Nottingham: This city is getting slicker

Nottingham certainly has its rough edges - but it is also the home of charming Victorian suburbs and upmarket warehouse developments.
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The Independent Online

he architectural journalist Ian Nairn described Nottingham as "neither Northern nor Midland, yet with a strange, black-souled vein of its own". But he was writing in the Sixties when Albert Finney's portrayal of Alan Sillitoe's working-class anti-hero in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was fresh in the memory.

Forty years on, and Saturday nights are devoted to bacchanalian binge drinking, judging by the regularity with which the city's pubs and bars feature on television bulletins and documentaries. Even more worryingly, reports of crimes involving guns have brought unwelcome headlines. After PC Rachael Brown was shot in February, City Council leader Jon Collins felt obliged to issue a statement saying that shootings were down from 42 in 2004 to 11 last year.

The councillor is almost certainly right when he says that "guns are no more common in Nottingham than in any other big city".But Nottingham itself has a population of not much more than 300,000, and within its boundaries are some grim estates, including the two where disputes between drug gangs account for most of the incidents involving firearms.

It is also the regional centre of the East Midlands, however, a place with a colourful history and some highly distinctive residential areas. Add on the surrounding boroughs of Rushcliffe, Gedling and Broxtowe, and the population more than doubles. Greater Nottingham feels like a sizeable city. It boasts a wide river, a Test cricket ground, a deer park, a vast teaching hospital and two universities.

Admittedly, the castle is a great disappointment to visitors in pursuit of Robin Hood. Having been razed to the ground for the second time in 1831, it is now little more than a municipal mansion. But beneath the sandstone buff on which it stands is an elegant estate of national importance.

The Park Estate is unique, with its array of substantial Victorian and Edwardian villas, laid out on broad boulevards and tree-lined crescents lit by gas lamps. Its main architect, Thomas Chambers Hine, began work here in the 1860s and no expense was spared by his patron, the Duke of Newcastle. Stained glass and intricately patterned stonework are much in evidence. Even more flamboyant was the contribution of Watson Fothergill, whose colourful imagination bequeathed a rich legacy of decorative exteriors. Nottingham being a hilly city, bedrooms and balconies offer stunning views.

Five- and six-bedroom houses in the Park Estate are fetching well over £1m, but many of the buildings have been broken up into apartments. Savills are offering a Duplex, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, for £535,000; £359,000 will buy you a two-bedroom apartment with an arched stained- glass window and decorative front door from FHP City Living.

More apartments are in the offing, too. More than 70 per cent of the Waterfront Plaza development on the canalside has gone to overseas investors. Nearby, work is under way on the multicoloured Litmus Building, which promises to be Nottingham's tallest. The Civic Society, uneasy about development on a scale unseen since the Sixties, has called for a moratorium on apartment building, but there seems to be little chance of that. The proposed £900m Eastside development, designed to extend the city centre, will include another 2,000.

Meanwhile, cranes are already hovering over the Lace Market for a development of 46 apartments. The cheapest will go for £125,000 and the most expensive for £235,000. "We've already sold 14," says Gail Richardson of Savills' new homes department, "and they're going to owner-occupiers rather than investors."

Certainly, this is another characterful part of town. As in Manchester, Victorian warehouses have provided spacious city living. There are plenty of bars and restaurants, an excellent deli and a couple of excellent pubs, one of which serves Michelin-starred food.

Other desirable areas within the city boundaries are Wollaton, close to the deer park, and Mapperley Park, another conservation area of sizeable Victorian properties a mile or so uphill from the centre of town. Beeston, just over the western border in the borough of Broxtowe, has plenty of sturdy suburban villas and a bustling town centre. It also offers easy access to the university and the M1, as well as a direct rail link to London St Pancras.

But the most affluent of the boroughs adjoining Nottingham is Rushcliffe, just across the river to the south of the city. Here lies West Bridgford, home to Trent Bridge cricket ground. Along with neighbouring Edwalton, it has any number of extensive - and expensive - Victorian and inter-war villas.

Old-timers from one of the run-down estates on the Nottingham side of the Trent refer to West Bridgford as Bread and Lard Island. Bread and lard? Not likely - it's all ciabatta and tapenade these days.

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