Saturday, 9 September 2017

Our Entertaining Evolutionist

Banned, Rebellious, Sex-mad, Poetic... no, not another portrait of Lawrence or Byron, meet Erasmus Darwin, a Notts literary legend.

Erasmus Darwin, described as ‘The Da Vinci of the Midlands’, is a man whose philosophical poetry has been called dangerously radical. Without him ‘On the Origin of Species’ - perhaps even ‘Frankenstein’ - would not have been written. 

The son of a Nottingham lawyer, and the youngest of seven children, Erasmus Darwin was born at Elston Hall, near Newark, Nottinghamshire in 1731.
The Darwins’ long association with Elston in Notts began in 1680 and ended with the second world war.
 
In the mid-1750s Erasmus Darwin qualified as a doctor and started a medical practice in Nottingham. With no patron to recommend him he only lasted a few months. After treating just one patient the physician moved to Lichfield. A few weeks later he successfully treated a young man for whom death had seemed inevitable. This feat, brought about through unconventional care, led to Erasmus becoming famous. His unusual treatments included the advocating of exercise regimes and the use of herbal medicine. He was a strong believer in the benefits of good ventilation, putting holes into crowded rooms for the fresh air. He also held sympathetic views on mental illness, and was known to dish out the opiates and prescribe sex.
The combination of a debilitating knee injury - caused by falling out of a carriage - and large appetite meant that Erasmus was a big man. He cut a half-moon out of his dining table so that he could sit closer to his food. Despite his big belly, and possession of a stutter, Erasmus was a real charmer and a womaniser.
Erasmus Darwin (1731 – 1802).
Unlike many of his generation Erasmus had no sexual hang-ups. He had no issues with masturbation or homosexuality, and was known for having a large heterosexual appetite.
"Sexual reproduction is the chef d'oeuvre, the masterpiece of nature," he wrote. Darwin believed that reproduction allowed the imprinted patterns of experience to be passed on to each new generation, in a way that sits comfortably with the latest in epigenetics.
Given his methods of treatment it’s no surprise Erasmus became so popular in Lichfield and word of his reputation reached King George III who asked him to become his personal Royal Physician. Darwin declined. Aside from his Republican tendencies his business was booming, allowing him the financial freedom to treat the poor free of charge.
Erasmus Darwin’s first wife died of alcoholism. This affected Erasmus’s attitude to drink, an anti-alcohol stance which passed down the family for generations to come. Years after his first wife's death, he fell in love with a patient, the married Elizabeth Pole. He wooed her with a deluge of verse and, when the situation allowed, married her, moving his offspring in with hers. He had at least fourteen children.
Through his poetry, Erasmus Darwin wanted to achieve things and to change people’s attitudes, so he turned to ‘didactic poetry’ (poetry with a message/instruction). His purpose was "…to enlist imagination under the banner of science". It was an inventive mix; poetry that contained science and radical ideas including a new theory of biological evolution.  
At that time science, literature, philosophy and religion formed one common culture, and Erasmus was especially interested in how science and the arts were connected. Nearly all of his scientific ideas appeared in verse.
Erasmus Darwin translated the works of the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, producing volumes of work in which he coined many of the English plant names used today. One long poem ‘The Botanic Garden’ (1789), structured in rhyming couplets of four thousand lines, consisted of two parts, ‘The Economy of Vegetation’, and ‘The Loves of the Plants’.
‘The Economy of Vegetation’ attacked political tyranny and religious superstition. The poem includes a vision of the universe’s creation that’s much like the big bang theory; a pagan version that insists on a non-divine, self-regulating economy of the natural world.
‘The Loves of the Plants’, a popular rendering of the Linnaeus' works, applies Goddesses and eroticism to the classification of plants. Produced by the radical publisher Joseph Johnson it was quickly followed by further editions. Johnson, later imprisoned for a ‘dangerous’ publication, paid Erasmus a huge sum for the poem and went on to publish many of his future works. Erasmus Darwin became a leading poet of his time and inspired many of the Romantic generation with his epic, erotic, evolutionary and philosophical images.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s most famous poems, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ are both influenced by Erasmus Darwin’s writing. Mary Shelley’s idea for Frankenstein came as she overheard a conversation between her husband (Percy Shelley) and Lord Byron in which they referred to Erasmus Darwin and his reanimation of corpses. Byron would have been well aware of Erasmus Darwin’s poetry and, tracing back to his time in Southwell, there is a loose but significant connection between a young Byron and Erasmus through Elizabeth Pigot who encouraged Byron to publish his juvenile poems (1803/4).
One final connection comes in 1824, as works by Darwin and Byron are published together: The Botanic Garden (Erasmus Darwin’s poem in two parts) and Byron’s Poems (Don Juan) and his memoirs, were bound together in the one book. It made sense as by then both men had a reputation for being mad, bad and dangerous to know. A friend of Erasmus Darwin’s, the chemist James Keir admitted that he “paid little regard to authority.”
 
