Tag: Nottingham

Story of the week: Changing the cityscape of Nottingham


* image www.hotelroomsearch.net

The champagne corks will be popping for the launch of the new Eurostar service from London’s St Pancras International station.

But they’ll also be celebrating in Nottingham as the first high-speed service glides out of North London.

The reason? Improved rail connections from the East Midlands mean that the residents of Britain’s seventh richest city can now tuck into a fried breakfast first thing and be sipping a grand crème in the Gare du Nord some four hours and 54 minutes later.

“Being Nottingham born and raised, I’m delighted when I go back home to see the material changes in the city’s infrastructure and transport system,” says Greg Nugent, Head of Marketing for Eurostar.

“When we started to talk about High Speed One, it became obvious how the service could benefit not just London, but the UK as a whole.”

Urban renewal

Nottingham, the city best known as the home of fashion designer Sir Paul Smith and Boots, both of which still have a major presence in the city, has seen major investment in the last few years.

The city blossomed during its industrial heyday of the 1880s with the lace and cotton industries, but was looking tired and run down by the Eighties.

A slew of projects since 1989 have, however, changed the face of the city with the restoration of the Lace Market, now a conservation area to preserve the architectural character, the development of the Nottingham University campus and the inauguration of the National Watersports Centre at Holme Pierrepont.

The installation of the new Nottingham Express Transport (NET) tram system in 2004 has reduced traffic congestion and improved access around the city, now carrying 20,000 people per day.

Today, the ongoing regeneration of the city centre continues apace with major new projects including redevelopment of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, regeneration of the city’s eastern fringe and two new NET Tram routes two to Wilford and Beeston.

“Often commercial property kicks off regeneration but, in the case of Nottingham it was residential property that led the way: apartments were built, bars and restaurant opened and business moved in. The city centre is now home to both the UK head office of Capital One and the global HQ of Experian,” says Tony Pinks, Investment Sales Director for Nottingham-based Lace Market Properties.

“There was no city centre living in Nottingham before 1989. Less than 4,00 people lived in the city but, by 2006, that figures had increased to over 14,000.”

Heading south

One of the biggest initiatives in the city currently is the Southside Regeneration, a 15-year project to regenerate the area immediately south of the Victorian train station.

As a gateway to the city, the station makes for a pretty inauspicious welcome but the scheme aims to transform run-down Victorian warehouses and factories into hotels, offices, a conferences centre and leisure facilities, as well as a slew of residential apartment buildings with a very contemporary feel, plus new tram connections.

As part of this, the first two residential apartment blocks, Summer Leys House and the PictureWorks, will be ready for possession in 2009 with prices ranging from £140,000 for a one-bedroom to £240,000 for a three-bedroom, upper level apartment.

David Postings, who works in finance and commutes regularly from London, has already bought the Summer Leys House penthouse off plan. “I spend two to three days per week working in Nottingham and I was looking for more of a base than just another hotel room,” he explains.

Postings spent £250,000 for 900m sq with a terrace, a price he considers competitive given his other home is close to London King’s Cross station.

“This development appealed to me as it right by the station, brand new and high up, so benefiting from good light. And, as it was at a sufficiently early stage, I asked Lace Market Properties to reduce it from three to two bedrooms and increase the area of the living room,” he adds.

“Nottingham felt like a good place to buy with improving infrastructure and a sense of bouncing back after years of decline.”

In the suburbs

But while the city centre appeals to young professionals, families are increasingly heading out to the suburbs with Westbridge, Burton Joyce, Bingham and, in particular, Radcliffe all popular areas to buy.

“Nottingham city is not really aimed at the family market, never has been,” says Lucie Flint, Associate Director of Savills, based in Nottingham.

“In the city it’s only The Park, the area around Nottingham Castle, where a three-bed, modern townhouse starts from £400,000, that attracts families.”

“Most people head for the suburbs, notably the borough of Rushcliffe, where there are good schools, good services in terms of shopping and transport, and plenty of nice places to eat and drink, all within a few miles of the city centre.”

While Flint says Savills are currently flooded with apartments to sell in the city centre, the market in Rushcliffe is particularly vibrant with a good range of properties for couples and families.

A three-bed, detached house in a new development starts from £300,000 while a three-bed family property in a village on the fringe of the city currently sells for around £400,000.

Family home

“With the regeneration of the city, I think the majority of city-centre properties are now almost exclusively for investors, students and young professionals,” agrees Allan Stephens, a marketing professional in the public sector, who moved his family to Nottingham in 1996.

