From T C Hine to Watson Fothergill, Nottingham has had more than its fair share of renowned architects leaving their stamp on the city’s skyscape. But beyond the outer beauty of the structures they created lie stories of deceit, murder, poison and intrigue. These are the weird and wonderful true stories from some of Nottingham’s most stunning historic buildings...
The name might not immediately ring a bell, but Newdigate House is where some of Notts’ fanciest diners go to eat, under its current guise as the highly-rated World Service restaurant, situated on Castle Gate. Just a few hundred years ago, in 1705, it became home to Camille d’Hostun, duc de Tallard. And by home, we mean prison, as d’Hostun was captured by the Duke of Marlborough’s forces after the Battle of Blenheim, and kept in Nottingham for six years. As the Marshal of France and rich friend of King Louis XIV, his capture was something of a coup, and the French nobleman made the most of his forced stay. Taking the time to teach local women how to make white bread, he’s also the reason celery was introduced to the British diet. He missed it so much that, after finding some in the marshes in Lenton, he cultivated it to be grown for consumption.
Notts is a maze of honeycombed caves and alleys, so it’s no surprise to hear about new underground spaces being discovered beneath the streets. But what about secret staircases? Long before Cartwheel’s Coffee shop and Marks and Spencer’s took over Low Pavement, all sorts of businesses set up shop there. According to Inne England chairman Robert Hartley, the locations at both 4-6 and 8-10 were successful accounting firms that featured two hidden, winding staircases, built so that their ne’er-do-well employees could move their mistresses in and out during business hours without raising too much suspicion.
Casting a shadow across the entire street, the architectural masterpiece Stanford House stretches back through an impressive amount of our city’s history, having been built around 1755 during the War of American Independence. In 1789, the building found itself as the home of Mr Stanford who, as a fierce royalist, was so overjoyed at the news of King George III (The Mad King) recovering from his ‘mental malady’ that he distributed a half-a-hogshead - about 150 litres - of ale to everyone on the street. Neighbours just aren’t that friendly anymore.
Have you heard the one about the highwayman who, on his way to the gallows, was taken to a pub for a final drink? After sinking it in one gulp, he asked the barman for another, telling him, “Don’t worry, I’ll pay you on the way back.” A little further afield in Mansfield, one pub found itself as the location for this rather macabre tradition. The building, which now calls itself The Nag’s Head Pub, was the spot where condemned men were taken for their final drink before being executed, owing to its proximity to the Church Cemetery. It’s rumoured that one man, presumably too preoccupied by his imminent expiry, refused the drink, opting to head straight to the gallows instead. Shortly after his hanging, a messenger arrived saying that he’d been pardoned, but it was too late. The moral of the story is: always take the beer.
Hidden away in one of the oldest streets in Notts, Houndsgate was home to a now vanished wool warehouse back in 1788. It was here that a chap named Jowitt once had the shock of his life, after finding a mummified man in amongst his stock. The poor bloke, known only as Mr. Rogers, is said to have – for reasons known only to himself – tried to catch forty winks on the sacks, only to slip into the web of wool and suffocate while trying to get out, mummifying himself in the process. Rest in fleece, Mr Rogers.
While plenty of pubs in the city are fighting over being named as the best or oldest in Notts’, there’s one piece of history that none of them are envious of. In 1820, the family that lived above The Salutation Inn had something of an unfortunate mix-up. With a rat infestation in full swing, they decided to try and rid themselves of their unwelcome guests with a healthy dose of arsenic. Somehow, the poison ended up in the family’s breakfast oatmeal, killing them all, except John Green, their landlord. Records don’t mention his involvement in the deaths but, you have to admit, this one does sound a little fishy...