The Park Estate, Nottingham, began solely as a private royal hunting park, well stocked with deer and contained dense forest; a 150-acre area located just to the west of Nottingham Castle.
A royal castle, constructed in 1087 until 1663, and so the park was of course a royal park.
It also had fishponds and plenty of rabbit warrens, whilst King Henry II, who was said to be ‘addicted to hunting beyond measure, ‘also added on a falconry to fulfil more of his hunting addiction. He would have been on horseback with his band of royal friends and supporters.
Now of course present-day England, the park estate is a prestigious residential location in the city, overlooked by Nottingham castle, built high on Castle Rock and a landmark that can be seen for miles around.
Early history and Royal links
The park would have been large enough and diverse enough to provide food and sport for all of the castle residents. Created as early as the late 11th century. It was enclosed by a ditch and possibly a palisade set on a bank, that was designed to allow deer to enter but not to leave.
From the royal records it is known that it was regularly stocked with deer that were brought in from Sherwood Forest.
After the capture of the castle by parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, the trees in the park were needed to provide fuel and supplies to the garrison, many of the trees had to be felled.
In 1651 the castle was slighted, and William Cavendish 1st Duke of Newcastle, bought the ruined castle in 1663 and decided to restock the park with deer again, but it eventually became grazing land by the 1720’s.
The very first house on the land served as a vicarage to St Mary’s Church and was built facing the castle gate house in 1809. More developments began in 1822 much to the dislike of the public, who had begun to consider it public land and used it freely as a place to get away from the very industrial Nottingham as it had become more and more over the years.
This green space provided a get away from the hustle of industrial life, and more development wasn’t welcomed on this open space that had become a general thoroughfare to members of the public.
The Park Tunnel
Developments continued regardless of public opinion, and in 1855 the Park Tunnel was built to provide better access to the estate from Derby road Nottingham.
The tunnel is mostly carved through the sandstone rock, which is the very same rock as the castle is built on just a short distance away. The tunnel is now Grade ll listed as are most of the local properties throughout the area. The stunning feature is 125 metres (410 ft) in length, with a central open section some 25 metres (82 ft) in length.
The original reason for creating the tunnel was to allow horse drawn carriages to gain access to the estate directly, especially so for services and deliveries but the gradient was never as it was planned to be.
The original plans for the tunnel entrance were specifically to allow access to the private estate for horse drawn coaches with enough room for two to pass side by side and with a maximum gradient of 1 in 14, but it actually has a gradient of 1 in 12 which is too dangerous to be used for horse-drawn vehicles.
It was never fit for purpose and so the 3 main gated entrances remain the only vehicular way in.
The tunnel still remains a pedestrian route only and can be found from Derby road or by a set of steps from the Rope Walk which descend into the centre space which was created to let in natural lighting, mid-section.
The Derby road access could be very easily passed by if you didn’t know where to look, since it is at the back of a car park area under an arch next to a shop.
I advise an easier route which is from the side road, Upper College Street, or the Rope Walk and down a set of spiral steps, be careful in wet or icy weather the stone steps get slippery. I find this area really inspiring and mysterious, and whether you’re a believer of haunted places or not I feel there is something not quite spooky, but a presence.
I also love the way the sandstone tunnel looks, there’s an adventurous feel about it, especially when descending down through the mid-section and it’s kind of quirky.
Famous residents of the park estate
The Park Estate is renowned as one of Nottingham’s finest, most sought-after residential locations for the rich and famous over the years. The area has around 450 houses and 700 apartments.
The area has drawn many distinguished residents, some names you may recognise, starting from an earlier resident, Sir Jesse Boot the founder of Boots the Chemist of course. Also, Sir Albert John Player the cigarette manufacturer.
Sir Paul Smith the designer, Smith was born 1946 in Beeston Nottingham, England. One of his early ambitions was to become a professional cyclist.
