On the Trail of Nottingham's Ladies of Literature
Begin at Nottingham Castle.
Near the top of Castle Gate is the Severns’ Building, a medieval dwelling that was re-erected on this site in 1968, and later became the Nottingham Lace Building. Hilda Lewis (1896-1974) started writing her historical and children’s fiction when she moved to Nottingham in the 1920s. Her novel Penny Lace, features the city's Victorian lace industry.
Proceed down Castle Gate to no. 51.
Ann Gilbert (1782-1866) once lived in this Georgian house. Gilbert, a literary critic, wrote children’s poetry and hymns. Her younger sister and collaborator, Jane Taylor, wrote the words to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Gilbert is buried in Nottingham’s General Cemetery.
Continue along Castle Gate and cross Maid Marion Way; named after one of Nottingham’s most famous characters, and known as Nottingham’s ugliest road.
Passing the Royal Children pub turn left, before turning right into Hounds Gate.
At the corner of Hounds Gate and Albert Street is the former studio of the renowned artist Evelyn Gibbs (1905-1991), writer of the influential book The Teaching of Art in Schools. Gibbs also illustrated several of Hilda Lewis’s books.
Walking past M&S take a left, up Low Pavement. No. 26, on the site of Jamie’s, is the former residence of Abigail Gawthern (1757-1822). Gawthern’s diaries were copied into one important volume, documenting how Nottingham's professional classes lived at that time. She died in this house.
Crossing the street, now head along Bridlesmith Gate.
On the right is Waterstone’s, the self-declared ‘finest bookshop in the Midlands’, and Nottingham’s largest, a fine Victorian building. Waterstone’s host a programme of events, including talks from top authors, such as local talents Mhairi McFarlane and Eve Makis.
As Bridlesmith Gate becomes High Street, continue to Pelham Street. On this corner sits a gorgeous Art Nouveau building. Now ZARA, it used to be Boots’ premier store, featuring book sections and a library, all thanks to the influence of Florence Boot (1863-1952). She placed the library counters at the back of the shop so patrons had to walk past the merchandise.
For the longer route (an extra 25min walk) continue with the following excursion by heading up Pelham Street. Alternatively, scroll down and join the second half of the trail.
Walk up Pelham Street and turn left into George Street along which is the Nottingham Arts Theatre. Past plays held there include The King and I, created from Margaret Landon's (1903-1993) novel;
Annie Get Your Gun, from the book by Dorothy Fields (1905-1974) and her brother Herbert;
and the stage premiere of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
Turn right at Old Lenton Street, then right again at Broad Street, home of the Broadway Cinema. They host a popular Book Club, established by Pam McIlroy and currently run by Leanne Wain.
Continuing along, Rough Trade is on the right. Supportive of literary events they host live poetry, spoken word, book launches and readings. Local poets Panya Banjoko, Becky Cullen, Di Slaney, Aly Stoneman and editor of Left Lion Bridie Squires, have all performed there.
At Goose Gate turn left and head down through Hockley, all the way to the Nottingham Writers’ Studio on the corner with Lower Parliament Street.
Authors Paula Rawsthorne, Megan Taylor and Alison Moore - whose first novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize - are all members of the writers' studio.
Continue down through Pelham Street and back to the ZARA building. Then continue the trail with Option Two.
Second half of the trail:
From ZARA head along Smithy Row.
Joining Long Row, The Works bookshop is on the right. Next to this is an alleyway down which is Five Leaves, one of the few independent bookshops to open in a UK city centre this century.
This radical bookshop hosts regular literary events. Notts writers Shreya Sen-Handley, Giselle Leeb and Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang have all featured at the venue.
At the next corner, turn right, where Speakers’ Corner awaits at the site of the Brain Clough Statue.
Continue up Queen Street, cross Upper Parliament Street and head up South Sherwood Street.
On the left is Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, Theatre Square, which hosted the world premiere of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. The Scarlet Pimpernel also made its first appearance here, two years before Baroness Orczy turned her play into a novel, spurning 13 sequels.
Take a left at Shakespeare Street.
On the left is Nottingham Trent University’s Arkwright Building. Among the authors who have undertaken MA writing courses at NTU are Clare Littleford, Nicola Monaghan, Kim Slater and Frances Thimann.
