Signs and Wonders 22: Heads for controversy

Evening Post, 9 Feb 2006

WHERE: Express buildings, 29 Upper Parliament Street

WHAT: The tower on the side of this 1876 work by Fothergill Watson - the great Notts architect who later renamed himself Watson Fothergill - bears three carved heads.

But the faces staring out amid the words "EXPRESS OFFICES" are not gargoyles. They are political giants.

In the centre is William Gladstone, the former Liberal Prime Minister who had apparently left public life a few years before and was storming back with a passionate campaign about Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria.

Tories already disliked him, because he used to be one of them. But now he was holding huge public meetings that they thought smacked of populism, or even democracy.

Either side of Gladstone are Richard Cobden and John Bright, the double act closest to the hearts of Victorian radical Liberals.

They had campaigned together to end the Corn Laws - which kept crop prices high for the sake of landowners - to oppose war in the Crimea and to reform the voting system.

These heroes guarded the doorway of the proudly partisan Nottingham Daily Express, the town's first real daily newspaper.

The Express had begun in 1860 with a promise that it would be "neutral and independent", stressing: "This journal is not, and will not be, the organ of any sect or party."

Within a year, however, the last major tax on newspapers had gone. And within four years, the town's two Tory weeklies, the Journal and the Guardian, had begun daily editions.

The Express became a strong advocate the other way, swallowing a radical weekly, the Nottingham Review, in 1870. By the time it found itself needing this building, the battle lines were clear.

The Express thrived, taking in the long-established Journal in 1887. But the First World War hit it hard. The local businessmen who owned it - with Jesse Boot leading - finally sold in 1918 to a national consortium designed to keep Liberal papers alive.

The new owners changed the title from Nottingham Express and Journal to Nottingham Journal and Express. At the next revamp, in the early Twenties, it became the plain Nottingham Journal. The idea was to restore an ancient name - the Journal had roots in the 18th Century. Only Fothergill's lettering was left to mark the paper's other history.