustrations of the statue. The stage was set.

On the appointed day, the Duchess met the Duke, who arrived separately by train, at Midland Station, and their private carriage formed part of a civic procession that was to proceed to the Exchange via Carrington Street, Lister Gate, Albert Street, Wheeler Gate and Long Row. More ceremonials were then to follow, before the procession made its way to the statue for the unveiling ceremony.

Winifred Cavendish-Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, was a well-known public figure at this time. An ardent animal lover, she became the first president of the RSPB in 1891, and was also a vice-president of the RSPCA. Perhaps the most interesting story relating to the Portlands was an incident that took place in 1913 while they were being visited at their home, Welbeck Abbey, by Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, whose assassination the year after was to contribute towards the outbreak of the First World War.

The Duke and Archduke had been out shooting on the estate when, as the Duke subsequently wrote, ‘One of the loaders fell down. This caused both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged, the shot passing within a few feet of the archduke and myself… I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.’

The Evening Post, in the introductory section of its report of the proceedings on the day of the statue’s unveiling, commented that, ‘…it is well that some permanent memorial should be set in the public places of our great cities to remind generations yet unborn of the woman who Kept her throne unshaken still, Broad-based upon her people’s will, for so many years ruled an empire, and invested the name of Great Britain with such shining lustre.’

The weather was fine and a crowd of thousands was assembled in the vicinity of the statue. In its report of the event, the Nottingham Daily Express stated that, ‘Not since the times of wild enthusiasm witnessed at various stages of the war in South Africa has such a scene been witnessed in the magnificent Market-square.’

Following a speech by the Duke, the statue, which had been in its spot for some weeks while covered and nearly complete, was duly unveiled by the Duchess, the Express noting politely that, ‘The cheering which greeted the unveiling could not be described as enthusiastic, but the feeling of satisfaction was unquestioned.’

A second procession was then formed, and it made its way to St Mary’s Church for the unveiling, by the Duke, of a memorial to the Nottingham men who died in the Boer War. Later, for the lucky few, the day was rounded off by a garden party at the Castle.

The Duke and Duchess of Portland at the statue unveiling ceremony (Nottingham Daily Express, 29 July 1905)
The Queen Victoria statue immediately after its unveiling (author’s collection)
The Queen Victoria statue immediately after its unveiling (author’s collection)
The Queen Victoria statue immediately after its unveiling (author’s collection)

The Nottingham Daily Express described the statue thus:

‘…It stands 10ft. 10 ins. in height, and reveals the Queen in regal robes. In her right hand she holds the Royal Sceptre and in her left the Orb … The features have been modelled from Mr Toft’s greatly admired statue at Leamington … A long lace veil (ornamented) hangs gracefully from the head down the back of the figure. Four handsome bronze panels…are sunk into the granite pedestal… On the front of the pedestal there is a simple design – a shield with a decorative arrangement of rose trees, helmet, and crown, and the inscription, “Victoria, Empress Queen, 1837-1901”. The panel at the back is more elaborate, representing a figure of Maternity nursing a child in either arm, and the children are toying with ships and engines – symbolical of navigation and engineering. The figure is treated in a decorated and symmetrical style, and in its general form it outlines a cross symbolising Christianity. In the side panels…[both] subjects are illustrative of Charity. One is feeding the hungry; the other clothing the naked. In these panels the sculptor has successfully endeavoured to treat his subjects in such a manner that the eye is gradually led up to the statue of Her Majesty.’

Not all were impressed by the statue. In his 1924 novel Sails of Sunset, Nottingham author and journalist Cecil Roberts writes, ‘Was it fair to perpetuate her memory so – robustly? Even the sun cast a malicious glance, emphasising the imperial rotundity, and the laws of perspective aggravated the aspect of that crowned head fading heavenwards, and almost shut off from loyal eyes by the tremendous central girth ballooning the unfortunate lady…’

Image of the Queen Victoria statue in its original location (author’s collection)
Image of the Queen Victoria statue in its original location (author’s collection)
Image of the Queen Victoria statue in its original location (author’s collection)
Image of the Queen Victoria statue in its original location (author’s collection)
Image of the Queen Victoria statue in its original location (author’s collection)

The newly installed statue seems to have a led a largely unremarkable existence for its first few years, but it wasn’t too long before the possibility of relocation was being mooted. In 1926, during construction of the War Memorial Arch on Victoria Embankment, a Nottingham Journal columnist noted that, ‘It has been suggested that the Victoria Embankment should be… the place for the Victoria statue – a fitting place being near the entrance to the fine boulevard which bears its name.’