Erasmus Darwin vigorously opposed slavery and included his views in his poetry and personal correspondence:

E'en now, e'en now, on yonder Western shores
Weeps pale Despair, and writhing Anguish roars:
Ee'n now in Afric's groves with hideous yell
Fierce SLAVERY stalks, and slips the dogs of hell.
Conscience must listen to the voice of Guilt:
Hear him, ye Senates! Hear this truth sublime,
HE, WHO ALLOWS OPPRESSION, SHARES THE CRIME"

And in a letter he wrote to Wedgwood (the potter): 'I have just heard that there are muzzles or gags made at Birmingham for the slaves in our islands. If this be true, and such an instrument could be exhibited by a speaker in the house of commons, it might have great effect.'
At this time the British were still taking African slaves. Slavery was vital to the British economy, especially the sugar trade which depended on it. Erasmus helped to drive the British abolition movement. In Phytologia he wrote:
‘Great God of Justice! Grant that it (sugar) may soon be cultivated only by the hands of freedom.’
One of the leaders of a campaign to grow sugar beans in England, Erasmus argued that this could be used as a  sweetener instead of importing cane sugar from the slave-fuelled plantations.
Popular poetic taste began to turn away from Erasmus after establishment-backed critics ridiculed his political ideas by attacking his heroic couplets. Samuel Coleridge, who thought of Erasmus Darwin as "the first literary character of Europe, and the most original-minded Man" commented that "I absolutely nauseate Darwin's poem." His popular poetry was parodied, linking him with the French Revolution and the irreligious. In the early 1790s, Erasmus Darwin nearly became Poet Laureate but the respected doctor was now seen as a crank and labelled an atheist. His next (and best) book ‘Zoonomia’ (or, ‘The Laws of Organic Life’) (1794–1796), wouldn’t help. Darwin’s nationwide approval turned to scorn. William Wordsworth used the book as the source for a poem he published in 1798 but popular opinion was disapproving. Erasmus had expected his radical book to stir controversy, saying that he was "too old and hardened to fear a little abuse." However, his ideas caused great harm to his reputation.
In ‘Zoonomia’ he expanded upon the theory that life could develop without the guiding hand of a Creator. In this two-volume medical work Erasmus incorporated pathology, anatomy, psychology and biology, and contained the ideas relating to the theory of evolution. Anticipating natural selection Erasmus Darwin wrote about "three great objects of desire" for every organism; those wants being "lust, hunger, and security."
He wrote: “Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”
This was a depiction of an earth as being not as it's described in the bible, and thus argues against the teachings in the book of Genesis. This controversy roused a reaction. Criticism of the Jacobins (the most radical and ruthless of the political groups formed in the wake of the French Revolution) was made alongside criticism of 'Zoonomia'.
Undaunted in his commitment to progress Erasmus offended political and religious conservatives equally. He was ridiculed for suggesting that electricity might one day have practical uses. He was criticised for his belief that women should have access to education, expressed in ‘A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education’ (1797), and his establishing of one of the first public schools for girls which adopted Erasmus’ orders that the girls should be well-fed, undertake exercise and breathe fresh air. He was lambasted for his prodemocracy stance and argument that not just the owners of property should have the right to vote. And above all, he was hated for his views on creation, not helped when he added to the family's coat of arms the Latin phrase 'E conchis omnia' ('Everything from shells'). By shells he would have meant molluscs and that everything evolves from formless objects. The Dean of Lichfield Cathedral criticised Erasmus’s new coat of arms, demanding that he withdrew it. Living close to the cathedral, and knowing that many of his patients were influenced by the Dean, Erasmus obliged.
British opinion to the French revolution was one of concern that a dangerous idealism could be coming over the channel. The execution of Louis XVI, by means of the guillotine in 1793, had brought with it the threat of radical politics and fears of revolution. It didn't help that one such ‘dangerous’ radical was Joseph Priestly, a good friend of Erasmus Darwin. 
Together with contacts like Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, and James Watt, Erasmus set up the Lunar Society which became an intellectual powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. They would meet up under a full moon, giving them the maximum light in which to travel back. For invention and importance, the society were second only to the Royal Society, of which many of them were also members.
The visionary reformers and leading thinkers of the Lunar Society were one reason the Industrial Revolution happened here before the rest of Europe. Many of their ideas were shared, with Darwin in particular displaying an incredibly creative and practical mind. He gave the first recognisable explanations of photosynthesis and the formation of clouds. He also invented many mechanical devices.
Erasmus Darwin’s unpatented inventions include a flushing toilet, weather monitoring machines, a lift for barges, an artificial bird  and a copying machine which used two pens; one operated by hand, the other by an attached machine, with the resulting copies being identical. Keen to help those with speaking difficulties, Erasmus also developed a speaking machine able to recite the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments.
Perhaps the most impressive of his inventions was a steering machine for his carriage. This method of turning made carriages less likely to overturn (as you’ll recall Erasmus had an accident falling out a carriage). In the early 1900s all the modern cars were using this Darwinian steering.

