From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 26
September - October 1983
Lenton Lodge - The Inside Story
The most imposing building in Lenton is about to change hands, but before it does the Lenton Listener was privileged to be taken on a guided tour. We can now disclose the inside story of what it has been like trying to renovate the Lodge over the last couple of years.
The state of the bathroom before renovation work started
Lenton Lodge is one of the finest gatehouses in Britain. The iron bound gates with their underground mechanical opening system are a unique architectural feature. And yet the building is only grade 2 listed in the Department of Environment catalogue. The present owner has tried to raise the matter with the City Planners, but so far has got nowhere. Perhaps the City Council is a little embarrassed by the building, which in the 1920s became separated from Wollaton Park by speculative suburban housing to its rear and has since been dragged into a rather prosaic setting by the closing of the canal in 1937 and the nearby building of shops and industrial units on Derby Road. The Lodge remained an anachronism, and was allowed to decline. In recent years the rear garden had disappeared under a mass of rubbish, pieces of the elaborately carved parapet became detached and were used in a rockery. Inside, the delicately profiled room recesses were boxed in with cheap wood panelling and the quality Ancaster stone painted over with unsuitable enamel paint. The roof leaked, the windows and casements were broken and in the last years of its official non-occupation the building was used as a thieves' kitchen. Among other rubbish found there, such as drugs and empty meths bottles, were stolen wallets. The building in its dereliction had become an eyesore and a liability to its owners - Nottingham City Corporation.
The City Council was unsure how best to deal with the property. There were even suggestions to fill the building with concrete, or simply demolish it. The Council was therefore relieved when in 1981 an interior designer, Mr. Lawrie Williamson, said he was willing to live there and renovate it, using a few rooms in the West wing was his design studios. A ninety nine year lease was drawn up and Mr. Williamson began the gigantic task of giving the building some loving care and attention. He was very angry at the previous neglect which he likens to leaving a fine piece of furniture out in the rain. All his skills as an interior designer who has worked with some of Britain's top architects have gone into making the Lodge into a fine family house.
One of the interiors of Lenton Lodge after renovation.
This view is of the ground floor room with the
replacement fireplace in the centre.
The original construction is of outstanding quality. Moulded iron joists in the carved wood beams support ceilings of six-inch thick stone; the walls are up to three feet thick and the roof is of very thick lead sheet. The logistics of clearing out skipfuls of rubbish, disinfecting and cleaning all the surfaces, and putting in gas central heating were quite daunting. It has all been done with excellent taste and attention to detail. When one fireplace was too badly rotted to save, a replacement of suitable age and quality was salvaged from a house in Lincolnshire and brought to the Lodge. Thirty-four doors have been stripped down and renovated. Paintwork has been cleaned off the stone and it has taken two years for the walls thoroughly to dry out. A small bore heating system has been put in with minimal damage to the building and no ugly pipe runs. The central heating flue has been neatly hidden behind ornamental stonework and the plumbing from the newly installed bathroom goes discretely down the middle of an unused chimney.
Grants obtainable for putting in such services have small impact on the costs of doing what is needed to bring the building up to modern standards without ruining its appearance. Had the building been within a conservation area, no doubt more money would have been available. Mr. Williamson has been irritated that a mediocre building that happens to be in a special area, such as the Lace Market, can attract more in the way of grants than a fine building such as Lenton Lodge. Thus Mr. Williamson has had to invest a lot of his own money in restoring what is both a family house and a public monument. Costs of decoration and furnishing such a house are, of course, much higher than average. The rooms are larger and ceilings higher (some up to 14 feet high). With a building of such quality, modern mass production furniture would look out of place - but the present occupier, being an interior designer, knows just the right way to make it into Lenton's own stately home.
Considering its age and the fact that it was originally built in the days of horse drawn vehicles, it adapts surprisingly easily to modern day living. The two round towers at the back are staircases leading through four floors of accommodation from the basement which was originally stables to the lead roof from which there is a fine view of Lenton. It was only when standing on the roof that one can see the original purpose of the building by the way Wollaton Hall is viewed over the roof of the housing estate, lines up precisely with the axis of the gatehouse. From the roof one also notices how close it is to the busy Derby Road -the vibrations from the passing traffic have even caused a number of small cracks to appear in the stonework. Fortunately for the occupants of the Lodge, all the rooms face the quiet of Wollaton Hall Drive or the small copse, which is in the gatehouse back garden. The towers facing the Derby Road are not staircases at all, but small circular cupboards rooms on each floor. They now form useful storage space that enables the main rooms to be kept free of clutter. The east wing is now the family kitchen and dining room. The west wing is used for the interior design studio and offices and has entrances separated from the house by the gateway itself, which also forms a useful covered parking space. There has never been a public right of way under the building and Mr. Williamson keeps the gates closed all the time to create a little more privacy.
A 1983 view of Lenton Lodge from Hillside
After all his efforts to put the building to rights, you might think that Mr. Williamson and his family would want to stay and enjoy the fruits of their labours; but as most people know they intend to move on. When he describes the renovation project, it is clear that the administrative problems of sorting out grants and dealing with the City Council have not been as enjoyable and satisfying as the interior design problems of the refurbishment. It is very clear, however, that not only the residents of Lenton but of Nottingham itself owe him and his family a great deal for their work in restoring this important building. Those who like the Lenton Local History Group have had the pleasure of seeing the refurbished Lodge could not fail to be impressed, and those living and working nearby must be especially pleased at the transformation.
The lease of the building has now been put up for sale. Apparently one of the most interested potential purchasers would want to use the building primarily as studios with only a small caretaker flat. It remains to be seen how keen the City Council are about this proposed change of use from a stately form of housing to an extension of professional use. Whatever use it is finally put to, it is clear that the building will remain a distinctive feature of Lenton. Visitors to the area have been known to photograph the Lodge thinking it was Wollaton Hall itself. The current refurbishment has given the present occupants the most impressive family house in Lenton with undoubtedly the grandest carport in Britain.