Sarah Jackson is currently one of NTU’s creative writing lecturers.
The Arkwright Building has been a public library and it was once University College at which Rose Fyleman (1877-1957) attended.
At Shakespeare Street and North Sherwood Street is the Nottingham Mechanics Institute, home to Nottingham Writers’ Club’s regular meetings. The award-winning author Glenis Wilson is a member the club which was established in 1927.
Continuing along Shakespeare Street, take a left onto Goldsmith Street where the Boots Library is situated. This NTU library is open 24-7 during term time. Florence Boot (born Florence Rowe), her father a bookseller, introduced lending libraries into Boots stores.
Nottingham University’s first hall of residence was named after her.
Carry along Goldsmith Street. Turn right and head up Chaucer Street. Towards the top, on the right, is the Nottingham Women's Centre, run by women, for women. The only women’s library in the East Midlands, it contains many rare books and magazines. The library was relaunched in 2014 with special guest Kat Banyard, author and founder of UK Feminista.
At the end of Chaucer Street turn left and head along Clarendon Street to Wollaton Street. Cross over to Vernon Street. From there cross Derby Road and enter North Circus Street.
Here is Nottingham Playhouse. Host to several writing groups, they also feature many plays from local writers; the Nottingham playwright Amanda Whittington being a Playhouse favourite.
Continuing round and meet Oxford Street. No. 1 Oxford Street is site of the original Nottingham Girls High School founded in 1875.
Now on Arboretum Street, the Girls High School’s former pupils include the authors Helen Cresswell, Stella Rimington and Julie Myerson.
On the corner with Regent Street is the family home of the Hines. Nottingham novelist Muriel Hine (1873-1949) features the home in some of her ‘Lacingham’ novels.
At the top of Oxford Street turn left on The Ropewalk. Continue to the corner where the former Nottingham General Hospital (1782-1991) is.
In the mid-19th century the famous local architect TC Hine added a storey, the clock and the chapel. Hine’s granddaughter, Muriel Hine, achieved national fame as a novelist with her light fiction, which explored the challenges and expectations faced by women.
Left down Park Row and right into Postern Street leading to St James Terrace.
Here is the site of The Royal Standard plaque at St James Terrace, which marks the raising of the Royal Standard by Charles 1st, starting the English Civil War. During this time, the Governor of Nottingham Castle’s wife was the biographer and translator Lucy Hutchinson, the writer of Order and Disorder, the first epic poem written in English by a woman.
On the corner, at the top of St James Street, is no. 76, Newstead House, where Lord Byron lived between (1798-99). His daughter Augusta Ada Byron, later known as Ada Lovelace, was a pioneer of computing science, taking part in writing the first published program.
Back on St James Terrace, continue down to Friar Lane and take a left. On the right is St Luke's House, home to the Nottingham Society of Artists founded in 1880. There is a book celebrating their history by Nigel Corlett and Marjorie Macmillan. It’s called For The Very Joy of Art.
Continuing along Friar Lane – which crosses Maid Marion Way – and turn left at Beast Market Hill. Now in the old Market Square there are many links to Nottingham’s literary heritage. Dorothy Whipple (1892-1966), described by J B Priestly as the "Jane Austen of the 20th Century" was once Nottingham’s best-known novelist. Most of her novels are set in Nottinghamshire, or as it appears, ‘Trentham’. Her novel They Knew Mr Wright (1934) was made into a 1946 movie partly filmed in the Market Square.
Continuing up and left along Long Row the Bell Inn is on the left. This is a former meeting place of Nottingham Writers’ Club whose former members include Helen Cresswell.
Mary Howitt (1799-1888) lived opposite Long Row, just facing the lower corner of the Exchange, in a fine old mansion. Wordsworth called her writing elegant. She’s now best known for The Spider and the Fly.
A few doors along from The Bell is Bromley House Library founded in 1816. Mary Howitt and her husband William, also a writer, attended Bromley House Library. Mary wrote: “The remarkable well-supplied library at Bromley House furnished us with the constant stores of literature.”
Tours of the library can be booked.
Tours of the library can be booked.
On the top floor of the subscription library is the current office of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature whose Director is Sandeep Mahal.
A little farther is the final destination. Nottingham’s Central Library. Covering four floors this is the principal library of the East Midlands.