A glimpse of Sneinton Dale in 1955

By Stephen Best

IT IS NOT LONG after noon on a summer day in 1955, as an outward-bound number 59 bus swings down the narrow, sloping, stretch of road at the city end of Sneinton Dale. Like many parts of Sneinton, this scene cannot be described as pretty, though it possesses much atmosphere, and has a strong feeling of identity and enclosure. This was to be largely wiped out between March and May 1958, when all the properties visible here on the right-hand side of the road were pulled down to allow widening of the carriageway. Ever since then, this little bit of Sneinton Dale has lacked visual integrity and form; a wider road was doubtless necessary on grounds of safety, but its price was a piece of the character of old Sneinton.

On the left of the picture is something still in existence today. A woman walks down the Dale past the towering wall of the end house in Granby Villas, whose front garden is in full leaf; the brick pillars mark the steps up to the front gates of the terrace. Granby Villas, together with the adjoining Rutland Villas further up the hill, formed a late Victorian variation on the name theme of the nearby Belvoir Hill and Belvoir Terrace, built much earlier in the century; Belvoir Castle is, of course, the seat of the Dukes of Rutland, whose heirs bear the courtesy title of Marquess of Granby. It was said that, at the time of building the older houses, Belvoir Castle, some 15 miles away to the south-east, was visible from the hill. Stand today on the spot chosen by the photographer in 1955 (if the seemingly incessant traffic permits), and this little corner of the scene at least looks just the same. What, though, of the buildings across the road?

MAP OF SNEINTON DALE covering the area shown in the photograph. Property which was demolished as a result of the 1958 widening of the Dale is out­lined bold, and the position of the bus in the picture is indicated by the arrow.MAP OF SNEINTON DALE covering the area shown in the photograph. Property which was demolished as a result of the 1958 widening of the Dale is out­lined bold, and the position of the bus in the picture is indicated by the arrow.

Nearest the camera is a row of small lock-up shops, not very old, but in existence long enough to make them seem in 1955 an essential element in the Sneinton Dale scene. On the extreme right is no. 14a; this is Wilson's grocery shop, formerly Hodson's, and previously the premises of S. Townrow, furniture dealer. It is not easy to work out from street directories the exact disposition of the businesses here, but it appears that in the late 1920s this building was occupied by Albert Colley's butcher’s shop. The photograph does not reveal much of Mr Wilson’s window display, though I fancy that an advertisement for Wills’s Capstan Cigarettes hangs in the doorway. Next door stands Victor Bingham's greengrocery, with discarded wooden fruit boxes on the pavement outside; stuck on the window above the two women is an advert for peas: Batchelor's, I think. Bingham had been at the shop since the 1930s, taking over from George Henry Allen, who was preceded by Frederick Day. The third of these little shops is no. 18a: E.W. Orange and Son, photographers, the contents of whose window are entirely obscured by reflected light. Earlier occupants of these premises were the Star Valeting Co. (who moved later to the corner of Sneinton Dale and Lord Nelson Street), and Mrs Flora Newton, fancy draper. This row of shops was not built until the mid-1920s, but the next building along is a much older one. At the time of our view it is Poundall’s motor car garage, previously for many years under the ownership of Gethin Barrett, who was there from the 1920s until the early 50s. Attractively roofed with pantiles at its street end, it was originally a malthouse; for a decade on either side of the turn of the century it was owned by the Sneinton maltster Edward Harrington Thurman, long a resident of Castle Street, where no. 9, Harrington House, bore his middle name. Before and during the Great War the building was briefly in the hands of another Sneinton firm of maltsters, Nathan Pratt & Son. What brand of petrol the garage sells here, I cannot make out with certainty, although a close examination of the original print leads one to favour Cleveland. Similarly, the intriguing enamel advertising sign is hidden by the pump, and yields no secrets, but a later painted advert for Raleigh Cycles can be made out, running down the wall. The greater age of the garage premises is emphasised by the splendid S-shaped tie-iron securing its upper floor.

Behind this building, and unseen by the camera, lies Dale Terrace (still in existence in 1996), reached from the Dale by a narrow passage between the garage and nos. 16-20 Sneinton Dale, whose chimneys can be spotted behind the eye-catching row of chimney pots on the garage roof. Dale Terrace in 1955 was very snugly tucked away from the main road, in striking contrast to its exposed position today, and abutted at its southern end on to the equally delightful Lillie Terrace, which was accessible from Castle Street, and whose demolition, at a date long after the 1958 alterations, was pointless and unforgivable. (The spelling of the terrace name suggests that it was named after Lillie Langtry, the 'Jersey Lily', celebrated beauty and mistress of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.)

