When I first came back to Nottingham after a gap of 35 years it was to a city and a Castle that felt completely familiar but which was so different it was hard to get a proper context. To start understanding the Castle better I began to bid on, and buy, postcards, books and guidebooks to the Castle. This ephemera gives a good idea of the changes in the Castle and the grounds over the last 150 years, and they also point to what different generations class as interesting and important in the site.
My little group of postcards and books It is now classified as a “collection” (hard to take the curator out of the woman) and I have come to wonder about the people who wrote and commissioned guidebooks to the Castle as well as the visitors who used them. I do have a particular love of the ones from the 60s which I remember from my childhood but my two favourites are Nottingham Castle published in 1903 and Nottingham Castle Half Hours Among its Art Treasures, 1928.
In 1903 Harry Gill’s “A Short History of the Castle” confidently states “It is not likely that any further archaeological discoveries of importance can now be made, and it may be assumed that we know all that can be known concerning this interesting place”. Such confidence from something written in Britain before the First World War is not unusual but I wonder how much Harry would be interested in what we have learnt on the site since 1903, and also the uses of the site since. He would probably be rather surprised by the WW2 pillbox which does seem odd to me too, what possible use is a single pillbox facing the Market Square? If anyone could tell me I would be most grateful.
My absolute favourite of all my purchases is Helen Wright’s “Nottingham Castle Half Hours Among its Art Treasure a Guide for Visitors and Students”. Published in 1928 this pocket guide it exactly what it states a guide that starts at the Gate House and leads visitors through the Castle and grounds pointing out objects of importance as they appear. It is written in a rather chatty and informal tone, open to all and full of little asides and personal thoughts. In one wonderful paragraph she manages to range from Mrs Hutchinson in the Civil War siege , Nottingham’s brave and gallant airman (but never naming him as Albert Ball) and a pile of stones from 1267. I like the idea of a series of half hour visits this could be something we could look at for the new Castle project.
One of the most interesting part of the guide is the illustrations at the back including a number of works re-hung in the Long Gallery in 2014, Dame Laura Knight’s “Motherhood” is included in the guide as an example of recent work and it is hanging in the Long Gallery today.
And all of this reading of guidebooks poses the question of what will the guidebook to the site be like when the project is complete? I do hope that there will be a printed guide for whilst downloading a pdf is convenient, nothing gives a sense of time and place as strongly as a printed book. And where will future generations find their delight in the history of the Castle if all is recorded in the shortest lived electronic formats?