Since a few days, a group of people have occupied the Old County Hall in Nottingham as part of the international days of action for free culture and autonomous spaces. Also see feature article. The building, also known as 'the Judges' Lodgings' has both a fascinating history and is a building of outstanding beauty. So what is its history? Who's been living there over the years? And why has been sitting empty for so many years?
"For many years it was used as the Judge's Lodgings, and behind it is a really charming garden which forms an oasis of greenery which it is very difficult to see from anywhere else than the windows of the schoolrooms of Halifax Place Chapel. It is a 17th century house which was greatly altered about 1833, about which time it was purchased from the Fellows family, who had removed thither from a smaller house a little to the west. Before their time it was occupied by Lady Hutchinson, the mother of Colonel Hutchinson." That's an extract from an article on Notts History, an online collection of copyleft articles on Nottinghamshire's vibrant history. Reading through articles about the history of the Judge's Lodgings, one thing is certain. And that is that some very high ranked individuals have lived here over the centuries.
Nottinghams Old County Hall, also known as the Judge's residence is now occupied
The property is now known as no 23, but in fact, 3 of the original houses were merged in the mid 19th Century. Standing in front of the building, the part on the left are numbers 17 and 19, High Pavement, and have leaden rain water heads with the initials S F. M. and they date from 1731. The house was erected in that year by Samuel and Mary Fellows, the representative of a house of no small importance in Nottingham's history.
The founder of the family was Samuel Fellows, who sometime about 1700 was apprenticed to one John Howitt, who was a frame-work knitter. He prospered in business, and afterwards became an Alderman and finally Mayor of Nottingham. His son, John Fellows, continued the business and followed in his father's civic footsteps, being afterwards an Alderman and three times Mayor of the town. John Fellows still further increased the business, which was situated in Broad Marsh, and moved from this old house to the County House, No. 23, High Pavement. Up until that point, no 23 had housed the cities Judges. In 1808 he established the bank in Bridlesmith Gate, the Hart Fellows Bank, which was later merged with other banks, later to become Lloyds Bank.
The son of John Fellows, Sir Charles Fellows, became a great antiquary and traveller. Between 1839 and 1841, at the height of the British Empire, he travelled throughout Asia and, having discovered many treasures, he shipped them to England, in conjunction with the Trustees of the British Museum in London, where they can still be seen. He published books on his travels and researches, and also upon ancient coinage, and for these various services he was knighted by Queen Victoria. He was also much occupied with the careful restorations of Carisbrooke Castle, on the Isle of Wight.
The house is typical of the late 18th century construction with its crown glass windows, its tall narrow doorways surmounted by fan-lights and flanked by classic pilasters, and for a short time it was the residence of that strange character Henry Kirk White, the Nottingham poet, about whom everybody talks, but whose writings very few people read nowadays.
Extract from one of White's poems, 'The Savoyard's Return':
Oh! yonder is the well known spot,
My dear, my long lost native home!
Oh, welcome is yon little cot,
Where I shall rest, no more to roam!
Oh! I have travell’d far and wide,
O’er many a distant foreign land;
Each place, each province I have tried.
And sung and danced my saraband.
But all their charms could not prevail
To steal my heart from yonder vale.
(Copyleft from Wikisource)
It is not just an excentric poet or a wealthy family that have resided there over the years. In 1832 the building was purchased by the County Magistrates and it is believed that that in the early 1920's or 1930's Princess Louise briefly lived at 23 High Pavement, which by that time had been turned into a huge magnificant residence, as it was merged with no 17 and 19.
Princess Louise, also known as Marchioness of Lorne (and Duchess of Argyll by marriage) was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. Louise's early life was spent moving between the various royal residences in the company of her family. When her father, the Prince Consort, died on 14 December 1861, the court went into a period of intense mourning, to which Louise was unsympathetic. Louise was an able sculptor and artist, and several of her sculptures remain today. She was also a supporter of the feminist movement, and corresponded with Josephine Butler and visited Elizabeth Garrett.
As an unmarried daughter of Victoria, Louise served as an unofficial secretary to her mother between 1866 and 1871. The question of Louise's marriage was discussed in the late 1860s. Suitors from the royal houses of Prussia and Denmark were suggested, but Victoria wanted new blood in the family, and therefore suggested a high-ranking member of the aristocracy. Despite opposition from members of the royal family, Louise fell in love with John, Marquess of Lorne, the heir to the Duke of Argyll, and Victoria consented to the marriage, which took place on 21 March 1871.
Despite a happy beginning, the two drifted apart, possibly because of their childlessness and the Queen's constraints on their activities. In 1878, Lorne was appointed Governor General of Canada. Louise thus became viceregal consort, but her stay was unhappy as a result of homesickness and dislike of Ottawa. Following Victoria's death on 22 January 1901, she entered the social circle established by her brother, the new King, Edward VII. Louise's marriage survived thanks to long periods of separation, but the couple reconciled in 1911, and she was devastated by her husband's death in 1914. After the end of the First World War in 1918, she became a gradual recluse, undertaking few public duties outside of Kensington Palace. She died at Kensington on 3 December 1939 at the age of 91. For more see wikipedia entry.
At some point the County Council gained ownership over the property and housed various offices in it. In 2000 they sold it and while it has switched owners at various times, it has remained empty for years. Until now that is of course as people will be putting this marvellous and significant building back into good use.