Sunday, 3 September 2017

Nottingham's Women of Words


On the Trail of Nottingham’s Women of Words
Revised and Updated (Wear comfortable shoes)

Part One – Robin Hood goes to Jail

Begin near Nottingham Castle, at the Robin Hood statue.

At 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 – before re-joining Castle Gate. Towards the bottom, on the left, is the Castle Gate Congregational Centre.

It was here that two lace workers, Matthew and Lucy, married. Their daughter, Alma Reville (the editor and scriptwriter) was born in Nottingham in 1889, a few hours after her future husband and collaborator, Alfred Hitchcock, was born in Leytonstone.

Turn left and head up Albert Street. On the next corner (Hounds Gate/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.

Across from here is St Peter’s Church.

Anne Ayscough and her husband William are buried here. Together with John Collyer they became Nottingham’s first printers in 1710. A few years later the Ayscoughs and Collyer held rival businesses. The Ayscough’s producing the Nottingham Weekly Courant whilst Collyer printed the Nottingham Post.

Turn right at Bridlesmith Gate, at one time the place to come for typewriters.

It’s about here, between St Peter’s Gate and Pepper Street, that the Ayscoughs established Nottingham’s first printing press. The oldest known work printed in Nottingham was produced here in 1714, Sir Thomas Parkyn’s Inn-Play. In 1717 the Ayscoughs printed Grammatical Commentaries by R. Johnson, Headmaster of Nottingham’s Free School.

At the end of Bridlesmith Gate is Low Pavement. From here you can see Jamie’s Italian Restaurant.

This 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.

Heading up Low Pavement, cross over at Weekday Cross where Nottingham Contemporary awaits.

The international art centre has a healthy book section and hosts many literary and spoken word events.

Continue along High Pavement. On the right is the National Justice Museum, home of Nottingham’s historic Courthouse and Jail.  

It was on the steps that a Luddite became the first person to be hanged here, after being found guilty of the attempted murder of his employer. Christy Fearn's novel Framed tells the story of the Nottingham Luddites.

The Courtroom here saw the trial of Joan Phillips, a notorious local highwaywoman. This inspired Rebecca S. Buck's novel The Locket and the Flintlock; whilst her book Truths contains two narratives, both of which are set in fictional versions of the historic Shire Hall and County Gaol.

Next up is St Mary’s Church, a grand medieval building.

Part Two – St Mary’s to St Brian's

Dame Agnes Mellers established a Free School here in the parish of St Mary’s in 1513, partly as an act of atonement for her husband’s wrongdoings against the people of Nottingham. King Henry VIII sealed the foundation. The school later became the Nottingham Boys’ High School. After more than 500 years of teaching boys, the Nottingham High School is now a co-educational institution.

Cut up through St Mary’s Gate and take the next right into Broadway, perhaps Nottingham’s most attractive street.

Nottingham born Alice Zimmern (1855–1939) was a writer, translator and suffragist, whose books made a big contribution to the debate on the education and rights of women. She mixed with fellow suffragist authors Edith Bland, Eleanor Marx and Beatrix Potter. Alice also wrote popular children's books on ancient Greece.
Her father, the lace merchant Hermann Theodore Zimmern, was a German immigrant.

Collaborating with her sister Helen Zimmern (1846–1934), Alice opened up much European culture and thought to the British public.

Turn left and head along Stoney Street.

This area features in Jaq Hazell’s I Came to Find a Girl.

On the left in the Adams Building, the largest and finest Victorian building in the Lace Market. T C Hine designed this building for Thomas Adams. The building housed a library and hosted a book club for its many lace workers.

New College Nottingham is now based here.

On the right is Woolpack Lane where William Ayscough moved his printing press in 1718.

He died four years after moving here but Anne Ayscough continued the printing business.

Go past the pub and chip shop to Goosegate.

Take a right and head all the way down.