In 1813 The Lunar Society was formally wound up. With only Keir, Watt, Edgeworth and Galton still alive they held a lottery to decide who gets to keep their collected books. Samuel Galton won.
Erasmus Darwin’s final long poem, ‘The Temple of Nature’, was published in 1803, a year after his death. The poem, originally titled ‘The Origin of Society’, is widely considered his best poetic work, tracing the progression of life from micro-organisms to civilized society and confirming his belief in shared ancestry. Like many of his works it owes much to Lucretius.
'The Temple of Nature' was on the Vatican’s banned list. Erasmus’s idea that nature was in a state of constant warfare in which evolution happens proved dangerous to Christian teaching whose ideas on the origin of life on Earth were not used to being challenged. By this time Erasmus had made his point: his argument that we all come from one common ancestor may have been developed by his grandson, Charles Darwin, but it was very much Erasmus who provided the bulk of the theory.
One of Erasmus’s sons - Charles Darwin’s father - Robert Darwin, was in the family business, working as a doctor, and it was expected that Charles would follow suit. Like Erasmus, Charles went to Edinburgh to become a physician but he couldn’t bare the sight of blood. Breaking with tradition he took a route that should have meant his becoming a clergyman but, whilst at Cambridge, he saw the chance to take a place on HMS Beagle to work as a naturalist. He nearly didn’t make the trip as the ship’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, didn’t like Charles Darwin’s nose. FitzRoy was convinced that a man’s character could be judged by his features and so doubted Charles had the energy or determination for the journey. FitzRoy was persuaded by a professor at Cambridge and the financial support of Josiah Wedgewood II (Charles's future father-in-law) that Charles was the right man for the expedition.   
Charles Darwin formed his own theory of evolution by natural selection but didn’t give Erasmus the credit he was due. I believe that Charles wanted to distance himself from Erasmus’s work as he had been aware of the storm his grandfather had aroused. Charles was known to have been concerned about causing controversy and held off publishing his own theory for many years. By leaving out the Erasmus name, Charles thought he had more chance of achieving credibility.
With ‘On the Origin of Species’ (1859) and ‘The Descent of Man’ (1871) Charles was abused and satirised in much the same way Erasmus had been.
Robert Grant, who had mentored a young Charles in Edinburgh, was a great admired of Erasmus’s theory of evolution and there is ample evidence that Charles adopted his grandfather’s ideas. Charles read Zoonomia as a student and did so again when coming back from his voyage on the Beagle. There is a notebook that exists today in which Charles’s ideas are first depicted. This book includes his famous evolutionary tree of life.