“The majority of people over 30 are moving out into the suburbs, or the Nottinghamshire countryside. The changing nature of available housing and concerns about much-publicised crime problems in the inner city are fuelling this.”

Stephens first moved to Nottingham in 1996, buying a three-bed new development in the suburb of Netherfield for £50,000.

Now married with two young daughters, he recently bought a four-storey, four bedroom family house with a garden in the suburb of Carlton, four miles northeast of the city centre, for £195,000.

“We find a lot of families are moving to Carlton,” he says. “It offers larger properties, good public transport connections to the city and is convenient for a quick escape to the countryside with plenty of parks, zoos and family attractions within a 15-mile radius.

“We’re also now crucially in the catchment area for the well-reputed Carlton-le-Willows secondary school.”

Near neighbour

Shadowing the renaissance of Nottingham is the increasing popularity of the spruced-up market towns around Nottingham as a base for families seeking a more rural environment. Of these, Newark, 25 minutes by train from Nottingham city centre, is proving to be one of the most popular spots to buy.

An attractive market town with a Georgian market square, a 12th century castle and a population of around 40,000, it already boasts a high-speed rail link to London’s King’s Cross station with an hourly service and a journey time of 90 minutes.

With transfer times of just a few minutes on foot from King’s Cross to St Pancras, Newark is also set to benefit from the new Eurostar service.

“Newark is booming with commuters to Nottingham and London, attracted by the character of the place, the transport connections (A1 intersection, GNER East Coast mainline), and good range of facilities with restaurants, the marina and golf courses,” says Richard Watkinson, Partner, Richard Watkinson & Partners.

“Families are particularly attracted to Newark over Grantham or Lincoln as prices still have a competitive edge and there’s a good stock of three and four-bedrooms, detached properties with gardens in residential areas, such as Beacon Hill and Fernwood.”

A three-bedroom detached house in Newark currently sells for around £180,000, an increase from an average of £100,00 five years ago, while a four-bedroom detached house now sells for around £225,000.

Newark’s Northgate train station may be located in one of the least attractive areas of town, but a house within a five-minute walk of the station comes with at a £10,000 premium.

“We looked all over the country but, in the end, we chose Newark for three reasons: it’s an attractive town with the river and the castle, it boasts a great central location with excellent transport connections and proximity to Nottingham and Lincoln, and we could get so much more for our money compared to the southeast,” says Debbie Ferguson, who recently moved from Pirbright, Surrey, to buy a four bedroom detached house with garden in the village of Farndon, two miles from Newark, for £185,000.

Civic pride

Back in Nottingham work is moving on apace to transform the beleaguered train station area and Greg Nugent is increasingly proud of the renaissance of his home town.

“I won’t be surprised if Nottingham sees an influx of European visitors, both for tourism and from a commercial perspective, once the new train services start,” he says.

“After all. Nottingham always did have a very commercial sense to make the most of new opportunities.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story first appeared in the Weekend FT in 2007. Liked this? Try also Urban Regeneration in Derby.

Story of the week: Following the Robin Hood trail around Nottingham


* This week Sherwood’s Major Oak [pictured above] was named England’s Tree of the Year by the Woodland Trust. It goes on to compete in the European Tree of the Year contest in February 2015. Here’s a story about my visit to Sherwood Forest a few years back.

The Sheriff of Nottingham has changed a fair bit since Robin Hood’s day.

Granting me an audience on an autumnal evening at Nottingham Castle, the Sheriff arrives in a flowing, medieval skirt and answers to the name of Jeannie. It’s enough to make Keith Allen, who plays the Sheriff in the TV series, turn to drink. She says:

“I used to watch Robin Hood films on a Saturday morning and he became my childhood hero – as he is to many people from Nottingham.”

“We are proud of Robin and refute age-old suggestions that he was, in fact, a Yorkshireman,” says Jeannie Packer, whose role as Sheriff is purely symbolic and who works as an elected city councillor by day.

Folk hero

With the return of the popular BBC TV series, I’ve come to Nottingham for an exclusive preview of two accompanying attractions: an exhibition at Nottingham Castle, Robin Hood Up Close, and an interactive audio trail, In the Footsteps of Robin Hood, which retraces the trail blazed across Nottinghamshire by Britain’s favourite outlaw.

The former is a walk-through tour of sets, costumes and scenery from the TV series which devotees will love. Screens display interviews with cast members, while props are dotted throughout the exhibition’s three rooms upstairs in this magnificent 17th-century ducal mansion, built on the site of the original medieval castle.

Afterwards, I explored the manicured grounds and admired the dramatic statue of Robin, bow drawn, which stands just outside the castle walls. But I was keen to get under the skin of the legend, whose story remains shrouded in mystery and folklore.

