Inside, Watson Fothergill in Nottingham

Inside Fothergill House (Jessops)

Once again I’ve made it inside one of the Watson Fothergill buildings that features on The Watson Fothergill Walk.

Lucy in action on King Street. Photo: Lamar Francois

Thanks to Alec Frusher (a keen Nottingham food blogger who follows me on Twitter, and who just happens to work in one of the largest Watson Fothergill buildings in the city) I was able go inside the building on King Street now known as Fothergill House. It was built as a Department Store for Jessop & Son circa 1895.

The Jessops building has 7 floors and a tower and I was going as close to the top as I could! Photo: Lucy Brouwer

Some changable summer weather struck just as I arrived to meet Alec to explore the floors at the top of the buildings but we pressed on and I took a few photos as we went.

This part of the building is now called Fothergill House in honour of its architect. Photo: Lucy Brouwer
Photo: Lucy Brouwer

At the firm where Alec works they have meeting rooms with appropriate names. (They’ve also commemorated Zebedee Jessop, one of the founders of the Store.)

Through a locked door to the disused upper levels… Photo: Lucy Brouwer

We went up two flights of stairs to access the rooms that now hold tanks and heating. I think originally they were part of the staff accomodation.

The upper rooms were in a bit of a state, but some of the features had been uncovered… Photo: Lucy Brouwer

The paint was peeling off, strip lights had been added and it was a bit dusty. There were some exploratory holes in the walls in places, but otherwise the structure looked in decent shape.

It became apparent that the view from the windows would be pretty impressive, even on a misty wet day. Photo: Lucy Brouwer

There seemed to be original leaded windows on each side, and lots of strudy woodwork to support the structure.

And so it proved. Across the gable roofline of the rest of the building with characteristically large Fothergill chimneys. You can see the corner of the old Elite Cinema (in white). Photo: Lucy Brouwer

Some of the views of Nottingham are blocked by more recent buildings, but you can imagine that the view from here (and from the tower itself) was very impressive when this was built in 1895 – it would have been one of the tallest structures around.

A pretty special view of Queens Chambers (King Street’s other Fothergill) and Nottingham rooftops even on such a murky day! Photo: Lucy Brouwer

Queens Chambers shares some of the features of Fothergill’s late 1890s Vernacular Style with Jessops and was the next building he built.

This unprepossessing step ladder led up inside the tower, I wasn’t allowed to step inside but I managed to see the rafters… Photo: Lucy Brouwer

We kept going up so I could have a look inside the tower. We didn’t dare go inside it, but I could see that there was a viewing platform at the very top. Was it just built for the view or did it ever have another purpose?

Up inside the tower, you can see the woodwork, the windows and the brick patterning. All looking fairly solid. Photo: Lucy Brouwer

I imagine that the rafters and timbers here are a larger version of the kind of craftsmanship that Fothergill had built into the turrets on his other buildings.

Alec was saving the best bit for last… through this door to the roof. Photo: Lucy Brouwer

After a look around inside, we braved the rain to have a look out on the roof platform. There were metal walkways, so it was very safe to explore inbetween the air-con units added to the modern offices.

We turned round to get a lesser-seen view of the tower. Photo: Lucy Brouwer
And a view down the back of the roof (towards Parliament St.) Photo: Lucy Brouwer

Jessops was expanded to the back of the site in 1933 when the stone became part of The John Lewis Partnership. From this quick inspection, I’m not sure if the flat roof is part of that or a more recent renovation.

Great Fothergill details, even at the back of the tower. Photo: Lucy Brouwer

Pleasingly the back view of the tower had all the elements of Fothergill’s style that you would expect, large chimneys, orange bricks arranged between black timbers, large dormer windows…

I was thrilled to see some of that typical Fothergill brick nogging so close up! Photo: Lucy Brouwer

I love the details of brick nogging and big dormer windows, that hardly anyone will get to see.

Diagonal brickwork in the chimney. Photo: Lucy Brouwer
One for the masonry fans… Photo: Lucy Brouwer
Mysteriously derelict room on top of the building next door. Any ideas what it was for? Photo: Lucy Brouwer

Huge thanks to Alec for taking me up to the roof and letting me look around as well as to his firm for sparing him the time, and David on reception for showing me some of the Fothergill pictures which decorate the interior.

I found an image of Fothergill’s original plan online. The tower design was slightly altered in the finished building.
The John Lewis archive has some photos of the store on their website. Jessops became part of the John Lewis Partnership in 1933, when this photo was taken. They traded on the site until moving to the Victoria Centre in 1972. (Photo: John Lewis Memory Store)
The only photos I can find so far of the interior are from 1937. The man on the far left is William Dickinson, nephew of William Daft, one of the firm’s original partners. He worked for Jessops for 72 years starting in 1868 at age 16. Photo: John Lewis Memory Store.

One last Fothergill link I’ve found while digging in the British Newspaper Archives: Lawrence Summers (Fothergill’s right hand man) attended the funeral in 1919 of William Jessop (who had succeeded his father Zebedee Jessop to run the firm).

Learn more about Jessops and Watson Fothergill’s buildings in Nottingham on the next Watson Fothergill Walks in August. Tickets here.