On the first page of Charles Darwin’s famous notebook is written the word ‘Zoonomia’. Charles would have grown up with Erasmus’s books and would have visited his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire. Charles named his first-born William Erasmus Darwin and later wrote a biography of Erasmus.
Charles Darwin wasn’t born until ten years after his grandfather’s death. By then, the idea that humans pass down improvements through the generations had already been made by Erasmus. Predating the term ‘survival of the fittest’ by seventy years, Erasmus wrote that "the strongest and most active animal should propagate the species, which should thence become improved."

A child of Nottinghamshire, Erasmus Darwin was a man who expressed his dangerous ideas and, looking back, was not only on the right side of history, he changed it. To many, however, the theory of evolution remains dangerous and controversial.
 
This is an extended version of an article first appearing on the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website.
"All nature exists in a state of perpetual improvement." Erasmus Darwin.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Nottingham Town inspires Bob Dylan

The Ritchie family of Kentucky hail from all over England, Scotland and Ireland. When they arrived in the US, in 1768, they brought with them their songs and, to keep their heritage alive, continued to sing them through the generations.

As a child, Jean Ritchie would sit with her sisters on their Kentucky porch and sing a song called ‘Nottamun Town’ unsure of its meaning or origin. Jean Ritchie would later become a singer-songwriter and she adapted the song’s traditional lyrics, gaining the copyright to 'Fair Nottamun Town' in 1964.

The Ritchie family believed that the song was ”sure to be about Nottingham in Old England” so, in the early 1950s, Jean Ritchie researched the Nottingham connection and concluded that it was most likely the 'magic song'  used in early Nottingham Mummrs' Plays.

These folk plays were performed by amateur actors, traditionally all male, and featured several different stock characters including Tom Fool and Dame Jane. The plays were taken door to door and performed in exchange for money or gifts, with threats of destruction if the audience didn’t pay up. This adult version of today’s trick or treating saw the actors hide their true identities with blackened faces and inside-out clothing as they sang and performed. The original version of ‘Nottamun Town’ is likely to have included explicitly sexual references later censored out as the words evolved.

Jean Ritchie singing ‘Nottamun Town’ (lyrics below)
 
In Nottamun Town, not a soul would look up
Not a soul would look up
Not a soul would look down
Not a soul would look up
Not a soul would look down
To show me the way to fair Nottamun Town

When the king and the queen and the company mourn
Come a-walking behind
And riding before
Come a stark naked drummer
A-beating the drum
With his hands on his bosom come marching along

Sat down on a hard, hard cold frozen stone
Ten thousand around me
Yet I was alone
Took my hat in my hands
For to keep my head warm
Ten thousand got drownded that never was born

In Nottamun Town, not a soul would look up
Not a soul would look up
Not a soul would look down
Not a soul would look up
Not a soul would look down
To show me the way to fair Nottamun Town

It has also been suggested that the lyrics were originally inspired by The English Civil Wars (1642-51), and it was in Nottingham that Charles raised his royal standard. Alternative titles include’ Fair Nottamun Town’ and ‘Nottamun Fair’, perhaps linking the song’s origins with Goose Fair. Nottingham probably became ‘Nottamun’ in the Appalachian Mountains. It could simply be that the pronunciation of Nottingham that crossed the Atlantic was closer to the Nottamun of the song. Much like the pronunciation of the city’s name - as ‘Nottnum’ - is today.  

As for the song’s meaning, don’t look too deeply into that; it’s said that the song is cursed, and that whoever uncovers its meaning will lose all of their luck. Is this the 'magic' Ritchie mentions?

And the connection with Dylan?

Let me take you back to 1963, to Greenwich Village, New York. Jean Ritchie is watching a ‘young, scruffy, nervous, unprepared and mumbling’ singer up on stage. His name is Bob Dylan. He performs a ‘new song’ that sounds familiar to Ritchie. Dylan was singing ‘Masters of War’ which uses the melody from the traditional ballad.

So how did Dylan end up using the tune to Nottamun Town?

