Sunday 29 October 2023

'What's a typewriter, grandad?'

I spotted this advert in an edition of the Nottingham Official Handbook that was published c. 1949.

Many younger people will not 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.

I decided 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.'

Over 500 people were employed at the Basford works at the beginning of the 1950s.

The company became known as Byron Business Machines in 1953 and had a somewhat convoluted history thereafter, in various guises.

The Basford factory is long gone, but it is recalled in the name of Barlock Road, which runs between Arnold Road and Valley Road.

A circa late 1930s OS map showing the location of the typewriter works, overlaid on the present-day street pattern (source: Nottinghamshire Insight Mapping)

Detail from a 1936 image, showing, in the centre, the Bar-Lock works, facing onto Barlock Road (source: Britain from Above)

View from Barlock Road looking towards where the frontage of the factory used to be

View towards the former location of the factory, taken from a position to the north of where it once stood

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Past Glories

Player's Horizon factory, August 2018

[An earlier version of this piece appeared online in 2018]

The now vanished Player's Horizon cigarette factory on Lenton Industrial Estate had its official opening on 1 November 1972, accompanied by much fanfare, including the performance of a specially-commissioned orchestral piece called Horizon Overture by Joseph Horovitz.

At the time of the official opening, over 1,100 people worked at Horizon, with a projection that over 2,000 would be employed there a year later.

The huge factory won awards for its architecture, with one set of award judges noting that it made a 'noble addition to the industrial area of Nottingham'. However, aesthetically speaking, it had as many enemies as friends, and the managing director of property agent Innes England once referred to it as 'probably the ugliest building in Nottingham'. For my part, I thought it was a hugely impressive and - certainly from the point of view of Nottingham's industrial and social history - important building.

Following the cessation of cigarette production at Horizon in 2016, hard-nosed commercial considerations won the day. The site was decommissioned in 2018, listed status proved elusive and demolition of the factory was complete by the end of 2019. Quite remarkable given that when, in 2012, the Nottingham Post produced a special edition of its Bygones publication to mark Horizon's 40th anniversary, it noted that it produced 'around 50 per cent of the UK market and 120 million cigarettes a day, generating billions in tax revenue for the Exchequer' (along with, presumably, a not-insubstantial contribution to the woes of the NHS).

Horizon during demolition, December 2018
(enhanced photograph)

As of late 2023, the site is home to PowerPark - a speculative development of six warehouse units, all of which lie empty.

That's progress for you.

But let's rewind to happier times.

In the early 1970s, Player's, as part of the Imperial Tobacco Group, sponsored all manner of sporting and cultural events, but the real big-hitter was that epitome of glamour and excitement, Formula One.

Having originally become involved with motor racing in the late 1960s, Player's most successful promotional vehicles (excuse the pun) were the iconic John Player Special (or JPS)-liveried cars that plied their trade around the grand prix circuits of the world in the 1970s and 1980s in the hands of such renowned drivers as Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna.

When the Horizon factory opened, mutton-chopped Fittipaldi, from Brazil, having made his F1 debut in 1970, was the reigning world champion (the youngest to have achieved the distinction at that time), having beaten Jackie Stewart into second place over the course of 12 races between 23 January and 8 October 1972.

On 18 and 19 December 1972, Fittipaldi - presumably still basking in the glory of his championship victory whilst also having one eye on the upcoming 1973 season (due to start on 28 January) - paid a visit to Nottingham as a guest of Player's, accompanied on the first day by his wife, Maria Helena, and the Team Lotus F1 Competitions Manager, Peter Warr (later to become Lotus team manager following the death of Colin Chapman).

Peter Warr, Maria Helena Fittpaldi and Emerson Fittipaldi at the Player's medical department in Nottingham in December 1972 (source: Player's Post, 10 January 1973)

'Get your coats...'
Emerson meets some Player's marketing girls
(source: Player's Post, 10 January 1973)

An itinerary was prepared, including tours of the Player's factories, and the Guardian Journal reported in an article in its 18 December edition that, 'A specially cleared running track round the [Horizon] factory will be laid out for the young Brazilian to show off to employees the car which helped to make him the youngest ever world champion.' The article went on to say that, ' is hoped that 26-year-old Fittipaldi will top 100 m.p.h. for the benefit of the watching employees.'