Shortly afterwards, a correspondent wrote in to say that the Victoria statue was in a ‘deplorable condition’, being ‘nothing else but a pigeon roost’, and that it would ‘look well if placed at the entrance to the Victoria Embankment, or surrounded by beds of flowers in the Castle grounds or the Arboretum.’

Victoria Embankment had received its official opening on 25 July 1901, some six months after Victoria’s death. It was opened by the Chairman of the Public Parks Committee, Alderman William Lambert, who, along with his brother John, had funded the building of the Theatre Royal. The brothers were wealthy lace manufacturers who owned a factory on Talbot Street.

Lambert was accompanied by the Mayor, Frederick R Radford, who believed that, ‘…the time will come when the citizens of Nottingham will have a feeling of thanks and gratitude to the present generation and will look upon the embankment as a standing monument of the enterprise and foresight of the Nottingham Corporation of the year 1901.’

Alderman Lambert, meanwhile, amongst other remarks to the assembled crowd, hoped that people would, ‘avoid the practice of throwing litter about’ and ‘endeavour to cultivate a habit of tidiness.’

By May 1939, there were plans in place for a new traffic island in the Market Square which would necessitate the removal of the Victoria statue. The preferred new site for the statue was the west end of the pond in the Victoria Embankment Memorial Gardens. As with the original installation, a wooden model had been placed at the spot in question (as well as at other places in the city) to determine its suitability. However, world events later in the year were to conspire against this plan for the time being.

Appropriately enough, the statue was to perform its patriotic duty by playing a bit part in promoting war finance contributions. The Nottingham Journal of 29 May 1940 reported that, ‘The statue of Queen Victoria in Nottingham Market Square is to be surrounded with a three-sided pyramid hoarding 25 feet high. On one side of this will be a painting by a local artist representing the “Road to Victory.” The “road” runs between green verges, one side representing National Savings Certificates, and the other Defence Bonds. Along this road moves a motor-car bearing the city’s arms and indicating week by week the progress of the city’s savings contributions. The road is graded in degrees of £50,000, the furthest point along the road being the £4,000,000 mark at which the city is aiming. Underneath this road is the slogan: “Nottingham’s drive for victory.” ‘

The pre-war Market Square traffic scheme was revived in 1950. Two fatal accidents had occurred near the statue and the works were to proceed subject to approval by the Ministry of Transport and the availability of finance and labour. Queen Victoria’s city centre reign was nearly over.

The venerable queen’s last full day in the Market Place was Saturday 3 January 1953, and on that day the following news story appeared in the Nottingham Journal, with the title, ‘Victoria, a road victim, is to be taken for a ride’:

‘During this week-end, Queen Victoria will ride in state through the streets of Nottingham. But what a state she will be in! The echo of her famous “We are not amused” might well be heard as her statue which has stood at the western end of the Old Market Square since 1905, is hauled down by workmen and taken away on a low-backed lorry. On Monday, if everything goes smoothly, she will be in the Memorial Gardens on Victoria Embankment – facing the War Memorial – a mile and a half from the present site. The City Engineer, Mr. R. M. Finch, said: “It is a big job. The pedestal, made of granite, weights 25 tons and the marble statue weighs seven tons.” He added that it was most appropriate that the statue should be erected in the Memorial Gardens. This is not the first time that arrangements have been made to move the statue. Just before the war, it was to have been transferred to the Victoria Embankment – in fact, to the site on which it will stand after Monday. A full-scale plywood model, pedestal and all, was built by the City Engineer’s Department and put in several places in the city. It stood in the Castle Grounds, and the top of Market Street, facing the Theatre Royal. The model was also erected in the Memorial Gardens, and this was the site decided upon. Then came the war and the queen had to remain in the Market Square amid the noisy bustle of Nottingham traffic. A traffic island will be built in the Market Square so the great queen becomes another victim of the 20th century road.’

Thankfully, unlike the statue of Samuel Morley that had literally fallen off the back of a lorry during relocation from a spot near the Theatre Royal in 1927, the Queen Victoria statue made it to its destination in one piece, as the Journal reported on the day following its installation:

‘A queen and her escort moved through the streets of Nottingham early – very early – yesterday morning. They formed a procession, a rather odd procession, in the Old Market Square. First a tower wagon, then a low-loading lorry and finally a crane and a police car, for a V.I.P must have a police escort. The scheduled time of departure was 8 a.m. but preparations had been quick and the Queen – Queen Victoria – had moved from her plinth where she has watched the years move on by 7.30. Standing tall and upright – so tall that the tower wagon went ahead to make certain there was no obstruction from overhead wires – the statue made her second journey this century to the Memorial Rock Gardens on Victoria Embankment. Special arrangements had been made for her reception. A section of hedge had been removed. A ramp of earth and wood had been erected, and she was gently lowered to the ground in a fenced-off area near her new site. During the afternoon workmen were busy demolishing and moving the plinth ready for work to begin on a new traffic island in the city centre and the Queen has found peace by the rippling waters of the ornamental pond in the quiet garden.’

