Nottingham Then and Now Part 3: How some buildings have changed over the Years

Areas of Nottingham City Centre – and how they have changed!

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Long Row – shoppers passing what was Griffin & Spalding, then Debenhams department store.

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A flight of steps leading up from Weekday Cross. Under these steps, or their predecessors, was at one time kept a stock of whale-oil, which was used for the illumination of the town, which must have rendered the neighbourhood somewhat unsavoury. It is recorded that upon one occasion a frost occurred of such intensity as to freeze this stock of whale-oil.

Weekday Cross itself stood in the north-west corner of the area, in front of the more modern entrance to the hall. The first actual mention of it occurs in 1549, but a cross probably existed there much earlier. It was pulled down in 1804, and pictures which remain of it show it to have been an ordinary pillar cross upon steps. The arms had disappeared, and it was crowned by a great stone globe. From the steps surrounding it Royal and municipal proclamations were made, and it was really just an ordinary normal market cross.

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People wept openly in Long Row when the wrecking ball started smashing away one of Nottingham’s favourite old buildings.

These were the final, desperate moments for the Black Boy Hotel, the eccentric Watson Fothergill-designed Victorian edifice which, over the years, had welcomed stars of show business and sport through its doors.

It was the end of the Sixties, a time when functionalism was the trend, when an act of municipal vandalism swept away the splendid old hotel to replace it with a bland and ugly concrete monolith.

But more than 40 years later, people refuse to let the Black Boy’s glory fade. The name crops up whenever the subject of Nottingham’s lost architectural history is aired.

And tomorrow it will be given a permanent memorial when a plaque commissioned by Nottingham Civic Society is officially unveiled on the site – now occupied by Primark – by the Lord Mayor Coun Brian Grocock.

Hilary Silvester, chairman of the Nottingham Civic Society, said: “The plaque will be a tribute to Mr Fothergill’s work.

“Fothergill went in for fantastic designs with timbering and gabling and turrets. The Black Boy Hotel was his masterpiece where he incorporated all of these bits of different design.”

The Black Boy Hotel began life in the 17th century on land owned by the Brunts family of East Bridgford, and by 1700 the inn was an established staging post with coaches departing to all parts of the country.

In 1711 Samuel Brunts founded the charity which still bears his name. Among the foundations he created were almshouses and schools in Mansfield, funded by income from various properties, including the Black Boy.

The Turner family became tenants of the Black Boy in the mid-19th century – a connection which was to last for more than 100 years.

In 1878 architect Fothergill Watson, as he was then known, extended the hotel and thereby began his involvement in the redesign of the building.

Nine years later he completely rebuilt the Long Row frontage, retaining its fashionable colonnade.

The Bavarian design had all Fothergill’s characteristic ornamentation.

In 1897 – by which time the architect had switched his name to the grander Watson Fothergill – a central tower was created with stone lions at its base, and a statue of Samuel Brunts was mounted over the front entrance of the hotel.

During renovations of the Black Boy in 1928, the well-known local artist Denholm Davis was commissioned to paint two murals in the Haddon Room, depicting views of Haddon Hall.

Sadly, the effect of tobacco smoke was such that the murals were eventually covered by oak panelling.

During the years immediately before and after the Second World War, when the Black Boy Hotel was at the height of its fame, many well-known celebrities stayed there including Gracie Fields, George Formby, Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier.

The Australian cricketers were regular visitors and a story is told of their efforts to have Little John – the bell of the Council House clock – silenced at night. The English team were a safe distance away in the Victoria Station Hotel!

The reception rooms of the Black Boy were impressive with four of the main rooms named after local country houses… Thoresby, Rufford, Haddon and Chatsworth.

The hotel also boasted an American bar, a gentlemen’s-only bar, a writing room and a hairdressing salon.

The remainder of the hotel was, however, short of modern facilities, with bathrooms at a premium, and the upper floors resembling a warren. Perhaps the need for modernisation was the reason the lease was offered for sale by the trustees of the Brunts Charity in 1960.

The following year, Littlewoods acquired the site for the next 99 years at a starting price of £46,000 a year.