It was at the bottom end of Goosegate in 1826 that Susannah Wright opened a radical bookshop. It had to fight for its survival against violence and daily picketing from the Committee for the Suppression of Vice, during which the shop was broken into, with attempts made to drag out the atheist proprietor. Inciting the riots was Rev G Wilkins of St Mary's. Undeterred, Wright moved to a larger premises higher up Goosegate. 

Cross St. Belward Street and continue 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.

Alison Moore

Return back up Goosegate, then turn right at Heathcote Street. On the right is Jam Café, host to a monthly poetry evening.

The premises now used by Jam Cafe and Paramount Pictures used to house Mushroom Bookshop which had sections devoted to women's writing, to lesbian writing, and to feminism.

Take the next left (High Cross Street) and left again at Broad Street.

Note the Lord Roberts Pub, once the home to Tales from Two Cities, led by Sophie Snell.

Lee Rosy’s Tea Room, on the right, host regular poetry events. Past performers include Leanne Moden and Cleo Asabre-Holt.

On the left is the Broadway Cinema.

Broadway hosts 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 Rough Trade is also venue for live poetry, spoken word, book launches and readings.

Panya Banjoko

Local poets Panya Banjoko,  Becky Cullen, Di Slaney, Sue Dymoke, Aly Stoneman and editor of Left Lion Bridie Squires, have all performed at Rough Trade.

Sue Dymoke

Veer right, up Goosegate and continue through trendy Hockley.

This area is featured in Caroline Bell-Foster’s The Cat Café. The Nottingham author is best-known for her Call Me Royal series.

Off Carlton Street is Pelham Street, near the top of which is Wired

This café hosts The Hockley Book Club and poetry nights but it’s time to head left instead, down Victoria Street.

On the left, at the corner with Bridlesmith Gate is Waterstone’s, the self-declared ‘finest bookshop in the Midlands’, and Nottingham’s largest, another fine Victorian building.

Waterstone’s host a programme of events, including talks from top authors, such as local talents Mhairi McFarlane, Elizabeth Chadwick and Eve Makis.

Going right at High Street, walk along until the coming to ZARA which sits on the corner with Pelham Street.

This gorgeous Art Nouveau building used to be Boots’ premier store, featuring book sections and a library, all thanks to the influence of Florence Boot (1863-1952).

Boot placed the library counters at the back of the shop so patrons had to walk past the merchandise.

Now take a left, down Smithy 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 includes a feminist section. Five Leaves hosts regular literary events. Deirdre O'Byrne, Giselle Leeb and Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang are among the many guest speakers to have appeared at the venue.

Five Leaves Publications, which started in 1995, operates from here. Pippa Hennessey works for Five Leaves who have published books by many local writers, including works from Hilda Lewis, Rose Fyleman, Clare Littleford, Nicola Monaghan and Helen Cresswell, as well as a biography of Evelyn Gibbs by Pauline Lucas.

On the left is the Nottingham Tourism Centre which sells Notts-themed books.

At the next corner, turn right, where Speakers’ Corner awaits at the site of the Brian Clough Statue.

Part Three – The Theatre to the Council House

Continue up Queen Street then cross Upper Parliament Street.

On the left is Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, Theatre Square.

The Theatre Royal held 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.

Cathy Grinrod runs a 55+ creative writing course at the Royal Centre.

Head up South Sherwood Street.

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. Joan Wallace, author of four historical novels set in Nottingham, was also a member.

The Nottingham Poetry Society meet here. In 1941, Margery Smith and three other women formed the Nottingham Branch of the Poetry Society, which later became Nottingham Poetry Society. Current members include Cathy Grinrod.

Take a left here, at Shakespeare Street.

On the left is Nottingham Trent University’s Arkwright Building.

The MA in Creative Writing at NTU is one of the longest established postgraduate courses of its kind in the UK. The course's first leader was the novelist Sue Thomas. She later founded trAce Online Writing Centre (1995-2006) at NTU, an early global online community.

