Signs and Wonders 21: The last of the last great houses

Evening Post, 2 Feb 2006

WHERE: Broadway (the street, not the cinema), inside archway by "Faces".

WHAT: This stone crest was once part of an urban stately home - one of the last relics of the days before the Lace Market became the Lace Market, when these streets were home to the county's grandest families.

We're talking, once again, about the Plumptres, whose charity was the subject of Signs and Wonders 18. They lived in several places around town: in Poultry, on the site of the Flying Horse; on Drury Hill. But their most famous residence was Plumptre House, which stood here. It faced into Stoney Street, covered both sides of what's now Broadway, and had grounds as far as Kayes Walk.

Henry Plumptre bought the land in 1507 or 1508. This Plumptre House came two centuries later, and was largely the work of his great-grandson John Plumptre, an MP for the town, who sketched out an Italian-style mansion with the help of architect Colen Campbell. It had a symmetrical front that writers later called "a great ornament to the town" and a flat roof surrounded by balustrades, from which guests could catch one of the best views in Nottingham.

The next John Plumptre found love in Kent, and moved to his wife's village of Fredville. A few years after his death, most of the hall's land was sold.

The building became at various times a school and the home of a civic dignitary - Alderman White, who managed to become acting mayor in 1831 just in time for the burning of Nottingham Castle. Meanwhile, the homes around it disappeared or become warehouses.

There was an attempt to auction Plumptre House in 1841, but it did not reach the £4,000 reserve. A second attempt, in 1853, saw a final price of £8,410. The buyer, lace magnate Richard Birkin, had the house demolished that year to make way for his great warehouse, by T.C. Hine and itself a landmark.

Our second relic, the stone window, is more of a mystery. It appears to date from the 12th Century, and J. Holland Walker, who writes about both curiosities, reckons it's either a fragment of St Mary's rectory house, on this site, or of the Norman version of St Mary's, which was wrecked by fires in 1141 and 1171. Plumptre's builders may have rescued it just as Birkin's later did.