Category Archives: Victorian Architecture

Providential curry

Former Providence Place Congregational Chapel, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

Former Providence Place Congregational Chapel, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

When my curry-loving mate Richard and I go to Bradford to meet my friend Mohammed he usually takes us to one of the many curry houses in inner-city Bradford, but on our last meeting we set off on a mystery tour to Cleckheaton.

Our destination was Aakash, which claims to be the largest curry house in the world.

It occupies the former Providence Place Congregational Chapel of 1857-1859, a gigantic temple of nonconformity designed by the prestigious Bradford practice of Henry Francis Lockwood and William Mawson, who built much that is fine in the Bradford area in the mid-nineteenth century including St George’s Hall (1851-52), the Wool Exchange (1864-7), the City Hall (1869-73), and almost every building in Saltaire (1851-76).

Providence Chapel cost about £9,000, an impressive sum that sounds considerable until it’s compared with the £16,000 that Sir Titus Salt spent on the Congregational Church in Saltaire.  At the time you could get a modest but respectable Gothic parish church for around £4,000.

For their money, Cleckheaton Congregationalists were given seating for 1,500 and a grandeur that would flatter a municipal town hall.  Its ashlar façade has a giant portico of five unfluted Corinthian columns supporting a pediment containing a roundel, surrounded by carved foliage, with the inscription “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all men”.  In front are cast-iron gates and lamp standards.

Listed Grade II*, the chapel was described in Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England as “amazingly pompous for a religious building”.

It closed in 1991 when the remaining congregation combined with the amalgamated Spendborough Group of United Reformed Churches at Grove, Gomersal, and it became an Indian restaurant founded by a former taxi-rank owner, Mohammad Iqbal Tabassum.

It was named Aakash, the Urdu word for “sky”, and the coffered ceiling was painted with clouds.

The box pews inevitably went and the rake of the gallery floor was levelled, but the organ and the pulpit, described by a reviewer at the time as “skip-sized”, remained as a “lookout post” for the restaurant manager.

Sometime before 2008 it closed and reopened under new management.  Perhaps that was when the pulpit was replaced by a series of staircases linking the main floor with the gallery.  The organ pipes remain, heavily painted, but the organ has gone.

The buffet-style curry is as splendid as the surroundings:  http://aakashrestaurant.co.uk.

The first industrial estate

Rochdale Canal, Ancoats, Manchester

Rochdale Canal, Ancoats, Manchester

Ancoats was a rural village outside Manchester until the late eighteenth century when landowners, realising the imminent arrival of the Rochdale and Ashton Canals, parcelled up their property and sold it for development, both for mills and factories.

Some of the mills were huge by contemporary standards, steam-powered and served by canal wharfs which also provided the condensing water necessary for the engines.  Adam and George Murray’s Old Mill (1798) may have been the first eight-storey factory in the world.

The Murray brothers, along with their rivals James McConnel and John Kennedy, came from Kirkcudbrightshire, and used their expertise in building textile machinery to produce bigger and better equipment with which to spin cotton.

Ancoats’ population boomed from 11,039 in 1801 to 53,737 in 1861.  In 1821 one-fifth of the total population of Manchester lived in Ancoats.

Though some respectable housing was built among the industries and slums, there was no attempt to provide for a bourgeois population.  It was, by Jacqueline Roberts’ definition, “the first residential district of the modern world intended for occupation by one social class, the new urban working class”.

Title-deeds for such properties typically contained no restrictions on uses that would cause nuisance, and very few were provided with privies.   Bathrooms and running hot water were, of course, unknown.

Foreign writers were appalled.

Léon Faucher (1803-1854) who visited England in 1843, published Études sur l’Angleterre (1845), in which he wrote of “the breathing of vast machines, sending forth fire and smoke through their tall chimneys, and offering up to the heavens, as it were in token of homage, the sighs of that Labour which God has imposed upon man”.

It can’t have been fun to live in Ancoats, despite the well-meaning efforts of philanthropists, who provided the Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary (1828), later Ancoats Hospital, ragged schools and night shelters.

The life-expectancy of a Manchester labourer in 1842 was seventeen years.

In 1889 Dr John Thresh reported a death rate of over 80 per thousand, and commented, “3,000 to 4,000 people [were] dying annually here in Manchester from remediable causes”.