In spite of foggy weather, the demonstration drive took place as planned. The in-house staff newspaper Player's Post reported afterwards that Fittipaldi thought he had reached 100 mph, and also noted that he had 'spun off for the first and only time in 1972.' Fittipaldi joked, 'I think we have the John Player Grand Prix here next year.' It must have been a thrilling sight for those lucky enough to have been in attendance. Assistant managing director Geoffrey Kent gained further bragging rights by having the Fittipaldis stay over at his house in Gonalston.

Emerson Fittipaldi about to set off on his Horizon demonstration drive (source: Guardian Journal, 19 December 1972)

Fittipaldi's teammate for the following season was to be Swede Ronnie Peterson, who Fittipaldi thought would be 'very competitive'. These words were to prove prophetic, as Peterson finished the 1973 season only three points behind Fittipaldi, having won four grand prix to Fittipaldi's three. Both, though, were eclipsed by Jackie Stewart, who claimed the last of his three Formula One championship titles.

Fittipaldi won the Formula One world championship once more, with McLaren in 1974, before finally hanging up his F1 driving boots in 1980 to go racing in America. His marriage to Maria Helena ended in the early 1980s. Ronnie Peterson died following an accident at the 1978 Italian grand prix, while Peter Warr stayed with Lotus until 1989 and died in 2010.

It is said that, on quiet nights, on the site where Horizon once stood, the distant growl of a Ford Cosworth V8 F1 engine can sometimes be heard.

A place never forgets.

PowerPark, on the former site of Horizon, October 2023

Saturday 14 October 2023

Shop Talk

I leave the office with a spring in my step. The weather is unseasonably good and mushy peas are in the offing at Goose Fair later on. In the meantime, I have decided to make my way homeward via a route that pays homage to the local history of one of the country's great retail survivors - W H Smith.

Nottingham Midland railway station - site of Nottingham's first W H Smith bookstall - seems an appropriate place to start my W H Smith safari. The most recent branch here, situated in the main booking hall, closed a few years ago and is now a ticket office, which is itself under threat of closure.

21st century life takes no prisoners.

Anyone hoping to let the train take the strain today is out of luck. Due to industrial action, there are no services running. To add insult to injury, BBC News tells me that those annoying Conservatives have just announced the axing of the Manchester leg of the HS2 high-speed railway.

Carrington Street, though, is on its uppers, and there are books aplenty in evidence as I pass by the new Central Library. It's scheduled to open 'towards the end of this year'. Fingers crossed. It's been a while.

The newly liberated walking route between Carrington Street and Lister Gate has yet to lose its novelty and leads me to 38 Lister Gate - occupied most recently by a frequently deserted W H Smith store which closed in 2021.

Lister Gate will reawaken in time. For now, there's a decent amount of human activity as I make my way up its tree-lined slope.

Smith's can trace its origins back to 1792, when Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna opened a news shop in London. Henry died a few months later, but the business carried on, and first became known as W H Smith in 1828, after Henry and Anna's son William Henry had become its driving force. It became a public company in 1949.

W H Smith's website claims that it was the first retail chain in the world. That's as maybe, but with more than 1,700 stores in over 30 countries, it is certainly refusing to go away quietly.

38 Lister Gate wasn't the first W H Smith store hereabouts. Many will remember the huge premises at nos. 14-16 (currently occupied by New Look), which opened in 1977. According to a newspaper report from that year, the store had, at the time of its opening, 124 full and part-time staff, which seems incredible given that there rarely seemed to be more than one or two in evidence at no. 38.

I proceed from Lister Gate into Albert Street, and from there onto Wheeler Gate. The predecessor of 14-16 Lister Gate opened here in 1969 at nos. 6-10 (currently a somewhat ramshackle branch of Poundland). It was said at the time to have the largest individual departments of any W H Smith store.

