by Frank E Earp
It is hard to imagine Radford as anything other than what it is today, – a large suburb of Nottingham with all the associated attributes of such an area. Within my life-time, Radford was a place thriving with industry, – including some of Nottingham’s well-known names, – Players and Raleigh. Along with these sites, – rows of terrace houses, pubs, shops, a railway station, colliery, cinema, and several textile factories. This was the world of author Alan Sillitoe. With time and ‘progress’ much of this has now disappeared.
Strictly speaking however, most of this area was counted as New Radford and Radford Woodhouse, which only came into being in the 1850s. The earliest reference to the village of Radford comes from the Domesday Book of 1086, where it appears as the Anglo/Saxon village of Redeford – literally ‘the red ford. The name is derived from the place where the road on the north side of the village – now Alfreton Road- crossed the River Leen. This ford was flanked on one-side by a high ‘red’ sandstone cliff. A second ford existed on the south side – the bottom end of St. Peters Street, – where Ilkeston Road crosses the river. The medieval village developed as a cluster of houses around the ford and the church of St. Peter.
The earliest medieval reference to Radford, – ‘the Outgoings of Radford’ – comes from 1488, (see Hyson Green). Over the centuries the earlier buildings were replaced with more substantial dwellings and by 1914 the oldest building, -with the exception of the church, – was the White Horse public-house which had a date of 1661.
By 1790 the village appears to be in a state of some decline. St. Peters church is described as being in a ‘ruinous state’. The church continued in this way for a further 20 years until 1810 to 1812 when it was largely rebuilt at the cost of £2,000. A new chancel was added much later in 1877.
In St. Peters church-yard is the grave of William Elliot, – died in 1792, – the man who bestowed on Radford what became one of the wonders of Nottinghamshire. In 1780, Elliot purchased a substantial tract of land along the east bank of the River Leen – west of St. Peters Street and Radford Boulevard. Here, – at great cost, – he built a substantial property set on the edge of a landscaped garden. It was this ‘park’ which amazed his social piers and became Elliot’s legacy to the good folk of Nottingham.
Work began on the site by first excavating a large lake with a central island, which was filled by diverting part of the River Leen. Elliot had his ‘park’ planted with mature trees and exotic plants and constructed various buildings. The grounds were surrounded by a high wooden fence and entered by an ornamental wooden bridge over the river. A second equally ornate bridge crossed the lake to the island. Upon the island was a large octagonal brick tower with a pagoda style top. The fence, buildings and bridges were all painted white.
For a few short years the public enjoyed visits to Elliot’s wondrous park. It would seem that Elliot may have overstretched his finances and it is likely that both his health and state of mind began to suffer the beautiful place began to decline. People began to refer to the place as ‘Elliot’s F’oily’ or Radford Folly and a poet penned the line-“Famed Badford Folly left with pious haste”.The neglect and disinterest were to continue until Elliot’s death in 1792 and there matters might have ended and Radford Folly disappeared. However, newspaper magnet Mr R. Sutton purchased Elliot’s entire estate and work began on reviving the Folly, with plans to open it as a ‘public pleasure grounds’. The lake was re-stocked with fish and rare birds. All of the buildings and other structures had a fresh coat of white paint. The inside of the fence by the lake was painted with a mural, -with 3D cut-out buildings, – representing the Bay of Naples. At night, this was illuminated with hundreds of tiny coloured oil lamps. A ‘tea room’ was opened in the octagonal tower and other garden buildings adapted for the needs of the paying public.
Sutton leased the whole venture to a Mr Parr and Elliot’s Folly became known as Radford Grove, – perhaps with reference to the success of ‘Clifton Grove’.
For many years the people of Nottingham enjoyed the pleasures of Radford Grove. In the summer lavish entertainments were held with performers like the tight-rope walker ‘The Great Blondin’. Fishing and boating on the lake, – with boats at 1s. per hour, – were always popular, as was the fire-work displays. In short, Radford Grove became Nottingham’s premier place of entertainment, – of which the poet Henry Sutton wrote, – “There is a spot of earth supremely blest. A dear and sweater spot than all the rest.”
After a few years of success, the popularity of Radford Grove began to decline. Its owner Mr R Sutton decided to cut his losses. He closed the grounds to the public, had extensive alterations made to the house and once again it became a private residence. For several years Sutton and his family resided in Radford. On his death, the estate was sold to local mill owner Mr Harrison and the fame and glory of Radford Grove was overtaken by industry and grime. Harrison filled in the lake and destroyed much of the grounds. He later sold the land to the local colliery company, who were to build an engine-house and coal wharf on the site. The octagonal tower remained until recent times, a sad reminder of what once was.