Down You Way: Sherwin Road
In the first of what we hope will become an occasional series, we provide a historical profile of one of Lenton's streets. Our chosen thoroughfare starts alongside the war memorial in Old Lenton, goes under the railway joining the inner ring road at the point where Castle Boulevard makes way for its Lenton namesake. It then continues on up to the junction with Willoughby Street. What are we talking about? The answer is obviously Sherwin Road but one or two readers may have been slightly surprised to learn that from the school building as far as the 17th/21st Lancers public house it is still Sherwin Road and Castle Boulevard is confined, at this point, to the far side of the road. In fact, outside of the Old Market Square, there can't be too many places in Nottingham where opposite sides of the road carry different names.
'Sherwin Road' is a comparatively recent choice of name for a thoroughfare that may well be very old, older even than Lenton itself. An ancient trackway has been identified running in an east-west direction along the northern side of the Trent and keeping, where possible, to the higher ground in order to avoid the soggy terrain of the river flood plain. Sherwin Road follows the line of this track as does Park Road and Lenton Road. Spring Close, now lost beneath the Queens Medical Centre, was on its line as was Cut-through Lane. A small section of Cut-through Lane can still be found at the Beeston end of the campus but most of it disappeared in the late 50s-early 60s following a radical reshaping of the eastern end by the University authorities.
It is impossible to say quite how ancient this trackway is; its exact history must always remain hidden by the mists of time. The earliest date we can definitely proffer for the presence of Sherwin Road or its antecedents only takes us back to 1823. This is the date of the Estate map produced by H.M. Wood for Gregory Gregory. It shows the 'Church Street' end of 'Sherwin Road' as a narrow lane about 180 yards in length which then dwindles away to little more than a footpath stretching across to New Lenton where it widens out again as it approaches The Park.
In October 1838 the Nottingham Review carried an advertisement for a property that almost certainly is on 'Sherwin Road'. It is described as being 'in a pleasant and retired situation in the village of Lenton adjoining the footpath leading from Nottingham to Lenton across the Park'. No specific address is given so the advertisement cannot provide any further clue as to what the road/footpath was then called. For this we must look elsewhere. You don't, however, have to search very hard. The 1841 Census includes details of two residences on Birch Lane which a wealth of other sources, such as town directories and a later map, confirm is the name by which the Church Street end of Sherwin Road was then known.
Using the Gregory Estate map of 1823 it is possible to identify three buildings that at a later date can be shown to be providing accommodation for Birch Lane residents. It is therefore a little surprising that the 1841 and 1851 Censuses both include just two households on Birch Lane. Could the third property have remained resolutely unoccupied on both the occasions when the Census officer came to call or should we do better to assume that what's under discussion is an agricultural building that was later removed to make way for a residential property? We can't be totally sure which Birch Lane properties are included in these early Censuses but the strong probability is that they were Birch House (situated where Mirberry Mews is now and about which you can learn much more elsewhere in this issue) and what is now No.53 Sherwin Road. If this is so, then the third property, making its initial appearance in the 1861 Census and which the enumerator obligingly provides with a name, is Flora Cottage. William Fyfe in his Rambles Round Nottingham, published 1855, includes a brief mention of 'Flora Cottage' which he refers to as 'the trim and elegant abode of a musical composer of whom Nottingham bids fair to be one day proud - Mr Henry Farmer'. If our suppositions are correct then Mr Fyffe's reference to Flora Cottage must have been made quite soon after the house's actual construction.
Part of the 1884 Ordnance Survey map showing the Old Lenton end of
Sherwin Road. Courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service.
It would appear that Nottingham did indeed become proud of Henry Farmer. When he died at Flora Cottage in 1891 his obituary in the Nottingham Daily Express ran to twenty column inches. A gifted player of the violin, harp and organ, Mr Farmer was an orchestral conductor of note and also composed a wide range of musical pieces. He devised tutors for the violin, piano and American organ; his violin tutor becoming the best-selling publication of its kind. In the 1840s he founded a large music business occupying premises on Nottingham's High Street. Here a wide range of instruments were on show including Henry Farmer's own make of piano. His shop was to become the leading musical emporium of the town.