In the years since its move to more tranquil surroundings, the statue has not been entirely forgotten. It was listed at Grade II on 12 July 1972 and is described in the 1979 edition of Pevsner’s The Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire as follows: ‘Large standing figure in white marble. Square pink granite pedestal with cornice and stepped plinth. Bronze plaques on 4 sides, 3 with figures in relief. Ashlar base, 4 steps.’

Sadly, as of early 2022, the statue is in what might be described as a tired condition, with the sceptre no longer present. To add insult to injury, it is surrounded by tall mesh security fencing.

The pond at the Victoria Embankment Memorial Gardens, with the Queen Victoria statue in the centre background, January 2022
The Queen Victoria statue in January 2022

Good news may be on the horizon, though. A week before the Prime Minister announced the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020, it was reported by the Nottingham Post that, following a successful National Lottery Heritage Fund bid, Nottingham City Council was planning to carry out a restoration of the Memorial Gardens (including the statue of Queen Victoria), with the plans to include the creation of a visitor centre. It is to be hoped that this will still be a viable project post-pandemic, so that the site receives the attention that it surely deserves.

In the meantime, Victoria continues to cast her imperial gaze towards the Trent, providing a reminder of the mighty, sometimes problematic age that changed Britain and the world for ever.


You could not step twice into the same river.


I’m fascinated by Nottingham’s history, and I’m always extremely annoyed when a building is demolished that I feel is an important part of the city’s built environment. However, as the years pass by, I’m trying to avoid falling into the trap of disapproving of virtually every change that happens and viewing the past through rose-tinted spectacles. Yes, there were many great things in the past that no longer exist, but often they were a function or product of their time, and it just wasn’t possible to stop the clock.

Many people will have their own favourite buildings from the past that are no longer around. My own – the Players Horizon factory on Thane Road – disappeared relatively recently. I liked it because I find myself drawn towards, and fascinated by, large-scale industrial architecture, and because it provided a tangible link to an important (albeit controversial) strand of Nottingham’s industrial and social history. Many people were glad to see the back of it, partly because of how it looked and partly because of what it represented. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen or heard it referred to as ‘ugly’ or ‘an eyesore’.

At the other end of the spectrum, one building in Nottingham that has become something of a sacred cow in people’s memories is the Black Boy Hotel, which was demolished in 1970. Anyone wishing to raise the ire of Nottinghamians of a certain age simply has to post an image of the Black Boy online and the same old comments are guaranteed to pour forth. ‘It’s absolutely disgusting that it was demolished‘…’It was vandalism‘…’They should have been strung up‘…’Nottingham used to be such a lovely place‘…etc., etc., ad nauseam.

The Black Boy was rebuilt and enlarged in the late nineteenth century to designs by Watson Fothergill (or Fothergill Watson as he was known when he first became involved with the site). At the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, it had 90 bedrooms. It appears to have had a certain amount of glamour attached to it, because there are records of the likes of film stars and touring cricket teams staying there. How they managed to sleep while Little John was bonging away in the background is a mystery to me.

The site on which the Black Boy stood formed part of the estate of Samuel Brunts of Mansfield, who left bequests to benefit various groups of people in and around his home town. Amongst other things, this led to the foundation of a school whose present day incarnation is The Brunts Academy. Littlewoods acquired the lease of the Black Boy site in the early 1960s and later gained permission to demolish the hotel.

I’m not old enough to have any memories of the Black Boy Hotel. I would have been around four years old when it was demolished. I’m pretty sure my dad would have had some tales to tell (he seemed to have some personal knowledge of most Nottingham places), but sadly he passed away last year. I miss being able to ask him about these things. But what I really want to say is that, regardless of my feelings about whether or not I would like the Black Boy Hotel to still be standing, I’m not really best placed to say whether it should be or not.

The late 1960s/early 1970s were, unsurprisingly, a very different time in Nottingham and many other cities. The front cover of a City of Nottingham Official Handbook c.1970 features an illustration that incorporates, amongst other things, the Broad Marsh shopping centre, the Victoria Centre flats, the Horizon Factory, a flyover and some tower blocks. This was the future. But a moribund hotel in a style of architecture that was less valued than it is today? Not so much. Remember that, incredible as it seems to us now, the magnificent St Pancras came close to being demolished in the 1960s.