Source: Guardian Journal, 5 September 1969

I was interested to read somewhere that this branch had a 'water feature' at the top of its escalators. A little research revealed this to have been an 'animated rain feature' called the Wonderfall.

Source: Guardian Journal, 5 September 1969

Leaving the glory days of W H Smith in Nottingham behind, I start to make my way towards the top end of the city centre.

The Market Square is vibrant, but Clumber Street is the undisputed king of hustle and bustle. Chuggers are chugging, buskers are busking, beggars are begging, everyone is getting in the way of everyone else, and delivery cyclists are weaving annoyingly (but impressively) through the assembled throng. Not a place to dawdle.

After I've negotiated the most suicidally-jaywalked pedestrian crossing in Nottingham, an amble along Milton Street brings me to the clock tower, which links back to another former W H Smith presence in the city - its stall at Nottingham Victoria railway station.

There's one more port of call on this whistle-stop tour, and to make it, I must enter the Fourth Circle of Hell - otherwise known as the Victoria Centre.

An Evening Post Victoria Centre Supplement dated 15 March 1973 mentions W H Smith's 'superb new shop at 124-126 Victoria Centre, Nottingham'. Superb is not a description I would use today, but I dare say it may have been worthy (or seemed so) of such an epithet at the time.

I wander inside and purchase the latest issue of my favourite magazine.

Old habits die hard.

Sunday 1 October 2023

Victoria and Nottingham

 [This is a revised and updated version of an article that was distributed to members of Nottingham Civic Society in February 2022]

Nottingham's Queen Victoria statue in the Market Square during Goose Fair
(author's collection)

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 went 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 [light meal] 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), 1/4

Queen Victoria's visit to Nottingham (Illustrated London News, 9 December 1843), 2/4

Queen Victoria's visit to Nottingham (Illustrated London News, 9 December 1843), 3/4

Queen Victoria's visit to Nottingham (Illustrated London News, 9 December 1843), 4/4

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 noted 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.

Albert Toft (author's collection)

The Express report included 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 was 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, 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 map (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, and a number of market traders were displaced.

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.' Commemorative issues of the Nottingham Daily Express 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 the 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, ' 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), 1/2

The Queen Victoria statue immediately after its unveiling
(author's collection), 2/2

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. In his 1924 novel Sails of Sunset, Nottingham author and journalist Cecil Roberts wrote, '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...'

(Author's collection)

(Author's collection)

(Author's collection)

(Author's collection)

The 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.'

The statue was listed at Grade II on 12 July 1972, but time took its toll, and by early 2022 it was in a tired condition, with the sceptre no longer present.

The Queen Victoria statue in January 2022

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

All was not lost, however. A week before the Prime Minister announced the UK's first Covid lockdown in March 2020, it had been 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.

Covid failed to derail the project, and in October 2022, with the works to the pond and gardens nearing completion, the restored statue was unveiled, complete with sceptre.

The restored Queen Victoria statue in September 2023

The pond at the Victoria Embankment Memorial Gardens,
with the restored Queen Victoria statue in the centre background,
September 2023

The restored Queen Victoria statue in September 2023

Nottingham City Council can be proud of its work in making sure that this important site is looked after and receives the attention that it deserves.

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

Sunday 24 September 2023

Developing Situation

An interest in the history of a local building can give rise to a great deal of frustration if, as part of that interest, one develops a desire to see what lies within, but it transpires that the interior is inaccessible. This frustration is particularly acute if it proves impossible to find any photographs of said interior.

A site that had eluded me until recently - a holy grail of Nottingham cinema interiors, if you will - was the cinema on Long Row that opened as The Picture House in November 1912 and closed in January 1930. I was confident that original features would still be in evidence, because the building that contained the cinema (33 Long Row) was listed in 1990 and the listing detailed a number of surviving features.