This prompted the Manchester Labourers’ Dwellings Scheme of 1890, which led to the building of Victoria Square (Henry Spalding & Alfred W S Cross 1897), a five-storey block of one- and two-room walk-up flats with penny-in-the-slot gas meters, communal sinks and water-closets shared between two apartments and, in the turrets, laundries and drying rooms, Anita Street, originally Sanitary Street until the name was truncated to suit 1960s sensibilities, two-storey terraces of one-, two- and three-room flats, and George Leigh Street, which provided three-bedroom houses, intended for families with children of both sexes.

Only the better-off labourers could afford the rents.

Owners of back-to-back terraces were offered £15 per house to convert their premises to through houses, and by 1914 almost all of the city’s back-to-back houses had gone.

However, this was only a partial solution.  A 1928 social-study group inspection report remarked, “the reconditioned house of the eighties is not to be tolerated today”.  There were houses so dark that the gas-light had to be kept on all day, and such dampness that plaster would not hold wallpaper in place.

In the end, the only practical solution was to clear the housing wholesale.  Victoria Square, Anita Street and George Leigh Street have been adapted to modern standards and look attractive.  Some architecturally interesting buildings remain, and the canal-side locations are at last being developed for 21st-century work and living.

Gentrification is often derided, but it’s better than living in a slum.

The Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour includes a walking-tour of Ancoats.  For further details, please click here.

Another gap in the Promenade

Imperial Hotel, Douglas, Isle of Man:  demolition, August 31st 2018

Imperial Hotel, Douglas, Isle of Man: demolition, August 31st 2018

Photo:  John Binns

Just because a building doesn’t reach the criteria for listing and protecting as a historic structure doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saving.

Nearly a year ago I wrote about to the loss of the Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno, which, though listed Grade II, was completely demolished after an inadequate survey failed to show that a scheme to retain only the façade was in fact impractical:  http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=5311.

More recently, my Isle of Man friend John spotted the demise of the long-derelict Imperial Hotel on Douglas Promenade at the end of August 2018:  http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=38524&headline=The%20end%20is%20nigh%20for%20Victorian%20hotel&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2018.

The Imperial dates from 1891, one of a number of imposing sea-front hotels by the Manx property-developer Alexander Gill (c1852-1919).  Others still remaining include the Hydro (1910) and the Empress Hotel.

The Imperial closed in 2006, and remained unused except as an occasional training site for police sniffer dogs.

Douglas Promenade is actually a series of promenades, built 1875-1890 to take advantage of the broad sweep of Douglas Bay by providing building land for the island’s growing tourist industry.

The whole extent of the Promenade is designated as a conservation area:  https://www.gov.im/media/633077/douglaspromsconsarea.pdf.

It’s a magnificent sight despite regrettable gaps where ungracious modern structures have replaced Victorian originals such as the Palace Pavilion & Opera House (1889 onwards, demolished 1965 and 1994), the Promenade Methodist Church (1876, demolished 1975) and the Villiers Hotel (1879, demolished 1995).

The late Gavin Stamp wrote about the insidious threats to the island’s built heritage when the Villiers Hotel was at risk in 1994:  https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/the-isle-of-mammon-is-ripping-out-its-soul-the-manx-governments-indifference-nay-hostility-to-1448732.html.

The Isle of Man’s parliament, Tynwald, has its own system of Registered Buildings, without the grading that applies in the UK.  Manx registrations began in 1983, and so far cover only 275 buildings, with another 250 under consideration.

Consideration of extending the list has not been energetic.  According to Wikipedia – there seems to be no online version of the official list – there were four registrations in 2014, one in 2015, four in 2017 and so far only two in 2018:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Registered_Buildings_of_the_Isle_of_Man.

An Alliance for Building Conservation (ABC) was formed in 2016 to co-ordinate campaigning to protect the island’s built heritage:  http://www.abc.org.im/index.php/abc-background-and-history.

One of the Alliance’s achievements has been a regular series of articles in the Isle of Man Examiner highlighting causes for conservationist concern.  A recent article reviews the glacial process of changing Manx attitudes to historical conservation:  http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=40533.

Because it takes so long to list worthwhile Manx buildings, it’s no surprise that less distinguished places like the Imperial Hotel come to grief, yet their group value is invaluable, and when the gaps they leave are replaced by mediocre substitutes, or left empty, the effect diminishes the whole.

Though the Isle of Man is small in extent, it’s rich in history.

