Sign up for our weekly newsletter
Framework - Power Up

Watson Fothergill

10 January 09 words: Jon Rouston
We look at the the work of a guy who swapped his first name for his surname and was arguably Nottingham's greatest architect

Watcon Fothergill on LeftLionMid life crises happen to a lot of men, some buy a sports car and insist on driving around with the roof down even in torrential rain others run off with their secretaries. But not Nottingham's foremost architect, no, his metaphorical sports car was a deed poll.

Watson Fothergill was born Fothergill Watson (!?!) in Mansfield in 1841. The son of a wealthy lace maker, he was sent away to boarding school in London when he was nine but returned home when his father died in 1853. Because the family no longer had his father's income, Watson changed schools to a less expensive one in Nottingham. He left school at fifteen and began his career as an architect, learning the trade as an apprentice. He quickly moved from this back to London to study architecture and then back to Nottingham to be an apprentice once again. He finally got round to designing his first building when he was a mere 30. Presumably by this time Watson had made good progress on his healthy mutton chops and was therefore qualified to design buildings. If you can build a good beard, then you can build a good house.

A lot of Fothergill's buildings still stand today and once you know his style you may be able to identify a few. After a few buildings were completed, Fothergill settled for a style which used stripes of blue brick through his mostly red-brick buildings. He also used a lot of towers and balconies. A short walk around town can reveal a fair few. Among the best are:

Watson Fothergill - Nottingham ArchitectPakistani Community Centre, Woodbrough Road, St Anns (right).
This was originally a baptist church and was built in 1893. You can see two features of Fothergill's buildings in the centre, the stripes of bricks and the tower. The tower in this building is also octagonal, which was unusual for the time. 

The Rose of England, Mansfield Road
The rose was built in 1899, again with stripes of bricks and sticky-outy windows (known as Oriel Windows in the trade). The rose was originally built for the Nottingham brewery company and would have been well placed next to the then Victoria station, now Victoria centre. The rose has changed names many times over the last 106 years, but is now back as the Rose. 

The Queen's chambers, Market Square (top)
Now a newsagent and employment agency, the queen’s chambers sit to the side of market square (near the Left Lion!). They were originally built in 1897 as wine merchants and have stood proudly ever since. If your friends are impressed by such things as architecture, you can comment on the tourelle, a small tower which serves no purpose and is attached to a pillar. Your friends may have left by the time you’ve finished, but they don’t know what they’re missing.

Watson Fothergill Offices, George Street
Fothergill was forced to leave his old offices and so rather than inhabiting any old office in the city, he built his own. Completed in 1893 Fothergill’s offices probably show his style more than any other building, with stripes of brick, oriel windows and towers. The offices are now shops, but recently underwent a restoration project that was intended to make it public access. The project ran out of money, but the public are still welcome to marvel at the outside. A plaque is placed outside marking the building to all.

Fothergill was married in 1867 and sired an impressive seven children, five girls and two boys. However, the boys died young and so it is unlikely that his name was passed to the next generation. That was when he had decided what his name was as he took the unusual step of swapping his names around in 1892 to preserve his mother’s family name.

Fothergill died in 1928 after his wife and is buried in the cemetery on Mansfield Road. His grave is still there for all to see, as are his buildings. A few have been demolished, but the majority still stand.


We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now