The Nottingham and Beyond Interview

January 2022 – Lucy Brouwer

In the words of her Eventbrite bio, Lucy Brouwer is a ‘writer, researcher and art historian who revels in bringing fresh eyes to the familiar.’ An admirable mission indeed.

One of Lucy’s main endeavours is the Watson Fothergill Walk – a guided walk based around the distinctive city centre buildings of revered Victorian architect Watson Fothergill. Watson Fothergill’s buildings are an essential part of Nottingham’s unique character, and every self-respecting, cultured person with an interest in all things Nottingham (i.e. readers of this page) should avail themselves of the opportunity to learn more about those buildings in Lucy’s excellent company. The walks will be resuming in spring 2022, and more details are available at https://watsonfothergillwalk.com/. Be sure to check out Lucy’s Watson Fothergill Walk blog, too (it’s on the same site).

Lucy kindly agreed to answer some questions for the inaugural Nottingham and Beyond Interview…


Hi Lucy. Thanks for agreeing to be quizzed. Watson Fothergill has obviously become something of a focus for you, albeit mainly in terms of the buildings that he designed. The biographer Richard Holmes talks of biography as ‘…a kind of pursuit, a tracking of the physical trail of someone’s path through the past, a following of footsteps. You would never catch them; no, you would never quite catch them. But maybe, if you were lucky, you might write about the pursuit of that fleeting figure in such a way as to bring it alive in the present.’ How interested are you in Watson Fothergill the man, as opposed to his work, and to what extent have you been able to gain an impression of the sort of person that he was?

I’d say the more I find out, the more interested I become. From descriptions of Fothergill the man and fragments of his own notes, there is a sense of a quite serious, strict, in some ways religious, rather constrained person but I sometimes get the feeling from the buildings and the fact that he was a very serious collector of art and objects who took a lot of time off to go to cricket matches, that he had other sides to his character. He’s rather obsessed with the prices of things, certainly rather self-aggrandising and typically for his time, inhibited by his position in society. I’m interested in how this affected his children (and his wife who never seems to get a mention) and people who worked for him.

Of all the Watson Fothergill buildings that still exist, I’m probably most fond of what was originally the Woodborough Road Baptist Church, and of the buildings that have been lost, the one I’d most like to bring back is St Nicholas’ Rectory. Do you have any particular favourites yourself?

Queen’s Chambers always gets my attention. It’s so bold and full of little flourishes but there it is, right in the centre of town hiding in plain sight. I like catching people noticing it (“oh look there’s a little castle on that building”). Going inside the George Street office was pretty special, there were lots of details that had been preserved (or in some cases added by various owners).

The elephant in the room is the Black Boy Hotel, which is always guaranteed to generate plenty of comments whenever it’s mentioned in these parts. For a building that comes up in conversation so often in the present day, we seem to have surprisingly little information about it. The loss of historic buildings is always regrettable, but personally I’m not convinced that this was as big a loss to the city as people make it out to be. What’s your take on this?

I think because it was a landmark and a meeting place, it was a building that people were more aware of than some of the others. In architectural terms, it was a bit of a mish-mash, a building that was built and rebuilt over several years to cope with expansion and demolition. I don’t think there was a grand design and I don’t think it would have been easy to modernise it and carry on using it as a hotel into the 1970s. Nottingham isn’t really big enough to have other hotels on that scale (it has pubs instead) so it left a bit of a hole, culturally at least. The starkness of the building that replaced it is such a contrast, but you have to remember that in the jet age 1960s, Victorian buildings were monstrous anachronisms, Gothic was severely out of fashion. And it would have been blackened by coal smoke and acid rain. Having said that, Fothergill’s reputation got a bit of a boost and I think the publicity around the demolition meant that he wasn’t entirely forgotten in the city and subsequently a lot of the other buildings (including the ones on my tour) achieved listed status.

I loved reading about your exploration of Queen’s Chambers1. Is there a particular Fothergill building that you’d love to see inside, but haven’t yet been able to gain access to?

I’d like to have a proper look inside the Nottingham and Notts Bank on Thurland Street. It does seem to have a lot of original elements, but there was originally a residence inside as well. Various people who used to work there have been on my Watson Fothergill Walk tour and they couldn’t explain the layout, so I’d like to have a raunge round without the store detectives getting on my case…

I’m extremely envious of your Black Boy Hotel cup and saucer. I’ve only managed a used matchbook so far. Do you have any other Watson Fothergill memorabilia that you can tell us about?

