Building work at new Nottingham escape room unearths fascinating historic discovery
Building work to turn a former Nottingham restaurant into escape rooms has led to an interesting discovery going back more than 150 years. Jemmying open the locked door of the basement new tenants Nick Scott and his wife Jennifer Gilbert-Scott stumbled upon a Victorian bakery, which was once used by the well-known Judge family, at their shop in Mansfield Road.
Once a hotbed of activity, the underground oven is derelict, dirty and rusty and has been untouched since 1912 when the bakery relocated. The couple hope to eventually transform it into one of three escape rooms at the site of the grade II listed building.
The duo, who run Cave Escape - cave-based escape rooms several doors away - fell in love with the time warp property even though it required an immense amount of work. More recently it had been Encounters restaurant, which closed in 2019 after 26 years. It has been empty since then.
They have committed themselves to restoring it sympathetically while turning it into an attraction for fun-seekers. Nick, said: "The basement is so big, you wouldn't think all this was under here. It's in a right sorry state but I envision it restored, with all the ironwork back on it - there's professional people you can send this cast iron to to get it restored.
"There's a coal bunker and stairs that were open to the car park so staff would turn up in the morning and walk down here into the bakery. There looks like a pantry where they used to store all the flour. We found part of the original shop counter down here. I'm going to try and restore it."
Jennifer added: "It's a little gem which was part of Nottingham's history that was quite important to the city for a long time. It would be a shame for it to be hidden away and lost and we are potentially opening it up to the public in a fun way."
There will be three themed escape rooms at the site, named Judges Escape Emporium as a nod to the bakery which was built in 1860 and taken over by C.W. Judge in 1889. The bakery, which had no drainage, moved to Mapperley in 1912 but shop above remained open selling bread and cakes until 1992 when the fourth generation owner Barrie Judge - the son of a city councillor - retired.
His widow Wendy Judge, of Colwick, described the new venture as "wonderful". She said: "I think it is most imaginative and they are full of ingenuity. It's a delight to behold after so long of trying to find the right people to take it on. We never wanted it to be spoilt. We always felt it was Nottingham history.
Mrs Judge's collection of old black and white photographs of the bakery will be going up on the wall. They include a display of cakes for the Queen's Coronation in the shop window.
As well as a bakery and shop, the property was extended in 1905 to include a tea room, with stunning stained glass windows. It was designed by acclaimed architect Watson Fothergill to look like a railway carriage because the noise from the bakery's machinery below sounded like a steam train.
Mrs Judge said: "We loved it and it had an ethos about it which was special. I couldn't bear the thought of it being spoilt. Watson Fothergill was a friend of great granny Judge and they used to go to church at Trinity Square, and he used to go back to 59 Mansfield Road for a coffee after church and he drew it on the back of, I suppose, a cigarette packet, and said this is what you need as there's not a lot of room there."
That part of the building will house the first escape room, which the couple hope to open later this year, called Choo Dunnit?. Set in 1934, it will be themed around an old-fashioned steam train with characters named Madame Grand-Derriere and Dickey Lovelace.
Jennifer said: "It's a cross between a murder mystery and an escape room with a bit of Carry On humour with little tongue-in-cheek-nuggets. It's a slightly different take on an standard escape room where you're trying to solve the crime by the end of the hour rather than get out of the room. It's going to be really good fun and rammed full with puzzles. We are putting immersive technology in here that's never been used in escape rooms in the UK before as far as we know."
Nick, who was previously a builder and plumber, is putting his skills to good use to build the different sets. "This extension was designed to look like a train. We're adapting it to make it feel like you're in a Pullman dining car."
Jennifer continued: "It will have four large windows which will be TV screens programmed with a 3D rendered Victorian train station with moving people, done in actual gaming software, so it will feel like you're sat on a train looking out a window. It looks so realistic."
A second escape room on the first floor will have an adult avant-garde storyline involving a drag queen searching for ever-lasting youth with a bit of 1980s disco and German undertones thrown in. Jennifer said: "She's like an evil Barbara Cartland. In her lab she's growing a clone of herself as the serum she uses to stay young is running out.
"We've had the clone made already, it's going to be floating in a bubbling tank. It's been cast from a real human. We're just a bit nuts. That one is going to be really, really fun."
Last but not least the basement will be turned into a family-friendly game but that's going to take some time due to the dilapidated state. What was the bakery shop on the ground floor and Encounters restaurant will be transformed into the escape rooms' reception, decorated in black and gold, like a bistro.