Category Archives: Nottingham’s Heritage

Nottingham London Road Low Level

Former Great Northern Railway: Nottingham London Road Low Level Station

Former Great Northern Railway: Nottingham London Road Low Level Station

Britain’s railways are notoriously ill-organised, thanks to the Major government’s privatisation process of 1994-97, in which operating companies hired trains from rolling-stock companies and ran them on track owned by a nationalised entity.  (Sir John Major himself suggested simply reviving the “Big Four” grouping of 1922, which on reflection doesn’t seem such a bad idea compared with what we’re now stuck with.)

The early railway builders quickly dismissed the idea of having independent operators running on railway lines, like the eighteenth-century turnpikes, and Gladstone’s Railway Regulation Act of 1844 provided for the possibility of nationalising the railway system even as it was being built.

But the Victorians put their faith in competition, and Britain’s railways grew willy-nilly, leading to a confusion as profound as the 21st-century British rail system.

This is evident in Nottingham, where throughout the nineteenth century two competing railway companies, the Midland and the Great Northern, ran from separate stations a short distance away from each other, on Station Street and London Road respectively.

In 1879, under the auspices of the ponderously named Great Northern & London & North Western Joint Railway, a third company, the London & North Western Railway, began running passenger services into London Road Station and delivering goods to a purpose-built station at Sneinton.

Then in 1900, a fourth company, the Great Central, built the magnificent Victoria Station, which it shared with the Great Northern, in a cutting in the centre of town.

The Great Northern built a duplicate London Road station, which they named High Level, to distinguish it from their original station, latterly Low Level, which the L&NWR continued to use for their services to Market Harborough via Saxondale Junction, Bottesford and Melton Mowbray.

This absurdity continued until 1944, when the former L&NWR trains were diverted into Nottingham Midland and the Low Level station became a goods depot.

Much of this has since been swept away.  There is now only one station in Nottingham, the former Midland, though it serves trains run by three separate modern operating companies.  The lines into Low Level were taken up in the 1970s, and after a fire in 1996 Thomas Chambers Hine’s imposing 1857 building was restored and refurbished as a health club.

But it’s a mistake to think that the way we run British railways in the 21st century is any more bizarre than the travellers’ chaos that the Victorians created.

“Perfectly plain” Pugin

St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham

After he had begun work on St Mary’s Church, Derby, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was invited to design a parish church for Nottingham, a bigger building with a limited budget, and therefore plainer than he liked.

Pugin himself had envisaged St Mary’s as the future cathedral for the North Midlands, but when the Catholic hierarchy was re-established, the East Midlands diocese was based at St Barnabas’ Cathedral, Nottingham.

By the time he designed St Barnabas’, Pugin had already completed the drawings for the much more elaborate St Giles’ Church, Cheadle, yet at Nottingham he contrived dramatic effects in what he claimed was the most economical manner, though he exceeded the initial budget by half.

Always melodramatic, and sometimes hysterical, this talented, obsessive, frantic, fascinating man remonstrated with the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had subscribed £7,000 of the original £10,500 estimate, about whether, and where, to have the tower:

I have no reason for placing the tower of Nottingham at the West end.  It would be a loss, a clear loss of funds.  I have not one tracery window, no pinnacles or any ornament externally.  It will be the greatest triumph of external simplicity and internal effect yet achieved.  Yet I must have outline and breaks or the building will go for nothing.

Looking at the completed church, it’s easy to see what he meant about the position of the tower;  it is equally easy to see that the finished design is not short of external ornament.

Pugin’s stated aim was to build a church “which would give general satisfaction, have a grand appearance, although perfectly plain and admit of a most solemn and rich interior.”  The plain ashlar walls, pierced by narrow lancets and a rose window of plate tracery, give an impression of solidity.  The whole church is 190 feet from end to end, and the spire rises to 150 feet but looks higher as the street slopes downhill towards the east.

But Pugin himself was dissatisfied.  He felt, quite literally, that his style was cramped:

Nottingham was spoilt by the style restricted to lancet – a period well suited to a cistercian abbey in a secluded vale, but very unsuitable for the centre of a crowded town… there was nothing left but to make the best under the circumstances, and the result has been what might be expected;  the church is too dark, and I am blamed for it…

Indeed, Pugin was easily disgruntled.  Having converted to Catholicism only in 1832, he was “a Catholic first and whatever else he was second”.