I’ve got a BBH teaspoon as well! The best things I’ve found were lithographs of drawings by Fothergill’s Chief Assistant Lawrence George Summers. There’s a Gothic Town Hall and a Church, neither of which were built, they were his projects at Nottingham School of Art. He was top of his class and won the National Silver Medal. They’re pages from The Building News magazine. I’m intrigued by Summers, as he was much less heralded than his boss, but as far as I can tell he was equally, or perhaps even more, talented as a draftsman and designer. The town hall design is spectacular – it was just a notion, but it would have made Nottingham look like Bruges!

I know of two books that have concerned themselves with Watson Fothergill and his work. They are: Fothergill – A Catalogue of the Works of Watson Fothergill, Architect, by Darren Turner, and Watson Fothergill: Architect, by Ken Brand. Would you be interested in publishing something on the subject yourself at some point? Perhaps Lamar Francois, who I believe you have worked with before, could provide the photography.

Darren Turner’s book has been completely indispensable but I really wish it had an index! I think doing the subject justice with a book would be a huge amount of work – but I read a lot of biographies of architects (Rosemary Hill’s God’s Architect about AWN Pugin is a particular cracker) and I think Fothergill is singular enough to warrant an in-depth look at both his life and work. I really like Lamar’s work – he took photos for my website – and if he was up for it, it would be great to record Fothergill’s buildings in an interesting way. Maybe we could crowdfund it?

You’ve conducted tours based on other subject matter, such as Thomas Chambers Hine and the Lace Market. Do you have any ideas for subjects for tours that you might develop in the future?

I’ve got the makings of a walk round The Park Estate waiting for me to make sense of them. I just need time and a spark to pull the story together. There is a lot more than architecture to cover when talking about The Park and it’s a challenge to tell an interesting story and make a walkable route at the same time. A lot of research goes into making it look like I know what I’m talking about!

Many different forms of architecture are represented in Nottingham city centre. Do you have a favourite style, and any favourite buildings other than those by Watson Fothergill?

Nottingham has got some Art Deco gems from the 1930s. The Council House and Home Brewery by Howitt always stand out, even though in architectural terms they’re a bit kitsch. I’ve got a soft spot for Nottingham Contemporary as my brother works there. It’s such a bold statement and it really serves its purpose. Buildings need to work with what goes on inside them and NC answers its brief. It’s almost as remarkable as Bilbao or New York’s Guggenheim were in their moment. I’m not so keen on all that brown cladding they’re putting up on the Broadmarsh site though, I don’t think it will age well…

I know that you’re a big music fan – Radiohead in particular, it seems. I’ve just invested in a turntable (or whatever the correct term is these days) and am looking forward to listening to vinyl in my own home for the first time in many years. Why should I listen to Radiohead, and what album of theirs would you recommend I start with?

Feels like another life at the moment! Where to start depends on whether you like guitars! If you’re a total beginner, start in the middle with OK Computer and work your way to the edges – The Bends means a lot to me, but so do Kid A and Amnesiac. Actually, In Rainbows probably gives you a bit of all the different sides of Radiohead in one record. As for Why… well I think you should listen to everything with an open mind and it might surprise you, Radiohead can often be a lot funnier than people give them credit for.

You lived in the Mansfield area when you were younger, but managed to escape (I achieved the same feat, albeit a little later in life). Other than the Watson Fothergill connections, does Mansfield have any redeeming features, in your eyes?

I’ve also managed to end up back here! I live outside of town, so for me, the fields and the wildlife are a big bonus to not living in the centre of town. Mansfield has a fantastic viaduct –  it’s enormous and the view from the train is always impressive as it passes over!

You’re also an art historian and art lover. Are there any paintings, artists or movements that you are particularly fond of?

I come back to Caravaggio and Manet a lot but I’m probably as interested in the artists’ stories as much as the art. I’m also interested in people who made art happen, like William Morris, not so much his designs but the conditions he created for artists to produce work. I like all sorts though, Pop Art, graphic stuff – railway poster art and more conceptual work by Cornelia Parker and Jeremy Deller (probably because there’s often a joke in there somewhere). I saw a big Paul Nash exhibition a few years ago and that has really stayed with me.

Finally, imagine that you are in charge of deciding what will take the place of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. What would your vision be?

A load of mixed, affordable, environmentally considerate, well-built housing with green space that might go some way to ease the awful situation where so many people end up sleeping on the streets or living in rotten rented accommodation! A safe home is a human right. I know, it’s a crazy dream!

1 https://watsonfothergillwalk.com/2021/08/25/inside-queens-chambers/


You can find out more about Lucy and her walks by clicking on the following links:

https://watsonfothergillwalk.com/

https://thelucybrouwer.com/

https://twitter.com/notrock

https://www.facebook.com/WatsonFothergillWalk

https://www.instagram.com/watsonfothergillwalk/

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186356-d19888050-Reviews-Watson_Fothergill_Walk-Nottingham_Nottinghamshire_England.html

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/lucy-brouwer-17382656768