From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 31
November - December 1984
The Priory Park
A view of Gregory Street with the buildings known as Mart's Yard
shown in the middle distance. The illustration was originally used as
a picture postcard in the Clumber series.
In the course of this year a stone wall has slowly begun to appear at the corner of Abbey and Gregory Streets. The construction of this wall is the first stage in the City Council's plan to lay out the land behind as a small public garden, to be called the Priory Park. The gardens will provide a focus for the visitors to Lenton who want to learn more about Lenton Priory, which in its heyday was among the most powerful in the Midlands. A history of this Cluniac establishment will be displayed on information boards placed within the Park. For the locals the gardens should also provide an attractive setting in which to sit and relax, away from the traffic passing nearby.
In recent years this particular corner of Lenton has undergone a variety of changes. A row of cottages, known locally as Mart Yard, were built there in the last part of the eighteenth century. These can be seen in the photograph below and they survived until the late 1950s, when they were declared unfit for human habitation and consequently demolished along with other houses further along Gregory Street. New housing was subsequently constructed on the vacant land beyond the Priory Church, but the corner site remained unoccupied. Instead it was let to Mills and Allen, the advertising firm with permission to erect hoardings around its edge. In the 1930s the advertising company had acquired the plot of land next to Mart Yard and erected hoardings on the Abbey Street frontage. When the other hoardings were added in the 1960s advertisements rather dominated this portion of Lenton.
An artist's impression of the Priory Park provided by the City Planning Department.
The brickwall with the accompanying caption was added by the magazine.
In the late 1960s the Council embarked on a programme of environmental improvements within the City under the name of Face Lift Nottingham. It was decided that the corner of Abbey Street and Gregory Street would benefit from the attentions of this scheme and as a result the hoardings were set back and a public space created in front of them. The area was grassed, a path set around it and a number of benches placed for those wanting to sit and rest. At the end of the next decade when the Lenton District Plan was under debate, the City Council revealed its desire to preserve and lay out the site of Lenton Priory as an informal open space. Since then this policy has been actively pursued. Old Church Street has been closed to through traffic at its Priory Street end and the grassed areas there have been railed off. Mills and Allen were required to remove their hoardings from the rear of the open space and the Council entered into negotiations to buy the Abbey Street land from the advertising company. Mills and Allen were not keen to sell the site and were dissatisfied with the terms offered. As a result the City Council issued a compulsory purchase order, against which Mills and Allen appealed. In the end the City Council got their way and the remaining hoardings have now come down.
A further complication was added by the fact that from the 1950s the land behind the hoardings on Abbey Street has been rented as an allotment by a local man. The Councilís plans meant that not only Mills and Allen but also this private tenant had to go. The exodus would include a loft full of pigeons. There was a suggestion that the pigeons might be retained and rehoused in a new loft and made a feature of within the Park, but this is not now expected to happen. For the moment the pigeons can stay where they are until the wall is completed, when the construction of the Park itself will commence.
At the time of writing there is not much of the wall to be seen. Most of the work so far has concentrated on providing strong foundations to take the weight of the stone structure above. The stone for the wall has been 'quarried' from the walls of the set of locks in the abandoned stretch of canal at Wollaton. When recovered the blocks proved to be very large and it's taking a lot of time and effort, not to mention saw blades, to cut the rock into smaller pieces suitable for use on the Priory Park wall. When completed, the wall should shield those in the Park from most of the noise of the passing traffic on Abbey Street, while sections of railings set in parts of the wall will allow the Park to be viewed by those merely passing by.
This was the illustration that appeared on the front cover of The Lenton Listener No.31. The
comic characters were added to create visual interest as the workforce was elsewhere when
the photographer came to take the shot in October 1984.
Before work starts on laying out the gardens it is hoped that it will be possible to make some sort of examination of what lies beneath the ground. Where the Park is sited is believed to fall within the area between the inner and outer walls of the Priory. The considered opinion is that no Priory buildings were situated here, but no one will know for certain until a check is made. At present the City Archaeologists have a large number of sites to examine throughout the City and, given that there is little expectation that they would find the remains of any further Priory buildings here, they are not keen to be involved at present. What is more likely to happen is that Council employees will dig a couple of trenches across the area and the soil layers be examined for any interesting artefacts. Possibly local volunteers could be roped in to help with this work. We hope to be able to tell all eager prospectors when to step forward in a future issue. It is also hoped to involve Lenton youngsters in planting the trees and shrubs in the Priory Park. In recent times it has been found that when the youth of an area have helped in such activities, the level of vandalism afterwards is much lower than when their assistance is not sought. All must hope that the efforts of the Council, its officers and workforce, bear fruit and Lenton soon has a Park of which it can be proud.