Watson Fothergill in Nottingham

Inside Watson Fothergill’s Office: Part One

Thanks to Sarah Julian from BBC Radio Nottingham (who had previously been on one of my Watson Fothergill Walks) I recently got the chance to go inside Watson Fothergill’s office building on George Street, Nottingham.

Fothergill’s Office at 15 George Street, with the shop built in at 17, plus the doorway to Brewitt’s Yard. (Photo: Lucy Brouwer)

The current owners have completed the project to turn the building into a residence – making the top two floors that were once home to Fothergill and his team into a two bedroom flat with a kitchen and bathroom reclaimed out of the space that was once part of the cottages that sit at the rear of the building in Brewitt’s Yard. The flat had been on the market and we saw our chance to have a look inside and report for BBC Radio Nottingham on our findings!

Through the door and inside! (Photo: Lucy Brouwer)

The first thing we noticed was the fantastic condition of the tiles inside the vestibule…and then I looked up and saw the carvings!

Inner door with leaded glass and terracotta tiles in hallway.
Tiles around the vestibule in lovely condition. Sunflowers and Gothic motifs. (Photo: Lucy Brouwer)
Above the door, I was able to decipher some writing… (Photo: Lucy Brouwer)
… I thought it looked like it might be something like William Morris’s motto: “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” (Art lasts but life is short)…(Photo: Lucy Brouwer)
…but then I realised I couldn’t quite read the letters because it was in Middle English. One quick search on my phone later…(Photo: Lucy Brouwer)
…and I realised it was a quote from Chaucer’s The Parliament of Birds, which Fothergill has applied to the craft of architecture. (Photo: Lucy Brouwer)

Above the door I was able to decipher some writing but it was tricky to see with the automatic light that had been added. It looked quite Gothic and that immediately made me excited because it fitted in with what you might expect Fothergill to have in his building. The carving was in great condition, being inside, but it was really hard to read. At first I thought it might say something along the lines of Ars Longa, Vita Brevis (William Morris’s motto – Art lasts but life is short) which would be appropriate for Fothergill, who would have been familiar with Morris’s work and ideas to some extent. But when I looked closer I realised the reason I couldn’t quite read the text was that it was in Middle English! That A-Level where I read the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales was at last coming in handy. A quick bit of Googling on my phone and all was revealed. This was a few lines from Chaucer – not ones I knew but once I’d worked them out they made sense:

The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.
Th’ assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge,

Geoffrey Chaucer : The Parlement of Foules

Something of a fan of all things medieval, of course Fothergill would have something like this, relevant to his trade – to learning crafts and making an effort – above his door to read every time he came in or out.

Sarah Julian interviewing Mr Braga (the present owner’s Father)( Photo: Lucy Brouwer)

Of course these details hadn’t featured on the estate agent’s photos (the property was up for rent, hence Sarah was able to get access) so I was really quite excited… I’d already seen some of the restoration work done on the tiled floor thanks to this blog from the Tile Doctor who carried out the work, but that had just been a tantalising glimpse of what lay ahead. The interior retains a lot of the details that might be expected of a building with such a flamboyant exterior. Colourful Gothic -inspired stained glass in the hall for instance.

Through the door and inside to see more of Fothergill’s details. (Photo: Lucy Brouwer)

Another instalment coming up… I’ll share photos of the interior as the office is converted into a flat (now let) and piece together a little about how Fothergill might have worked in the building.

Listen out to BBC Radio Nottingham as the interview should be on Sarah’s morning show sometime this week…