This very fine and elaborate example of late C19 architecture in the Gothic Revival style was designed by architects, Lockwood & Mawson of Bradford, which designed buildings of world renown including Saltaire Mill.
The former university college, public library, technical school and natural history museum is now a Grade II* listed NTU building. This building is unique in bringing together three cornerstones of Victorian education thinking, the further educational college, the public library and the museum. It was the first municipally funded college of further education to be built in England. It has been at the heart of the developments of both of Nottingham's Universities and as such is the single most historically important educational building in the city.
A foundation stone was laid in 1877 by the Lord Mayor of Nottingham, Alderman Bowers. The property was built in 1877-81 at a cost of £70,000 but was then closed for major structural repairs between 1883-90 when it seemed it might collapse (look out for the black tie-bars and circular ‘patress plates’ on the exterior which hold the building together!). There were additions to the rear in 1893, 1932 and in the mid C20. The more recent glazed link extension on Goldsmith Street, joining Arkwright to Newton, is by internationally famous Hopkins Architects.
A WW2 bombing raid in 1941 destroyed large parts of the building, in particular the wing on Shakespeare St near to Bilbie Walk (which was formerly a road called Bilbie Street), but it was restored to its former glory (on close inspection it can be seen that this wing is slightly less intricate). Although a small central spire has gone, the building is otherwise extremely well preserved and in 1972 was granted its Listed building status.
Internally, a significant number of impressive spaces and original features survive. The Old Chemistry Theatre, now beautifully restored by NTU, saw the discovery of silicone polymers by Frederick Kipping in the late C19. This former laboratory at the rear of Arkwright is an early example of this type of facility, with a wooden queen post roof, high wooden ceilings and panelled skylights. The Old Library was once the original city library and the old museum housed a natural history collection which included the stuffed gorilla - now relocated to Wollaton Hall.
The property is constructed of Ashlar and yellow brick and banded Westmorland slate roofs. From outside a plinth, string courses, pierced balustrade and cast-iron crests to the main roofs are all clearly visible.
The building has a symmetrical main front and returns flanking impressive courtyards. There are two storeys plus basement and attics. Projecting centre and end bays, all have elaborate gables with spire turrets. The ground floor has traceried windows and the first-floor windows are arched. The main entrance bay fronting Shakespeare Street has an arched triple doorway under gables. The observant will discover that the doorways are guarded by tiny turtles and frogs at the base of the pillars (a reference to the former natural history museum).
The left return, to South Sherwood Street, has a corner block, with a canted corner turret and spire to the far left. Beyond is a projecting 1932 addition in the same style, with buttressed gable end. The right return (fronting Bilbie Walk) is much the same, but with a mid C20 footbridge.
A central entrance hall has elaborate pointed arcades on two sides, the right one containing a cast-iron open well stair. Landings are on two sides, with wrought-iron balustrades. A panelled, hooded chimneypiece is in a medieval style. Various rooms retain late C19 fireplaces. Arcaded corridors towards the rear have wooden columns. Some ground floor rooms have cast-iron columns. First floor rooms to each wing have elaborate steel trussed clerestory roofs. Fairly recently live ammunition was found in the service ducts, left there during WW2 by the Home Guard.