Particularly exciting were the following two sentences:

'To the rear of the site is the former auditorium of the Picture Palace [sic] Cinema, 1912, floored in at a later date. This retains its segment-arched moulded plaster ceiling and over the proscenium arch, a plaster relief of galleons.'

Detail from Ordnance Survey map
showing the location of the Long Row Picture House
(1913 revision, published 1915)

An Evening Post article from October 1912, anticipating the cinema's imminent opening, provides details of its layout and features:

'A vestibule or lounge stretches for a distance of 120 feet from the front to the entrance of the picture theatre, and from this lounge access is obtained also to the oak café in the basement and to the dainty Wedgewood café, and a second oak café on the first and second floors respectively. The decorative features of the lounge are Jacobean, and it is not only fitted with pay box, cloak-rooms, and offices, but will serve as a covered waiting place for visitors who are unable to obtain seats until patrons who preceded them have had their share of the "continuous entertainment." The cafés, it may perhaps be explained, are intended for the service of teas and light refreshments, and contain facilities for reading and writing...The picture theatre designed to accommodate about 600, and is both comfortable and picturesque. The general style of architecture may be roughly described as Renaissance...the quite handsomely furnished with substantial oak panellings on the walls all round...Two groups of tip-up seats are provided on the ground floor...a balcony has been erected with rather more luxurious seating, and four side bays, which are to be furnished with lounges...A particularly striking plaster ceiling and some artistic figures form a great feature of the decorations...a double orchestra is already engaged.'

The proprietors were clearly aiming to attract a higher class of patron, and the Post was of the opinion that, '...internally...there is no more picturesque hall of entertainment in the city'.

Michael Payne, in his book Going to the Pictures: A Short History of Cinema in Nottingham, states that 'Throughout the era of silent films, the Long Row Picture House together with the Elite were the leading cinemas in Nottingham.'

1,500-seat super cinema The Elite, which had opened in 1921, began showing 'talkies' in 1929 and seemed to have a prosperous future ahead of it. For the Picture House, however, all good things were to come to an end somewhat sooner than anticipated.

By the end of 1927, its owners, Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT), had purchased the much larger Hippodrome Theatre on Goldsmith Street, revamped it and re-opened it as a cinema (it later became the Gaumont). Sound was installed there just after the Elite in 1929, but it seems that this was deemed uneconomic at the Picture House, which closed on 4 January 1930. The seating and equipment was quickly removed and sent to other PCT cinemas.

The Evening Post shed a little light on the matter by reporting, shortly before the Picture House's closure, on a meeting of the Notts. and Derbyshire branch of the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association, at which a Mr Joseph Pollard had opined that 'this was yet another outcome of the "talkie" menace, since the Long-row theatre was too small to justify its being wired for talking pictures.'

Mr Pollard also 'held the opinion that, sooner or later, the popularity of "talkies" would wane, as soon as the novelty had exhausted itself...He contended that the theme of talking films was very much restricted, and no "talkie" could ever be produced against such a spectacular background as some of the very successful silent films.'

We all know how that played out.

The Picture House premises were subsequently taken over by Lyons and there have been various layouts and occupants in the years since. Most parts of the building, including the former auditorium, have, however, been empty for over a decade. The ground floor space that fronts onto the Old Market Square seems now to be separate from the rest of the building and is currently occupied by Coral.

33 Long Row, former home of The Picture House

While walking along Norfolk Place between Upper Parliament Street and the Market Square recently, I noticed some scaffolding on the exterior of what I knew to be the former Picture House auditorium, and an open door leading to a set of stairs.

I didn't have to think twice. Bounding up the steps before anyone could shout, 'Oi, you!', I emerged into an open space, and, glory of glories, there it was - the former cinema auditorium...not in the best of shape, it has to be said, and, it transpired, in the process of being converted into flats, but still... a dream realised.

I quickly took several photos with my mobile phone camera before, as if by magic, a chap in a hard hat and hi-vis jacket appeared. Our brief conversation went as follows:

'Hi. I'm a local historian and I'm interested in former cinema buildings. I wonder if I can speak to someone about having a look around, please.'