The exact location of Mr Farmer's Lenton residence can be seen in the section of the 1884 O.S. map reproduced on the right. Most of the buildings represented on the map have gone but one survivor is No.53 Sherwin Road which can be found next to the figures '187'. Although it appears from the map as if this is Flora Cottage the name actually refers to the large building to its right. There are no known photographs or illustrations of Flora Cottage, which is a great shame because the one brief description we have of the building and its grounds indicates that they were quite something. Writing in the Nottinghamshire Guardian in the early 1920s William Osmond recalled the Lenton of his youth and referred to Flora Cottage. He said it was 'a most beautiful sight, a pretty edifice of two storeys with its well-kept lawns and fountain and flower beds, beyond which were large glasshouses so regulated that flowers and fruit from all lands could be and were grown; its owner being an enthusiast in horticulture, as well as in music'.
The reasons surrounding the demolition of Flora Cottage are discussed later in the article but one building associated with that still stands is Flora Cottage Lodge. This is the slightly odd looking building bearing the name 'Fothergill Cottage' which stands beside the entrance to Almond Lodge. It would appear from the Census material that Mr Farmer used it to house the gardener and his family and at a later date his coachman. For most of the time it must have been rather a tight squeeze (in 1871 the gardener and his wife had six children living with them) because the upper storey was only added in 1890. There is one further relict from the days of Flora Cottage; although it looks unlikely to survive for very much longer. This is to be found at the rear of No.14 Sherwin Grove but is best viewed from the service road of Penn Avenue flats. Almost the whole of the back garden of this house is taken up with a rather grotesque man-made rockery now fast crumbling to pieces. Once it would have been encased in a glasshouse and used as a dramatic backdrop to show off Mr Farmer's array of exotic plants. Now it looks simply bizarre, cut off as it is from its past.
As Old and New Lenton grew in size links between the two communities would have become ever more important. Birch Lane provided the basis of one such link yet it never developed into a major thoroughfare. This was because of the railway line from Nottingham to Mansfield which made its appearance in the late 1840s. When the engineer set about the construction of the railway (completed in October 1848) he had to decide how the line should cross Church Street and Derby Road. As we know, he chose two level crossings rather than raise the track on an embankment and use bridges to pass over the roads. He did, of course, require a bridge and embankment to get across the canal. Birch Lane, or more precisely the footpath leading off from it, stood midway along the embankment that carried the line from Church Street up to the canal bridge. There was only room for a low bridge over the footpath but this was quite sufficient as it was only used by those on foot. Those with horse and carriage continued to travel along Church Street or Derby Road and Birch Lane was able to remain just that little bit off the beaten track.
We now go under that bridge and concentrate on what could be found alongside the footpath at its Willoughby Street end. The development of New Lenton began on land that wasn't part of the Gregory Estate; consequently the mapmaker didn't include any of these buildings on his Estate map of 1823. The first to show the streets and buildings of New Lenton in any detail is Salmon's 1861 map of Nottingham. Evident are two buildings alongside what will later become Sherwin Road, close to its junction with Willoughby Street. One of these is easily identified as the Albion Inn, which stood on Sherwin Road until the late 1960s. The earliest date we can provide for this particular building is October 1834 when the Nottingham Review reported a robbery there. The occupants of the Albion Inn (at times also referred to as Tavern and Hotel) usually turn up in the early Censuses in the company of those listed for Albion Terrace. This road ran off Willoughby Street immediately behind the Albion Inn. It's anyone's guess whether the Inn took its name from the road or the road from the Inn. Only in the 1871 Census does the Albion Inn part company with Albion Terrace when, along with seven other properties, it is listed under 'Pelham Terrace'. Using later directories it is clear that four newly built properties had joined the Albion Inn and its next door neighbour to make up Pelham Terrace plus, just to confuse matters, two properties already situated on Albion Terrace whose gardens stretched down to this new building line. All eight have now gone, demolished as part of the City Council's clearance programme of the late 1950s-early 60s. Once cleared the site was used to house the 17th/21st Lancers along with its car park. The gardens of those properties on Albion Terrace had become an unofficial children's playground by the time of the Second World War and afterwards the land was used for a garage repair shop and then as the site for a plant hire company. This, in turn later made way for the building that until last year was occupied by Castellini's dental equipment business.