Even setting all of this aside, my personal opinion is that the Black Boy Hotel isn’t one of Watson Fothergill’s finest moments. Now, hold back that knee-jerk reaction for a moment, have a look at some old photographs of the hotel and formulate your own opinion rather than simply allowing the idea of the Black Boy to become a convenient repository for thoughts about everything that is wrong with the city (or even the world) today and everything good that we have lost. The frontage was actually a bit of a mess, if truth be told, and even, arguably, somewhat incongruous by the 1960s, given some of its more contemporary surroundings.

That said, one of the reasons I love Nottingham city centre is because it’s a fascinating patchwork quilt of buildings from different eras, but that patchwork quilt, with all of the many and varied experiences that it offers, would never have been possible if the city had failed to adapt over time.

If the Black Boy Hotel was still in existence today, I dare say that I would nip in for the occasional pint or meal, purely to soak up the history, and inevitably I would make new memories as a result of that. But actually, I have fond memories of its immediate successor, Littlewoods – mainly from meals that I had in the restaurant there, but also because places like Littlewoods, C&A, British Home Stores and the like were a fundamental part of the experience of growing up in the 1970s, before they, too, eventually became anachronistic and were replaced by businesses such as Primark, the present occupant of the site . And incidentally, let’s not kid ourselves, no matter how sniffy we might be about Primark, its popularity speaks for itself. You might not like it, but there are plenty of people out there who do, and if there was ever a referendum that offered a choice between retaining a branch of Primark in Nottingham and rebuilding the Black Boy Hotel, I suspect that the former option would emerge victorious.

How often did people passing the Black Boy Hotel back in the day actually pause to look up and take in its supposed splendour? How many people in the city centre these days take the time to look up at the splendour of the many old buildings that are still in existence? Actually, it’s even worse than that. Whenever I stand looking up at a building, a lot of people either look at me as if I’ve lost my senses or glare at me for being in the way. As for taking photographs – well, if you want people to be suspicious of you, that’s an easy way to accomplish it.

The frontage of the building that replaced the Black Boy isn’t ugly, it’s just bland. Functional. Unassuming.

A city centre isn’t a museum – it’s a living organism.

Although it will be scant consolation for some, there are still ways in which we can connect with the memory of the Black Boy. Memorabilia occasionally appear on sites such as ebay, stone lions from the hotel’s tower can be seen in the Castle grounds and a statue of Samuel Brunts that was on the frontage of the hotel is now at the Brunts Academy. A Nottingham Post article from 2017, meanwhile, states that, ‘The small statue of a black boy, in the foyer of the hotel, was also saved, but a similar statue of a black girl appears to have been lost…‘ The current whereabouts of the statue of the black boy are unclear.

In 2011, a plaque was placed on the site formerly occupied by the hotel.

Brunts Academy was kind enough to let me inspect the Samuel Brunts statue recently. It’s in reasonable condition, considering everything that it’s been through, though part of one of its hands is missing. It was great to be able to experience this close-up encounter with the past. It’s a shame, in a way, that the statue couldn’t be restored and placed in the city centre, but its current location is entirely appropriate.

The last paragraph of an information board above the statue reads, ‘This statue, a replica of the one on Brunts Charity Buildings on Leeming Street, was formerly on the front of the Black Boy Hotel in Nottingham’s City Market Square where Littlewood’s shop stands today.‘ As I walked back into Mansfield town centre, I was able to locate the other statue referred to, which can be seen at the junction of Leeming Street and Toothill Lane on the building in which the Brunts Charity is still based.

Who knows what other weird and wonderful Black Boy Hotel-related artefacts may yet resurface.

The life of this unique hotel remains an important part of Nottingham’s history, but it also seems to act as a powerful lightning rod for our anxieties about lost years, lost innocence and changes yet to come.

Time, perhaps, for acceptance.

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 (

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:

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: )

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

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

Selected Sources:

‘A curious structure’ – Geoffrey Oldfield – Issue 4 (Nov-Dec 1978) of Nottingham Quarterly (General Editor: John Sheffield), pp. 14-16 (

‘Skatepark ‘flattened’ without notice’ – Claire Carter, Nottingham Evening Post, November 2009 (

‘Thieves steal historical Nottingham busts no one wants’ – BBC News, January 2010 (

‘From Slums to Skate Parks to Shopping: The History of the Broadmarsh’ – Dan O’Neill, Left Lion, June 2020 ( – Twitter: @danoneill87

(The Burton pillar can be seen in a video featuring some dizzying BMX stunts at

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 – (accessed 20/02/21)
Nottingham Journal, Saturday 20 August 1921 (via
Nottingham Evening Post, Saturday 20 August 1921 (via
Nottingham Journal, Tuesday 23 August 1921 (via
The Bioscope, 25 August 1921 (via

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