'Are you one of them that's making us keep all this?'

'Erm, no.'

'Hang on, I'll get the Site Manager.'

Reader, to cut a long story short, I persevered over a number of days in my attempts to gain permission to have a proper look around, even investing in some PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), but I was led on a merry dance with no resolution, so finally, I gave up, comforted by the knowledge that I had, at least, spent a few minutes in the hallowed space.

The planning documents for what, in its final form, looks like an elegant conversion include a deliciously detailed Heritage Impact Assessment document and can be viewed on the Nottingham City Council website (go to, type in the reference 22/02420/PFUL3 and choose the second result). During the application process, the Civic Society and Nottingham City Council's Conservation Officer questioned some aspects of the plans, and this led to the submission of a revised application (the one referenced above). In particular, it is great news that the plaster ceiling and proscenium arch features referred to in the Historic England listing will remain visible and in communal space, though only partly in the case of the ceiling.

Here's to all those individuals who keep developers in check and help to ensure that at least some of 'all this' lives to tell the tale.

The former Picture House auditorium
(view south towards the proscenium arch)
(author photo)

The plaster relief above the proscenium arch
(image sourced from the Heritage Impact Assessment document
and edited to highlight the feature)
(click to enlarge)

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Two's Company

A 1980s postcard of Victory Square in Minsk
(source: eBay listing)

I've been sitting here trying to think what I know about Minsk. As it turns out, the sum total of my knowledge of Minsk is zero. Also, every time I think of its name, I think of minxes, which is not helpful. Internet to the rescue...

Minsk is the capital of Belarus, which is bordered by Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Russia, and has close links with the latter. Prior to its independence in 1991, Belarus was one of the fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics.

Minsk sounds like one of those very cold places where you have to wear a furry hat most months of the year. A quick check reveals that the average temperature HIGHS for November, December, January, February and March are 3, -1, -3, -1 and 4 respectively. Brrr.

Until 2022, Minsk was one of Nottingham's twin cities. However, when those pesky Russians invaded Ukraine, Nottingham City Council acted quickly to end the arrangement, along with that between Nottingham and Krasnodar in Russia. The Minsk Twin City Administration Department (should such an entity exist) may not be shut down just yet, though, as Minsk is twinned with quite a few other places, including seven cities in Russia and four in China.

Nottingham's links with Minsk were formalised in 1966, when the respective councils signed an agreement to exchange information and exhibitions and to encourage communication between other institutions of the two cities. This arrangement had its origins in the establishment of the Minsk branch of the USSR-Great Britain Friendship Society in 1961. Communications were suspended between 1980 and 1984, but resumed following the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader.

As of January 2021, Minx, sorry, Minsk, had a population of 2 million, as compared to the City of Nottingham's total of around 324,000 in the same year.

On 16 October 1989, part way through the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc, and just weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Nottingham Evening Post published the first in a series of articles called 'Breaking Down the Barriers' - 'Tales of the Twin Cities Nottingham and Minsk'. These articles were the result of a reporter 'exchange' between the Evening Post and the Novosti Press Agency. The Post's reporter, Lynne Curry, travelled to Minsk, while Minsk's representative, Vyacheslav Khodosovsky, visited Nottingham.

Curry doesn't mince her words when describing Minsk as it was at that time. She speaks of 'hostile, grey and depressing' high-rises and of '...the apathy caused by the onerous, suffocating, bureaucratic political machine that preceded Gorbachev'. No doubt there were many privations and little freedom, and the mood of the moment must be taken into account, but even so, the message is laid on a little thickly:

'For the first time in decades of dull, dull lives, there is the small but penetrating light of liberty. Liberty to speak freely. Liberty to admit that there are weeds among the paving slabs, prostitutes in the streets. That the USSR is not necessarily one step below heaven... Their lives have been goal-less, grey places; lacking incentive. No fun. No glamour.'

