by Frank E Earp
Scattered throughout Nottingham City centre are a handful of ‘High Victorian’ buildings in a style known as ‘Gothic Revival’. These are the survivors of over 100 commercial buildings designed by Mansfield born architect Watson Fothergill. This richly ornamented style was the hight of fashion and Fothergill became a master in its art. In the latter half of the 19th C. his buildings transformed Nottingham City centre. Perhaps the best know of all Fothergill’s designs was the Black Boy Hotel which stood in Long Row until the redevelopment of the 1960’s.
Between 1874 and 1900 Fothergill was commissioned to design five banking premises for the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Bank. These included branch offices in Mansfield, Loughborough and Newark on Trent. Nottingham its self had one branch office on Carrington St. and an office and residence at the corner of Pelham St. and Thurland St. That Fothergill had a wry sense of humor is attested to by the fact that the Thurland St. building is the home of his gibe against the banking profession, two ‘stone monkeys’.
The expression, ‘to have a monkey on your back’, means that you are carrying a troublesome burden The Victorians popularly referred to a mortgage as a ‘stone monkey’ and to have a stone monkey on ones back, – a mortgage to pay, – was considered to be an even greater burden. On the outside of the Thurland St. bank, high up on the corner of a chimney-stack Forthergill has placed a carving of a monkey, – literally a stone monkey. It is however on the inside of the building that his more famous brother is to be found. From the main door on Pelham St. the building opens out into a circular ‘banking hall’ with a high glass domed roof. This roof is supported by four ornate marble pillars, on one of which is a large rendition of a monkey. The monkey would have faced customers at the bank as they queued to do business at the counter. Some references say the monkey has a chain about its neck. However, this is not true. The monkey is in fact holding a chain in his left hand, which appears to be attached to a large wod of paper money. The symbolism of the stone monkey would have been clear to the Victorian customer; the burden of having a mortgage, with the addition of all your cash ‘chained to it’.
The stone monkey on the chimney-stack is difficult to see from ground level. Although the building is now a retail fashion outlet called All Saints and you may not wish to purchase new cloths, it is well worth popping inside to view the magnificent interior and to say hello to Nottingham’s famous stone monkey.