Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Book - Destruction of city's past revealed in photographs (Nottingham)

Few people have done more to preserve memories of the changing face of Nottingham than amateur photographer Douglas Whitworth. Andy Smart reviews his latest book...

IT could be said that Douglas Whitworth has a photographic memory.
  1. Changes:   Douglas Whitworth's new book, Nottingham Then & Now.
He has been capturing images of the city for more than 60 years and as each decade brings more changes to the cityscape, those photographs become ever more nostalgic.

Such is the depth of his collection, Douglas has been able to share some of these golden memories through a series of books, the latest being Nottingham Then and Now.

Some of the scenes are very familiar to older residents – the Black Boy Hotel, the old Evening Post building, Victoria Station and the old Empire.

But his latest book also brings back less-familiar landmarks which give a whole new perspective on the development of Nottingham, particularly since the war years.

It is especially interesting to look back to the days before Maid Marian Way.

"When rebuilding in the city centre began again in the 1950s, the first major project was the construction of Maid Marian Way from Canal Street to Chapel Bar," says Douglas.

"This was the first part of a proposed ring road which cut a swathe through some of Nottingham's oldest streets and saw the demolition of the Collin's Almhouses on Friar Lane."

Douglas started his photographic hobby during the Second World War with a second-hand Coronet Miniature camera he bought for £5.

"It wasn't like the cameras of today, of course, but I have a picture I took with it on the wall of my garage, blown up to 3ft x 4ft, so it can't have been that bad."

As a teenager, Douglas joined the Nottingham and Notts Photographic Society, where the doyen was Guardian photographer Frank Stevenson.

"But he was very keen on landscapes and I wanted to photograph streets scenes and people. My idols were two famous Fleet Street photographers, Lancelot Vining and James Jarcè," says Douglas.

Now aged 84, Douglas has scaled down his photographic expeditions which, during the years after the war, included regular trips to London and Paris.

But Nottingham remains his favourite stamping ground as the new book vividly illustrates.

A pair of photographs showing the junction of Friar Lane and Spaniel Row are typical.

Douglas writes: "A number of historical buildings were demolished including these buildings on Spaniel Row.
"The replacements were anonymous office blocks which passers-by rarely notice.

"The only reminder of the history of the area is the street name Spaniel Row which, like the nearby Houndsgate, refers to the spaniels kept here by monarchs during the Middle Ages."

Douglas has found an old snap, possibly from the 1920s to compare with his own, modern photograph.
The original image shows a hotpotch of buildings, and outside of one is a Rover 8 motor car with the spare wheel and battery on its running board.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the greatest destruction of Nottingham's past.

Since then, says Douglas, "the city council took heed of public opinion and began a policy of conservation rather than wholesale destruction."

Sadly, as Douglas' nostalgic book plainly illustrates, for some buildings it came too late.

He reckons that his collection runs to more than 10,000 photographs, many of them old glass plates.

"When Marshalls, the Nottingham industrial photographers, were taken over about 30 years ago, I was offered their collection of glass plates.

"Over three or four trips my wife Margaret and I moved about 10,000 plates from their cellar to our home in Carlton. Many of them were no good, having solidified, but there were about 2,500 I could use."

Nottingham Then & Now is published by the History Press, priced £12.99.


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