Jackie Washington had sung a version of the song in 1962, and Dylan loved it. Dylan would go to Gerde's Folk City (a music venue in Greenwich Village) every night Washington performed and repeatedly ask him to sing it, later demanding a copy of his record. The next time Washington heard the tune it had become ‘Masters of War.’

Masters of War
 

Owning the copyright, Ritchie has earned healthy royalties from Dylan’s Masters of War, money that has made its way to Kentucky charities.

Masters of War is a protest song, befitting of our history. Dylan said of it: "I've never written anything like (Masters of War) before. I don't sing songs which hope people will die, but I couldn't help it with this one. The song is a sort of striking out... a feeling of what can you do?"

Bob Dylan at the gate to Nottingham Castle, 1966 - photo by Barry Feinstein.

In 2005 Bob Dylan performed for the first time in Nottingham, kicking off the section of his tour that took in the UK and Ireland, in which he appeared in Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, London (x5) and Dublin (x2). He only once played Masters of War. It was here in Nottamun.

Listen to Jackie Washington’s version from 1962.

Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter claims that ‘Nottamun Town’ has inspired his own song writing approach.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Nottingham's Women of Words

On the Trail of Nottingham’s Women of Words
Revised and Updated (Wear comfortable shoes)

Part One – Robin Hood goes to Jail


Begin near Nottingham Castle, at the Robin Hood statue.


At the top of Castle Gate is the Severns’ Building, a medieval dwelling that was re-erected on this site in 1968, and later became the Nottingham Lace Building.


Hilda Lewis (1896-1974) started writing her historical and children’s fiction when she moved to Nottingham in the 1920s. Her novel Penny Lace, features the city's Victorian lace industry.


Proceed down Castle Gate to no. 51.



Ann Gilbert (1782-1866) once lived in this Georgian house. Gilbert, a literary critic, wrote children’s poetry and hymns. Her younger sister and collaborator, Jane Taylor, wrote the words to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Gilbert is buried in Nottingham’s General Cemetery.

Continue along Castle Gate and cross Maid Marion Way - named after one of Nottingham’s most famous characters, and known as Nottingham’s ugliest road – before re-joining Castle Gate. Towards the bottom, on the left, is the Castle Gate Congregational Centre.


It was here that two lace workers, Matthew and Lucy, married. Their daughter, Alma Reville (the editor and scriptwriter) was born in Nottingham in 1889, a few hours after her future husband and collaborator, Alfred Hitchcock, was born in Leytonstone.


Turn left and head up Albert Street. On the next corner (Hounds Gate/Albert Street) is the former studio of the renowned artist Evelyn Gibbs (1905-1991), writer of the influential book The Teaching of Art in Schools.



Gibbs also illustrated several of Hilda Lewis’s books.




Across from here is St Peter’s Church.


Anne Ayscough and her husband William are buried here. Together with John Collyer they became Nottingham’s first printers in 1710. A few years later the Ayscoughs and Collyer held rival businesses. The Ayscough’s producing the Nottingham Weekly Courant whilst Collyer printed the Nottingham Post.

Turn right at Bridlesmith Gate, at one time the place to come for typewriters.


It’s about here, between St Peter’s Gate and Pepper Street, that the Ayscoughs established Nottingham’s first printing press. The oldest known work printed in Nottingham was produced here in 1714, Sir Thomas Parkyn’s Inn-Play. In 1717 the Ayscoughs printed Grammatical Commentaries by R. Johnson, Headmaster of Nottingham’s Free School.

At the end of Bridlesmith Gate is Low Pavement. From here you can see Jamie’s Italian Restaurant.


This is the former residence of Abigail Gawthern (1757-1822). Gawthern’s diaries were copied into one important volume, documenting how Nottingham's professional classes lived at that time. She died in this house.


Heading up Low Pavement, cross over at Weekday Cross where Nottingham Contemporary awaits.


The international art centre has a healthy book section and hosts many literary and spoken word events.

Continue along High Pavement. On the right is the National Justice Museum, home of Nottingham’s historic Courthouse and Jail.  


It was on the steps that a Luddite became the first person to be hanged here, after being found guilty of the attempted murder of his employer. Christy Fearn's novel Framed tells the story of the Nottingham Luddites.

