The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 1 - October 1988

Sold! One Hall And Park

What The Council Did After They Bought Wollaton Park

For most residents to the west of the City, Wollaton Park must rank as the number one spot in which to get a bit of fresh air and the chance to stretch the legs without the need to leave Nottingham. An added bonus is the Hall. This magnificent building catches the eye from far and wide; something Sir Francis Willoughby clearly intended should happen when he decided to have a new home built for himself back in 1580. The natural history collection now housed within the Hall and the industrial museum nearby are two further reasons for heading into the park. All this is courtesy of the City Council, which took the decision back in 1924 to buy the Hall and surrounding parkland. The 10th Lord Middleton had recently inherited the Wollaton Estate from his brother and deciding the hall and grounds were surplus to requirements offered them to the City Council for the sum of 200,000. This was a very reasonable price and the Council quickly agreed. Chiefly using the minutes of the City Council's Estates Committee the following article looks at the way the Council went about the business of deciding what to do with their new purchase.

Photo courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library ServiceSee in Lightbox

Samuel Bourne, the famous Victorian photographer, took this shot of Lime Tree
Avenue in c.1865. The carriage apart the scene doesn't appear to have altered much.
Photo courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service.

First let us begin with the thought that we might not have had Wollaton Park at all. Three years earlier in 1921 Sir Jesse Boot had offered to buy the Hall and grounds from the 9th Lord Middleton as he was considering it as a possible site for Nottingham's University College. The offer was refused and Highfields was chosen instead. Another possible threat to the future of the Park came soon after the City Council had agreed to the purchase. A company known as the Midland Housing Association and headed by someone called Sir Lancelot Rolleston asked to buy sufficient of the land to erect 4,000 houses there. Fortunately for us after considering the matter for several months the Council turned down the scheme. The City Council did, however, have housing developments of their own in mind. Land at the eastern side of the park was given over for an estate of 'small working, class houses' and from September 1925 onwards, individual plots of land along the northern and southern edges of the park were sold off to private builders. The Council wanted 'quality' housing here and set lower limits to the price of any houses built on these plots. On the Wollaton Road sites it was 700 while in the Adams Hill area of the Derby Road the sum was 3,000. With the sale of this building land the Council recouped the entire cost of their initial purchase; which makes it clear just how generous Lord Middleton had been when he sold the Hall and grounds to the City.

The Council also took the opportunity to construct a new highway between Wollaton Road and Derby Road. After much deliberation the Estates Committee eventually plumped for the name Middleton Boulevard. The rationale behind the choice of names for the other roads on the Wollaton Park estate is, with one exception, not clear. That exception is Sutton Passeys Crescent. John Holland Walker, a keen local historian, had reminded the Committee that nearby (approximately at the junction of Radford Bridge Road and Wollaton Road) once stood the small medieval village of Sutton Passeys. This had long since vanished but the use of its name for one of the new roads would help keep the memory alive. The Committee accepted his suggestion.

The Council soon decided that a portion of the grounds should be turned into a golf course and the remainder should be retained as a public park. (Approximately 500 of the original 800 acres of parkland were eventually set aside for the public park and golf course.) 'The only fly in the ointment', to use a phrase from a local newspaper account (Nottingham Guardian 3.9.1924) announcing the Council's agreed purchase, was what to do with the Hall. Suggestions had been made that it could be turned into a museum, a picture gallery, a convalescent home or even a school. The newspaper reporter, however, pointed out that 'short of nearly gutting the building and thereby destroying its charm it is totally unsuitable for any of these objects'. Moreover the distance of the Hall from the City centre, he thought, would further rule out any idea of establishing a museum or art gallery here. The best we could hope for apparently was that the Council would sell or lease the property to some wealthy individual of antiquarian tastes.

A view of the rear of Wollaton Hall.

Nobody had come up with a good use for the hall, so in May 1925 the Council's Library Committee suggested that perhaps after all Wollaton Hall might be suitable for their natural history collection then being housed at University College on Shakespeare Street. Initially they were somewhat concerned that the upper floors might not be sufficiently strong to carry the weight of all their museum exhibits but once reassured by the City Engineer they submitted their plans to the full Council. These were agreed to and after about six months spent constructing new exhibition cases and moving exhibits from University College and from an annex at Carlton Road library, the Wollaton Hall Natural History Museum was officially opened by the mayor on October 28th 1926.

The Council had agreed to buy Wollaton Hall and park back in September 1924 but completion of purchase didn't take place until May 1925. Once this occurred vacant possession was sought of the various properties within the park. The occupants of the gatehouses and rooms above the stables were all asked to leave. Several farmers who had been allowed to graze cattle in parts of the parkland had their old contracts bought out and were then offered new short term ones which could be terminated when it suited the Council. In former years various organisations had sought permission of the estate manager to bring parties into the park chiefly to picnic in the grounds. The Estates Committee continued to receive quite a number of similar requests, all of which were turned down until the park was ready to be thrown open to the public. An exception, however, was made for several army units that were accustomed to using the grounds for training purposes. Also excepted was a Lord Petersham who was permitted to 'clear the foxes out of Wollaton Park' though he was asked 'to do as little damage as possible while doing so'.

A number of former estate workers were taken on by the Council to maintain the grounds and various items of machinery and equipment purchased. As the plans for the park began to take shape it was found necessary to remove quite a lot of trees. Timber companies submitted tenders for privilege of carrying this out. No doubt the monies raised helped offset the costs incurred in constructing public lavatories, laying down various paths, the purchase of seats, waste paper bins, notice boards and lengths of fencing. The gamekeeper and park ranger needed horses 'for use in regulating the people in the park'. The chief constable was evidently the man to see and he obtained suitable mounts for both men. The franchises for the refreshment pavilion and the two ice-cream stalls needed to be allotted. When everything was finally ready, at 3 PM on 22nd May 1926, the gates of Lenton Lodge were thrown open and the general public invited to enter. As they made their way along Lime Tree Avenue those first day's visitors were treated to the melodious sound of the Police band. It might not seem much in terms of a spectacular opening, but then spectacle wasn't necessary. Most people in Nottingham had probably never before had the opportunity to wander around the environs of the park. To boldly go where no man had been before was undoubtedly enough!

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