The opinion was expressed by the auctioneer, W R Brackett, that the site offered an opportunity for a large and imaginative development. Although protests were voiced at the prospect of the Black Boy closing, the hotel finally shut its doors on March 8, 1969.

Everything was sold at the auction which followed the closure of the hotel. A set of George III dining chairs went for £750 and an oil painting of Watson Fothergill and his family fetched £575.

Forty waste paper baskets and four fire buckets also went under the hammer.

The four stone lions which guarded the central tower were bought by the corporation and can now be found in the grounds of Nottingham Castle.

The statue of Samuel Brunts, which graced the façade of the hotel, was given to the Brunts School, Mansfield, where it remains – although with its left hand missing.

The small statue of a black boy, which was in the foyer of the hotel, was also saved, but a similar statue of a black girl appears to have been lost, along with the Davis mural.

In the early 1970s the utilitarian Littlewood store was built on the site, opposite the windows of the Council House, providing a permanent reminder of the city planners’ short-sighted, criminal folly..

Ken Brand, a Watson Fothergill expert, said it was a travesty the Black Boy was no longer standing.

“Its demolition was considered by most to be the worst example of architectural vandalism of that era in Nottingham… or anywhere” he said.

Well Inchcock agrees with him 100%!

Nottingham Then and Now: Part 2: The Elite Cinema, Upper Pariament Street

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Memories of The Elite Cinema, Upper Pariament Street, Nottingham

The Elite was one of the first in a new breed of ‘super-cinema’ to be built in Nottingham. Designed by the London architectural firm of Adamson & Kinns, the facade and exterior side walls were treated in an expensive white glazed tiling and contained statues along the upper portion of the building. Internally the decoration was carried out by interior designer Fred A. Foster who created a stunning interior with the auditorium walls lined with wood panels and a great deal of decorative plaster. Seating was provided in stalls and circle levels.

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It opened on 22nd August 1921 with Mary Pickford in “Pollyanna”. There was a grand concert organ by the firm of Willis-Lewis which had 78 stops, plus a full orchestra. The facilities within the building also included a a restaurant, a Georgian Tea Room, a French Cafe in Louis XVI style and a large ballroom located on the top floor.

In the reception was a gigantic ornate open coal-fired fire-place.

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The first ‘talkie’ in Nottingham was shown at the Elite Picture Theatre, George Jessel in “Lucky Boy” and after its screening, the cinema was closed for several weeks in July 1929 for a refurbishment.

A new Compton 2Manual/6Ranks organ was installed which was opened by Cyril Birmingham.

24 June 1929: The talking picture show had been introduced two years earlier in America with Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer.

002Elite6The first full-length ‘talkie’ film in Nottingham were shown at the Elite Cinema.

Organist Jack Helyer, in his white coat and tails, entertained audiences with their favourite tunes.

Peoples best memories was of the open fire in the foyer, especially when they arrived at he cinema and it was cold and icy outside!

Next in the Nottingham Then and Now Series:

A selction of Nottingham area photographs of specific Buildings

Then and Now – See the changes that has taken place.

Nottingham Then and Now – Part One: Sheep Lane – Market Street

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Market Street (Above colour photograph) started out as a narrow alley called Sheep Lane but due to its limited width quite a few accidents happened, pedestrians going up meeting carts coming down caused people to be squashed against the sides – usually resulting in blood stains on the floor and wall.

This led to the locals referring to it as Blood Lane.

When it was widened (civic improvements in 1866) the aim of the Gentry was to name it Theatre Street, because it led from the Market Square to the Theatre Royal.

The market people had other ideas and the night before the official unveiling some of them unscrewed the sign and replaced it with one stating Market Street.

The following day was market day and everyone, the Gentry and the market people, congregated at the bottom of the widened Sheep Lane for the opening ceremony.

The Mayor pulled on the cord to revel the new sign and proclaimed the new roadway to be “Market Street”, even though a portion of the assembled crowd – mostly Gentry – complained; but they were heavily outnumbered, and tried to point out the Mayor’s error when it was already too late.

There has been 128 murders recorded on Sheep Lane/Market Street.

Next in this series: The Elite Cinema – Upper Parliament Street.