Immediately to the left of the bus, and partly obscured by it, is a substantial house with hipped roof, dating, like 16-20 Sneinton Dale, from the late nineteenth century. This is no. 1 Victoria Avenue, the end building of what was, when built in the 1880s, quite a select development. As was the case with the later Holroyd Avenue on the other side of Sneinton Dale, its superior status was underlined by gates across the roadway at its entrance, and little flanking walls across the pavements; by 1955 the gates themselves have gone, but the gatepiers remain in our photograph. These can be spotted just to the left of no. 1, much grander than the utilitarian brick pillars at the foot of the Granby Villas steps. For a year or two in the later 1880s, when Victoria Avenue was new, number one was the home of one of Nottingham's rising businessmen, Walter B. Danks, of the family of Thomas Danks, the well-remembered ironmonger of Thurland Street. While a resident of Victoria Avenue, Walter set up his own ironmongery and agricultural implement-making firm, with extensive premises in London Road, Crocus Street, and the Cattle Market.

On the far side of Victoria Avenue, with a telegraph pole and a street lamp in front of them, can be seen nos. 22-24 Sneinton Dale, a pair of semi-detached houses quite dissimilar from each other; one lies well back from the road, and has a pair of prominent bay windows, while the other was formerly a shop. Akbar's Mini Market now occupies their site. On the extreme left of this line of buildings is the end wall of no. 26 Sneinton Dale, at the corner of Pullman Road. As previously remarked, the road widening of early 1958 would see the end of all these houses and shops. Out of the picture to the right, nos. 2 to 14 Sneinton Dale were also demolished, while numbers 14a to 26, seen here, were pulled down, together with the end house in Victoria Avenue, and the imposing gateposts and walls across the Avenue. The block fronting the Dale between Pullman Road and Lord Nelson Street also vanished; the farthest east in it, no. 38, being the resited Star Valet Service shop. This carving away of the southern edge of Sneinton Dale then gradually grew more shallow, like the thinner end of a wood-shaving taken off by a plane. Its final casualties were the front walls and areas of 40-48 Sneinton Dale, which were swept away to accommodate the wider roadway; those at nos. 50-52 survived, though only just, and can be seen today, partly sliced away at an angle. No. 52, at the corner of Trent Road opposite St Philip's Vicarage, (whose site is now occupied by The Jester pub), got off lightest, and retained most of its territory.

The site of nos. 2-14 briefly became a garden centre, followed by a rather untidy builders' merchant’s yard, and it was a gain for the townscape when the present Mill View Close housing development was erected in the 1980s. The little shops and garage in the photo were replaced by nothing more picturesque than the forecourt of a filling station, which does nothing to enhance the visual character of the spot. The site of 26-38 Sneinton Dale was for years taken up by a particularly unsightly collection of lock-up garages, before the building of the New Windmill Court housing complex now fronting the Dale.

The absence of traffic has, as touched on earlier, emboldened the photographer to stand in the carriageway with his back to oncoming vehicles; the bus driver too, must feel confident that the way ahead is clear, as he is appreciably nearer the offside kerb than the nearside.

After trying to squeeze all the juice from an old photograph, the writer has always to ask himself, as Dr Watson once anxiously enquired of Sherlock Holmes: 'Has anything escaped me? I trust that there is nothing of consequence which I have overlooked?' In this case there is indeed something else deserving notice. This is perhaps the most prominent feature of the scene, the bus itself, and, in considering it, a whole new sequence of thought is engaged. The motorbus (as bus stop signs so pedantically described such vehicles at the time) is on its way from the Cheapside terminus in the City, opposite the Flying Horse, to the end of the 59 route, at the junction of Dovedale Road and Oakdale Road, the no. 3 running a little further along Oakdale Road, to turn round at the top of Douglas Avenue. The Greenwood Road area, and the housing estate around Langdale Road and the Jesse Boot School, are in 1955 still unvisited by public transport, with shorter rush-hour journeys to Cardale Road being provided on service 34. The fare from the City Centre to Sneinton Dale is 2½ (about 1p), but the traveller bound for the remoter regions of Dovedale Road and beyond will have to pay as much as 4d. As it will do for many more years, the destination blind displays the name of a place only half way along the journey: Sneinton Dale. Did any other route, one wonders, share this peculiarity? It was to remain the same until long after single manning on the Dale routes came in during 1970. Unfortunately, when new route indicators were eventually fitted, they would show 'Bakersfield': a name which has now crept into universal use, rather than the more accurate 'Bakersfields'. It is, however, much too late to call for a return to the historically correct usage now, so one is left crying over spilt milk.