Former teachers on NTU's writing course include the biographers Katherine Frank and Kathryn Hughes, as well as the poets Catherine Byron and Clare MacDonald Shaw, former editor of the poetry magazine Quartz.  The novelist, critic and cultural historian Elleke Boehmer also worked in NTU's English Department.

Among the current creative writing lecturers at NTU is Sarah Jackson, while Dr Natalie Braber, who teaches in the School of Arts and Humanities within the subject area of Linguistics, is the author of Nottingham dialect books.

Among the authors who have undertaken MA writing courses at NTU are Clare Littleford, Frances Thimann, and the award-winning authors Nicola Monaghan a.k.a. Niki Valentine and Kim Slater a.k.a. K L Slater.

Nicola Monaghan

Kim Slater

The Arkwright Building has been a public library and it was once University College at which Rose Fyleman (1877-1957) attended.

At the next crossroads look over to the right. Across the road, at the end of Waverley Street, is the former Nottingham School of Art, now NTU’s Art & Design department.

Dorothy Hartley (1893–1985) was a social historian, skilled illustrator, and prominent author. She attended Nottingham Art School and later returned here as a teacher.

Her books cover six centuries of English history but she’s best known as the author of Food in England (1954). Still in print it’s been described by Delia Smith as, “A classic book without a worthy successor – a must for any keen English cook.”

Retrace your steps a short way, along Shakespeare Street, until the road joins with Goldsmith Street.

On the left is Boots Library.

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.

Just on from Blackwell’s University Bookshop is the office of Notts TV.

Shreya Sen-Handley, author of Memoirs of My Body, is a regular guest on Notts TV.

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. The redeveloped library, which is situated on the top floor, has become the hub of the National Feminist Archives and Libraries Network for the UK.

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.

The Mouthy Poets (2010-2016) performed at the Playhouse. The group’s director and founder is Debris Stevenson.

Continue 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 High School’s former pupils include the authors Helen Cresswell, Dame Stella Rimington and Julie Myerson.

Julie Myerson
On the corner with Regent Street is the former 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 T C 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.

Move left down Park Row and then turn right into Postern Street leading to St James Terrace. Here is the site of The Royal Standard plaque, 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.

Head down St James Street.

On the left is The Malt Cross, home of the James Joyce Reading Group led by Elizabath Watkins, and various spoken word nights, including appearances from the Storytellers of Nottingham.

Turn left on Angel Row.

The Bell Inn is on the left.

This is a former meeting place of Nottingham Writers’ Club whose former members include Helen Cresswell, author of Moondial

A few doors along from The Bell is Bromley House Library, founded in 1816. Mary Howitt (1799-1888) and her husband William, also a famous writer, attended the library. Mary wrote: “The remarkable well-supplied library at Bromley House furnished us with the constant stores of literature.”

Melanie Duffill-Jeffs is the library's Director having previously managed the Nottingham Women's Centre.

Current members include the author Rowena Edlin-White who has been a director here for twenty years.  Tours of the historic 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 on is Nottingham Central Library. Covering four floors this is the principal library of the East Midlands.

On the opposite side of the road is West End Arcade inside which is Books and Pieces, a second-hand bookshop owned by Jean Blacow.

The final destination is the Old Market Square.

Mary Howitt lived near here, opposite Long Row, just facing the lower corner of the Exchange in a fine old mansion now replaced. Wordsworth called her writing elegant. She’s now best known for The Spider and the Fly.

At the far side of the square is Nottingham's Council House with its stone lions.

This grand and official building has been the workplace of the City Councillor and author Catharine Arnold.

Dorothy Whipple (1892-1966), described by J B Priestly as the "Jane Austen of the 20th Century" was once Nottingham’s best-known novelist and a big seller between the world wars.

Most of Whipple’s novels are set in Nottinghamshire, or as it appears, ‘Trentham’. Her novel They Knew Mr Knight (1934) was made into a 1946 movie partly filmed in the Market Square.

A big thank you to all the contributors. Please keep your ideas coming via email.

Further trails are being planned so any suggested literary locations are welcome.

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