Mapping the moment

15 Oct 2009 09:34:00.000

PA 268/09

“Roll up…roll up! The University of Nottingham is proud to present…” a web-based time machine which will take you back to the world of popular entertainment in Victorian Nottingham.

‘Mapping the Moment’ is a new website which is the result of a major research project to investigate the rich and varied entertainment scene in Nottingham over eleven years in the middle of the 19th century. It will be a unique and invaluable public resource for local historians, researchers, schools and colleges and anyone interested in the social and cultural history of this historic East Midlands town. 

Experts on theatre history and geographical information science from the Schools of English Studies and Geography have delved deep into the archives to produce an interactive ‘window-on-the-world’ of theatre, music and other public events on offer in the town between 1857 and 1867. The website provides layers of historical information and images over a spatial representation of the town making material that has previously been difficult to access, available digitally.


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The project was funded by a £290,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and has taken three years of painstaking research to develop. Local Nottingham libraries and museums and the regional image archive ‘Picture the Past’ have provided a rich seam of original historical material including old newspapers and diaries, playbills and posters, as well as photographs, paintings and lithographs.

These resources have been pieced together to create an interactive map connecting each performance event with the landscape and society of the town as it changed and grew during that decade. Two original maps were used to plot the locations of events, audience movement and changes to the town; the Salmon map of 1861 and the Tarbotton map of 1877 which represent the best resources available from the period.

The website allows the user to explore the social and cultural landscape through time and space. It takes the user on a journey of discovery… revealing how sites of entertainment, performances and audiences were connected, how different performance events occurred over time. It also provides an invaluable resource for researchers to look at the ways in which people’s social background, work or religion might have affected the choices they made in what they went to see.  All the original data and images used in the research are accessible through a searchable interface using zoomable maps and clickable venue and date icons, including a database of the 1861 population and 1851 religious censuses.  

Dr Jo Robinson from the University’s School of English Studies said: “British theatre history has often tended to be about individual theatres, actors or plays — often with a focus on London — but little has been written about the audiences themselves. I wanted to explore the factors which might influence the choices local Victorians made as well as discover what was on offer to them in a provincial town like Nottingham, and to make those discoveries accessible to a contemporary audience through an interactive map on the website.”

Dr Gary Priestnall from the School of Geography said: “It’s been a fascinating project for geographical science too. Mapping the performance culture of our city through mid-19th century time and space has been a novel challenge that’s produced a highly original and intuitive research tool. It’s a model that could be used for a wide variety of academic and educational disciplines.”

Dr Lucie Sutherland from the School of English has spent months in the local archives helping to supply the project with original information and material. The picture that has emerged is of a decade in which Nottingham’s arts and entertainment flourished, she said:

“There were full scale theatre productions at the two Theatre Royals which succeeded each other in different sites in the town; the first in St Mary’s Gate in the Lacemarket which became the Royal Alhambra Music Hall and the second, the new Theatre Royal which still thrives today on Upper Parliament Street.

“The centuries-old Goose Fair which then took place in the Market Place, now the Old Market
Square, featured entertainments such as menageries, portable theatres and panoramas. In 1865, a huge Industrial Exhibition Hall on the site of the present city police and fire headquarters pulled crowds to a Nottingham and Midland Counties Industrial Exhibition, mimicking the capital’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Other events that drew the crowds in those days were civic parades and processions, sermons and concerts in churches, penny reading and lectures in school rooms.”

One piece of little-known local history analysed by the researchers was a local controversy over the naming of the new road that led up to the new Theatre Royal from the Market Square, which was originally called Theatre Street. It emerged that there was high anxiety in some circles over the theatre and the street. Some people said that ‘its name is an insult to the population and a discredit to the town!’ and that it would ‘be filled on the evenings the Theatre is opened with the most abandoned characters’! Thus the name was changed to the ‘Market Street’ that still bustles with shoppers and theatre-goers today.

Mapping the Moment is a truly interdisciplinary research project with additional input from Dr Robin Burgess in Geographical Information Sciences and technical support from the University’s Information Services Academic and Research Applications Team, in particular Dr Richard Tyler-Jones.

The website can be found at

A video podcast on the project can be viewed here:

— Ends —

Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (  in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Jo Robinson, School of English Studies,; Dr Gary Priestnall, School of Geography,

Emma Rayner - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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