Historic Lace Market building brought back to life

A Grade II listed building in Nottingham’s historic Lace Market area has been brought back to life following extensive restoration by local property development company Spenbeck. The official opening was marked by a celebration at Nottingham’s Contemporary art gallery which hosted many of the people who worked on the project, as well as very special guests, Sir John Birkin – the great-great-great-grandson of the founder of Birkin & Co.  Sir John and his son Ben were delighted to join the celebration, regaling stories of his predecessor’s life in the building and toasting everyone’s hard work.

The Birkin Building – which was designed by renowned architect TC Hine to house the international headquarters of Birkin & Co, world leaders in lace manufacturing, in 1855 – has been predominantly used to house a number of nightclubs for the past 25 years.

The building is now fully let once again, with staff at e-learning business Learning Pool, amongst other creative companies, calling it home following its transformation into a workspace fit for modern businesses. The property still retains all the character of a 19th century lace warehouse and remains a fitting tribute to the family who contributed so much to Nottingham’s industrial and cultural heritage.

Since 2012, Spenbeck has developed and refurbished 50,000 sq ft of space in Grade II listed The Birkin Building and neighbouring properties, bringing creative spaces back into use as blossoming businesses in the historic heart of Nottingham. The company has developed to keep up with demand, which illustrates the desire for these historic buildings to be inhabited and enjoyed as they were always meant to be.

Speaking of the project, Spenbeck CEO Victoria Green said: “Being able to have the power to positively impact the cityscape is a great responsibility, which also comes with huge rewards. The Birkin Building is our finest example of this. Being instrumental in the sympathetic redevelopment of these Grade II listed properties has been a challenge, of course, but one I am personally hugely proud of.

“Seeing the buildings ‘alive’ again after years of night-time leisure use means that not only are the buildings thriving, but the streets around The Lace Market are too. There is an energy back in the area and having contributed to this through our renovation project means that I am constantly reminded of what we’ve achieved.”

In its heyday, clients from all over the world would visit the Birkin Building’s sales room, which was split into three sections depending on the location of the client: ‘Home Trade’, ‘Commonwealth’ (the British Empire) and ‘Foreign’ (Europe and South America), to peruse the extensive sample collection and place orders. The company was massively important to the country’s economy and prestige. Birkin Lace was favoured by haute couture fashion designers and both Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, who designed for the Royal family, were visitors.

The renovation project included the refurbishment and painting of the building’s 88 windows, repair and high-pressure cleaning of the stone and brickwork façade, indentation of stone where required and re-rendering and re-pointing where necessary.

Internally, a goods lift has been repurposed for passenger use and the original roof light has been refurbished.

The external ‘facelift’ was assisted through a Heart of Nottingham Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) grant from Historic England and Nottingham City Council.

Clive Fletcher, Historic England’s principal advisor for historic places, said: “The Birkin Building was inspired by Italian architecture, and it has become an iconic part of Nottingham’s creative past that is now home to the creative industries that will shape its future. We were delighted the building secured a £60,000 grant through Historic England and it gave us a fantastic opportunity to provide specialist advice to restore the impressive stonework.”

Birkin & Co. enjoyed Royal patronage over the course of its history, playing host – both at its headquarters and its Basford factory – to King George V and Queen Mary, HRH The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, The Princess Royal and Princess Diana.

This rich history led Spenbeck to create an online archive to help to share these stories with the public. The virtual reality tour takes viewers through four floors of The Birkin Building as it was in the 1950s, providing an insight into how both staff and visitors would have experienced it.

Becky Valentine, COO of Spenbeck, said: “We were very lucky to have the building and to be able to bring it back to life. The contribution The Birkin Building makes architecturally and culturally to Nottingham is vast.

“Curating the archive of The Birkin Building has become a real labour of love.  Researching its history has been a privilege: seeing so many wonderful artefacts from the building and enabling people to learn just how influential the building and its occupants have been.  There are still so many Birkin stories to be told and our archive is the perfect forum. That Spenbeck is raising awareness of Birkin & Co. and Nottingham’s lace heritage in a virtual, interactive way is very exciting.”

Nottingham City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Planning, Housing and Heritage, Cllr Linda Woodings said: “We were so pleased to be named as one of the first Heritage Action Zones back in 2017 and since then, with help from Historic England and working with local partners and businesses, we’ve been able to put heritage at the heart of Nottingham’s future development.

“A number of Nottingham’s historic buildings, which were once showing signs of neglect, have now benefited from the scheme and been given a new lease of life helping to preserve them for future generations.

“Nottingham is proud of its past and ambitious for its future and heritage led regeneration is a fantastic way to restore the city’s historic character, boost tourism and create jobs.”