In many places in the UK and across the world the historic heritage is seen to be good for the local economy.

Unfortunately, in the Isle of Man investment and commercial development tend to be at odds with the good of the environment.

Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery

Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery, Paola, Malta

Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery, Paola, Malta

It’s easy to explore Malta, which is not a big island, by red double-deck open-top tourist bus for €20 for one day, €37 for two:  http://www.citysightseeing.com.mt/en/home.htm.

I chose to buy a seven-day Explorer pass from Malta Public Transport for €21:  https://www.publictransport.com.mt/en/bus-card-and-ticketing.  (Indeed, the ExplorerPlus card at €39 includes ferry-rides and a day on the open-topper.)

Breezing around the island on a succession of service buses, I spotted the distinctive Gothic outline of the chapel of Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery [The Cemetery of St Mary of Sorrows] on Tal-Horr hill at Paola, just south of Valletta.

The lady in the bus station information booth recommended an 81 or 82 bus, and assured me there was a stop labelled Addolorata.  What she didn’t tell me, because she presumably hadn’t ever travelled to the cemetery by bus, was that though the inbound Addolorata bus stop is right by the cemetery gates, there are two outbound bus stops, one for each route, both labelled Addolorata, neither of them anywhere near the cemetery.

I got off at the one by the prison – Addolorata is indeed a suburb of sorrows – and with directions from a succession of passers-by, walked for at least half an hour before I reached the cemetery gates.

Addolorata Cemetery is a classic example of a mid-Victorian landscaped cemetery, built 1862-1868, opened 1869 but not actually used until 1872.

Designed by the Maltese architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia (1830-1907), it makes use of the steep site:  graded drives and flights of steps divide terraces of superb mausolea, many of them still in use and immaculately kept.

Galizia travelled in Italy, France and England to undertake extensive research into contemporary ideas about cemetery design.

The delicate Strawberry Hill gothic stonework of the entrance court and the simple Gothic of the cemetery church contrast with the predominance of Baroque church architecture throughout the island.

There are 268 Commonwealth war graves within the cemetery, along with a plot for the remains of French servicemen.

It was run by the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin until they relinquished responsibility to the Maltese government in 2011.

There has been recent press comment suggesting that the cemetery is not well maintained:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20170401/local/addolorata-cemetery-in-pieces-not-in-peace.644064.

Photography is not allowed within the cemetery, and there is a conflict in local attitudes about how the place should be used and respected.  A recent survey indicated that about seventy per cent of interviewees were not in favour of photographs or video recordings being made on the cemetery grounds, yet 72.5% of respondents wanted to have organised tours of the site:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20171120/community/the-addolorata-cemetery-a-unique-cultural-asset.663594.

Indeed, there is widespread recognition of the broad appeal of Addolorata to Maltese people and visitors who have no direct family connection with it:  https://lovinmalta.com/opinion/survey/30-of-addolorata-cemeterys-visitors-arent-there-to-visit-family-graves.

Though extensive research has been written up for academic theses [https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160529/letters/addolorata-and-our-cultural-heritage.613597], there appears to be no publication celebrating this magnificent necropolis.

I was content to enjoy walking around the cemetery admiring the tombs and reading the inscriptions, but I’d have valued the opportunity to learn more about it as well.

Tinsley Tramsheds

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

The most substantial remnant of Sheffield’s first-generation tram system is the original depot at Weedon Street, Tinsley, built in 1873 for the Sheffield Tramways Company when it opened its first horse-drawn line.

This very early tramway was founded by the railway contractor Thomas Lightfoot, who also built the Douglas horse-tramway that opened in 1876 and still operates in the Isle of Man.

When the Sheffield Corporation took over the horse-tram company, its first electric trams, inaugurated in 1899, ran between Weedon Street and Nether Edge, with a depot at each end, and for the first few years vehicles were maintained and eventually built at the two depots – mechanical parts at Tinsley, bodywork at Nether Edge – until a purpose-built works at Queen’s Road opened in 1905.

The National Tramway Museum’s photographic library shows the atmosphere of Tinsley Tramsheds up to the end of the 1950s:  http://ntm.adlibhosting.com/Details/collect/922 [insert ‘Tinsley Depot’ in search box].

A well-made film of a tram-journey from Beauchief to Weedon Street in 1960 ends with Roberts car 523 disappearing into the tramsheds:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0a28Q_78eM  [at 16:45 minutes].