The Courtroom here saw the trial of Joan Phillips, a notorious local highwaywoman. This inspired Rebecca S. Buck's novel The Locket and the Flintlock; whilst her book Truths contains two narratives, both of which are set in fictional versions of the historic Shire Hall and County Gaol.

Next up is St Mary’s Church, a grand medieval building.

Part Two – St Mary’s to St Brian's


Dame Agnes Mellers established a Free School here in the parish of St Mary’s in 1513, partly as an act of atonement for her husband’s wrongdoings against the people of Nottingham. King Henry VIII sealed the foundation. The school later became the Nottingham Boys’ High School. After more than 500 years of teaching boys, the Nottingham High School is now a co-educational institution.

Cut up through St Mary’s Gate and take the next right into Broadway, perhaps Nottingham’s most attractive street.



Nottingham born Alice Zimmern (1855–1939) was a writer, translator and suffragist, whose books made a big contribution to the debate on the education and rights of women. She mixed with fellow suffragist authors Edith Bland, Eleanor Marx and Beatrix Potter. Alice also wrote popular children's books on ancient Greece.
Her father, the lace merchant Hermann Theodore Zimmern, was a German immigrant.

Collaborating with her sister Helen Zimmern (1846–1934), Alice opened up much European culture and thought to the British public.


Turn left and head along Stoney Street.

This area features in Jaq Hazell’s I Came to Find a Girl.

On the left in the Adams Building, the largest and finest Victorian building in the Lace Market. T C Hine designed this building for Thomas Adams. The building housed a library and hosted a book club for its many lace workers.


New College Nottingham is now based here.

On the right is Woolpack Lane where William Ayscough moved his printing press in 1718.


He died four years after moving here but Anne Ayscough continued the printing business.



Go past the pub and chip shop to Goosegate.

Take a right and head all the way down.


It was at the bottom end of Goosegate in 1826 that Susannah Wright opened a radical bookshop. It had to fight for its survival against violence and daily picketing from the Committee for the Suppression of Vice, during which the shop was broken into, with attempts made to drag out the atheist proprietor. Inciting the riots was Rev G Wilkins of St Mary's. Undeterred, Wright moved to a larger premises higher up Goosegate. 

Cross St. Belward Street and continue to the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, on the corner with Lower Parliament Street.


Authors Paula Rawsthorne, Megan Taylor and Alison Moore - whose first novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize - are all members of the writers' studio.

Alison Moore

Return back up Goosegate, then turn right at Heathcote Street. On the right is Jam Café, host to a monthly poetry evening.


The premises now used by Jam Cafe and Paramount Pictures used to house Mushroom Bookshop which had sections devoted to women's writing, to lesbian writing, and to feminism.

Take the next left (High Cross Street) and left again at Broad Street.

Note the Lord Roberts Pub, once the home to Tales from Two Cities, led by Sophie Snell.


Lee Rosy’s Tea Room, on the right, host regular poetry events. Past performers include Leanne Moden and Cleo Asabre-Holt.


On the left is the Broadway Cinema.


Broadway hosts a popular Book Club, established by Pam McIlroy and currently run by Leanne Wain.
Continuing along, Rough Trade is on the right.


Supportive of literary events Rough Trade is also venue for live poetry, spoken word, book launches and readings.

Panya Banjoko

Local poets Panya Banjoko,  Becky Cullen, Di Slaney, Sue Dymoke, Aly Stoneman and editor of Left Lion Bridie Squires, have all performed at Rough Trade.

Sue Dymoke

Veer right, up Goosegate and continue through trendy Hockley.


This area is featured in Caroline Bell-Foster’s The Cat Café. The Nottingham author is best-known for her Call Me Royal series.


Off Carlton Street is Pelham Street, near the top of which is Wired


This café hosts The Hockley Book Club and poetry nights but it’s time to head left instead, down Victoria Street.


On the left, at the corner with Bridlesmith Gate is Waterstone’s, the self-declared ‘finest bookshop in the Midlands’, and Nottingham’s largest, another fine Victorian building.


Waterstone’s host a programme of events, including talks from top authors, such as local talents Mhairi McFarlane, Elizabeth Chadwick and Eve Makis.

Going right at High Street, walk along until the coming to ZARA which sits on the corner with Pelham Street.


