Friday, 17 February 2012

50 years of fighting to preserve city's heritage (Nottingham)

JUST over 50 years ago, a group of men – and they were all men – came together to form the Nottingham Civic Society.

They set up an acting committee and then called an inaugural meeting on January 11 1962 at the Co-operative Education Centre, in Broad Street.

Half a century on, the society is still flourishing, and one of the original committee, Robert Cullen, is still active as a vice-president.

The society was formed because of a shared concern about the buildings and heritage of Nottingham.
In 1956 the Collins almshouses, on the south side of Friar Lane, were demolished, and in 1961 it was possible to save the 14th-century Severns Building, originally in Middle Pavement, only by re-erecting it to a site at the top of Castle Road, where it still is. At the inaugural meeting in 1962 the Civic Society declared its aim to be "to encourage the improvement, development and preservation of the features which go to make a pleasing environment for the citizens of Nottingham".

This "pleasing environment" was partly about saving buildings of historic importance, and partly about taking an interest in what was being planned for the future.

They wanted to co-operate with, rather than to be seen as opposing, the city's planning authority.

This was not as easy as it sounds. An early speaker was the city engineer, Fred Little, who set out plans for encircling inner-Nottingham with a motorway.

The Civic Society decided it could not co-operate but must put up a fight. As a result, a public inquiry was ordered and the plans were terminated, although it was too late to stop Maid Marian Way.

At least the rest of this scheme, which would have seen an inner ring road cutting straight through the Park, and the demolition of part of the Lace Market, was halted.

Since then, most of the Civic Society's work has been concerned with conservation and new design.

Some battles it has won and some it has lost. A "victory" was persuading the government to think again about the original plans for the Inland Revenue building on Castle Boulevard. The society lobbied for an architectural competition, which was won by the Michael Hopkins partnership.

Subsequently the Hopkins partnership went on to design the University of Nottingham's Jubilee Campus.
A recent defeat was the failure to stop the plans proposed for redeveloping the Odeon site, in Angel Row. There have been other setbacks as well. The society is still fighting to save 41 Pilcher Gate, believed to be Nottingham's oldest house, and County House in High Pavement.

The Civic Society rightly respects and rewards good design. Its long-running Mark of the Month award, now known as its Commendation scheme, aims both to support and draw attention to good quality new architecture, environmental improvements, restoration and conservation.

Recent awards have gone to Maggie's Cancer Care Centre at the City Hospital, a new building by Piers Gough, an architect of national standing; and a converted Wetherspoons pub, the William Peverel in Bulwell.

Fifty years ago Nottingham was primarily a lace-making city, and it had four coal mines inside its boundaries.
There are no collieries today. Raleigh has gone. Players has moved to a single factory in Lenton, and Boots is primarily focused on its Beeston site.

The Civic Society has had to think about the buildings left behind by these changes, and to suggest new use of the vacated sites.

In the early days the society also had to worry about the building of the Victoria and Broadmarsh centres, and the demolition of one of the city's iconic buildings, the Black Boy Hotel in Long Row.

Hilary Silvester, the current chairman, recently said the aim of the society was to maintain "the character and vitality of Nottingham".

Ken Brand, a long-serving vice-president, talks of how the society seeks to "create an interest in the local built environment and its architects past and present". Among those "past" were the great Victorian architects T C Hine and Watson Fothergill, on whose work Ken is the acknowledged expert.

Above all it must continue to support the good, and oppose the not so good, to keep the city council on its toes, and preserve the heritage of the city.


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