Khodosovsky is, conversely, gentle and generous. He describes Nottingham as a 'truly beautiful city; where ancient architecture and flowering parks compete with the richness of its museums, where every stone breathes romantic legends and traditions honoured even to this day.'

His comments on Maid Marian Way are thought-provoking indeed: 'I was shown the street...which locals call the ugliest highway in Europe. I found difficulty in understanding this judgement, however, as from my eyes I saw a quite lovely street where contemporary buildings harmonise with the old quarters.'

He visits Newstead Abbey (where he is delighted to discover a tree planted by members of a delegation from Minsk), notes that ' agreement has been reached for souvenirs from Minsk to be sold in Nottingham' and tells us how, 'At a family supper to which I was invited, the hostess (to the applause of the gathering) brought out a steak and kidney pie decorated with a hammer and sickle. I have the impression that peristroika has a sweet taste to the English. How I wished at that moment it would not be replaced with the bitter taste of disappointment.'

Minsk continued to feature in the local news over the next few years.

The Evening Post of 30 May 1992 contained an appeal from Chernobyl Children's Lifeline (which still exists today, in expanded form) for Nottingham families to host children who had been relocated from Chernobyl to Minsk, for 'month-long holidays'. Chairman Victor Mizzi was keen to point out that, 'The children are very easy to look after and language is not a problem...But it's sad to say some have never seen sweets, ice cream or milk. They are amazed at our shops and love our way of life.'

An article later that same year refers to 'Nottingham's five-year-plan to provide aid to the victims of the Chernobyl disaster', with a charity, Open Hands, detailing its aims to visit Minsk to distribute medicines and food, to organise an exchange of doctors and nurses between the two cities and to 'either build holiday homes for the children in a safe haven, or to build part of a hospital named the Nottingham Wing.'

In the previous month, images by photographers from Nottingham, Minsk and Karlsruhe (another of Nottingham's twin cities) had gone on display at Nottingham Playhouse in the Twinned Cities International Exhibition, which marked the centenary year of the Nottingham and Notts Photographic Society. The exhibition consisted of forty prints from each city.

Sadly, in more recent times, with Russia turning once more towards authoritarianism, relations between Nottingham and Minsk seem to have faltered, before last year's events finally brought them to a grinding halt.

Let us hope that these links of friendship will be restored and rejuvenated at some point in the future, because it would be a shame not to be able to build on what seems to have been a beneficial relationship for both cities, demonstrating, for once, a more positive side to humanity.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Great Apes

You'll recognise young Charlie the Chimp, of course, and I can confirm that Nottingham's most beloved swinger is alive and well and currently residing in the Nottingham City Museums and Galleries (NCMG) stores in Whitemoor, where I encountered him on a recent Heritage Open Days tour.

Charlie, in his several incarnations, saw action in at least two, possibly three, Gordon Scott locations in Nottingham. The shoe retailer originally opened in Friar Lane in the 1960s before moving to the Broadmarsh Centre in the 1970s and Lister Gate in 2011. The Charlie shown in the photo above is thought to have been manufactured between 1970 and 1977 and was acquired by NCMG in 2014 after he had been displaced by a fire retardant interloper whose present whereabouts are unknown.

It turns out that Charlie had a few relatives dotted around the country. A Solihull Charlie also retired in 2014 and was replaced by Gordon, who chose to identify as a monkey. Watford's simian trapeze artists were, in turn, Alfie ('the Ape', just to muddy the waters still further), Charlie and Champ, while the Northampton store was home to another Alfie and yet another Charlie, thus demonstrating that our furry friends do not have much imagination when it comes to naming their offspring.

The stores at the above locations closed their doors for the final time in 2017. Gordon Scott appears to have had a small number of other branches (in London, for example), but it is not known if they, too, joined in the acrobatic fun.

The Broadmarsh Centre in the 1970s
(Gordon Scott can be seen on the upper level)
Image from Broad Marsh Topic, 1974
(a special edition of the defunct Nottingham Topic magazine)