Almost all Sheffield’s trams, including the very last in service and those in the final closing procession in October 1960, ended up at Weedon Street, from where they were towed across the road to Thomas W Ward’s scrapyard.

Sheffield people customarily referred to “tramsheds”, though all of them across the city were substantial brick buildings.  Apart from Tinsley, they have either disappeared or survive only as sad facades.

At one time Tinsley Tramsheds was home to Sheffield’s bus museum, until a schism led to one collection moving out to Aldwarke near Rotherham to become the South Yorkshire Bus Museum and the other, the South Yorkshire Transport Trust, eventually moving to Eastwood in a nearby part of Rotherham.

Little remains of the tram-depot interior:  the tracks, inspection pits and overhead gantries that gave exterior access to trams at upper-deck level have long gone.  Urban explorer reports show empty graffiti-covered spaces [https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/industrial-sites/32188-attercliffe-tram-sheds-sheffield-december-2015-a.html#.WPS3tYWcGUk], and the tile-depot that occupies the first two bays looks like, well, a tile-depot:  http://www.tiledepot.com/pages.php?pageid=3.

A glass-half-empty report from the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society suggests that the building is deteriorating:  http://hhbs.org.uk/2017/07/01/trams-to-tiles.

Nevertheless, this Grade II-listed relic of transport history, located between the Meadowhall shopping centre and Sheffield’s new Ikea store, close to a retail park and the Sheffield Arena, could be smartened up by a savvy developer.

Cracks in the tarmac of the forecourt show that the track-fan and stone setts survive, at least in part, waiting to be exposed.

The interior is a flexible space with scope for adaptation, and the exterior is capable of restoration as one of the few historic sites remaining in the Lower Don Valley.

The simple life

Stoneywell, Ulverscroft, Leicestershire

Stoneywell, Ulverscroft, Leicestershire

I’ve known, ever since the days when I ran country-house tours for Nottingham University, that the people who manage National Trust property contribute to its atmosphere.

So, on my first visit to the recently acquired Stoneywell, just outside Leicester, the warmth of the welcome was striking even on a chilly autumn afternoon.

There’s literally nowhere to park at this property, so visitors are greeted with a minibus at the car-park down the lane.  There is a shop in the stables, and a modest café in the old laundry which is warmed by the original copper.

Strolling in the garden, a survival of the ancient Charnwood Forest, it’s difficult to remember that the outer suburbs of Leicester are only a couple of miles away to the east, and the M1 motorway is barely half a mile to the west.

The house itself is an overgrown cottage, hunched into the hillside rather like an upmarket hobbit house.  It’s built of local materials, and grows organically from the hillside on which it stands, so that its three floors in fact have six different levels on a zig-zag ground plan.

It’s a hugely significant building, commissioned by Sydney Gimson (1860-1938), son of the founder of a Leicester engineering company that built steam engines and other machinery.  It was completed in 1899.

Sydney Gimson bought enough land in Charnwood Forest to provide plots for his older half-brother, Mentor, and his younger sister, Margaret.

He commissioned his younger brother Ernest Gimson (1864-1919) to design Stoneywell, and employed the architect Detmar Blow (1867-1939) as clerk of works.

Both Gimson and Blow were devotees of the Arts & Crafts movement:  Detmar Blow believed that architects should get their hands dirty, which slowed things down and caused some irritation;  Ernest Gimson was closely associated with the Birmingham-born brothers Ernest and Sidney Barnsley, with whom he set up a workshop at Sapperton, Gloucestershire.

For two generations, until the 1950s, Stoneywell was a country retreat for the summer and Christmas, a place of adventure for the children of the family and their friends, and an opportunity to live a simpler life far removed from their town house and the engineering factory in nearby Leicester.

This much-loved place was too good to give up, and so passed down the family, on Sidney’s death in 1938 to his son Basil (who taught at Bedales School, where his uncle Ernest designed the library).

A fire destroyed the thatched roof in 1937 but most of the cottage and its contents survived and were restored, with a roof of local Swithland slate, by Basil’s brother Humphrey Gimson (1890-1982).

When Basil died in 1953, the house passed to his son Donald (born 1924) who gently modernised it for year-round living:  he sold it to the National Trust in 2012 and continues to make periodic visits.

Continuity of ownership means that this exquisite dwelling retains most of its original contents, with tables, chairs, beds and fittings designed and made by Ernest Gimson and the Barnsley brothers.

