The Lace Market

In Nottingham – a mixture of tradition and modern

From “Snotingham” to Nottingham of the early 21st century

Robin Hood – who doesn’t know the medieval legend? But which town, city or area is he connected with?
The whole world knows of Nottingham with its 267.000 inhabitants mainly because of the legendary Robin Hood tales.
But Nottingham’s history doesn’t begin just then. It begins much earlier – around 600 AD – when the Anglo Saxons founded a colony and named it Snotingham.
William the Conqueror built the first Nottingham Castle in 1068 at a strategic location on a hill in the town by the river Trent. According to the Doomsday Book the then flourishing trading community with its own mint had a population of about 800.
The town was split in half by its Anglo Saxon and its Norman roots until far into the 18th century. They had completely separate administrative and legal systems. The English Borough was in the East and the French Borough was in the west part of town.

It was the industrial revolution that let Nottingham grow to today’s centre of hosiery and lace manufacturing. Factories were built in the English Borough, the characteristic Lace Market, according to the demand for more lace products. John Sleavers invented a lace machine in 1813 which became the backbone of the Nottingham Lace Industry. By the end of the 19th century the lace industry had grown to a size of over 500 factories employing almost 17.000 workers in 1890.

Unfortunately this story of success for Nottingham Lace Export was interrupted by the First World War and with the change of fashion in the Roaring Twenties and growing foreign competition the Nottingham Industry couldn’t latch back onto its accustomed former success.

The end of the Second World War and the bestowal of the Royal Charter to the University of Nottingham in 1948 rang in the age of Nottingham as a university town.

The Lace Market – Covent Garden of the Midlands?

Run down factories, empty buildings, dark and hardly frequented streets of houses, this is what the historic Nottingham Lace Market looked like 25 years ago. There was no use any more for the once badly needed lace factories, warehouses and machine halls, but in the 60s the area was declared to be worth preserving. Politicians and the local government were put to finding alternate uses for this once so important area where there are more listed buildings per square meter than anywhere else in Great Britain.

Short sighted decisions by the local government like building a motorway right through the Lace Market, which would have meant tearing down many historic buildings, were fortunately dismissed. Changes in the positions of the Nottingham City Council in 1974 resulted in the Lace Market being seen in a new light: as a site of architectural and historic meaning with a multitude of Georgian and Victorian “Gems of Architecture”.

In 1988 the decision was made by the Nottingham City Council to develop the area. A partnership between the public and private sectors seemed to be most suitable for this purpose. The Lace Market Heritage Trust under Mich Stevenson was trusted with the financing of the project in 1992, but the originally founded Lace Market Development Company failed through their profit orientated company policy by trying to push the development.

Still, progress was made: the first phase was dedicated to restoring and remodeling the Shire Hall in the heart of the Lace Market. The Galleries of Justice, a unique museum which deals with 250 years of law, crime and methods of punishment, found a new home here, where justice had been administered since the 14th century. The museum pulled tourists in to the former lace manufacturing area like a magnet – the public’s interest had been aroused.

The second phase was to restore one of the pearls of the Lace Market, the Adams building erected in 1855 by T.C. Hine. This Victorian masterpiece used to be an educational establishment for the workers in the lace industry. In November 1993 the plot of land and the building were worth less than the cost of pulling it all down.
Fortunately, this was what preserved the building. Since 1998 the Clarendon College has settled it’s self in these historic premises. The opening of the college brought over 8000 students into the Lace Market along with their demand for entertainment, restaurants etc. The result was the opening of many pubs, bars and clubs.

The Lace Market became the new cultural center in town, close to the original center of town, the Market Place. The students were crucial to the revival of the Lace Market.
In order to preserve the variety, existing buildings were remodeled into the most diverse accommodations. From extravagant penthouses to flat sharing, these new accommodations offered people an escape from suburbanization and a possibility to live close to the city. The lowering of street crime and encouragement of smaller shops to open in the Lace Market are two advantages due to the more compact population structure.

The representatives of the “Green League” are also happy about Project Lace Market: for one existing buildings were being used instead of being torn down and new ones erected. For the other it should be mentioned that the new city dwellers are more inclined to forgo motorization and use public transportation instead, thus reducing exhaust emissions.
After a relatively short time considerable changes in real estate were noticeable. Properties, still affordable 4 years ago, were no more so because of their location in the Lace Market. , Lawyers, designers and others settled in trendy offices, thus completing the “micro cosmos” Lace Market. A new city had emerged in the middle of Nottingham.

Finally, to complete the impression of the Lace Market, a National Ice Arena for recreational purposes was planned and has already been finished. A well balanced neighborhood with different aspects such as living and business areas, entertainment, recreation and education is the goal that is being striven for. Complications arise, however, when trying to include such neighborhoods in the overall development of the city.

Nottingham has been successful in preserving medieval buildings and presenting their history to posterity. This is the easiest way: to confront the residents with buildings from every historic era, with half-timbered houses and medieval Nottingham, with the Garden Town Nottingham and the Victorian Lace Factories right up to today’s modern Nottingham and its architecture.
The time before and after the turning of the century has awakened a desire in many people to create something lasting for posterity. The city planers of Nottingham took up this challenge of creating a spectacular city for the 21st century. To tear down buildings which have lost their original purpose will always be the easy way out. Nottingham took the more difficult road – more time and effort for more gain?

A question which will be answered in the future, but a question which could also be answered by a good guess.