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 apparently unusable.
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 building reopened as the Lakeside Restaurant in 1997 with a décor strongly reminiscent of Victorian country houses, later replaced by an understated colour scheme of sage green and gold.
The latest refurbishment has transformed the interior to a dramatic black and white scheme with tiny touches of gold that admirably brings out the decorative detail of the Victorian structural ironwork.
The beam floor provides a further function room, the Tower Suite, and the tower will eventually be open once building work is complete.
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.
The former Bestwood Pumping Station features in Mike Higginbottom’s lecture ‘Temples of Sanitation’. For further details please click here.