Thursday, 2 June 2011

Gates, Tunnels and Parks

"I don't know much about history, and I wouldn't give a nickle for all the history in the world. History is more or less bunk. It is a tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today". - Henry Ford.

You don't believe that do you? I'm sure that with David McCullough you will say that, "A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia". If you happen to agree with Henry Ford, then there will be no point in reading on, because we're going to look at two pieces of Nottingham history.

Part of the old city wall
At the top of Maid Marian Way, near the Nottingham Playhouse stands the Holiday Inn Express. I have walked past it many times, and looked in through the side windows at three large notice boards that give something of the history of the area. To my regret however, I had never looked down. There on display you see the remains of the ancient Nottingham City walls. I tried to capture it in the picture above, but it had to be taken through a thick plate glass window. The wall is part of the boundary wall that ran from Chapel Bar to around the Castle. The pavement outside shows the direction of the original wall.

Chapel Bar around 1740
Chapel Bar today is a short street the other side of the Holiday Inn Express, and is a pedestrianised area full of restaurants and outside eating areas.

The old Chapel Bar was the west gate into the walled enclosure of Nottingham, and was built around 1154. The word 'bar' is a Scandinavian word for what we would call a gate, and according to some, it reflects the fact that Nottingham was an important Danish settlement. Until 1750 the street now called Chapel Bar was known as Bar Gate, and if the above mentioned Scandinavian connection is true, it means Gate Gate. Ah well, why not? There are plenty of people in Wales called Evan Evans.

There has been lots of discussion on the meaning of the word Chapel. Some think that the northern part of the tower was used as a Chapel, while others think it relates to the division of the town, where the Gate, Angel Row, St James' Street,  Friar Lane etc was called Chapel Ward. By about 1700, Chapel Bar was little more than a ruin, and I think that the line drawing above shows something of this. The old gateway was demolished in 1743, as it was in the way of the increasing amount of traffic entering Nottingham. Two years later, as the Thoroton Society history (1931) says, "in 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie had got as near to the town of Derby, the authorities wished very heartily that they had not pulled it down". To show how small ancient Nottingham was, it wasn't until 1729 that any house was built outside of these walls. I know that there's not much to see, but next time you're in the area, do go and have a look at the ruined walls.

View from Derby Road
A few yards away from Chapel Bar is the start of the Derby Road, the whole length of which from Nottingham to Derby, is officially called The Brian Clough Way.

Walk a few hundred metres up Derby Road, pass St Barnabas Roman Catholic Cathedral, and you come to the vehicle entrance for a block of flats. The picture opposite shows you the path, but the entrance gives you no clue as to what awaits you if you take the path under the block of flats.

What awaits you has been described as one of Nottingham's best kept secrets. It may seem unwelcoming, and a bit dark, but walk the few metres through the car park and you come to a set of steps. Go down the steps and marvel at the sight that greets you.

View of the two tunnels from The Park
This is the Duke of Newcastle's Tunnel, cut in two stages through the Nottingham sandstone. In between the two parts, there are steps that take you up to The Ropewalk. Believe me, these steps are steep. I'm feeling worn out just talking about them.

The tunnel was built for the Duke in 1855 (though it was started in the early 1840's, but abandoned due to lack of money) to allow horse drawn carriages to travel from Derby Road to the Park Estate which he also owned (He was also the owner of Nottingham Castle, which overlooked the park).

The Duke commissioned architect T.C. Hine to construct the tunnel and develop the park for residential use. The Duke wanted a maximum gradient of 1 in 14, however, it was actually built with a 1 in 12 gradient, which was too great for horse drawn carriages, "thus", said someone with commendable understatement "defeating the object of the construction". See, there's nothing new about cock-ups.

The tunnel is wonderful, and remains much the same now as it did in the Victorian period. At one end you enter from a very busy, noisy city centre road, and emerge the other end into a quiet, genteel, countryside environment with trees, bowling greens and birds singing. If you haven't already, do get to see this tunnel - it's magic.

