Town house built about 1752, possibly to the designs of Sir Robert Taylor, converted into a subscription library in 1821. It housed the first photographic studio in Nottingham from 1841 which remained in use until 1955. Shop fronts were inserted 1927-1928 and replaced in the late C20.
Reasons for Designation
Bromley House, built in about 1752, possibly to the designs of Sir Robert Taylor, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* it is an excellent example of a mid-C18 townhouse with a well-proportioned façade in the Georgian classical style and a richly appointed, meticulously detailed interior;
* the finely crafted interior, embellished with delicate plasterwork and classical motifs, imparts an architectural refinement characteristic of the good quality domestic work of the Georgian period, representing a mid-C18 town house of considerable status and distinction.
* it is an early example of a subscription library, the modifications carried out in the early C19 remaining virtually unchanged in two centuries, providing an accurate picture of the fittings and plan form of a subscription library of this date;
* the attic rooms, used from 1841 as the earliest photographic studio in the East Midlands, survive in a form that illustrates their usage, complete with the Plate Room fitted out with shelves for the glass plates.
* it has strong group with the many surrounding listed buildings, notably the Grade II* listed 52-57 Angel Row opposite, originating as a row of three merchants’ houses in 1705, and contributes to the cumulative impact of this significant townscape.
Bromley House was built about 1752 by George Smith, a banker and grandson of the founder of Smith's Bank, and his wife, Mary, a direct descendant of James I. Dendrochronology (carried out in 2019) has demonstrated that the timbers of the roof and the main beams from the floor-frame of the primary range are likely to have been felled in or around 1747. The attribution to Sir Robert Taylor (1717-1788), one of the outstanding English architects of the generation between the Palladians and the school of Adam, is conjectural. Described at the time as ‘the best built house in town’, it is an example of a building type which was not uncommon in the C17 and C18 but has been little recognised: the town house of country gentry. Bromley House is quite a grand example of this, and is in many respects like a London town house. It adopts the conventions of its day: service rooms in the basement which was fitted with a laundry room, servants’ hall, wine vaults and a brewhouse; family day rooms on the ground floor, entertaining rooms on the first floor, family bedrooms on the second floor and servants’ bedrooms in the attics. The plan in the 1820 sale particulars shows the ground floor of the rear wing as containing a parlour to the north, then a staircase, and the rest kitchens. The differing uses of each part of the house are reflected in the interior decoration and ceiling heights.
George Smith became a baronet, and died in 1769. He was succeeded by his son, also named George, who in 1778 changed his surname to Bromley, in the expectation of inheriting a fortune from a relative who had no male heir. In 1791 the family fortunes were diminished when Sir George was accused by a male servant of attempting to ‘commit an unnatural crime’. He was imprisoned for two years, and his wife divorced him, seizing back her substantial marriage settlement. The house was mortgaged, and by 1804 it was occupied by his cousin, Thomas Smith. It may have been during this period, or slightly earlier, that the stucco voussoirs above all the windows on the façade were added as they look later than 1752. Certainly at some stage all the original sash windows were replaced by the present ones with narrower glazing bars.
In 1808 Sir George died and disputes over his will cast uncertainty over the future of Bromley House which fell into a state of neglect. Around this time the Nottingham Subscription Library was established after the local solicitor, John Pearson, sought the patronage of the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Lieutenant of the county, on behalf of a group of gentlemen who hoped to establish a ‘public library and newsroom’. The Library opened in 1816 in rooms above a bank on Carlton Street, with 169 members, including 9 women. It soon became so popular that larger premises were needed, and when the Smith family put Bromley House up for auction in 1820, it was bought for the sum of £2,750 by the Library. In the following year, the Library moved into Bromley House. It had a large collection of books, and included a Newsroom and a Billiard Room. Rooms were also let to a chess club, a Ladies’ Bible Society, and the Nottingham Literary and Scientific Society. In 1834 a Meridian Line, which indicates solar noon, was laid down in the first-floor Standfast Room. In 1841, the Library’s attics became the first photographic studio in the East Midlands when they were rented by Alfred Barber, pioneer of the daguerreotype. They were later occupied by Sylvanus Redgate, whose cartes de visite were hugely popular.