With commentary available to be downloaded to mp3 players or on CD, and an accompanying map, the new audio trail is designed to be self-guided. But to gather an even deeper insight I set out with John Charlesworth, a self-styled heritage interpreter who acted as a consultant on the venture.

Audio trail 

From Nottingham Castle at the far south of the trail, we head first for the pretty village of Edwinstone, the hub for visitors to Sherwood Forest, and home to the Church of St Mary where, according to legend, Robin and Maid Marian were finally married.

The village is a haven for Robin Hood fans with pubs, restaurants and guesthouses all trading on its close association with the legend.

John and I follow a tree-shrouded path from the edge of the village into Sherwood Forest itself, passing a small visitors’ centre in a clearing, before delving deeper into 450-acre forest in search of the famous Major Oak, believed to be Robin’s former hideout.

As we walk on woodland paths over pine combs and chestnuts, John tells me that the first written references to Robin Hood date back to six medieval tales recorded at the end of the 15th Century, although minstrels were singing tales of Robin for several centuries beforehand.

“We set out to evoke the legend to give people a flavour of Sherwood and explore some of the myths around Robin Hood,” he explains.

“He was essentially a highwayman, waylaying people on the Great North Road, the modern-day A1, but his infamy has changed with the times.”

Following the 50-mile trail takes us to seven key sites overall.

Each of the locations boasts a crossbow-shaped interpretation unit. Made out of carved wood into which a screen is set, these interactive units complement the audio commentary with a brief televisual synopsis touching on a particular aspect of the Robin Hood story.

The whole trail is best tackled by car but none of the main sites are more than half a mile from the Sustrans National Cycle Route.

Country estate 

Driving northwest from Edwinstowe village, Rufford Abbey, an English Heritage property, is an imposing country mansion surrounded by verdant woodland.

One of the triangle of primary sites, I find the candlelit remains of the 12th-century Cistercian monastery in the grounds, with its ancient manuscripts and medieval tapestries, an atmospheric backdrop to learn about Robin’s antagonistic relationship with the Church.

From here we head north to another location, Clumber Park, a sprawling National Trust property and formerly a major deer-hunting park. Robin would have hunted for food here, defying the forest law enforced from the 12th to 14th century.

But instead of wild beats, I find an oasis of tranquility with a walk around the huge lake, a stroll along the sweeping avenue of lime trees and a moment’s contemplation in the tiny Gothic chapel.

Dark dungeons

Finally, Cresswell Crags, located on the trail’s northwest spur, is not only home to the only ice-age cave art found in the UK, but also caves where Robin is alleged to have hidden while fleeing the Sheriff of Nottingham with a bounty hanging over him.

The caves are the now domain of archaeologists, but I still get a sense of feeling like a fugitive, hiding in the dank chambers with rats scurrying around my feet, before climbing back in the car to return to castle.

“What I like most about Robin is the way that the legend can be adapted to reflect the social issues of the times without damaging the core of the story,” says John.

Back at the castle, I’ve survived my encounter with the Sheriff without being flung in the dungeons.

But, as I take my leave, she fixes me with a steely gaze. “I think this new trail will finally lay to rest the claims that Robin Hood was from Yorkshire,” she says.

“Robin Hood is Nottingham and Nottingham is Robin Hood.”


Experience Nottinghamshire

Sherwood Forest’s Major Oak named tree of the year

* This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2007. Liked this? Try also Reading up on D H Lawrence around Nottingham.

Post your comments below.

Story of the week: the D.H. Lawrence Festival in Nottinghamshire


* The tenth edition of the annual D.H. Lawrence Festival is currently under way in Eastwood, Lawrence’s home town in Nottinghamshire. It runs until September 21 with the The D.H. Lawrence Society’s Birthday Lecture on Wednesday this week. The next big literary story for me is the Dylan Thomas centenary in 2014 – more on that soon. Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS for more story updates. 

The quiet in the reading room is almost tangible.

Librarians busy themselves filing rare first editions of novels, corrected proofs and crinkly old newspaper reviews. Students scrutinise leather-bound texts.

But, despite the hushed reverence of scholarly activity, there’s also a sense that deep passions are simmering beneath the surface – the subject of study is just that kind of author.

“I first read Sons & Lovers when I was 16 years old and found the way he expresses sexuality through nature to be totally different to any other writer,” says Annalise Grice, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham, researching the modernist writer D.H. Lawrence’s depiction of the new women genre. She adds:

“He’s a very sensual writer, not a sexual one.”