It’s a testament to the Arts & Crafts values that William Morris promoted through the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings and the Art Workers’ Guild.

The simple life is all well and good.  Janet Ashbee, wife of the architect Charles Robert Ashbee, writes that the artist Roger Fry tried the simple life but found it too complicated and had to give it up.

The Gimsons made it work, shinning up narrow staircases and a ladder to bed well into old age.

And now its beauty is accessible to everyone – provided they book a timed ticket to prevent overcrowding.

Bognor’s oldest family business

Reynolds & Co Furniture Repository, Bognor Regis

Reynolds & Co Furniture Repository, Bognor Regis

Opposite Bognor Regis railway station stand two proud survivals of the town’s heyday – the Picturedrome Cinema, built as the Assembly Rooms in 1885, converted to full-time cinema operation in 1918 and still showing the latest releases [http://www.picturedromebognor.com/article.php?sec=cineinfo], and Reynolds’ Furniture Repository, dated 1911 on its façade.

When King George V came to convalesce at Craigwell House nearby in 1929, his personal effects were transported by Reynolds, who later duly returned them to Windsor Castle.

By that time the Reynolds’ family business was already in its third generation.

It was founded by nineteen-year-old Samuel Reynolds, who set up shop at 13 West Street in 1867, three years after the railway reached the town, and two years after the Pier opened.

His business grew as “auctioneers, appraisers, house agents, cabinetmakers, upholsterers and undertakers.”  It still survives and thrives to this day.

The cabinet-making business developed directly from coffin-manufacturing into a highly respected funeral-director business, which has continued to expand into branches in Chichester and Littlehampton.  They can still provide the horse-drawn hearse which has been in the family for generations.

Dealing in real estate included expanding the company’s own premises, so that their High Street furniture store became the largest in town, and behind its art deco façade the interior was last refurbished in 2005.

Selling furniture to Bognor people led naturally to a demand for storing furniture and other valuables, for which the 1911 Repository still provides an up-to-date service with its wooden cubicles from 100 cubic feet upwards.

The company celebrated its 150th anniversary in style in 2017:  https://www.bognor.news/news/business/md-dominic-reynolds-pride-150-years-illustrious-history-prestigious-bognor-business.  The patriarch is Norman Reynolds, the founder’s great-grandson;  his four sons are all involved – Dominic (furniture), James and Stephen (funerals) and Matthew (finance and accounting).

Dominic’s daughter Freya, Samuel Reynolds’ great-great-great-granddaughter, has now joined the company.

Norman Reynolds himself has fifteen grandchildren and one great-grandchild, which suggests that the family are likely to serve Bognor for generations to come:  http://www.reynoldsfurniture.co.uk/about-us.

Their biggest advertisement is the grand repository building directly opposite the railway station at the gateway to the town.

Bognor Pier

Bognor Pier

Bognor Pier

King George V famously didn’t like Bognor, where he was sent to recuperate after surgery in 1929.  After his stay at Craigwell House in nearby Aldwick, he received a petition to grant the town the suffix “Regis” – literally, “of the King”.  I can’t possibly tell the story better than Wikipedia, citing Antonia Fraser’s The house of Windsor (2000):

The petition was presented to Lord Stamfordham, the King’s Private Secretary, who in turn delivered it to the King.  King George supposedly replied, “Oh, bugger Bognor.”  Lord Stamfordham then went back to the petitioners and told them, “the King has been graciously pleased to grant your request.”

Like many small seaside resorts at the ends of branch lines, Bognor is a rather sad place today, but it has a proud history as a genteel place to relax, founded in the late eighteenth century by the local landowner Sir Richard Hotham, and more energetically developed after the arrival of the branch railway in 1864.

It’s hardly an accident that Bognor Pier was begun in the same year, designed by Sir Charles Fox and his cousin J W Wilson and opened in 1865.  Originally a thousand feet long, it cost £5,000, but was subsequently bought for £1,200 by the Local Board in 1876.

The Board’s successor, Bognor Urban District Council, were glad to offload it to a private operator, who spent £30,000 dealing with dilapidations and constructing an entertainment complex at the shore end, comprising a theatre with a fly-tower, a picture theatre, an amusement arcade and a roof-garden restaurant, all of which opened in 1912.

During the Second World War, from 1943-45, the pier was HMS St Barbara, a naval observation station armed with anti-aircraft guns.