Bromley House has been subject to alterations over the years. As a result of its change of use to a library, the whole east side of the first floor was opened up into one room, the Main Library, probably in 1844, with shallow segmental arches knocked through the dividing walls. In 1858 the ceiling of the southern half of the main space was removed, leaving a gallery all around from which a spiral staircase leads down into the Main Library. The greatest change has taken place to the ground floor. This originally consisted of a stone-flagged passage leading from the front door to the garden door, and three rooms, in the north-east, south-east and south-west corners (a dining room, a drawing room and a parlour). The north-west quarter was part of the hall, separated from the passage only by a screen of Ionic columns which survive, now protruding from a wall inserted at some date before 1916 when the area behind became an office.
The ground floor of the main building was altered in 1927-1928 when the front railings were removed, the area paved over, and shop fronts inserted each side of the front door, to the designs of Evans, Clark and Woollatt; the rent from the new shops kept the library afloat. As part of these alterations, the ground-floor rooms on each side of this door were extended backwards out into the garden so as to cover the areas in front of the former basement windows. The shop fronts have subsequently been replaced by modern flat, entirely-glazed fronts. Bromley House is still run as a subscription library (2020).
Town house built in 1752, possibly to the designs of Sir Robert Taylor, converted into a subscription library in 1821. It housed the first photographic studio in Nottingham from 1841 which remained in use until 1955. Shop fronts were inserted 1927-1928 and replaced in the late C20.
MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond with painted ashlar dressings and a roof covering of plain clay tiles.
PLAN: the principal range faces north onto Angel Row and has a long narrow rear wing projecting from the south-west.
EXTERIOR: Bromley House is in a neo-classical Georgian style. It is of five bays and three storeys plus a basement and attics, with an eaves cornice, coped gables and a string course at ground-floor ceiling level. The central doorway has a fine doorcase with a moulded cornice supported by consoles, a six-panel door within a moulded surround, and an elaborate fanlight. Over the door is a small ashlar plaque, added in 1989, inscribed "Bromley House 1752". To either side are late C20 shop fronts under a plain band. The first floor is lit by tall glazing bar sashes in moulded architraves with triangular pediments. The second floor is lit by five smaller glazing bar sashes, unusually six panes over three, with moulded surrounds and sill brackets. A coped parapet partly hides three gabled dormers with casement windows. The roof consists of three ridges running east-west between gables, the north and south gables supporting chimneystacks.
The rear elevation has a central ashlar doorcase with a cornice supported by brackets, and a panelled door and fanlight, altered about 1929. On each side are single-storey lean-to additions with glazed roofs and three metal-framed windows with margin lights. The first floor is lit by four glazing bar sashes, and the second floor by five smaller glazing bar sashes, all with keystone wedge lintels. To the left is a projecting single window staircase link with a coped parapet. The attic has two hipped dormers. The parapet has been rebuilt to the right to incorporate two large three-light casements for a photographic studio.
The rear wing is a nine-window range of three storeys with a chamfered plinth, ashlar eaves band and brick eaves. It has a slightly projecting centre of three window bays. The ground floor is lit by plain sashes to the centre and to the left, and to the right is a round-arched doorway in a Gibbs surround with part-glazed six-panel door and fanlight. A C20 casement is to the right. The first floor is lit by eight tall glazing bar sashes, and the second floor by nine smaller glazing bar sashes, all with brick flat arches and keystones. To the left is a two-storey addition with two windows. Beneath the house are rock-cut cellars including the remains of a malt kiln and well.
INTERIOR: this retains a good survival of the form and fittings of a mid-C18 town house, along with much of the built-in library furniture added in the C19, all of which is of a high and refined quality. There are extensive bookcases, above which wooden shelf-guides with gilt scrollwork decoration reflect the Library’s apparently unique classification; panelled window shutters, panelled doors in neo-classical architraves, and numerous elaborate fireplaces with overmantels.