I meet Annalise while visiting the university’s D.H. Lawrence Research Centre and she takes me to see the Reading Room, where part of Lawrence’s prodigious output is held.

The university has been steadily building a collection of some 4,500 items since the mid 1950s. It plays a key role in the annual D.H. Lawrence Festival, staged in September in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, and will contribute academic expertise to events this month to mark the centenary of the publication of Sons and Lovers.

For many, the image of D.H. Lawrence is summed up by the poet Philip Larkin, who wrote:

“Sexual intercourse began / In 1963 (which was rather late for me) / Between the Chatterley ban / And the Beatles’ first LP.”

This refers to Lawrence’s 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which had been banned for obscenity.

The publishing house, Penguin, brought the test case for publication to the Old Bailey in 1960, where the prosecuting counsel, Mr Mervyn Griffith-Jones, famously asked the jury whether they considered Lawrence’s novel was something they would wish their wives or servants to read.

The trial marked a watershed in attitudes towards public decency and, when the ban was lifted, it became a best seller, ushering in a new age of sexual freedom in Britain.

Lawrence had become one of the most distinctive voices of the 20th century – not bad for a sickly miner’s son from working-class Nottinghamshire.

Early days

David Herbert Lawrence was born in the mining town of Eastwood on September 11, 1885, the fourth of five children to Arthur John Lawrence and his wife Lydia.

Ill health and a sensitive nature marked him as an outsider from a young age, caught between the marital tension of his social-climbing mother and hard-drinking father. These are themes he would return to many times in his career.

The young Lawrence was desperate to escape the mining town and gained a scholarship to study for his teacher’s certificate at University College, Nottingham from 1906 to 1908.

After a stint teaching in Croydon and bouts of ill health, he returned to Nottinghamshire in 1912 and a chance meeting changed the course of his life forever.

He went to see his old languages professor, Ernest Weekley, for advice and instead found the professor’s German wife, Frieda von Richthofen. The couple eloped soon afterwards, the women six years his elder causing a scandal by leaving her husband and young children behind.

They spent several itinerant years travelling, first to Munich and then to Gargnano, near Lake Garda, where Lawrence worked on Sons and Lovers, published the following May.

They made a brief return to England in 1919 before travelling extensively to Australia, Sri Lanka and New Mexico, Lawrence the struggling writer and Frieda the doting partner who claimed, “I love him with 1,000 different loves.”

The intensity of this relationship, and the Freudian relationship he had shared with his own mother, informed the sexual nature of his work. As Lawrence writes in Sons and Lovers:

“It was as if the pivot and pole of his life from which he could not escape, was his mother.”

For Andrew Harrison, Director of the D.H. Lawrence Research Centre, there is more to Lawrence’s work than the overt sexuality of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

“I was in sixth form in Warwickshire when I first read some of his short stories, notably Odour of Chrysanthemums and You Touched Me. I felt an enormous sense of intimacy,” says Harrison. “Lawrence deals brilliantly with burgeoning sexuality and speaks to adolescents in a very tactile way.”

“People say Lawrence is a writer you grow out of and into Joyce. “To me, that’s moronic. I think he grows with you.”

Home town tour

From Nottingham, I pick up the trail at the D.H. Lawrence Heritage Centre in Eastwoo0d [pictured above].

This is the starting point for the Blue Line Trail, a one-hour walking route through residential streets, past terraced houses and local pubs, to places associated with his life story.

The walk takes in the Mechanics Institute, a Victorian lending library for working men where the young Lawrence would read, the Congregational Chapel where the family attended service and the Three Tuns pub, the favourite watering hole of Lawrence senior after a day’s work down the pit, which would turn up in Sons and Lovers as the Moon and Stars.

From the top of the hill on Lynncroft, and looking across the green space of the Canyons on Walker Street, the view extends to the mining villages beyond – Brinsley, Moorgreen and Annesley – where he documented the encroachment of industry on the Midlands landscape.

In Sons and Lovers he wrote:

“The hills were golden with evening; deep in the wood showed the darkening purple of bluebells. It was everywhere perfectly still, save for the rustling of leaves and birds.”

It’s 8a Victoria Street, the cramped miner’s cottage where he was born, that offers the greatest insight into Lawrence’s early life.

The cottage now houses the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum and offers a glimpse of the tough conditions of Victorian mining communities. The gaslight burns in the front parlour, kept for Sunday best, and the fire glows in the hearth in the kitchen with its slop-stone sink and carbolic soap.

