Our move this month to offices in the heart of Nottingham has made me reflect on what it is that I love about the place where I’ve lived for most of my life, on and off.
The ninth largest city in the UK which is home to world-class dining and shopping, enviable business and transport infrastructures and two major universities – one of which is the most over-subscribed in the country – owes its popularity and resilience to a forward-looking ethos, it’s true, but one that’s soundly based on a very proud past.
Robin Hood aside, Nottingham has been the scene of momentous events that have shaped the country; from Charles I raising his standard to kick-start the Civil War through the local Luddite protests against mechanisation to the Reform Bill disturbances in which citizens were read the ‘Riot Act’.
But it hasn’t been all about mayhem and destruction; Nottingham has an admirable pedigree of industry and invention.
Scientific breakthroughs achieved in the city range from the distinctive tang of HP sauce to the first video recorder, the MRI scanner – developed by the late Sir Peter Mansfield who had left school at 15 without a single qualification – to Ibuprofen, the wonder drug initially concocted as a treatment for arthritis.
The medication was patented by Boots, one of the major companies upon which Nottingham’s head for business was soundly based; other major manufacturers have included – whisper it – John Player, the myriad makers that made the city the home of lace (and whose quarter is now a trendy conglomeration of boutiques and resturants) and Raleigh bikes, home of the Max and the Chopper.
The company’s factory was immortalised in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by local author Alan Sillitoe while another famous former resident owes his worldwide reputation by falling off his bike; after the accident that ended his dreams of becoming a racing cyclist, Paul Smith took up fashion design and has done quite well for himself … and the city.
Other Nottinghamians to have left their mark include 19th-Century painter Richard Bonington who studied in Paris and was best mates with Delacroix; William Booth, social campaigner and founder of the Salvation Army and Doug Scott, he of the ice-encrusted whiskers who was one of the first mountaineers to scale the summit of Everest by the southwest face route.
Sport is well represented, too; Nottingham is home to two football clubs – one the oldest league club in the world – the National Water Sports Centre and arguably the finest cricket venue on the planet at Trent Bridge. And who, among the 24 million that watched on television, could ever forget the perfect sixes won by the city’s own Torvill and Dean for their 1984 Winter Olympics triumph set to the music of Ravel’s Bolero?
Nottingham’s music line-up has encompassed styles ranging from the stirring Dambusters March by Eric Coates to the young and vibrant tunes of Lonnie Donegan soundalike Jake Bugg.
And Nottingham’s beatiful buildings have been home to the rich and famous, too. Lord Byron, the rather irascible poet, lived at Newstead Abbey and the magnificent Elizabethan country house Wollaton Hall was home to Batman … in The Dark Knight Rises, at least.