June 22 2011: Nottingham: Settlement To City by Duncan Gray (Nottingham Co-operative Society, 1953)

Duncan Gray was City Librarian for Nottingham between 1935 and 1953, and while this book officially appeared as part of Nottingham Co-operative Society’s Coronation year celebrations, it’s clear that this is also Gray’s own way of signing off from his long career among the city’s documents and archives. As he writes in his foreword: “the moving experience of handling original papers of Nottingham folk over a period of 800 years has given to me a feeling of unity and continuity in the town’s progress through the years, a feeling I have tried to convey in what I have written”.

His history of the city draws on precisely the wealth of documents and anecdotes these words suggest and he finds some illuminating stories. To give just one example he describes the opposition to the construction of T.C. Hine’s Council House and the clearance of the slums within the Exchange site in 1925, noting that “a local outcry, in which some dissenting councillors took a leading part” gathered a good deal of momentum at the time, focusing largely on the relocation of the traditional market and Goose Fair and the reported cost – around £500,000 in total:

“[The Council] ought to remember that we live in Free England not in Soviet Russia”, said one chairman, who went on to condemn the whole Exchange scheme, referring to the Council House as a white elephant on which the Corporation ought never to have sanctioned the spending of so large a sum of money…” (p.98). From the campaigns against the second and third tram lines to the similar opposition directed at Nottingham Contemporary and the last Old Market Square makeover, it all sounds very familiar.

Also included, as an appendix, is Tagalini Jones’s  brief but vivid description of the social mix and activity to be seen on Long Row on one particular day in 1879, as published in The Midland Jackdaw on May 9 that year. As it seems to be unavailable anywhere else online I’ve scanned the relevant pages below and highly recommend reading them. All the colour, compliment and complaint you’ll hear about the city today are (with only a few minor variations) present and correct right here, over 130 years ago:

 

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