In the late 1860s or early 1870s New Lenton underwent enlargement. School Street, Osmaston Street, Longden Street, Victoria Street and Albert Street were all laid out. If some of these names do not seem all that familiar this is hardly surprising. Following its incorporation into Nottingham in 1877 a number of Lenton street names were changed in order to avoid confusion with others bearing the same name elsewhere in the Borough. So Longden Street became Hart Street, Victoria Street changed to Harley Street and Albert Street was altered to Chilwell Street. Among the first properties to be built on this extension to New Lenton were the row of terraced houses still to be found on Sherwin Road between Chilwell Street and Harley Street. Although the name appears to have disappeared from use these nine houses were collectively known as Burton Terrace. When they were first built Burton Terrace and its next-door neighbour, Pelham Terrace, were part of Park Road. It is Kelly's 1881 Directory that first uses 'Sherwin Road' as the name for the stretch of road alongside these two sets of terraced properties. It seems likely that it was only after a proper road was laid through to Birch Lane that 'Sherwin Road' was selected as the name for both sections of road. This would be about 1884.
In September 1884 the Mayor formally opened Lenton Boulevard, the new low-level road from Nottingham to Lenton. This road provided the people of Lenton with a welcome alternative to the Derby Road and had been one of the inducements preferred to local inhabitants by Nottingham in order to encourage them to agree to the Borough Extension Act of 1877. The section from Canal Street to Sherwin Road was an entirely new route (the name Castle Boulevard was only adopted c.1906) but when it turned at Sherwin Road the new Boulevard took over a pre-existing road. This was School Street which ran as far as Church Street. There are now school buildings on both sides of the road but 'School Street' would have taken its name from the Edna G. Olds Nursery building. Built in 1874 and initially known as the Lenton Public Unsectarian Schools, the building had been paid for by various well-to-do members of the non-conformist community who wanted a local alternative to the Church of England Schools situated on Church Street. Following Lenton's absorption into the Borough of Nottingham these Unsectarian Schools were handed over to the Nottingham School Board. Separate schools for boys, girls and infants were all housed in this one set of buildings but they soon proved inadequate for Lenton's school population and the Board was forced to erect another building across the road in 1887. The Boys School moved into this and was joined in 1899 by the Girls School when a further set of buildings were added at the rear. A more complete account of the history of these Schools can be found in Issue 44 of The Lenton Listener.
The roads and properties to the rear and to the side of these new school buildings had yet to arrive but they weren't long in coming. Much of the subsequent development of Sherwin Road and nearby areas was the responsibility of two men - Albert and Frederick Ball. The Albert Ball most people recall is the world war one air-ace, whose exploits gained him a posthumous V.C. and a memorial statue in the Castle Grounds. Our Albert Ball was his father. A prominent figure on the Nottingham scene; he was a City Councillor who thrice became Mayor and was eventually knighted in 1924. The directories originally describe him as a 'land agent' but perhaps the modern term 'developer' might be more appropriate. Albert Ball and his brother, Frederick, would buy undeveloped sites, lay out new roads, build one or two houses and then, in order to assist the cash flow, they would sell off the remaining building plots. Frederick Ball ran an architectural practice so they could also offer to draw up building plans for these other plots. Most of their operations in the 1890s and early 1900s seem to focus on the Lenton area.
O.S. Map Showing Sherwin Road in 1915
The list below shows the people who built property
on Sherwin Road. The information is obtained from
the Council building registers now kept at the
County Archive Office. The year indicates when
building regulations approval was sought which
necessarily will be prior to the property's
A - No’s 20-24 - W. Norris 1898
B - No. 60 - A. Ball 1896
C - No’s 62-64 - R Atkinson 1897
D - No’s 66-68 - G. Cuthbert 1897
E - No.70 R. Atkinson 1898
F - No’s 72-78 - R. Atkinson 1899
G - No’s 80-82 - J. Davis 1897
H - No. 84 building plans not found
I - No’s 29-35 - W. & A. Fenson 1897
J - No’s 37-39 - Edson & Askew 1898
K - No.41 - W. Butler 1899
L - No.43-51 - F. & A. Ball 1899
M - Sherwin Grove - W. Norris 1899
In 1894 the Ball brothers submitted plans to the Town Council for four new streets to be called Trinity Avenue, Church Avenue, Albert Road and Lois Road (later changed to Lois Avenue). The proximity of Trinity and Church Avenues to Holy Trinity Church explains their choice of name while Albert and Lois were the names of Albert Ball's two eldest children. As most readers will be aware Albert Road used to run through to Sherwin Road but in the late 1960s the ten houses at the Sherwin Road end were demolished and the road blocked off in order to extend the school playground.