Its history became vexed from the 1960s onwards:  repeated changes of ownership meant that maintenance failed to keep up with onslaughts of storm damage.

Though it’s listed Grade II and the pier head building remains in part, only 350 feet of the pier itself survives, and repeated attempts to attract lottery funding for a major restoration have fallen apart.

Most recently, the energetic friends’ group, Bognor Pier Trust, learned that the current owners, Bognor Pier Leisure Ltd (BPLL), would not support a £5,000,000 lottery bid but were committed to maintaining the structure:  https://www.bognor.co.uk/news/future-of-bognor-pier-plunged-into-uncertainty-after-owners-withdraw-support-for-5m-funding-bid-1-7653934 and http://www.bognorpiertrust.co.uk/news-articles/no-lottery-bid-bognor-regis-pier.

The Trust has made a dignified decision to concentrate on other conservation projects in the town, and to remain ready to purchase the Pier if the current owners decide to sell.

Where that leaves the long-term future of the Pier itself remains to be seen.

Elvaston Castle

Elvaston Castle, Derbyshire

Elvaston Castle, Derbyshire

It’s good to see that the Grade I-listed Buxton Crescent is at last undergoing restoration after decades of neglect.

Derbyshire County Council has at last resolved a seemingly intractable conservation problem, only to face a formidable task rescuing a Grade II*-listed country house in the south of the county:  https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/countryside/countryside_sites/country_parks/elvaston/elvaston_repairs/default.asp.

Elvaston Castle has a theatrical air.  The architecture of the house is pre-Pugin Gothic, and the garden was once famous for its extravagant, even outlandish design.  The succession of owners, latterly the first eleven Earls of Harrington, have been interestingly varied, attractive characters.

The manor of Elvaston goes back to Domesday, and was purchased in the early sixteenth century by Sir Michael Stanhope of Shelford, Nottinghamshire.  One of his great-grandsons, Philip Stanhope (1584-1656), became First Earl of Chesterfield;  his half-brother John (died 1638) was given the Elvaston estate, and the earliest surviving visible parts of the building, dated 1633, are his.

Lord Chesterfield’s great-grandson, William Stanhope (c1690-1756), created Earl of Harrington and Viscount Petersham, inherited Elvaston, and his grandson Charles, 3rd Earl, (1753-1829) tried to interest Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in landscaping the park, but Brown declined, declaring “the place is so flat and there is such a want of capability in it”.

Instead, the Third Earl significantly altered the character of the house.  He commissioned James Wyatt, who had been working nearby at Bretby, to rebuild the south side of the house in Gothic style.  Wyatt died in September 1813, and the work was actually started in 1815 by the much less well-known Robert Walker.

When the south front was completed in 1819 the Earl purchased the so-called Golden Gates (which have actually been painted blue since at least the late 1840s) to embellish the approach to the southern avenue.

The Fourth Earl (1780-1851) had an affair with a Covent Garden actress, Maria Foote, and married her in 1831.  Both were ostracised by what was described as polite society, and they retired to Elvaston, which they embellished as an idyll in which to spend their days together.

The architect L N Cottingham was commissioned to provide a symmetrical Gothic east front to the house, behind the main entrance of which is the sumptuous vaulted entrance hall, with niches and mirrors and ornate gilding and decoration.

The Fourth Earl’s great contribution Elvaston was commissioning the Edinburgh gardener James Barron, to develop the uninviting prospect that Lancelot Brown – and latterly, apparently, Humphrey Repton – had rejected.  Barron’s initial survey led him to realise that constructing a land-drain at a particular depth would completely alter the potential of the site:  his hunch proved correct, and he was able to claim credit for all that followed.

During the 1830s Barron created a series of ornamental gardens where topiary, some of it preposterous to modern eyes, abounded.  He developed a technique of moving conifers in a vertical position within a matter of days:  his success earned him the sobriquet, “the tree-lifter”, and his services were called on by everyone from Prince Albert downwards.

The Fourth Earl chose to keep his pleasure-grounds from the gaze of strangers, though the Duke of Wellington presumably visited, for he declared that Elvaston possessed “the only natural artificial rockwork I have seen”.  Barron’s instructions were – “If the Queen comes, Barron, show her round, but admit no-one else.”

