The Old Market Square, Nottingham
The Old Market Square: Then and Now
This location, familiar to the folk of Nottingham is dominated by Cecil Howitt;s iconic Council House and its attendant stone lions.
The Market Square is the largest civic square in the UK and so it is easy to see why the council would want to make a spectacle of it, particularly as it’s home to a multitude of different architectural styles, with buildings dating from the 1100s.
We can thank architects such as Alfred Waterhouse, Thomas Chambers Hine and Nottingham’s own Watson Fothergill for this, each producing elaborate buildings in the 19th century to meet the expansion generated by increasing industrial output.
The question is whether the replacement of the Exchange Building (1726) with the Council House (1929) was a delusional vanity project, or necessary progression.
The total cost of the building was £502,876 and is constructed out of beautiful white Portland Stone. This was either leftover from the building of St. Pauls or taken from the same quarry, depending on which version of history you read.
Either way, it is one of many links with the capital. The keystone of the central arch in the entrance arcade was salvaged from a London church after the Great Fire of 1666 and the ten and a half tonne bell, known locally as Little John, was originally cast as a replacement for Big Ben but we ended up keeping it for ourselves. Robin Hood would have been proud.
Arthur Seaton is defiant towards authority and Old Market Square certainly has a rich history of rebellion. Folklore has it that Robin Hood took advantage of an amnesty and won the coveted silver arrow here in a contest devised by the Sheriff of Nottingham.
In 1811/12 unemployed Stocking knitters demonstrated against the new frames which were putting them out of work.
In 2008 the Speakers’ Corner Trust openly recognised the city’s history of rebellion by creating their first Speakers’ Corner in the UK here. Most recently a small patch of the square was taken up by the Occupy Movement to voice discontent at the injustices of the capitalist system.
Arthur Seaton’s personal credo – ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’– seems as pertinent as ever. Although In Seaton’s time the enemy was easier to identify: It was the army trying to sign you up to fight their wars or the foreman in the factory breathing down your neck.
But today’s ‘bastards’ are more diffuse in nature, harder to define. There is more than one ideological frame that needs breaking.
It is hard to imagine Arthur Seaton embracing any kind of rebellious movement in the Square. Although Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a working class novel that doesn’t mean that Seaton identifies with his own. In the factory, he refuses to drink out of the same tea urn as his fellow workers.
For him, they’ve all been drugged by the same misguided aspirations: “some blokes ‘ud drink piss if it was handed to ‘em in china cups.” Never had it so good? He’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.
If anything Seaton’s political sentiments are more Thatcherite in that he, too, believes there is no such thing as society: “If I won the lottery, I’d only look after my own. I’d make bonfires out of the beggin letters.”
Seaton may not have been the type of person to sign up to mass demonstrations but he certainly understood the sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are in the world: “Nobody’s satisfied wi’ what they’ve got, if you ask me. There’d be summat wrong with the world if they was.”
Fortunately for Seaton a lot of cheeky-daft Nottingham girls weren’t satisfied with what they’ve got and so he’d be meeting them here in the Square, by either the left or the right lion.
Explore Old Market Square
The Sillitoe Trail
Take your own interactive tour of the author’s city and follow in Arthur Seaton’s footsteps around Nottingham, exploring the real locations of key scenes from the novel. You can go back to the Old Market Square or visit The White Horse pub, the Raleigh factory, the River Trent and Goose Fair. For updated content, visit Sillitoe Trail Xtra
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Download: Sillitoe Trail Factory Handbook (17MB PDF)
Fillingham and Walker 2012 - 2023