Category Archives: Nottingham

The Old Lady by the River.

In homage to a special lady’s 120th birthday, I’ve shared my article which first appeared in Issue Three of the wonderful ‘Bandy & Shinty’ fanzine @ many thanks to Dave and Co. for their permission to re-publish it here.


Well, hello… it’s good to see you again. What have you got in store for me today, I wonder?

Each time I set eyes on you, as I step onto Lady Bay Bridge, my heart beats just that little bit faster. Now, that might be down to my apprehension about what is to come, but there is no doubting your beauty and majesty all the same. The sight of you under floodlights, the twinkling Trent lapping at your feet, boats dancing in your shadow – all this stirs the blood like nothing else. I can see it too in the eyes of others walking over the footbridge, their conversations tailing off as they are drawn by your magnetic pull. It can only be that lingering, tantalising, tingle-making promise of good times to come that does this. Good times? We’ve shared many of them over the years, so we know what they feel like don’t we? After all, we go back a long way, you and I?

Now, let’s see… when did we first meet? I reckon it was the summer of ‘69. I was five. You were seventy-one, but I’m happy to brush the age difference under the carpet if you are. I was perched upon my Dad’s shoulders, in your old East Stand, transfixed by the colours shimmering in the sunlight. It was a beautiful scene; your emerald green grass decorated by dots of red, white and sky-blue. Nottingham Forest versus West Ham United, world cup winning stars an’ all. It was the first of many portraits of you that are now permanently etched into the gallery in my memory. I think we won that day, or at least that is the impression I have now, meaning that ours must have been a starred relationship from the start.

It’s funny… I don’t remember the noise of the crowd back then. I say ‘It’s funny’, because no one can roar like you do. You give me goosebumps like no other and you can leave my ears ringing for hours afterwards.

The ‘old’ first division passed me by if truth be told. I was too young to know any different. Instead, you were the theatre where my first clear football memories consist of solid supporting actors like Tommy Jackson, Miah Dennehy and George Lyall, plying their trade in the old second division. To the tune of ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen’, they set the stage for ‘Sammy’ Chapman, ‘Bomber’ Bowyer and the great Duncan McKenzie, who topped the bill.

That FA Cup match against Man City sealed the deal. McKenzie’s overhead kick was a masterpiece painted on your canvas, a beam of sunlight providing the spotlight for his acrobatics at the Bridgford End. I remember that moment, together with the preceding intake of breath and the subsequent release of elation, just as clearly as the moment it happened. It’s the same with the eponymous mist, as it poured in waves over your main stand in a match against Southampton, and the moment that I leaned against your low white wall in the East Stand, holding my frozen breath, as David Jones blasted in an FA Cup equaliser against Spurs in the last game BC (Before Clough). You atmospheric old thing, you.

It was largely from the wide-open spaces of your Bridgford End that I witnessed the miracle years. You were often bursting at the seams, so popular were you; both a palace and a temple to the genius of you know who. We had a stool, my Dad and I, hand-painted red and white with the Forest logo on it. It fitted snugly onto your concrete steps. At first it was me who stood upon it under the open skies, but, in time – as I grew, it became my Dad’s perch. From it we witnessed greatness together; Robbo’s stardust glittering along the wing, Barrett’s dream goal against Liverpool, the rumble in the mud against Cologne… I could go on.

We grew up together too, you and I, our lives organically entwined… family, you could say. You fed and entertained me. I brought my girlfriends to meet you. Alas, they were never as taken with your charms as I was. Once, I thought that a pulsating New Year’s Day game against Liverpool might have done the trick. Phil Starbuck’s goal equalised in dying minutes by that rotten spoilsport Ian Rush. Result aside, how could anyone not enjoy a battle royal like that? Unfortunately, I had forgotten about the impact of your roofless stand, the driving rain and wind-chilled, below-freezing, temperatures. My wife-to-be, soaked, shivering and blue to her bones, politely informed me that she didn’t want to meet you again. Nothing would keep me away from you though.

