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Watson Fothergill, Architect

Yesterday I ventured to the other side of Trent Bridge for a talk at West Bridgford library. The topic was local architect Watson Fothergill, whose characteristic Victorian Gothic buildings can be found around Nottingham. I am particularly interested in his office building (pictured above), which can be found in Hockley on George Street. I’m hoping to include it as a stop on a tour of the area that I’m slowly working on. Fothergill was born very near where I went to school, so I was intrigued to find out more.

The talk was given by Darren Turner, himself an architect, who has taken on the task of cataloging Fothergill’s buildings. He’s even published a book, filled with sketches and as much detail as any local researcher could wish for, about the buildings that are still standing and those that have over the years been demolished.

Watson Fothergill (or is it Fothergill Watson?) and the name plate he designed for his office.
Watson Fothergill (or is it Fothergill Watson?) and the name plate he designed for his office.

Fothergill Watson was born in 1841 in Mansfield. His work dates from 1863 to around 1912 and in that time he mainly worked in and around Nottingham. In 1892 he switched his name around by deed poll, in order to carry on his mother’s family name (although it was to no avail as his own children didn’t  produce any decedents of their own.) It seems he received a large inheritance from his father in law, one of the founding partners in Mansfield Brewery, and being comfortably off never saw the need to venture much beyond the county boundaries. Fothergill was well connected locally with a half-brother on the Mansfield Improvements Commission and the influential Brunts’ Charity, which lead to several building projects.

Queens Chambers  off the Market Square, Nottingham.
Queens Chambers off the Market Square, Nottingham.

Several of Fothergill’s buildings in Nottingham have a distinctive look. Made of red brick with a striped pattern of blue, they also often have turrets, timber eaves and stone carvings. Anyone who has visited the centre of Nottingham is likely to have seen his Queens Chambers on the corner of Long Row and Queen Street, or the Nottingham and Notts Bank building on Thurland Street. You might also have passed the former Daily Express Offices on Parliament Street.

The former Daily Express Offices on Parliament Street, Nottingham
The former Daily Express Offices on Parliament Street, Nottingham

His office on George Street, built as a “shop window” for his work after he was forced to move from Clinton Street by the arrival of the railway, is one of the hidden gems of Nottingham. I only found it recently while exploring the “Creative Quarter”, it was recently up for sale and there was talk that it was bought by some Fothergill enthusiasts with a view to renovating it as a museum.

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Watson Fothergill’s Office at 15-17 George Street, Nottingham

The exterior is a homage to his mentors with busts of the architects Augustus Pugin, George Street, George Gilbert Scott , William Burges and Richard Norman Shaw honoured in stone. There are terracotta panels depicting architecture through the ages and masons at work on a gothic cathedral. The individuality of the design makes this a distinctive building for the 1890s, full of idiosyncratic details. This office, like many of Fothergill’s buildings, shows the influence of his travels in Bavaria and Venice, with details from European Gothic given a particular Victorian twist.

Although Fothergill is no Gaudi or Mackintosh in terms of the scale or fame of his buildings, his distinctive style has left its mark on Nottingham. Some of his buildings did not survive the drive for modernism that swept through the city centre in the 1960s and 1970s. Notable losses include the Black Boy Hotel, which by the time of its demolition had become “notorious” (according to my mum at least…). It was pulled down in 1970 and a large branch of Primark now occupies in the spot on Long Row where once it stood.

Darren Turner's book on Fothergill
Darren Turner’s book on Fothergill


Darren Turner’s book goes a long way to establishing a full list of extant buildings as well as clarifying the provenance of some which have been mis-identified in the past and I look forward to discovering more of them on my walks through the city.

The Nottingham and Notts Bank on the corner of Thurland Street.
The Nottingham and Notts Bank on the corner of Thurland Street.
Photos used for this post come from these informative pages on Geograph and WikiMedia Commons. They are used under Creative Commons Licence.
Art, Blog

The Uncanny Canteen at Primary

Primary, a former primary school just outside the centre of Nottingham, was set up to provide studio space and support for artists in the city, as such it offers a unique place where artists and the public can share ideas and experience work from around the world.

The Uncanny Canteen served both as a fundraiser for the Grade II listed building and as an introduction to the activities of the residents of Primary.

Billed as “A mysterious gourmet tour of Primary in eight courses,” this evening of food, art and exploration promised to combine the culinary talents of Small Food Bakery’s Kimberley Bell with work by many of the artists who find their home in this artist-led space.

The evening began with ‘Khlebosolny’ a ritual welcome across the threshold comprising sourdough bread symbolising hospitality and friendship, and salt symbolising preservation and longevity. Performance artist Chris Lewis-Jones, dressed as a waiter, played the accordion at the door.

