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11/02/2007 Archived Entry: "Nottingham"
A few nights ago I was enjoying a drink with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Perhaps I should add that the Lord Mayor of Nottingham was also present, along with some forty or fifty other people including my wife, Rhoda. There was no sign of Robin Hood but the fact that we were in Nottingham meant his name and associations were very much in evidence. Indeed, our hotel was just off Maid Marion Way.
We were at a Civic Reception, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Nottingham Writers’ Club of which I have been president for the past 13 years or so. Now that I too have passed my three score years and ten I have decided to relinquish my presidency and so the birthday occasion also marked the ending of my long and happy association with the Writers’ Club. A splendid dinner was held afterwards at which the new president, Mr Roy Bainton, was welcomed and a good and memorable time was had by all.
The Civic Reception was held in the splendid Council House in the centre of the city. When it was officially opened in 1927 its huge Neo-Baroque structure did not readily appeal to everyone. Some thought it was far too expensive and grand in a city then recovering from economic problems. At the front, it houses the council chamber, committee rooms, offices for civic heads, a ballroom and a dining room whilst at the rear there are offices and a shopping mall, all under cover. Now, of course, the people of Nottingham are rightly proud of their Council House and I like the fact the chiming clock nearby has been called Little John.
Nottingham is a curious mixture of the old and new. Since its struggle from poverty following the first world war, it has become a focus of industry and trade. Today there are splendid shopping centres, theatres, a university and sports grounds. From an industrial point of view, it is known for its lace, cycles, leather, tobacco, engineering and textiles. It was in Nottingham that Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) established his spinning machinery in 1771, and by 1790 he was using steam to power his mill. He had actually set up a spinning frame at Preston, Lancashire, in 1768 but the fury of the workers, who thought they would lose their jobs, convinced him he should move elsewhere. And so he went to Nottingham.
For centuries, however, the life of Nottingham focussed on the castle which has had a long and turbulent history. Originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068, it was twice destroyed during the reign of King Stephen, and twice rebuilt. It was under siege during the Civil War and knocked down by the Parliamentarians. A new castle was built by the aptly named Duke of Newcastle in 1674-79 and used as the family home, but it was burnt down in 1831. It remained a ruin until 1871 when the City Corporation restored it. It was then developed to become the City’s Castle Museum and Art Gallery.
Below the castle walls, and built on the site of an earlier brew house, is an inn known as the Trip to Jerusalem, said to be England’s oldest public house. It was used by the Crusaders who halted here for their ale and it is said its foundations date to 1070.
Whilst the Dukes of Newcastle have strong links with Nottingham, their presence is also evident in a massive country park to the north of the city and we stopped off there on our journey home. It is called Clumber Park, once the estate of the Dukes of Newcastle but now owned by the National Trust. With more than 3,800 acres (1,500 hectares), it includes the longest avenue of lime trees in Europe, a spectacular serpentine lake and other rural features such as forests, heaths and farmland. There is also a fantastic glass house, a huge walled kitchen garden and a chapel with intricate wood carvings on the font and confessional.
Clumber Park is always busy and offers wonderful opportunities for recreation but one thing is missing. There is no mansion house – it was demolished in 1938. The Dukes of Newcastle don’t appear to have had much luck with their houses. …