Areas of Nottingham City Centre – and how they have changed!
Long Row – shoppers passing what was Griffin & Spalding, then Debenhams department store.
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.
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%!