Right in the heart of Nottingham City Centre, there is a hidden Georgian townhouse that houses one of the rare and special private subscription libraries in England. Bromley House, built in 1752, has three floors full of period features, over 40,000 rare and modern books, and a wonderful walled garden completely hidden from the public view. It is a very special location, especially when it comes to looking for that unique, exceptional space for filming. Creative England has featured Bromley House Library as one of the listed locations for film makers in England. In interviewing Assistant Librarian Geraldine Gray, we can see why.
Working in the library for eight years, Geraldine has become wonderfully acquainted with the building and what it has to offer. She gives me its brief history, a history with hints of scandal and intrigue. “The House was built… for the Smith Banking family who occupied it until 1802. The second baronet George Bromley inherited (it) in 1769.” Bromley, the namesake of the place, inheriting substantially from a maternal cousin, adopted their name in the process, leaving a legacy in the name of the home that he lived in. Unfortunately for George in March 1791 “he was imprisoned for an unnatural crime which eventually led to the property being mortgaged.” This led to Thomas Smith taking on possession of the house, where he held social soirees and events, including a sandwich party attended by Abigail Gawtherne in April 1804: “18 Apr. Snowed; at a sandwich party at Mr Thomas Smith’s, Bromley House, above 50 people. Captain Fothergill intoxicated and behaved very rude to Mr Ray.”
With walls steeped in the comings and goings of the Nottingham social circles of the eighteen and nineteen hundreds, it is easy to allow the history to envelop an observer. But what feature in particular is most fascinating? Geraldine chooses one of the most spectacular and unmistakeable aspects in the central area of the library; “I am fond of the spiral staircase – it was put in during 1857 after the gallery was constructed and then the ceiling was taken out.” Then she adds, “I imagine the ceiling was taken out to lighten up the main library which would have been lit by candles back then.” More than probably right, Geraldine provides a beautiful mental image that really captures the imagination, and on entering the library for the first time, you cannot help but be mesmerised by the elegant coiling stairs that fill the central space, soaring up to the next floor in a way that Belle from Beauty and the Beast would approve of heartily. “It must be the most photographed staircase in the city centre” she remarks, and I can’t help but agree.
So why in particular would Bromley House be a great filming location? There is a tantalising answer, “Some parts of the building (have been) pretty much untouched for over 200 years.” It is a perfect opportunity to capture a space that really inhabits the spirit of the era it reflects, especially with the Georgian booked lined rooms, period chairs and binoculars that allow a quiet spectator to glimpse the aviary life down in the garden below. The most untouched and well preserved area of the library is right at the top of the building, up the wonderful spiral staircase, along the wood panelled galleries and through a slightly labyrinthine series of corridors, there is a series of attic rooms which Geraldine describes well as “very atmospheric and evocative of a bygone era”. Even the original window frames and the old plaster on the walls has remained unchanged. “It really is like stepping into a list and forgotten world.” The house is full of untouched original features that have so much potential such as original cornices, ceilings and fireplaces.
What else can Geraldine tell me to spark the storytelling imagination? A further couple of little known facts in its history; “The library has had many tenants over the years to help with running costs. Pearson’s a local wine merchant rented cellars in the garden. Their cellar man was allowed to use the library but was often drunk on duty and may have been involved in the selling of beer and the firing of pistols in the billiard room…” It could be then, that for those who know where to look there may be tell tale bullet holes adorning the respectably modest walls. Not only that but once in 1849, “a baby was found abandoned in one of the back rooms.” This led to the library committee having to debate at length where the parish boundary was so that the infant could be handed in to the right authority. Possibly the mother, whoever she was, saw the library as a refuge, a safe place for a child she could no longer care for. We will never know.
There is a great deal of scope for the imagination here. When asked what kind of film she could see taking place in this space, Geraldine suggests that of a house party murder, a la “Gosford Park” or a good old family saga, but why stop there? After all that the library has been witness to over the years, who’s to say a Dr Who style Sci Fi drama, or even a retelling of a Shakespeare classic couldn’t make the place its own for a little while.
Interview and article: Miriam Blakemore-Hoy