Monsignor Martin Cummins, in Nottingham Cathedral:  a history of Catholic Nottingham (1985), relates how –

When showing an Anglican friend the Rood-screen, Pugin said:  “Within is the holy of holies.  The people remain outside.  Never is the sanctuary entered save by those in sacred orders.”  Then, to his horror, a priest appeared in the sanctuary showing the screen to two ladies.  Pugin turned to the sacristan, “Turn these people out at once!  How dare they enter!”  But the sacristan replied, “Sir, it is Bishop Wiseman.”  Pugin, powerless, retired to the nearest bench and burst into tears.

Pugin’s architectural career only began in the late 1830s.  By the end of the 1840s the energy he poured into his creativity had wrecked his health, and he died, a broken man, in 1851 at the age of forty.

A guided tour of St Barnabas’ Cathedral is included in the Pugin and the Gothic Revival (September 18th-22nd 2019) tour.  For details please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Nottingham’s missing underground railway

Mansfield Road Tunnel, south portal, former Nottingham Victoria Station (1984)

My Nottingham friend Stewart alerted me to a BBC News item about “Nottingham’s ‘secret’ railway tunnel”:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-nottinghamshire-45902996/inside-nottingham-s-secret-railway-tunnel.

The “secret” tunnel is accessible – if you have the key to the right door – from the basement of Nottingham’s Victoria Centre, which is built on the site of the old Victoria Station, opened in 1900, closed in 1967 and quickly demolished.

This was Weekday Cross Tunnel (418 yards), stretching from the south end of the former Victoria Station towards Weekday Cross Junction, where nowadays the NET tram leaves its viaduct to run along the street towards the Lace Market.  The tunnel was used to carry pipework for the Victoria Centre’s heating system, and the track-bed to the south was later blocked by the Centre for Contemporary Art Nottingham art gallery, now Nottingham Contemporary (opened 2009).

In fact, the BBC’s “secret” tunnel isn’t even half of the story.

Beyond the Victoria Station site, the railway line headed northwards into Mansfield Road Tunnel (1,189 yards) which runs almost directly beneath Mansfield Road, emerging eventually just past the road-junction with Gregory Boulevard:  https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/mansfield-road-tunnel-nottingham-may13.80919.

Here in an open cutting stood Carrington Station [http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/c/carrington/index.shtml], opened in 1899 and closed as early as 1928, a commuter station that stood no chance against the competition of Nottingham’s trams.

Carrington Station cutting has been completely filled in and built over as part of an Open University campus, and the street-level building, for years occupied by Alldogs Poodle Parlour, has gone.

North of Carrington Station the railway ran into Sherwood Rise Tunnel (665 yards) [https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2388076] which is blocked by further landfill at the north portal.

Until the mid-1960s these three tunnels, all of which remain intact, were a practical direct route under Nottingham city-centre.

When Victoria Station was demolished there was apparently talk of leaving a right of way beneath the shopping centre, but in the event the basement car-park was built the full width of the station’s footprint.  (It was not unknown for 1960s/1970s shopping centres to include provision for underground rail transport [http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=2274]).

The blocking of the railway track-bed at three locations, successively in the 1960s, late 1980s and late 2000s, means that a direct route, wide and high enough for a double-track railway and therefore feasible as a light railway if not a roadway, lies utterly unusable beneath the congested streets.

At the time of the Beeching cuts, planners and railway managers clearly believed that the Victorian infrastructure they inherited would never be needed again.

It’s a matter of opinion whether this amounted to naivety, stupidity or arrogance.

They left future generations a legacy across Britain of miles of derelict strips of land that could have been adapted to transport uses undreamed of in the 1960s, if snippets hadn’t been handed over for buildings that could easily have been located elsewhere.

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.

Nottingham Victoria

Victoria Centre, Nottingham (1978)

Victoria Centre, Nottingham (1978)

In the closing years of the nineteenth century a huge hole appeared in the centre of Nottingham.

This became the city’s Victoria Station, connected through tunnels north and south to the new main line of the Great Central Railway, with an additional connection on a viaduct to the Great Northern Railway line heading east to Newark.

The GCR London Extension was a prodigious engineering feat from end to end, and the Nottingham station, with its tracks below street level, made a greater impact than any of the company’s other new stations.

Over a thousand houses, two dozen pubs and a church were swept away and replaced by a grand brick entrance building with a hundred-foot clock tower and a splendid hotel alongside fronting Mansfield Road, designed by a young Nottingham architect, Albert Edward Lambert (1869-1929).  Below street level, there were twelve platform faces with avoiding lines for through goods trains and two turntables for locomotives.