The entrance hall has a formerly freestanding screen which was infilled to create a party wall sometime before 1916, and is punctuated by two moulded arches with keystones and has a decorated plaster coving and ceilings. The open-well staircase is lit by a lantern at roof level, renewed in 1860. The balusters and handrails are mahogany, the former (three per tread) thin and turned; of each three, two are spirals and the third is plain. The sides of the risers are decorated with a key pattern, which seems an early use of the motif. Since 1844 the treads and risers have been covered with lead (renewed in 1983). Plain panelling answers the stairs on the right-hand side coming up, and similar panelling surrounds the staircase at first-floor dado level, above a bold wave-scroll band. There is a plaster frieze at first-floor ceiling level and another just below the lantern of refined modelling, mainly foliate but with a number of portrait medallions of a female head which seems to be taken from the bust of Queen Anne on her coinage.
On the first-floor landing, pedimented doorcases and panelled doors lead through to the Main Library, originally a series of rooms along the east side that were opened up and linked by segmental arches probably in 1844. Where they are not hidden by bookshelves, the walls are panelled. Opposite the entrance from the stairs is a remarkable bookcase with a giant broken triangular pediment above three doors with pagoda-shaped tops, probably dating from the 1844 alterations. In the front section of the Main Library there is an elaborate cornice, egg and dart above modillion; whilst the cornice in the small central section is reeded with corner paterae, probably dating from the fitting-out of the Library in the early 1820s. There are chimneypieces in both halves of the room; the one in the back section is plainer with a broken triangular pediment and a lugged panel containing a picture. The gallery in the southern half of the room, created in 1858, is accessed via a spiral staircase; both this and the gallery front are of fine ironwork and the posts on the gallery project below as ‘feet’ decorated with square paterae. At the north end of the Main Library the counter was installed in 1949 to the designs of the then President.
The north-west room on the first floor, now called the Reading Room, must have been the principal entertaining room of the Smiths’ house. It has an elaborate plaster ceiling with shallow scrollwork and portrait medallions as on the Main Staircase. The cornice is the same as in the front part of the Main Library. In the splendid chimneypiece and overmantel hangs an oil painting, ‘Clifton Grove’, by the local artist John Rawson Walker, given in lieu of a subscription in 1820. The room behind it, the Standfast Room, named after an C18 subscription library taken over by Bromley House, almost certainly originally included the bay to the east, now contains the Lower Vestibule and the stairs to the second floor. There are good original doorcases and an original chimneypiece. The brass meridian line on the floor, laid out in 1834, marks noon.
The main staircase stops at first-floor level but another, probably inserted in 1827, with a ramped handrail and stick spindles, leads up from south of the landing to the second floor, on which there are four rooms. This would have been the bedroom floor when the house was in domestic occupation. The most striking room is the Thoroton Room, occupying the three western bays on the north front. At its west end is an original-looking chimneypiece with an overmantel, and opposite is what must originally have been a bed recess with a side closet. The south-east room on this floor is the upper part of the Main Library. The other two rooms (the Ellen Harrington to the south-west and the George Green to the north-east) are plainer. The former has a Regency bull’s-eye chimneypiece presumably inserted when the Library was established; and the latter has a simple original-looking chimneypiece without a shelf. There are now passages leading, against the party walls, from each of the north to the south rooms on this floor, allowing a rather narrow circuit to be made, but presumably they were originally closets which the Library opened through.
From the east side of the second-floor landing a staircase ascends to the third floor which has four rooms with the gypsum plaster floors traditional in the area. All the rooms on this floor seem to have had their ceilings raised as the exposed beams show evidence of joists; such lower ceilings would have left low but usable lofts above. The south-east room was used as a photographic studio from 1841 (the earliest in Nottingham) to 1955 and has had its southern roof-slope replaced with a full-width dormer with larger windows (the other windows on this floor are gabled dormers). The door into the Studio from the landing has a good Art Nouveau fingerplate, and another Meridian line on the floor. The bookshelves (presumably relocated from elsewhere) have iron ends with foliate decoration around a circular cut-out. The south-west room, which was the Dark Room for the studio, has a two-panel door. Between the Studio and the Dark Room is the Plate Room, complete with the shelves for the glass plates.
The interior of the rear wing has been much altered over the years and nothing original seems to survive. In about 2015 it was remodelled internally by Peter Rogan, to provide on the first floor a coffee lounge, kitchenette, lavatories and two offices, and above, more lavatories, and a boardroom with library shelves.