Magazine article The Spectator

Boots Beneficence

Magazine article The Spectator

Boots Beneficence

Article excerpt

Imminent arrival in certain cities is announced by the sight of a great architectural landmark. At Durham, of course, it is the distant view of the cathedral, as it is at York when travelling south. And at Nottingham, coming north from St Pancras, it is the remarkable prospect of the castle over to the west that makes the town unmistakable - a great cube of stone on top of its tall earth mound. But this is no ordinary boring mediaeval castle, for the stone walls are enriched with classical columns and pediments and heavy rustication. It is, uniquely in Britain, a baroque castle, rebuilt by the Duke of Newcastle in the 1670s and, as Pevsner pointed out, something that looks as if it has strayed from north Italy or Prague. Once there were interiors by Vanbrugh, but they perished when the castle was set alight in 1831 by the descendants of Robin Hood, angry at the then Duke for opposing the Reform Bill. It remained a ruin until the 1870s when it was reconstructed as the town's museum and art gallery - and a very good one it remains.

Nottingham is known not so much for its baroque castle but for the lace industry. It also can boast a singularly magnificent mediaeval parish church - as etched by F.L. Griggs - and a fine Roman Catholic cathedral by the great Pugin. And Nottingham deserves a place in modem history as the birthplace of Sir Jesse Boot, that great entrepreneur and philanthropist, who first assisted his mother in running a Nottingham shop as M & J Boot, Herbalists, in 1871. By the beginning of the next century Boots the Cash Chemists were a national chain of shops offering medicines and toiletries at reasonable prices and now branching out with the Boots Booklovers Library. And Jesse Boot was responsible, directly or indirectly, for two more architectural landmarks on the approach to Nottingham station from the south - the university, which he endowed in 1921, and the factory buildings of the Boots company on its new site out at Beeston which Boot had purchased.

The university is marked by the stone tower of the white, classical Trent building designed by Percy Morley Horder; the Boots works, on the eastern side of the tracks, is distinguished by something almost contemporary but very different - the two large reinforced concrete and glass structures of the 1930s for manufacturing wet and dry goods designed by Sir Owen Williams. That bloody-minded engineer had been knighted for his work in designing and constructing the concrete structures for the British Empire exhibition at Wembley in 1924 (including the now-doomed stadium). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.