This gorgeous Art Nouveau building used to be Boots’ premier store, featuring book sections and a library, all thanks to the influence of Florence Boot (1863-1952).


Boot placed the library counters at the back of the shop so patrons had to walk past the merchandise.

Now take a left, down Smithy Row.

The Works bookshop is on the right.

Next to this is an alleyway down which is Five Leaves, one of the few independent bookshops to open in a UK city centre this century. This radical bookshop includes a feminist section. Five Leaves hosts regular literary events. Deirdre O'Byrne, Giselle Leeb and Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang are among the many guest speakers to have appeared at the venue.


Five Leaves Publications, which started in 1995, operates from here. Pippa Hennessey works for Five Leaves who have published books by many local writers, including works from Hilda Lewis, Rose Fyleman, Clare Littleford, Nicola Monaghan and Helen Cresswell, as well as a biography of Evelyn Gibbs by Pauline Lucas.


On the left is the Nottingham Tourism Centre which sells Notts-themed books.


At the next corner, turn right, where Speakers’ Corner awaits at the site of the Brian Clough Statue.

Part Three – The Theatre to the Council House

Continue up Queen Street then cross Upper Parliament Street.

On the left is Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, Theatre Square.


The Theatre Royal held the world premiere of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.


The Scarlet Pimpernel also made its first appearance here, two years before Baroness Orczy turned her play into a novel, spurning 13 sequels.


Cathy Grinrod runs a 55+ creative writing course at the Royal Centre.


Head up South Sherwood Street.

At Shakespeare Street and North Sherwood Street is the Nottingham Mechanics Institute, home to Nottingham Writers’ Club’s regular meetings.

The award-winning author Glenis Wilson is a member the club which was established in 1927. Joan Wallace, author of four historical novels set in Nottingham, was also a member.

The Nottingham Poetry Society meet here. In 1941, Margery Smith and three other women formed the Nottingham Branch of the Poetry Society, which later became Nottingham Poetry Society. Current members include Cathy Grinrod.

Take a left here, at Shakespeare Street.

On the left is Nottingham Trent University’s Arkwright Building.


The MA in Creative Writing at NTU is one of the longest established postgraduate courses of its kind in the UK. The course's first leader was the novelist Sue Thomas. She later founded trAce Online Writing Centre (1995-2006) at NTU, an early global online community.



Former teachers on NTU's writing course include the biographers Katherine Frank and Kathryn Hughes, as well as the poets Catherine Byron and Clare MacDonald Shaw, former editor of the poetry magazine Quartz.  The novelist, critic and cultural historian Elleke Boehmer also worked in NTU's English Department.

Among the current creative writing lecturers at NTU is Sarah Jackson, while Dr Natalie Braber, who teaches in the School of Arts and Humanities within the subject area of Linguistics, is the author of Nottingham dialect books.



Among the authors who have undertaken MA writing courses at NTU are Clare Littleford, Frances Thimann, and the award-winning authors Nicola Monaghan a.k.a. Niki Valentine and Kim Slater a.k.a. K L Slater.

Nicola Monaghan

Kim Slater

The Arkwright Building has been a public library and it was once University College at which Rose Fyleman (1877-1957) attended.

At the next crossroads look over to the right. Across the road, at the end of Waverley Street, is the former Nottingham School of Art, now NTU’s Art & Design department.


Dorothy Hartley (1893–1985) was a social historian, skilled illustrator, and prominent author. She attended Nottingham Art School and later returned here as a teacher.


Her books cover six centuries of English history but she’s best known as the author of Food in England (1954). Still in print it’s been described by Delia Smith as, “A classic book without a worthy successor – a must for any keen English cook.”


Retrace your steps a short way, along Shakespeare Street, until the road joins with Goldsmith Street.

On the left is Boots Library.


This NTU library is open 24-7 during term time.

Florence Boot (born Florence Rowe), her father a bookseller, introduced lending libraries into Boots stores. Nottingham University’s first hall of residence was named after her.

Just on from Blackwell’s University Bookshop is the office of Notts TV.


Shreya Sen-Handley, author of Memoirs of My Body, is a regular guest on Notts TV.