Atmospherically lit and decorated, the central project space was transformed into a moody dining room – but first a trip to the bar for a Midland Bramble cocktail made from gin, lemon and locally made cherry wine.

dining room

The next course led us to Russian born artist Yelena Popova’s studio for The Black Square, a Constructivist inspired vodka cocktail full of fruit juices, vitamins and minerals.

Thus enlivened, we were led into the next space and presented with specially selected pieces of chocolate, while behind a screen, Rebecca Lee performed a piece for flute by Debussy.

Back in the bar, performance artist Simon Raven was swathed in silver foil to perform Human Canapé, his comment upon actors being hired at minimum wage to re-stage seminal performance works at an LA Museum of Contemporary Arts Gala. Cheese and pineapple on sticks, stuffed olives and performance art make one rather thirsty, so it was back to the bar for another cocktail.

simon raven

The next course led us into a private view at TG, the gallery space within Primary. The latest instalment of their installation, ‘Occasional Table’ was accompanied by nettle crispbreads topped with cheese and a stimulating slice of red chilli.

Eggs, heads and dust, the sixth course, offered hard boiled eggs, a selection of powdered vegetables and spices served with infused oils.  A glass-topped case filled with one of Nadim Chaudry’s works made up of chicken skulls served as a table at which to eat the eggs and discard the shells, leading to some interesting reactions from diners.  The used plates looked like colourful discarded palettes.

Nadim eggs

Back in the main hall we took our seats to witness Frank Abbot investigate a variety of historic and contemporary chopping and slicing devices, combined with a range of surveillance technology and home video equipment – part JML demonstration, part slapstick performance this made up SALAD – Live! which sadly didn’t end up on our plates.

The next course devised with “farm artist” Georgina Barney, comprised a beef broth (with spirals of mooli) then slow roast brisket served with dripping on sour dough toast formed a portrait of the Blackbrook Longhorns. The breed are a living tribute to breeder Robert Blackwell whose worked helped usher in modern food production through selective breeding. Vegetarians were offered an edible tribute to agriculturalist ‘Turnip’ Townsend, who famously promoted a system of crop rotation which increased yields and helped fuel the industrial revolution.


This was followed by a selection of geometric deserts, inspired by the home interior products of Joff and Olly, designers of Lane, whose studio also resides at Primary. A rose and liquorice battenburg, lemon and pear jelly and a blueberry and strawberry pannacotta brought colours to the sharing platters.


Coffee allowed an opportunity to visit Wayne Burrows‘ studio for a reading with The Holcolme Tarot, a fictional pack of cards exploring ideas of meaning and randomness… my reading: Pandora’s Box, Altered State and Marriage symbolising chaos coming back into balance…

Finally, replete with local wine from Nottingham’s Eglantine vineyard, a visit to ‘A Séance with the Green Fairy’, where no one was quite sure if we should be making contact with the other side or just eating the homemade absinthe fondants and fudges while artist Simon Withers lurked in the darkness.


Primary is full of ideas and the artists who work there have found a way of collaborating together to great effect. Hopefully events such as this will help them raise the funds they need to continue their work well into the future.

Postcard from Notts

Postcard from Nottingham

I’ve been “Tied up in Nottz” for the past few months… here’s a postcard from “Nottingum”

Rough Trade have just opened the doors of their new record shop/ café bar on Broad Street at the heart of Hockley, and Nottingham gains another hip hang out to add to the Broadway Cinema, Lee Rosy’s Tea Shop, established record shop The Music Exchange and an ever growing selection of cafés and independent shops.

With industrial chic inside and free air for your fixie outside, Rough Trade arrives just in time for vinyl junkies and lovers of cult fiction to fill up their Christmas stockings.

Rough Trade Nottingham

Down the road, more music emanates from a street piano. A chap known as ‘Dave Keys’ knocks out some tunes under the ‘Nottingham Legends’ mural where local luminaries such as Jake Bugg and Samantha Morton are immortalised alongside literary creation Byron Clough and the legendary Su Pollard.

notts heros

The Hockley area along with the Lace Market and the redeveloped Sneinton Market is being marketed as Nottingham’s Creative Quarter – “Nottingham’s flagship project for economic growth, enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit.”

It will also soon be home to the National Videogame Arcade (opening next March) with five floors of games themed archives, exhibitions and activities to compliment the annual Game City Festival.

Meanwhile check out the array of vintage clothes shops including old favourite Wild Clothing, White Rose and Oxfam in the original Boots the Chemist building on Goose Gate and the massive Sue Ryder charity shop a couple of doors down.