Sussex Street

Old buildings in Sussex Street in the 1920s.

SUSSEX STREET is part of the ancient trackway which formed a short cut from bridge or earlier ford over the Trent about where Trent Bridge now stands. This trackway has come down to our day as that curious and little known thoroughfare called Trent Bridge Footway. It crosses the Midland Railway by the bridge over the station and is continued through Parkinson Street over the canal, Trent Street, Sussex Street and then divides into Garner's Hill and Middle Hill, ancient trackways which led respectively to the east and west end of the original market place of Nottingham. This trackway had a western branch which crossing the Meadows eventually arriving at Wilford Ferry and this western branch has come down to us as Queen's Walk. Turncalf Alley the ancient name of Sussex Street which latter name was given to it only as early as 1784 looks very like a colloquialism and is probably a corruption of the words "Town Wharf" Alley for the town wharfs were situated near Trent Bridge and this would be the most direct route between them and the town and "Turncalf," otherwise is absolutely meaningless, for the butchers section of the town was not in this neighbourhood. For a very long time the trackway had no name at all, thus in 1665 it is referred to as "a way leading to a passage or foot bridge called Leen Bridge or Dye House Bridge," and it is a curious thing that although it is spoken of with some freedom as Turncalf Alley I have never been able to find a reference to it under the name of Town Wharf Alley. Anyway it became Sussex Street sometime about 1830. Under the year 1822 there is reference in Sutton's date book to the fact that His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex visited Nottingham and was presented with the freedom of the borough. This was the occasion of considerable ceremony and rejoicing and I think that it is very probable that the name of Sussex Street was adopted in honour of this Prince and to commemorate his visit. Although Sussex Street itself is not a particularly salubrious thoroughfare yet there are one or two objects of very great interest in it. But before considering them it is worth while just pausing to look at Marsden Court on its eastern side. It consists of two rows of houses running east and west fronted with quite considerable gardens which in the summertime bring an unexpected and very welcome air of rusticity into this very sombre neighbourhood. The houses themselves appear to have been built sometime in the 17th or 18th century. They have dormer windows which pleasantly break the sky line. They are constructed of narrow bricks showing their antiquity and the whole terrace is bound together by two well marked string courses which give sense of cohesion to the whole block while the hosiery windows in their upper stories tell of the use to which the houses have been put in times past.

The curious names of the next four streets on the eastern side, Peach Street, Pear Street, Plum Street and Current Street tell of gardens which occupied the ground years ago. These gardens belonged to the Gregory family and the houses were erected upon them late in the 18th century by Mr. Gregory, father of the Rev. Robert Gregory, Dean of St. Paul's who was born at a house in Canal Street. It is rather nice to record the action of the good Dean with regard to these houses. His father died when he was young and they were neglected during his minority so that when he came into possession of them they caused him a good deal of expense but better than that he became much perturbed and anxious about the provision of good houses for poor people. The result was that he built in Stewart Place, Alfred Street about fifty medium sized houses each having a garden in front and an enclosed back yard. They were erected according to prize plans adopted by the Corporation of Nottingham and are approached through an avenue of trees and let at small rents so that Dean Gregory's name ought to be honoured amongst us as the pioneer of good model houses for the working classes.

At the corner of Plum Street stands the recently closed inn called the "Rancliffe Arms." These arms refer to the great family of Parkyns of Bunny the most celebrated member of which was Sir Thomas Parkyns, the eccentric baronet who lived from 1663 to 1741. He was a man who was so extraordinarily fond of wrestling that he did all sorts of things to promote its popularity, but in addition to this he did very much to ameliorate the conditions of his tenants in the village of Bunny and had much to do with the erection of the beautiful school house in that charming place. His grandson Colonel T. B. Parkyns was raised to the Irish Peerage in 1795 under the title of Lord Rancliffe but the title became extinct upon the death of the second Lord Rancliffe in 1850. In this house lived John Blackner the local historian who was born in 1769 and died in 1816. He was born at Ilkeston and early apprenticed to a stockinger. His education was utterly neglected and he appears to have had little or no schooling but he was a man of the greatest perseverance and force of character and somehow or other, here a little and there a little, he gradually accumulated knowledge and became first a contributor to, and finally the editor of, the "Nottingham Review." He garnered facts concerning Nottingham's history and topography and in 1815, the year of the battle of Waterloo he published his "History of Nottingham." This is a book not without its value, but it is sadly marred and defaced by the expression of Blackner's violent political opinions and by his dislike of his predecessors in the field of local history. On the other side of the road above the doorway of the shop numbered 36, will be seen a diamond-shaped date-stone with the inscription W. P. 1656. This represents a certain William Lealand who was a dyer and who, on May 28th, 1632, married Phoebe Smith. In 1655 Lealand bought five acres of land from one Anthony Malin. This land was a portion of the estate formerly held by the Grey Friars and upon it at the close of the following year Lealand erected the house which is still standing. Its subsequent history is interesting. Upon William's death he left it, described as "a capital messuage together with the dye house and little close attached to it" to his third son William. This William sold it to his brother John and it passed from John to a third brother Samuel. Samuel died and his son sold it in 1717 to Edmund Wildbore one of the well known family of Nottingham dyers. We know that the dye-houses of the town were situated in Lister Gate and that the dyers used the waters of the Leen for their trade and it is very interesting to find documentary evidence that the dyeing industry was carried on by the Leenside as far south as this house. The ancient house has been much altered and its walls much masked by stucco but it is still in the main, the old house which was built by William and Phoebe Lealand.