Of his successors, the most colourful was Charles Augustus, 8th Earl (1844-1917), universally known as “Old Whiskers”, a noted huntsman, Master of the South Notts Hunt, whose kennel huntsman was, apparently in all seriousness, called German Shepherd.

The designer of a steam-powered lawnmower with a coffee-pot boiler, he died in 1917 as a result of burns following an explosion in his workshop at Elvaston.

He instructed that on the first fine day after his funeral his hounds were to go hunting:  his wish was carried out, and as soon as they were released the entire pack went straight for the churchyard where they gathered round their dead Master’s newly-dug grave.

Elvaston was little used after the death of the Tenth Earl in 1929.  It was leased as a teacher-training college from the beginning of the Second World War until 1950 and thereafter was simply neglected.  The 11th Earl took up residence in Ireland, and the estate was finally sold to a property developer in 1963.  It was taken over in 1969 by the Derbyshire County Council and Derby City Council jointly and developed as a deservedly popular country park and leisure facility.

Unfortunately, they have made very little of the house.  Its last hurrah was as a location for Ken Russell’s film, Women in Love (1969).

In a county abounding with great country houses, Elvaston Castle has been a Cinderella for far too long.

Nottingham Midland

Nottingham Station (2017)

Nottingham Station (2017)

I’m no fan of Twitter.  My Twitter account @Mike_Hig aims to be the most boring in the world.  I have six followers.  I rely on journalists and others to wade through the twitterings of the twitterati to alert me to the glimpses of sense and wit that intelligent, sensitive people actually broadcast on Twitter.

By this means I was impressed by some of the Twitter comments about the recent fire at Nottingham Midland station.  Several people made appreciative observations about the building, including Lisa Allison @LisaJaneAllison, who wrote, “This makes me sad, it’s really sad to see the damage done to #NottinghamStation because of the fire. It’s such a beautiful building.”

It is indeed a beautiful building, all the more thanks to a comprehensive £150-million refurbishment in 2013-14:  https://www.networkrailmediacentre.co.uk/news/terracotta-decorations-complete-gbp-60m-redevelopment-at-nottingham-station#.

The present Nottingham station of 1904, presenting a grand frontage with a porte-cochère to Carrington Street, replaced an earlier station that fronted Station Street.  It was the Midland Railway’s response to the opening four years earlier of the grand Nottingham Victoria Station which served its competitors the Great Central and Great Northern Railways.

The Carrington Street entrance building, bridging the Midland’s tracks, served to hide the fact that the Great Central’s trains crossed over the platforms of Nottingham Midland on a lengthy viaduct.  Its alignment is now used by Nottingham’s NET trams.

The brick and terracotta façade was the work of the same local architect, Albert Edward Lambert, who had designed Nottingham Victoria.  He collaborated with the Midland Railway house architect, Charles Trubshaw, who had also designed the stations as Bradford Forster Square, Sheffield Midland and Leicester London Road, as well as the Midland Hotel in Manchester.

The architects made full use of the repertoire of Edwardian Baroque – rustication, pediments, Gibbs surrounds – and provided elegant Art Nouveau wrought-iron gates, all intended to outdo Victoria Station across town.  The platform buildings, in the same brick and terracotta, provided public facilities in rich interiors with glazed tiles, coved ceilings and elaborate chimney pieces, some of which survive.

When the lines through Victoria closed in the 1960s, Nottingham Midland became the city’s only railway station.  Remaining services that had used Victoria were shoehorned into Midland’s platforms, and trains between London and the North via Nottingham were forced to reverse, whereas before Beeching there was a direct line via Old Dalby.

The recent restoration is a matter of pride to Nottingham people.  The taxis have been turned out of the porte-cochère, which is now a light, spacious if sometimes draughty concourse leading to the dignified booking hall.  Nottingham station is a place to linger, even if you’re not catching a train.

It’s gratifying that more than one Twitter user thought of the building when they heard of the casualty-free fire.

Friday January 12th 2018 was a hectic day in the centre of Nottingham.  A police crime-scene had cut the tram service at Waverley Street north of the city-centre shortly before the station evacuation blocked tram services to the south and jammed road traffic in all directions.  Then a city-centre power cut blacked out the shops and much of the Nottingham Trent University campus, and caused the Council House clock to chime and strike at the same time, confusing people with a plethora of bongs.

As another delightful Twitter user that day remarked, “Nottingham needs a KitKat this morning…”

The tour Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) is based in Nottingham.  For further details please click here.