Thursday, 7 July 2011

Book - Gone but not forgotten: city views before 'ugliest street' (Nottingham)

THE creation of Maid Marian Way cut a devastating swathe through Nottingham's medieval history.

The clock cannot be turned back, the heritage is lost forever.

ut a new book rekindles memories of old Nottingham before Maid Marian Way, and the controversy it caused.

Turning Back The Pages of Maid Marian Way provides a unique insight into the building and development of Nottingham's most controversial street.

The 40-page book, compiled and researched by Chris Weir and Nick Smith, is published by Notts County Council's Libraries, Archives and Information Publications Group.

It is the latest in a series of popular photographic books, bringing the past to life through bygone images.

Maid Marian Way was described in 1965 as "one of the ugliest streets in Europe" by Arthur Ling, professor of town planning at the University of Nottingham.

It was built to relieve traffic pressure on the city centre after it started to be strangled by cars in the late 1950s.

But the initial ideas for a highway called Maid Marian Way came almost as soon as the Second World War ended.

In late 1945, the city council decided it needed a new road from the junction of Upper Parliament Street and Chapel Bar down to Canal Street.

The council sought Parliamentary permission for a scheme likely to cost more than half a million pounds. It would mean a completely new road, tied in with the redevelopment of the Broad Marsh area.

City finance leader Alderman H Bowles said it was necessary to divert heavier traffic away from the city centre.

But it would cut a swathe through medieval streets, wiping some off the map and spelling the end of a community life that had thrived for centuries.

The Thoroton Society said it would be an "antiquarian calamity" and particularly deplored the "wanton" clearance of the Jessamine Cottages and with them the romantic address of Gilliflower Hill.

City councillor George Twells felt Nottingham needed housing more than roads – but his was a lone voice in the chamber and the proposal went through by 46 votes to 1.

The area between Chapel Bar and Canal Street had already changed dramatically and this new plan spelled doom for much more of Nottingham's architectural and community history.

Granby Street would disappear, so too the quaintly-named Walnut Tree Lane, March Street, Mortimer Street and Paddock Street.

Historic Castle Gate would be split in two and much of its property demolished.

The house once occupied by Laurence Collin, master gunner of the Castle, was in the firing line, as were the picturesque Collin's Almshouses built by his son Abel.

By law, the plan had to be put to a public vote, so a meeting was called in the old Guildhall. It descended into uproar.

After the first of four resolutions had been passed by 182 votes to 156, there were loud voices of dissent.

Protesters demanded a recount and when Lord Mayor Alderman Edmund Underwood refused, they marched out of the meeting "to count themselves".

The argument was still over housing. Coun Twells declared: "Until this city has erected 12,000 houses, no extravagant scheme of this kind should receive the approval of the city."

The next step, he urged, would be a petition, forcing the council to organise a city-wide poll.

In January 1946, the scheme was put to the public vote and protesters expected a big turnout and victory.

Ald Bowles argued: "I have not met with a sound argument against the scheme."

But it was defeated by more than two to one, although the local press weren't allowed to watch the count, being ordered to "get out" by Ald Bowles.

Sadly, the vote did not carry enough weight to deflect the council, fewer than 14,000 people bothering to turn out — just over seven per cent of the electorate.

The arguments, discussions and negotiations rumbled on for years.

It would be 1963 before work finally got under way and the new road was built.

The destruction of this part of Nottingham was given more impetus by the new People's College, which accounted for Jessamine Cottages, Hutchinson Street, Mortimer Street and Isabella Street, all names inspired by historical events.

Less than two years after the road was completed, it was given a label that has stuck over the past four decades — "the ugliest street in Europe".

Prof Ling asked: "Are the architects of Nottingham and elsewhere satisfied with what they have achieved?

"Is all their effort worthwhile if only a muddle like this is the result?"

He wanted to see a co-ordinated plan for city development to prevent the "architectural chaos" that had ensued since the Second World War.

But his words fell largely on deaf ears.

Alderman Charles Butler, chairman of the city's planning committee, blamed too much public opposition.

This, he said, had stopped the council acquiring all the properties they needed to prevent piecemeal development.

Since then, Maid Marian Way has become an essential but unloved feature of the city.

The new book explores, in vivid photos held at Nottinghamshire Archives, the creation of the road and its development to the present day.

Highlights includes images of Jessamine Cottages and Walnut Tree Lane, the historic streets of Castle Gate and Hounds Gate and more recent images of Mount Street bus station and the newsagent's kiosk under the old underpass that once took pedestrians under Friar Lane towards the Castle side of Maid Marian Way.

Turning Back the Pages on Maid Marian Way is available at £3.95 from Nottinghamshire Archives and major libraries.

It can also be purchased by post by sending a cheque for £6.95 (including £3 for postage and packaging) payable to Nottinghamshire County Council to: Libraries, Archives and Information, 4th Floor, County Hall, West Bridgford, Nottingham, NG2 7QP.

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