Turn right and head up Chaucer Street. Towards the top, on the right, is the Nottingham Women's Centre, run by women, for women.


The only women’s library in the East Midlands, it contains many rare books and magazines. The library was relaunched in 2014 with special guest Kat Banyard, author and founder of UK Feminista. The redeveloped library, which is situated on the top floor, has become the hub of the National Feminist Archives and Libraries Network for the UK.

At the end of Chaucer Street turn left and head along Clarendon Street to Wollaton Street. Cross over to Vernon Street. From there cross Derby Road and enter North Circus Street. Here is Nottingham Playhouse.


Host to several writing groups, they also feature many plays from local writers; the Nottingham playwright Amanda Whittington being a Playhouse favourite.


The Mouthy Poets (2010-2016) performed at the Playhouse. The group’s director and founder is Debris Stevenson.


Continue round and meet Oxford Street. No. 1 Oxford Street is site of the original Nottingham Girls High School founded in 1875.


Now on Arboretum Street, the High School’s former pupils include the authors Helen Cresswell, Dame Stella Rimington and Julie Myerson.

Julie Myerson
On the corner with Regent Street is the former family home of the Hines.


Nottingham novelist Muriel Hine (1873-1949) features the home in some of her ‘Lacingham’ novels. At the top of Oxford Street turn left on The Ropewalk. Continue to the corner where the former Nottingham General Hospital (1782-1991) is.


In the mid-19th century the famous local architect T C Hine added a storey, the clock and the chapel. Hine’s granddaughter, Muriel Hine, achieved national fame as a novelist with her light fiction, which explored the challenges and expectations faced by women.


Move left down Park Row and then turn right into Postern Street leading to St James Terrace. Here is the site of The Royal Standard plaque, which marks the raising of the Royal Standard by Charles 1st, starting the English Civil War.


During this time, the Governor of Nottingham Castle’s wife was the biographer and translator Lucy Hutchinson, the writer of Order and Disorder, the first epic poem written in English by a woman.


On the corner, at the top of St James Street, is no. 76, Newstead House, where Lord Byron lived between (1798-99).


His daughter Augusta Ada Byron, later known as Ada Lovelace, was a pioneer of computing science, taking part in writing the first published program.

Head down St James Street.

On the left is The Malt Cross, home of the James Joyce Reading Group led by Elizabath Watkins, and various spoken word nights, including appearances from the Storytellers of Nottingham.


Turn left on Angel Row.

The Bell Inn is on the left.


This is a former meeting place of Nottingham Writers’ Club whose former members include Helen Cresswell, author of Moondial


A few doors along from The Bell is Bromley House Library, founded in 1816. Mary Howitt (1799-1888) and her husband William, also a famous writer, attended the library. Mary wrote: “The remarkable well-supplied library at Bromley House furnished us with the constant stores of literature.”

Melanie Duffill-Jeffs is the library's Director having previously managed the Nottingham Women's Centre.


Current members include the author Rowena Edlin-White who has been a director here for twenty years.  Tours of the historic library can be booked.

On the top floor of the subscription library is the current office of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature whose Director is Sandeep Mahal.

A little farther on is Nottingham Central Library. Covering four floors this is the principal library of the East Midlands.


On the opposite side of the road is West End Arcade inside which is Books and Pieces, a second-hand bookshop owned by Jean Blacow.


The final destination is the Old Market Square.


Mary Howitt lived near here, opposite Long Row, just facing the lower corner of the Exchange in a fine old mansion now replaced. Wordsworth called her writing elegant. She’s now best known for The Spider and the Fly.


At the far side of the square is Nottingham's Council House with its stone lions.


This grand and official building has been the workplace of the City Councillor and author Catharine Arnold.


Dorothy Whipple (1892-1966), described by J B Priestly as the "Jane Austen of the 20th Century" was once Nottingham’s best-known novelist and a big seller between the world wars.


Most of Whipple’s novels are set in Nottinghamshire, or as it appears, ‘Trentham’. Her novel They Knew Mr Knight (1934) was made into a 1946 movie partly filmed in the Market Square.



A big thank you to all the contributors. Please keep your ideas coming via email.

Further trails are being planned so any suggested literary locations are welcome.