Signs and Wonders 14: Heads for heritage

Evening Post, 8 December 2005

WHERE: Behind Broadmarsh Centre at the bottom of Garners Hill

WHAT: Do you remember the ten carved heads on a brick pillar that were mentioned here a few weeks ago? They depict great British heroes — poets, generals and the like — and I was under the impression they came from the old Milton’s Head hotel.

I was wrong. Two readers, John William Matthews, of Clifton, and Geoffrey Oldfield, of West Bridgford, have set me straight. These heads came from the corner of Carrington Street and Broad Marsh, where the front of the shopping centre is today. They are all that remains of what must have been a spectacular shop: pictures show a white three-tier wedding cake of a building, which encompassed at least five street numbers and sported a decorative bell-tower. For over 40 years, it was home to a branch of Montague Burton, the Tailors of Taste.

Burton came to England in 1900, a Jew escaping the ever more anti-Semitic Russian empire. He opened his first shop in Chesterfield in 1906, and his second in Mansfield soon after, but the south of the county was less of a priority. He did not reach Nottingham until the mid-twenties, by which time he had hundreds of shops and a network of factories in Leeds.

The Carrington Road store — one of three opened in quick succession — may not have been built for him, but it fitted his formula like a bespoke suit. An impressive front in a dominant location; plenty of space to rent to other chains; and a billiard hall upstairs. Burton liked billiard halls, as his biographer Eric Sigsworth explains: they kept young men away from pubs and close to his shop windows.

Mr Oldfield, as the author of Curiosities of Nottinghamshire, keeps a weather eye on architecture. And Mr Matthews, who worked on the Broadmarsh, helped to demolish the shop. He even saw the nose of one face chipped off by a builder.