Things turned full circle, however, and, when he was five, I introduced my son to you. I bet you were as amused as I was as he held his tiny hands over his ears for the entire game, such was the tumult of noise you created. What a game to start with though – PVH in his pomp and a 5-2 thrashing of Charlton Athletic. He still comes to pay his respects to you by the way, my son. It’s in the blood you see. Three generations; my Dad, me and my son have paid homage to you and now we have a brick (well more of a tile really) with our names on it, stuck to your wall at the Trent End. We were always part of you and now that is true in the physical sense too… and I also have my very own piece of your real estate – a seat in the Trent End and a square foot of concrete to call my own.

In our forty-nine years together, we’ve shared promotions, relegations, sadness and joy, optimism and uncertainty. You’ve aged well, old girl, probably better than I have, with your sexy curvy additions and hi-tech adornments. Although, I think it’s not too impolite to say that you still probably need a lick of paint and an application of filler here and there… but don’t we all? There have been many rumours of your demise during that time, but they turned out to be greatly exaggerated and you’ve outlasted your predecessors. You are a stubborn old lady.

The fare served up on your stage now isn’t as thrilling as it once was, and the atmosphere has been a little corrupted of late, yet you keep luring me back. It has got to be more than the taste of your Balti pies that does this, even if you do still conjure up the odd, rare, spine-tingling moment. Some might say it’s habit… or simply my need to wallow in the glow of those once-in-a-lifetime golden memories. I tell myself that the good times could happen again… but I am keenly aware of what they say about ‘hope’ and what it does to you in the end. It could be that, like a marriage, we have just been together for too long now to consider divorce. Maybe, it’s all of these things.

The Old Lady, still wowing them at night.

No… I think I know what it is that keeps drawing me back into your temptress arms. It’s the knowledge that when the good things happen upon your stage, they feel so goodso euphoric, that it makes me feel good about myself too. More precisely, you … my beautiful old lady by the river… make me feel good about myself. When that happens, it transcends the all bad stuff.

I know this, because we’ve shared many of those moments over the years, so we know what they feel like don’t we? After all, we go back a long way, you and I… xxx

The Green Green Grass of Home. (Attrib: Gary MCafferty)

Hidden in plain sight: The revelation of St. Nics.

OK then, I admit it, I felt sorry for you at first. That doesn’t mean I feel guilty though, because I think it shows that I care. After all, I had spent most of my lifetime not even noticing you.

I hope you don’t feel too hurt? I’d better explain: At first glance you appear to have been banished you see, exiled beyond the drab back-walls of the Broad Marsh Shopping Centre, from where you are bound to look out across Maid Marian Way. Didn’t they once call it the ‘ugliest street in Europe’? And… if that view isn’t unsightly enough, then you have that dull modern rectory and a monstrous 1970s concrete multi-storey car park for company too. It doesn’t get greyer than that, does it?


St. Nics… where are you?


St. Nics – Lost on the ‘ugly’ street.

I thought that you seemed lost in the greyness, at first, as if you had accidentally wandered out of the city centre and hadn’t yet found your way back. Your demeanour was that of a loner… coyly standing on the edge of a world that had passed you by. It must gall you, mustn’t it, that your ancient counterparts, St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s, have bagged Nottingham’s prime spots?  If the mantra ‘Location, location, location’ is important for a church, then there is no doubt that you’ve drawn the short straw. By the way, do you mind if I call you ‘St. Nics’ from now on, rather than ‘St. Nicholas’, it sounds more… well, ‘chummy’.


Of course, it wasn’t just your location that caused me to pity you; it was your bricks too. I know they mark you out as unique, but who on Earth built a church out of bricks back then? They do make you look a little unloved, like you have been hastily thrown together by cowboy church builders as an afterthought. Those builders didn’t push the boat out, did they? You’ve got no spire pointing heavenward, nor have you the haughty grandeur of your stone-built neighbours. Nobody opted for high-church ‘shock and awe’ with you, that’s for sure. I’ve even been told that, since you were built, a few of your more decorative features have… how do I put this… fallen off.