The Great Northern was determined not to run its trains into a station called Nottingham Central, and printed the name ‘Nottingham Joint Station’ on its tickets and timetables, until the Nottingham town clerk ventured a diplomatic solution.  Because the opening day, May 24th 1900, was the Queen’s eighty-first birthday, he made a proposal virtually impossible to refuse:  as the Great Central station in Sheffield had been ‘Victoria’ for years, the Nottingham station was duly named after the Queen.

Britain’s last main line, London Marylebone to Manchester London Road, had a short life:  it was far better engineered, at least as far as Nottingham, than any other railway in the country, because it was intended to link with the Channel Tunnel (commenced in 1881 and abandoned a year later) and so to Paris.

The GCR and its successor, the L&NER, put up strong competition:  its services to Sheffield, Leicester and London were significantly faster than those of its rival, the Midland Railway.

Nevertheless, in the post-war decline of railways in Britain, the GCR lost out to its older rivals;  express passenger services ended in 1960 and the main line passenger services south of Rugby were abandoned in 1966.

Nottingham Victoria Station itself closed a year later on September 4th 1967, and for a short while services from Rugby to Nottingham ended at Arkwright Street station, perched on a viaduct half a mile out of town:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvvO9GkjtK0.

The land on which Victoria Station stood was far too valuable to leave unused, and the Victoria Centre, consisting of shopping malls, a bus station and a twenty-six storey apartment complex, opened in 1972.

The only parts of the original station to survive are the clock tower and the hotel, now the Hilton Nottingham:  http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-nottingham-EMANOHN/index.html.

The magnificent train shed, with its overall roof, footbridges across the tracks and spacious staircases to platform level, is still mourned by Nottingham people and rail enthusiasts.  There is poignant footage of its declining years [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D60XNfJPk8M and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-FQeUKrnNM], and the station is described and amply illustrated at http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/n/nottingham_victoria/index.shtml.

By the magic of digital technology Nottingham Victoria lives on in visualisation – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JZTk0Nij-E] – and simulation – [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gZ_ukwNMWw].

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

Judge not…

23 Forman Street, Nottingham

23 Forman Street, Nottingham

Photo:  Harriet Buckthorp

Diners at the Foreman Street, Nottingham, branch of Prezzo [https://www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/nottingham-forman-street/?s=Nottingham%20NG5,%20United%20Kingdom&lng=-1.1390802999999323&lat=53.00821670000001&f] are mostly unaware of the history of the site.

In the late nineteenth century 23 Foreman Street was a well-known brothel, distinguished as the scene of the demise of Sir Charles Henry Watkin Williams, a High Court judge who, according to a pointedly satirical memorial card, “departed this life suddenly at Mrs Salmands” on the evening of July 17th 1884 aged 55.

After dinner at the Judge’s Lodgings he had gone to visit a young lady called Nellie Banks at Mrs Salmands.  There is a factual account in Reynolds’s News, July 27th 1884.

The gangster ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, in his compendium of criminality, Mad Frank’s Britain (Random House 2012), p 107, felicitously describes what happened:  “the old gentleman gave a sort of grunt and she thought he’d come, but he’d gone”.

By the time the police returned Sir Watkin Williams’ corpse to the Judge’s Lodgings too many people knew what had happened for the story to be concealed.

The borough coroner, Mr Arthur Brown, was clearly under considerable pressure to limit his inquiries, and he had to lean hard to make the inquest jury fulfil their oath to establish “when, where, how, and by what means” the judge had met his death.

It appeared that Sir Watkin suffered from aneurism of the aorta and, according to his doctor’s recommendation, he really should have been more careful.

Reynolds’s News reported the affair with a degree of circumspection, under a headline “DISCREDITABLE DEATH OF A JUDGE”, in an article more than a column in length that invited readers to use their imaginations.

The memorial-card broadsheet was altogether more succinct:

…in eight feet deep of solid earth

Sir Watkin Williams lies.

He lost his breath,

which caused his death,

‘twixt Nellie Blankey’s thighs.

Nellie Banks was an enterprising young lady.  My friend Stewart tracked her down in the Boston Guardian dated August 2nd 1884 where her name is meticulously rendered in inverted commas:

She was the housekeeper of a farmer at Butterwick who, in the early part of this year, absconded with a large sum of money and with [the] young lady in question made a trip to Paris.  He was on his return to this country apprehended as a fraudulent bankrupt aboard an Inman Line steamer as he and “Nelly” were about to emigrate to America.

She is described as aged 22, pale and slender and about five feet high.  She would have thrived in an age of reality TV and social media.

Nothing much remains of Mrs Salmand’s premises, but the story gives an entertaining twist to dining at Prezzo.

