Signs and Wonders 19: The city's grandest council terrace

Evening Post, 19 Jan 2006

WHERE: Canning Circus, around General Cemetery gates

WHAT: This row isn't just a lovely piece of Georgian architecture (by S. Sutton Rawlinson, since you ask). It's a relic of one of the 19th Century's longest political battles.

It was built by the Freemen's Rights Committee, for "senior freemen of Nottingham and their widows", starting from 1837.

The freemen were the ancient citizen body of Nottingham: the status was passed from father to eldest son, or earned by apprenticeship or, sometimes, bought from the corporation.

The committee formed in 1836, a year after freemen lost their exclusive right to vote for the town corporation and MPs.
Even after that, freemen had rights over common lands from Mapperley Plains to what's now The Meadows: to graze flocks, and to stop anyone else building.

They fought hard to keep the common - Parliamentary candidates against it were burnt in effigy - but the pressure for land gave birth to slums.

And that did not benefit even many of the freemen. There were about 3,000 of them, from a population of 50,000, but most were poor framework knitters with no flocks to graze.

Consider these cottages an argument the rights were worth keeping. They went to freemen earning less than £5 a year from common land, and the rules suggest a poor clientele: "No stocking-frame or lace machine to be kept on the premises".

Enclosure of the common land still went ahead, however, with a big slice in 1845. The freemen managed to turn their rights into ownership and cash payments.
The town took control of the Freemen's estate, Canning Terrace and all, in 1882. But it promised to pay annuities to every freeman and eldest son then alive, and their widows.

The last freeman, Thomas Sewell, died in 1980 at the age of 98, still getting his £20 a year; several widows lived on longer.

The terrace, meanwhile, became a run-down piece of council housing. In the Sixties, its tower — probably a later addition — was judged structurally unsafe and looked set to come down.

It had a £150,000 renovation in 1978, but the small homes haven't attracted tenants. This Thursday they go up for auction at a guide price of £600,000.
The Post’s Theo Usherwood has already covered the story. But I should have been there first. Reader Wendy Pavlidis of Chilwell pointed me at the terrace months ago.