Property: England's city of women

Hot Spot: Nottingham
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The Independent Online
Robin Hood. Charles I. Luddites. Caves. Lace. Pretty girls. The latter two entries in this potted history of Nottingham are related in that the lace industry attracted women workers. "When I told my grandfather that I was attending university in Nottingham," says architect Julian Owen, "he said it had more women than men than anywhere else in the country."

The lace industry now is threadbare in its traditional central Nottingham stronghold, although the Lace Market warehouses and factories remain. Today, Nottingham is a thriving commercial and university city enjoying widespread urban renewal: Bristol meets Manchester. Several national brand- name and local developers alike are converting brownfield sites in two major city-centre areas, and they are paying what one commercial agent refers to as "silly prices" for the privilege.

Yet at one time the Lace Market district almost bit the dust. According to Mr Owen, "the area was considered an eyesore in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and the council tried to put a ring road through it, but there were tremendous protests. In the last five to 10 years, the Lace Market has really taken off." An abundance of wine bars, clubs and restaurants serve an area favoured by solicitors, accountants, photographers and other professionals. Everyone, the council included, is grateful that the initial regeneration plan flopped.

Commerce Square, by Cleggs, consists of 16 luxury double-aspect flats in a grade II listed factory that provides a panoramic view on one side and overlooks majestic St Mary's Church on the other. Down the road are a Pitcher and Piano bar-restaurant, in a defunct church, and the Galleries of Justice museum, which is housed in a former courthouse.

In the initial phase of its ambitious plans to bring Manhattan-style lofts to Nottingham, Lace Market Prop- erties has converted the Watson Fothergill building on Barker Gate into six apartments, four of which occupy a complete floor.

Overlooking the castle is the Royal Standard, the erstwhile dormitory for Nottingham General Hospital nurses, which Crosby Homes has converted into a block of luxury flats. Crosby has also been active nearby on Ropewalk, building five new four-bedroom Regency-style townhouses; the company will build additional residential units on an adjacent site. Down the hill from the castle is The Park, originally a deer park and now a large enclave of period houses on an almost car-free estate. It is Nottingham's premier residential area.

Julian Owen married a social, not lace, worker and has his own architectural practice. The co-director of the Association of Self-Build Architects, he is currently converting Lenton Lodge, a former gatehouse, into a 30- room private home for Moiz Saigara, the owner of Misa Inks. In this area, lace warehouses are not alone in being restored and reinvigorated by new trimmings.

Robert Liebman

The Low-Down

Transport: Fast train service covers the 130 miles between Nottingham and London in under two hours. East Midlands Airport handles 2 million passengers a year on flights to the Continent.

Old: Demand is high thanks to several universities and hospitals, Boots, the Inland Revenue and other money-spinners. Nicely located houses as well as flats are available for as little as pounds 40,000.

New: No two flats are alike in the Royal Standard, which was converted to maximise light and space. Two three-bed flats are available at pounds 235,000, and the pounds 300,000 show flat will have a large private terrace. Ropewalk town houses sell for between pounds 325,000 and pounds 385,000.

Nearby: Crosby is selling large detached family houses a mile from the city centre at Mapperley Hall Gardens, in the wooded grounds of a listed mansion converted into apartments. David Wilson Homes is building family homes in the grounds of a defunct Victorian hospital in Saxondale.

The Park: According to Chris Charlton, residential head of FPD Savills: "The Park is a conservation area with mostly converted houses. Residents pay an extra tax for living there. One-bed flats are available for pounds 70,000, houses sell for pounds 500,000 and more."

Money-back guarantee? Thanks to time, riots and fires, the castle today is really a palace and, as such, a major disappointment. "Kids expect to see Errol Flynn prancing about, so every so often there s talk of replacing it with a proper castle," says architect Julian Owen. Talking about highway robbery, admission to the Galleries of Justice, a registered charity supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is pounds 7.95 for adults. On the other hand, in some centrally located high-rise local authority blocks, council tenants enjoy the kind of views for which others pay through the nose. Band D council tax is pounds 886.

One-two, one-two: The city has 14 sports centres and swimming pools and the county "has more sports facilities per person than any other area in Europe", says the council. Similar proportions may apply to arts and educational facilities, which include local and natural history museums (The Castle and Wollaton Hall, among others), galleries and concert halls.

The lad done good: Nottingham is where designer Paul Smith started sewing, and Torvill and Dean practised skating. Other area success stories include Byron (lived at Newstead Abbey), DH Lawrence (born in Eastwood) and the writer Alan Sillitoe.

Contacts: Bairstow Eves, 0115 947 6591; David Wilson Homes, 0115 933 5897; Julian Owen, 0115 922 9831; Ropewalk (Smith & Partners) 0115 950 8181; FPD Savills (Lace Market Properties, Royal Standard, Commerce Square) 0115 934 8000; 0115 934 8020.