Images of The Park Estate
Part of the Park Estate
As has already been mentioned, T.C. Hine was charged to design and build the tunnel and the Park Estate. He was also responsible for repairs to the Castle, and its conversion into a museum.

The park was originally a royal hunting ground for Nottingham Castle which overlooks it. It had deer, game, fishponds, rabbit warren and a falconry, providing food and sport for the castle residents.

The style of homes varies greatly, and this was no doubt due to building work taking place from the 1830's to the early 1900's. The appearance of the Park Estate was maintained by covenants restricting the density of the development, and required that houses be "set back from the road among trees, and no house was allowed to be erected which would interfere with the view of another house". No business was allowed in the Park, and it was even illegal for buildings or rooms to be used by any faith other than the Church of England. Owners had to maintain their property, which included painting exterior wood every four years and agreeing to twice-yearly inspections by Hine's office.

Map of Park Estate
By 1877 the Park covered an area of 254 acres and had a population of 1500 residents. And as Michael Payne says in his 'Victorian Nottingham', "By 1887 the original scheme was complete; some 650 houses stood in semi-rural splendour on an estate less than half a mile from the centre of town, and Nottingham's merchant aristocracy had a local Belgravia all of their own".

T.C. Hine retired as estate surveyor in 1890, having overseen the majority of the Park's development. In 1938, after almost 280 years, the 8th Duke of Newcastle sold the Nottingham Park Estate to Oxford University, and almost 50 years later, in 1986, the park came into the hands of Nottingham Park Estate Limited, run by a Board of Directors elected by the residents. It became a conservation area in 1969, and over 93 of its buildings and other features are listed.

Chesterton Humberts, a firm of local estate agents describe the Park as "a quiet, picturesque area within central Nottingham, with historic features maintained, preserving the tree lined streets and grand Victorian houses".

The Park has not been without its problems though, as can be seen by reading some back issues of the Park Residents Association newsletters. The main concern seems to have been the conversion of larger houses into flats which began in the early part of the 20th Century.

These became known as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO's), and in 2009, the Department for Communities and Local Government opened a consultation period on HMO's and planning processes. The Nottingham Park Estate Residents' Association submitted their views in August of that year.

Now, I was involved with HMO's, planning and the views of local residents for many years, and to my shame, I approached the NPERA submission expecting it to be full of NIMBYism, but I was wrong. It was a well reasoned, well written, positive submission. Their concerns were those that I could identify with, as they were common to all areas.

Too many HMO's are poorly managed by the Landlords; property is often not looked after, and tenants behaviour is ignored. Too many HMO's in a small area tends to produce a ghetto, and is not conducive to developing a balanced community.

In early 2010, the Government said that it would be bringing in changes to the planning regulations, and giving more power and discretion to Local Authorities in how they managed HMO's.

In spite of the above, I'm sure that The Park is still a wonderful place to live, and it is certainly a wonderful place to visit. The round trip from the Castle, up Derby Road, through the Tunnel and the Estate, and up Lenton Road back up to the Castle is a joy to behold. And there's often an ice cream van waiting for you outside the Castle Gate.

By the early 1900's, you had 'arrived' if you had an address in The Park. Residents have included Sir Jesse Boot, founder of Boots The Chemist; artist and first woman to be elected to the Royal Academy, Dame Laura Knight; Director, Sir Jonathan Miller; Fighter Pilot awarded the VC, Albert Ball; Founder of the Raleigh Cycle Company, Sir Frank Bowden; fashion designer, Sir Paul Smith, and actor, Hugh Grant.

Mind you, if you want to live in The Park, it's not cheap. On sale today is a 3 bed terrace house for £329,000, or a 3 bed period residence for £429,000. If you turn your nose up at such cheap properties, then you may wish to look at one selling today for £1,420,000.

Winston Churchill said, "History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days".

Oh, I do hope that we have succeeded just a little bit on this journey through Gates, Tunnels and Parks.

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