Now your garb is distinctly minimalist. It makes you seem almost diffident … shrunk into the shadows, quietly puritan perhaps? You’ve got a nice clock I’ll give you that. I love that gothic diamond-shaped face of black and gold, ornately proclaiming that ‘It is time to seek the Lord’; but it turns out that even your best feature was probably a hand-me-down from the old Nottingham Exchange building, which used to stand in slab square. You see… even your time is told by second-hand hands… it all fits the down-on-your-luck image, don’t you agree, St. Nics?

My interest in you has been kindled because I walk past you most days, now, on my way into work. You always draw my attention, even as I fight back against your magnetic pull, whilst I amble down the hill between Hounds Gate and Castle Boulevard. Your presence bugs me, to be honest. This is not for religious reasons, most decidedly not – I don’t do religion, but I do feel like I have some particular connections with you. For instance, my Grandmother was born in a Beerhouse room on Fink Hill Street back in 1922. The street is long gone, but it’s ghostly imprint is still marked out at the bottom end of Maid Marian Way. She was born on a Sunday and the bells that rang out to herald her emergence into the world would have been yours.

Do you remember Fink Hill Street? In those days it was just one of that tangled maze of streets which had stood since medieval times in the shadow of the Castle. Their evocative names were echoes of long lost history and spoke of colours and perfumes that probably hadn’t existed for years: Rosemary Lane, Walnut Tree Lane, Gilliflower Hill, Jessamine Cottages, Paddock Street, Mortimer Street and Isabella Street. You know that though, don’t you? You marshalled these unruly companions, standing tall above them in old photographs like the sensible older brother. Now you are all that’s left.


St. Nics circa 1895 – NTGM001595 (St Nicholas’ Church Walk, Nottingham) courtesy Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire and

Going even further back in time, you played a role in the life of my more ancient ancestors too. They lived near to the wood-yards, where they also worked, within earshot of the bustling canal wharves. The area was, strictly speaking, ‘extra-parochial’ but they chose you, St. Nics, as the baptism venue of choice.  You may remember William and Betsy Wesley? They were baptised within your walls in 1838 and 1840 respectively. They were siblings of my Great Great Grandfather John Wesley. Twenty odd years later, they set sail from Gravesend on a ship called ‘Ironsides’, their spouses in tow, bound for a new life in New Zealand. A couple of years after their arrival, Betsy and her husband moved to Australia.  It all turned sour for her there, in an alcoholic and litigious downward spiral that ended with her bloody self-inflicted death at the age of 36. William, on the other hand, stayed on in Auckland, a respected foreman of works on the New Zealand railways. He lived a long and contented life, dying at the age of 82.


Above: A sketch of St. Nics Circa 1890s, viewed from St. Nicholas Street – NTGM009550 (St Nicholas’s Church, Nottingham) courtesy Nottingham City Council and

Maybe you don’t remember William and Betsy, after all they were but two of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of screaming infants who took their first dip in the waters of your font. I often wonder, as I walk past, what other latent life stories might have passed through your doors. I bet, if you could unravel them, you’d have some tales to tell – of joy and sorrow; of ‘derring do’ and treachery; of workhouses and palaces; and of war, and peacetime, in a garden town that became black with industry and then became a modern city.


Grave of Abel Collin.

Back in the days when the Church was everything, I bet you were the beating heart of the community around you… hatches, matches and dispatches and all that stuff. I found out that Abel Collin, the charity guy, was buried in your tiny graveyard in 1705. Like you, his charity is still looking after Nottingham folk today. Abel’s grave stands amongst the faded and timeworn stones commemorating many more of your congregation who, like the rest of us, have left less of a trace on history.

You see – you can’t fool me completely. I know that, behind that unassuming exterior, you have a colourful past too. I’ve looked you up, in J. Holland Walker’s history from the Transactions of the Thoroton Society XLIV, published in 1940. JHW tells us that people first started writing about you in the twelfth century – eleven hundred and something-or-other. You may even have been in existence before the Norman conquest. You’re cracking on a bit then! It was a bit of a false start though, they say that first building was probably demolished in the rebellion against Henry II in 1177. I don’t know what brought that on, but I notice that you have a habit of upsetting people. Just like you did during the English Civil War, when the Castle became a ’roundhead’ stronghold under parliamentary pin-up boy and future regicide Colonel John Hutchinson.