He left school at the age of 15 to work in a Nottingham clothing warehouse, while practising cycling outside of work hours. He would cycle to and from work until the age of 17, at this time he was in a major cycling accident that put him in hospital, during his 6-month recovery his friends encouraged him to enter the art and fashion industry, he never looked back. Becoming royal fashion designer for industry in 1991.
Justin Fashanu, the footballer lived at the park for some time. He was also the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981.
Another famous resident was Dame Laura Knight DBE RA RWS who was an English artist who worked in watercolours, etching, engraving and drypoint. She embraced English Impressionism and Sir Jonathan Miller English theatre and opera director, actor, author, television presenter, humourist and physician.
Nottingham Playhouse and the sky mirror
The actor Hugh Grant lodged at a property in the park during his time working at The Nottingham Playhouse in his teenage years before finding fame.
The Nottingham Playhouse is just around the corner from the park estate. Another of my favourite places where I have great memories of my first experience of going to a live theatre performance, watching an Agatha Christy play ‘And Then There Were None.’
Another performance that inspired me at the Playhouse was an orchestral performance like a mini version of the proms that inspired me. This is another place I recommend you to visit if you have the chance to be in the area.
Outside of the theatre is the sculpture, ‘Sky Mirror’ by Anish Kapoor which was installed between the theatre and the adjacent green space of Wellington Circus in 2001 at a cost of £1.25m (that’s the equivalent to £2,080,000 in 2019).
It’s one of the main features of the 160-seat patio area of Cast Restaurant and in autumn 2007 it won the ‘Nottingham Pride of Place’, in a public vote to determine the city’s favourite landmark.
Architecture of the park estate
The notable Victorian architectural character in the area is a real part of the estates lure. Lots of the properties are listed buildings, and notable architects include Watson Fothergill, Thomas Chambers Hind and PF Robinson.
Some properties were designed and built specifically for some of the wealthy lace manufacturers of the day.
These were Nottingham city’s most celebrated and prolific Victorian architects and many of their city centre buildings including some offices, warehouses, banks and shops still survive and are listed buildings.
The exclusive area has just three gated entries for vehicles that use ANPR technology to access the rise and fall bollards. The pedestrian gates are locked at night too which adds to the security of this much desired place.
If you were interested in buying property in the private gated estate there are some cheaper options such as a flat at a starting price of around £200,000, but the prices vary, a flat on park drive will set you back around £300,000 for instance, but price tags for some homes in the area can stretch into the millions.
The architecture is stunning and is well regulated by the Park Estate plc which governs the area. The resident’s association also hold regular events and distribute a twice-yearly magazine to all households on the estate.
The tennis club is another great feature of the area with it’s beautifully cared for grass courts and early 1900’s purpose built club house.
The gas lamps and historic local pubs
One of my favourite features is the gas lamps, the largest remaining network of gas-powered Street lamps within the UK and in Europe.
There are 200 manually lit street lamps, they look beautiful at night, quite stunning, so I’ve had to stop and take a couple of snaps of them while on evenings out on the town after visiting Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem.
Arguably Nottingham’s oldest pub and is just outside the park estate, a quaint English pub with caves you can sit in to relax with a drink.
The pub claims to have been founded in 1189 but there are no documents to confirm this, the original caves which are carved out of the Castle Rock which the castle is built upon, are reported to have been used as a brew house for Nottingham castle in medieval times.
References can be found of “Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem” in 1799 but was previously known as ‘The Pilgrim’ from sources dated back to 1751. It is believed that pilgrims or crusaders would have stopped for refreshment here on their journey to Jerusalem.
I must mention that a couple of other Nottingham pubs also claim to be the oldest, including ‘Ye Old Salutation’ and ‘The Bell,’ all of which are very haunted.
This is a remarkable part of Nottingham City centre this district is permeated with character and history, stunning architecture, a combination of grade ll listed buildings and structures and very modern exquisite looking builds that seem to work so well amongst the Victorian, Georgian and Elizabethan architecture.
I hope my insights to this special part of Nottingham has inspired you or given you reason to come for a closer experience, maybe visit the local restaurants or even the Irish bars at canning circus which also have caves in them. So many places that inspire.