The 3 and 59 services as operated here in 1955 are of fairly recent introduction, having been cut back only two years earlier from being a cross-city route. From the mid-1950s until April 1953 the no. 3 route had run from Oakdale Road, through Sneinton Dale and the City Centre, and then along Castle, Lenton, and Radford Boulevards to a terminus in Addington Road, close to Player's tobacco factory in Radford. The story of the early bus routes along Sneinton Dale is actually a tangled one, worthy of a brief summary here. The first buses to serve the Dale were introduced in August 1925, with a city terminus in Clinton Street. The route was extended to the city boundary, at the junction of Oakdale Road and Dovedale Road, early in 1933, and later that year the no. 3 service was combined with the no. 2, providing a through route from Oakdale Road to Bagthorpe, near the City Hospital. This was a very short-lived arrangement, and, after other brief experiments, the route settled down as a service from Dovedale Road to the city, and thence to Radford along the route already mentioned. 1936 saw the resiting of the eastern terminus at Douglas Avenue, reflecting the spread of the built-up area; the peak-hour short journeys to Cardale Road were introduced at this date. Wartime economies made necessary the cutting back of the route to Avondale Road in February 1943, the terminus not returning to Douglas Avenue until the summer of 1952. In 1950 Nottingham City Transport sought to make the no. 3 a through route to Carlton, via Sneinton Dale, Oakdale Road, Southdale Drive , and Southdale Road, but it was not possible to find a satisfactory terminus at Main Street, Carlton, and this extension was not proceeded with. In April 1953, as already noted, another economy drive resulted in the cessation of the cross-city route to Radford, resulting in the 1955 service provision of no. 3 to Douglas Avenue, and no. 4 to Dovedale Road.

The 1955 route from the City Centre remained unaltered for some years; leaving Cheapside, the bus ran round the Council House via High Street and Smithy Row, then up King and Queen Streets to Parliament Street. A right turn into Parliament Street was followed on most trips by a wait at the corner of Milton Street, where traffic was until a comparatively late date controlled by a policeman on point duty. From here the route followed Lower Parliament Street, forking right at the Palais de Danse, and joining the present-day route to Sneinton Dale at the foot of Hockley.

Still many years away in the future at the date of our photograph are a number of features of the current (1996) routes. These later developments include the 36 service to the very far end of Oakdale Road: the path through the city that takes in Burton Street, Milton Street, George Street and Goose Gate: and the arrangements by which buses follow a circular route at the outer end of their run, a 3 on the outward journey returning to the city as a 4, and vice versa.

The bus shown here, no. 120, is one of a batch of thirty AEC Regents, with Metro- Cammell bodies; built in 1949, these were taken out of use between 1963 and 1965. The bus is 7ft 6in wide, and when it was delivered few wider buses had ever run in the Nottingham City Transport fleet. A handful of trolleybuses 8 feet wide, originally intended for service in Johannesburg, had been purchased by Nottingham City Transport during the war, but only after the Chief Constable had approved their use on certain routes in the city. The first general introduction of 8ft wide buses, however, followed no. 120 and its fellows later in 1949.

To end on a personal note, one is sobered by the reflection that 1955, so well-remembered, is now over forty years away in the past. Memory has it that this summer was, as suggested by the photograph, a hot and sunny one, but this might have been nothing more than the inevitable recollection of someone who was that year unwillingly pent up in classrooms, under the burden of GCE examinations. A check in Wisden's Cricketers' Almanack, however, confirms that 1955 was indeed fine enough for all five test matches to be played to a finish, though several hours of torrential rain interrupted the Trent Bridge match, played in early June. Notwithstanding this isolated wet spell, Whitsuntide saw the beginning of what were, on the whole, weeks of continuous sunshine throughout the country. To one who can still savour the delight of being released into the fresh air from an ordeal of exam papers, that spell of fine weather remains vividly unforgettable, and it is good to see it captured in this photograph of Sneinton Dale.

Picture: T.B. Forman