Diary: I Am Shown the outside of 2 All Saints Terrace, Where Graham Greene Had Lodgings, and Which Served as the Model for Many Disreputable Houses in His Work. There Is No Plaque
Lodge, David, New Statesman (1996)
To Nottingham, to give the first Graham Greene Memorial Lecture. I don't give many lectures these days, but David Belbin, head of the MA in Creative Writing at Trent University, enticed me by invoking Greene's connections with Nottingham. Greene spent four months here in 1925, at the age of 21, learning the craft of sub-editing as an intern on the Nottingham Journal. It was the furthest north he had ever been, his first experience of a predominantly working-class industrial city, and he didn't much like it. "There's absolutely nothing worth doing in this beastly place," he wrote to his fiancee Vivien in Oxford. "No excitement, no interest, nothing worth a halfpenny curse." But the screenwriter Michael Eaton, a Nottingham man, argues it was here that the novelist discovered "Greeneland", that gloomy, seedy country of the mind where most of his stories unfold. One of Greene's best "Entertainments", A Gun For Sale, is set in Nottingham, as is his play The Potting Shed. Mike and David show me the outside of 2 All Saints Terrace, where Greene had lodgings, and which served as the model for many dingy and disreputable houses in his work. There is no plaque.
Greene arrived in Nottingham as an atheist with an Anglican background and left as a Roman Catholic. To please his devoutly Catholic fiancee, he took instructions at the cathedral of St Barnabas from the happily named Fr Trollope, a former actor who had a knack of making converts. Greene was one of 150 he received into the Church in ten years. Visiting the cathedral, I am struck by its similarity to the Catholic cathedral of St Chad in Birmingham, where I live, and not surprised to discover that like St Chad's it was the work of Pugin, or that the architect considered it one of his finest buildings: it is a gem, and beautifully maintained.
One tends to think of Nottingham as being to the East Midlands as Birmingham is to the West Midlands, but they are very different. Birmingham is four times larger and the surrounding conurbation sprawls as far as Wolverhampton. Nottingham is much more compact--you can see open country from hills near the city centre--and architecturally more low-profile, more intimate and more old-fashioned. …