Elite cinema

Former Elite Cinema, Nottingham

Former Elite Cinema, Nottingham

Diagonally opposite Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, the town’s prestige entertainment building of the mid-nineteenth century, stands the Elite Cinema, aptly and no doubt deliberately named as the city’s premier picture palace of the early 1920s.

This huge building, clad in white Hathern faience with an elaborate display of statuary on its parapet, was designed by James E Adamson of the architectural practice Adamson & Kinns.

The foyer welcomed patrons with a roaring open fire in the winter months, and there were two “swift and soft-running passenger elevators” to the upper levels.

The auditorium, a confection in the style and colouring of Wedgwood ware, with trompe l’oeil arches and portrait medallions, brought a new level of quality and luxury beyond the picture palaces that had opened before the Great War.

The Elite had a magnificent Willis & Lewis organ, “the largest and most complete instrument that has been built for any cinema in the British Isles”.

The building was intended not only to show movies, but to build a separate reputation as a social and business venue.  A suite of dining spaces offered catering for individuals and groups.

The Louis XVI Café, white, green and gold, decorated with tapestries, contained a Soda Fountain “of the latest pattern”.  The larger of two cafés on the second floor was decorated in Jacobean style.  On the third floor there was another large room in Georgian style, “a thoroughly joyous room” decorated in a “daring” white and yellow scheme, and a smaller companion called the Dutch Café, “adorned by a very attractive hand-painted frieze illustrating scenes from favourite fairy tales”.

The entire building was cleaned by a Stuyvesant Engineer centralised vacuum cleaner, “sucking up ravenously every particle of dust and small refuse and depositing it all, via a suction hose, in a central dustbin”, and in the aftermath of the Spanish Flu epidemic, the heating and ventilation system was designed so “that the ubiquitous influenza bacilli and their kin will have a difficult task to make both ends meet”.

It opened on August 22nd 1921, and became part of the ABC circuit in 1935.  Though repeatedly refurbished in the 1950s, it gradually lost its prestige as the years went by.

Much of the décor survives because the Elite was listed as long ago as 1972, and was subsequently upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*.

The auditorium and café areas are described in the English Heritage listing [http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-457422-elite-building-#.VgQggDZdHcs],

The fact that the Elite went over to bingo in 1977 helped to keep the place in good order, and after the demise of bingo in the 1990s the auditorium became a night-club.

The building was advertised for sale at a price of £4¼ million in June 2015.

Nottingham’s Water Palaces 2: Papplewick Pumping Station

Papplewick Pumping Station, Nottinghamshire

Papplewick Pumping Station, Nottinghamshire

If, while dining in splendour at the Lakeside Restaurant, the former Bestwood Pumping Station outside Nottingham, your imagination wonders how much more splendid the place is than when it was a waterworks, you need only drive up the road to the Papplewick Pumping Station to see a similar installation that was and is even more splendid.

The Papplewick Pumping Station was completed in 1886 after the Waterworks Company was taken over by Nottingham Corporation, and its construction was the responsibility of the engineer Marriott Ogle Tarbotton (1834-1887), who gave Nottingham its sewage system and the present-day Trent Bridge.

The engine house at Papplewick was built of local Bulwell bricks with terracotta and Mansfield stone decorations.  It contains two magnificent James Watt & Co beam engines, which pumped from wells two hundred feet deep.  The building stands off-centre to the ornate cooling pond, suggesting that a second engine-house was considered, though it was not needed.

Papplewick Pumping Station was given the same elaborate architectural treatment and landscaped grounds as Bestwood, but, apparently because the project – even with the ornamentation – cost £55,000, well under the £67,000 budget, it is more richly decorative, with stained glass, carved stone and ornamental brasswork designed around the theme of water and water-creatures.

Brass fish swim between the individually turned brass water-lilies, reeds and bullrushes that decorate the square faces of the columns supporting the engine-beams and gilded ibis embellish the capitals.

The strong resemblance between the Bestwood and Papplewick buildings may indicate the guiding hand of Thomas Hawksley, who acted as an informal mentor to Marriott Ogle Tarbotton.  A letter from James Watt & Co about the design of the engines asked if they could save time and money by adapting features for Hawksley’s Yarmouth waterworks:  “There is a great similarity and we seem to detect Mr Hawksley’s design and ornamentation in your drawings.”

The sheer magnificence of the interior of Papplewick Pumping Station almost certainly saved the engines when it was decommissioned in 1969.  The Bestwood engines were scrapped without controversy in 1968.  The scrap value of the engines at Boughton Pumping Station further north near Ollerton was assessed in 1970 at £10,000, and the proceeds of that sale helped to set up the Preservation Trust that took over Papplewick Pumping Station and brought it back to life:  http://www.papplewickpumpingstation.co.uk/index.htm.