I can imagine the family sat around the kitchen table, his mother sewing, his father eating supper, and the young Lawrence drawing on the floor along side his siblings. Even the floral wallpaper in the children’s bedroom has been recreated to capture a snapshot of family in the Victorian era.

“What I admire about Lawrence is his attitude as a non-conformist and his ability to transcend his working-class roots,” explains Senior Heritage Assistant Carolyn Melbourne, as we walk through the family home from the adjoining exhibition about his life next door.

Lawrence always had an uneasy relationship with Eastwood and there was a lot of antipathy towards him locally for many years after his death, explains Carolyn. He often based his characters on real local people, barely changing their names, and locals said of him:

“E wor nowt b’r mardy bugger” (local dialect for being a moody character).

“Yet, today, he is a cult figure,” she adds. “He may be best known for his views on sexuality but, for me, it is his insight into ecology that makes him more relevant today than in any other previous generation.”

I finish the walk at the Heritage Centre, which puts Lawrence’s legacy into the broader social context of the East Midlands, and explores the impact of the Chatterley trial after his death. To this day Lawrence, it seems, stirs conflicting emotions.

On the blackboard in the recreation of the Victorian schoolroom, the chalk-dust graffiti reads: “D.H. Lawrence, I love and hate him. Liz, USA 2013.”

Exile years

Lawrence rarely returned to Britain after his self-imposed exile and died in Vance, Southern France, on Sunday March 2, 1930.

He was buried in the local cemetery and Frieda commissioned an elaborate gravestone, bearing a mosaic effigy of a phoenix, to mark his final resting place. This cane now be found at the Birthplace Museum in Eastwood.

Back at the D.H. Lawrence Research Centre, the students are dispersing and the librarians filing away the folios. Lawrence enthusiasts from around the world will converge on the centre (open to the public if you book and bring photo identification) and flock to Eastwood this month to celebrate Lawrence.

They will come to remember a man whose writing may have shocked the establishment, but it also managed to capture something of the emotions that stir within us all.

“It was the sheer intensity of his work that really spoke to me,” smiles Annalise Grice as we say our goodbyes.

“He says in one of his letter that he wanted to really dig down into the carbon when he writes. I feel that. It’s as if he’s writing what I am.”

* This story first appeared in Discover Britain magazine in August, 2013. A follow-up piece appeared on the National Geogrpahic Traveller blog. Read Nottinghamshire: the D. H. Lawrence Trail

Liked this? Try also Reading up on D. H. Lawrence around Nottingham.

What do you think of these stories? Post your comments below.

Reading up on D.H. Lawrence around Nottingham


I’ve been away somewhere exotic. A place where the taxi drivers call you, “Me duck,” and the cobs are something you eat for lunch, not get on.

Yes, the East Midlands.

More precisely the city of Nottingham and the former mining town of Eastwood, just outside the home of Paul Smith and Rock City.

Nottinghamshire boasts a slew of literary connections, notably Lord Byron, Alan Sillitoe of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning fame and, the subject of my research trip, David Herbert Lawrence.

Lawrence is known best for his outspoken views on sexuality yet, like Wordsworth (the subject of another of my recent commissions), his description of the sensuous quality of nature is the most compelling aspect of his work.

In Sons and Lovers, his breakthrough and unabashedly auto-biographical novel, which celebrates the centenary of its publication this year, he writes:

The hills were golden with evening; deep in the wood showed the darkening purple of bluebells. It was everywhere perfectly still, save for the rustling of leaves and birds.

Local Heritage Assistant Carolyn Melbourne (pictured above in the doorway of 8a Victoria Street, the cottage where he was born and now a museum to his early life) took me on a whistle-stop tour of the sites associated with Lawrence and his early work.

She will be leading Sons and Lovers theme tours of Eastwood during the D.H. Lawrence Festival in September.

Lawrence was an outsider and spent many itinerant years travelling the world with his lover, Frieda von Richthofen. His journeys informed a new genre of travel writing, different to the likes of Patrick Leigh Fermor.

But it’s the way he describes the flawed interior lives of his characters, many based on real-life people, that sounds so fresh today. These people, facing emotional turmoil and struggling to reconcile it, are living amongst us now. They are us.

Lawrence writes in the short story, Odour of Chrysanthemums:

Was this what it all meant – utter, intact separateness, obscured by the heat of living? She had denied him what he was. She had refused him as himself. And this had been her life, and his life. She was grateful to death, which restored the truth.

Do you have a favourite haunt of D. H. Lawrence around Nottingham? Are you planning to visit the city during the festival?

Post your comments below.

Read more about D.H. Lawrence in Nottinghamshire here.