Can you remember that day in September 1643 when a bunch of rowdy cavaliers sneaked in through your doors and began to pummel the castle with cannon from your tower. I suppose it’s understandable, when you think about it, that Hutchinson eventually set fire to you and pulled you down.

You disappeared completely from the map for nearly thirty years, can you believe that? That was until they started laying those bricks in the 1670’s. I guess that your rise from the ashes of the civil war is down to the generosity of the townspeople – you owe your existence to them wanting you back. The comeback kid!


NTGM009462 (St Nicholas’s Church) courtesy Nottingham City Council and

Walker reckons that Lawrence Collin, the father of Abel (and who is also buried in your earth), may have chipped in a few bob. That’s ironic really, because it’s said that he was also one of the gunners who fired cannonballs at you from the castle. Perhaps his guilt played a part in your resurrection? According to Walker, building a church was a big thing back then, after the Restoration. Nobody was spending money on it. I think that means that your bricks are probably a bit more special than they look.

Then, if civil war wasn’t enough, you had to watch the bulldozers run riot around you in the 1960s. That maze of streets we talked about, the one you had looked down upon for hundreds of years, was razed to the ground… just to make way for Maid Marian Way, your companion of over fifty years now. Fink Hill Street disappeared from the map, together with the Beerhouse where my grandmother was born. Those atmospheric, shady, lanes that wrapped around you, were flattened. As was Abel Collin’s almshouses on Friar Lane, described by the famous architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner in his The Buildings of England  as ‘one of the best almshouses of its date in England’. Mind you he also said that you reminded him of a church in New England, so what does he know. But you, St. Nics… you stood and you watched it all happen, in your own quiet, understated way. I bet it made you just a little bit sad though, didn’t it?


Watching as Maid Marion Way is being constructed in the late 1950s.    (NTGM005092 – Construction of Inner Ring Road-Maid Marian Way – courtesy Nottingham Evening Post).

I recently gave way to curiosity and had a peek inside your doors. I didn’t venture in too far – that’s not my place. I was expecting to see a dour and sad reflection of your outer shell, but I was wrong. Inside you are all whitewashed, bright and modern… almost glitzy (for a church). You somehow looked larger on the inside than you should, like a restoration TARDIS. Your inner space, washed with light from your many windows and dotted with red seats, was laid out like a theatre with its own stately proscenium arch. Intrigued, I flicked through your web pages. You’re a busy old thing aren’t you? It seems that you are still, in some ways, at the heart of the community around you. That community is different now, of course, a more youthful one perhaps, because part of it lies just across that ‘ugliest street’ in Central College.

So maybe I do owe you an apology then, after all. There is, no doubt, a lesson to be learned here about not judging a book by its cover… or something like that. For, despite my first impressions there is no denying the size of your brick-built heart. You are no sad under-achiever, hiding in the shadows on the edge of the City. You are a phoenix, a true survivor, riding the crashing wave of history, adapting… rebuilding… and very much still standing. In fact, you demand my respect… St. Nics. There… I’ve said it.

Incidentally, I caught a glimpse of you the other day whilst crossing St. Nicholas Street. You do look different from there, framed by trees and buildings that are closer to your age. It evoked, for a moment, those old photographs from the archives and it reminded me that, maybe, the spirit you had then still endures. Perhaps I had just been looking at you from the wrong angle all along?


St. Nics viewed from St. Nicholas Street today.


Image of St. Nicholas Church Clock courtesy Elliot Brown at and re-produced under creative commons licencing.

 St. Nicholas’ church, Nottingham by J Holland Walker, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, XLIV (1940) – available online at

 Links with old Nottingham. Historical notes by J. Holland Walker, (1928 – Edited by Percy G. Whatnall) – available online at

Article: Maid Marian Way changes history’ Nottingham Evening Post, 7th August 2013.

The Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire (Pevsner Architectural Guides) by Nikolaus Pevsner (1979 – Yale University Press).