Opening and steaming dates and times at Papplewick Pumping Station are at http://www.papplewickpumpingstation.co.uk/html/dates_-_times.html.

Nottingham’s Water Palaces 1: Bestwood Pumping Station

Former Bestwood Pumping Station, Nottinghamshire

Former Bestwood Pumping Station, Nottinghamshire

There can be few more splendid places to dine in Nottinghamshire than the Lakeside Restaurant [http://www.lakesidetower.co.uk/fine-dining-in-nottingham/pump-room-restaurant.html], a spectacular conversion of one of Nottingham’s fine Victorian water-supply pumping stations.

Nottingham was the birthplace of one of the greatest British civil engineers of the nineteenth century, Thomas Hawksley (1807-1893), who specialised in water-supply engineering and served as consulting engineer to the Nottingham Waterworks Company.  He was the first to prove it was feasible to provide twenty-four-hour supply, a convenience that made water-closets fully practical.

He was responsible for managing the huge increase in demand as the population of Nottingham grew in the nineteenth century by tapping the abundant supplies of water held in the Bunter Sandstone that lies beneath the town.

The Bestwood Pumping Station, built in 1869-73, was part of that great project.  The brick engine house was built in thirteenth-century French Gothic style with stone facings.

Its architectural splendour was a gesture towards the 10th Duke of St Albans, from whom the six-acre site was leased.  He had rebuilt his nearby residence, Bestwood Lodge, in 1865, so the pumping-station chimney is contained in a 172-feet-high Venetian Gothic staircase tower which leads to a viewing loggia.

The engines were constructed by Joseph Whitham of Leeds, with a capacity of three million gallons per day, drawn from a well 176 feet deep.  They were replaced by electric pumps in 1964 and dismantled in 1968.

Following a steeplejack’s report that the tower was unsafe because of mining subsidence, plans were announced in 1972 to demolish the historic buildings.

Faced with a public outcry, the chairman of Nottingham Corporation Water Committee, Councillor Len Squires (Labour), complained, “Nobody realised the building had any architectural merit whatsoever until we decided to pull it down.”

When the Nottingham Corporation Waterworks Department was taken over by Severn Trent, Bestwood Pumping Station became derelict, listed but unusable, until 1997:  http://www.lakesidetower.co.uk/home/photo-gallery.html.

In fact, its architectural merit made it a superb location for an upmarket restaurant and wedding venue, with a fitness suite in the former boiler house.

The main floor, the Pump Room Restaurant, is flamboyantly decorated in Victorian country-house style, and the beam floor provides a further function room, the Tower Suite.

It’s an indication of the pride that Victorian municipalities took in their utilities that this practical waterworks should so successfully become an elegant place for fine dining.

Semi-detached theatre

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

The classical portico of Nottingham’s Theatre Royal has dominated the streetscape since it was built in 1865:  http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/514-theatre-royal-nottingham.

Originally designed by the prolific and prestigious Victorian theatre-architect Charles John Phipps (1835-1897), it was modernised in 1896-7 by the more famous Frank Matcham (1854-1920), who at the same time built the new Empire Palace Theatre for what shortly after became Moss Empires partly on what had been the site of the Theatre Royal dressing-rooms.

There are stories of artistes straying into the wrong backstage-area, particularly after Moss Empires took over the Theatre Royal in 1924.

The Empire was also the site of Ken Dodd’s stage debut, as Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty, “Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter”, in 1954.

The Empire closed in 1958 and was demolished eleven years later for road-widening.  At a time when Nottingham City Council were planning and building the ultra-modern Playhouse as a repertory theatre, there was talk of demolishing the Theatre Royal also and building a replacement touring house elsewhere.

In fact, the Theatre Royal lingered on, becoming so decrepit that eventually the D’Oyly Carte company refused to appear because of the state of the backstage areas.

In 1977 the City Council purchased the County Hotel, on the opposite side of the Theatre Royal building to the former Empire, and commissioned Renton Howard Wood Levin to restore Matcham’s design, except for the proscenium arch and adjacent boxes, within Phipps’ auditorium envelope.

Subsequently, in 1980, Renton Howard Wood Levin built from scratch the magnificent Royal Concert Hall behind the Theatre Royal.  The two auditoria work in tandem [http://www.trch.co.uk], with the Playhouse operating at the other side of the city centre:  http://www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/whats-on.

Nottingham has a proud claim to have been at the forefront of the late twentieth-century revival of live performances in provincial towns and cities.