At some time during his residence at Flora Cottage Henry Farmer acquired all the open land on the other side of Birch Lane/Sherwin Road. We know this because it was the 'Trustees of Henry Farmer' who in 1896 submitted plans to the Council for the construction of a new road across this land. The trustees wanted to call it 'Farmer Avenue' but they seem to have changed their minds. On the relevant forms submitted with the plans this name is struck out and replaced by 'Midland Avenue' (the second choice reflects the nearby line belonging to the Midland Railway Company). It may have been the trustees who formally made the submission but it is easy to detect the involvement of the Ball brothers. The plans for the new road were drawn up by Frederick Ball, while the very first houses built on Midland Avenue were erected by F. & A. Ball. The likely scenario is that once approval had been obtained for Midland Avenue the Balls bought the Farmer Estate and then began to develop Midland Avenue and the Sherwin Road land.
On the 1917 O.S. map (shown here) we indicate when exactly and by whom the plans of Sherwin Road properties were submitted for Council approval. It is evident that the last two areas to be developed were the grounds and actual site of Flora Cottage. It is feasible to suppose that the Balls might initially have envisaged retaining Flora Cottage. If so then they changed their minds in 1899. In August of that year they submitted plans for five houses in the grounds and a local builder, W.J. Norris, subsequently bought Flora Cottage, knocked it down and in its place erected the 13 houses that make up Sherwin Grove.
Between December 1896 and September 1897 the Council received six separate sets of plans for the same site, the plot next to the railway line on the northern side of Sherwin Road. All six were made by Albert Ball. First came plans for a pair of semi-detached houses; this was changed to a single dwelling house complete with stable block; then it was back to two houses but with a stable; the fourth was a return to a single house (unfortunately this contravened building regulations in some way so a fifth set containing the necessary modifications were required); the sixth and final set of plans showed the stable and coach house undergoing a structural re-arrangement. The reason for all these submissions was that Albert Ball had resolved that this was going to be the Ball family home but he just couldn't decide which design to adopt for the house. The property has undergone a few modifications in the ensuing years but essentially it is as Albert Ball built it, except that the large conservatory erected between the house and railway embankment has now gone. The Balls remained here for some eight or nine years after which the family moved to a house in The Park.
Albert Ball's house was originally called 'Sherwin Lodge' and there were others on the street with their own names. A few like 'Mona Villa', 'Alma Villa' and 'Almond Lodge' are still evident in the fabric of the buildings but most of the original house names are now only to be found in the pages of the directories. Robert Atkinson, who built eight properties on Sherwin Road, seemed particularly taken with the notion of giving his houses names. Kelly's 1900 directory reveals that he selected 'Lonsdale Lodge' (No’s 76 & 78), 'Latrigg Lodge' (No.74), 'Lorton Lodge' (No.72), 'Lome Lodge' (No. 70) and ' Lowther Lodge' (No.64). Although Atkinson wasn't responsible for building No’s 66 and 68 Mr Cuthbert, who was, seems partly carried along by this 'L' of an idea and named them 'Louth Villas'.
The official opening of the Albert Ball Memorial Homes on 7th
September 1922. Courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service.
Nothing of particular note happened to Sherwin Road until after the First World War when the Albert Ball Memorial Homes make their appearance. Built by Albert Ball senior in memory of his son who died in May 1917 when his bi-plane came down at Annoeullin in France, they were erected in 1922 on a patch of open land at the junction of Sherwin Road and Church Street. Albert Ball paid for the homes and also handed over nineteen properties to a trust so that the income from these could be used to keep the memorial homes in good repair and provide the tenants with free light and coal. Residents were asked to pay just a nominal rent and were selected from Lenton people who had lost husbands or children in the fight for King and Country.
In 1925 the land on the opposite side of Sherwin Road was bought by Sir Jesse Boot and he then paid for the Penn Avenue flats to be erected there the following year (*). Moving further along Sherwin Road to its junction with Hungerton Street the triangular piece of land here remained undeveloped until the 1930s when a large tin building was put up. This was primarily used as the base for Daykin's storage and removal business. In the 1960s the site was cleared and the present building erected. For most of the time it has housed a supermarket but currently it provides the Nottingham link in a nationwide chain of toyshops.
We now reach the conclusion of this general survey of how Sherwin Road developed. Birch House/Mirberry Mews are discussed at length elsewhere in the magazine but we are conscious that there is still much more we could have recorded about the buildings, and the people who lived and worked here. If any readers have more specific recollections of Sherwin Road and its residents we would be delighted to receive them and possibly these could be included in a future issue.
(*) The reasons behind Jesse Boot's desire to have the flats built are explored in an article in The Lenton Listener No.29.