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The lost origins of Nottingham’s Rock City – from Royal visits to an ice rink

today26 June 2022 4

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It may be slathered in black paint, but you can see familiar Victorian shapes all over the Rock City venue in Talbot Street, Nottingham city centre. If it really is as old as it looks – what was the building used for before it became a smash hit independent venue?

People who have lived here for a long time might remember Heart Of The Midlands, the first stab at turning the building into an entertainment venue in the 1970s. But before that, within living memory, you might have been completely oblivious to it – it was just a storage unit.

To figure out the origins of Rock City, we go back nearly 150 years, when people got around in horses and carriages. In November 1876, the Nottingham Journal newspaper carried an ad – “Rink! Rink! Rink!” – announcing the opening of a roller-skating rink on Talbot Street.

SEE MORE:Eerie photos of Nottingham’s estates and tower blocks through an 80s lens

This was the brainchild of Edward Cox, a hotel owner in the city, who had moved his previous rink here from Market Street. Skating was still very new to the city and country – the ad promises that “no accidents whatsoever have occurred” at the old rink, to soothe the concerns of worried parents.

Fancy a job at Mr. Cox’s hot new entertainment complex? A “respectable young lady, about 19 years of age” was wanted for the ticket office, and amongst the first hires would have been “respectable 15 year-old boys” to help run the place.



The venue was used for all sorts - even electioneering for former Nottingham East MP John Rees.
The venue was used for all sorts – even electioneering for former Nottingham East MP John Rees.

It was a big place, and was used for balls, dances, circus performances, and more. Prime Minister William Gladstone even gave a speech here on a tour through Nottinghamshire in 1877.

By all accounts from the time, a busy day at the Alexandra was a joy to behold. It became the talk of the town when an aquarium was installed, with pair of seals as the star attraction – most people will have never seen a seal outside of an illustrated book, or maybe a travelling menagerie.

Roll up, roll up, to see Keith, Allen and Quaglieni’s circus in 1887! See the “Men Frogs” leap high in the air, monkeys riding horses, and Elwell the clown with his “mystifying hats”!

As the building’s entertainments became more and more diverse, the rink changed its name to Victoria Hall in honour of the Queen. Moving into the 1900s, there were grand concerts, charity balls featuring members of the Royal Family – and suddenly, in 1915, the army moved in to use the building as quarters.

Years of brutal war followed, with little reason for dancing and festivities. But when the country came out the other side, Victoria Hall eventually got to host a Victory Ball, raising money for paralysed soldiers.

The party would end in 1928, as commercial development in the city claimed the building. For the next 45 years, it was a storage building, and the only people popping in and out were staff and hauliers.

Heart Of The Midlands opened in 1973 as an exclusive nightspot, but it was a difficult time economically, and it declined quickly. You might remember darts and basketball being held at the venue close to the end of its life in the late 70s.

Not long afterwards came Rock City, and The Undertones played the first gig in a long line of legendary acts to grace the venue to this day. You have to wonder what a Rock City circus would look like though…

What’s your best memory of this Talbot Street venue? Comment below, and join us on Facebook for more.

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Written by: thehitnetwork

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