The old streets of Nottingham

By Mr James Granger

THE highway to be first considered, together with others contiguous, will be Mansfield Road, and for present purposes all will be included from what is now entitled Parliament Street, in the south, to the old boundary of the town, which was on the north side of and will include Red Lane in the north, which in a greatly improved and enlarged form is now represented by Redcliffe Road. Under its present title of Mansfield Road, it is probable that no allusion to the old North Road or Whystongate can be found in the five volumes now issued of the Borough Records.

We have evidence in them that about 700 years ago there was a hamlet on the top of this hill or road, which was known by the names of Whiston, Hwyston, Wistam, Wiston, etc. (see Records, vol. i., p. 441). Little appears to be now known respecting it except the locality, but from what can be gathered, I have thought that it has been effaced nearly 600 years; still, it supplied names to various places near, some of which were, no doubt, in use when the hamlet had long disappeared. One being Whistondale (p. 442) which was probably the valley of what is now termed "The Forest," but in former times and until far in the 18th century entitled "The Lings"; then there is a reference, A.D. 1413, to "land in Nottingham fields, near the gallows of Whiston, called Whiston Wong." Wystongate is another title (gate meaning a road or way), and is probably the oldest name recorded for what is now known as Mansfield Road.

The gallows were undoubtedly a conspicuous object for several centuries on the top of the hill, and being a fixture, caused the elevation to be termed Gallows Hill. In the year 1800 (see Date Book, April), a band of daring young fellows cut them down, and took them away on the eve of an execution. Another gibbet had, therefore, to be immediately erected, and was afterwards made portable. The last execution which occurred on Gallows Hill was in 1827, April 2, when William Wells was hanged for highway robbery. When executions ended there, the old appellation of Gallows Hill was much objected to by many living near, and shortly afterwards the elevation was entitled Mars Hill. I have seen that name in various Directories, etc., until about 1870, when (from recollection) I believe it to have been shortly discontinued.

I will now take into consideration the southern and lower end of the North Road abutting on Back Side (or Parliament Street). The first allusion to "Mansfield Road" is, I believe, to be found in Deering's Plan of Nottingham, originally published by Badder and Peet in 1744. The part, however, to which this name was attached will, no doubt, to many be surprising, for it is to what in recent times was known as North Street, but which, during the last year or two, has been changed to Forman Street, and commenced from the southern end of Shaw's Lane (now Sherwood Street) within a few yards of Backside.

Still, there were valid reasons why the road should take a course which now appears so peculiar ; for at that date (1744) and nearly eighty-five years later, there was a passage called Boot Lane (now Milton Street) in the direct line, but like many others in Nottingham it was, especially at its southern end and terminating against Parliament Street, very contracted, and barely wide enough for an ordinary vehicle easily to pass through. This will fully account for the preference given to the road which, until recently, was termed North Street, but previously Back Lane (1800). Its objectionable condition or arrangement is further proved by the fact that in Deering's time and after, another outlet near appears also to have been preferred by many, and this was subsequently known as Glasshouse Street and York Street, which on Badder and Peet's map (1744) is entitled "Road to York."

Boot Lane is not of ancient date, for Thoroton does not appear to have known of it in 1677, nor have I noticed the name in the Records as far as published (1702), but I believe it to have been first used in Deering's time, who died 1749. It is mentioned in 1820 by some voters residing there, but entitled Milton Street on the large official plan of Nottingham, published in 1829, though I have noticed it when occasionally used some years earlier (1812).

In 1829, June (see Date Book), "Milton Street and North Street were lowered and levelled. Human remains in quantities were found at the depth of two or three feet below the surface. Concurrently with this, the whole of the buildings on the west side of Milton Street were removed, and the entrance to the town from the north materially improved." A considerable addition, proportionately, was made to its width, yet judging by present requirements it was much under what was necessary, for it was again widened about twenty feet in 1902.

According to Deering (1749) Boot Lane was practically eighty yards in length (the unique plan shows about seventy-five yards), and extended to North Street only, but at the end of the 18th century, by the same plan, it is shown to have been so named until reaching Charlotte Street and Cross Lane, now Shakespeare Street, on the opposite side. In the recollection of many, Cross Lane was an unmade road leading to Bowling Alley, very rutty and frequently deep in mud. Before it was lowered there can be little doubt that the gradient of Milton Street was much the same as Pelham Street at present, and anyone may now perceive the probability of this, from the height of Trinity churchyard, and also the ground at the back of the church, and of various shops, etc., opposite, respecting some of which I remember that by going down one or two steps from the causeway, the floor of a room was reached which was once the sub-story.

In my recollection, four or five acres of ground on which Trinity Church, the Mechanics' Hall, etc., are built, and reaching from North Street to Cross Lane (Shakespeare Street), were known as "Burton Leys." It was then a most objectionable and unclean plot, and there were few or no buildings on that side until the site now occupied by the Bluecoat School was passed, when, and as may still be found, there were a few small houses, probably standing about eight feet above the level of the road. Here in former times was the part termed Dog-kennel Hill, and recently I saw a name-board with "Kennel Hill" on it, and attached to these houses. From here to the top of the hill, on the west side, the frontage was occupied by buildings, chiefly houses, for nearly the whole of the distance, according to the official plan of Nottingham, 1827-29.

With the advent of the Great Central Railway into Nottingham and the construction of Victoria Station, various streets were altered or diverted and some entirely discontinued, the most noted of the latter being Charlotte Street, which, from that part by St. Ann's Street, etc., was the chief road eastward. To obviate any inconvenience from the loss of this street, a wide footway was made over the station, near to the site of the former street, and a short distance higher up the hill a broad new way was also formed, and Union Road is now continued over the station to Mansfield Road, thus completing a direct communication for heavy traffic eastward.

On the opposite side of the road to the footway is Shakespeare Street, a much enlarged and improved representative of Cross Lane, as remembered chiefly by myself, and a few others still left, from its frequently intolerable condition. According to the old official plan of 1829, what we now know as Sherwood Street was only so named at its upper part, commencing at Babington Street, and it is shown (as quite in my remembrance) that from Babington Street to Parliament Street it was termed Shaw's Lane. On the eastern side there were no houses or other buildings until close to Parliament Street, and then a few were built at each of the corners, the roadway generally being poorly made.

On the western side, from Parliament Street to "Forest Side," there were (except as just mentioned) no houses, but the land was divided into fourteen fields of grass, which were fenced with hedges next the lane. Cross Lane in olden times was entitled "Lyngedalegate." See Records, vol. i., p. 131, 1336. Respecting this, with Lingdale and the Lings, I shall probably have more to say afterwards, but will remark (see p. 432) that "Gate in the Nottingham Street names means a Road or Way." This is no doubt correct, for the main openings in the town wall were termed "bars," as in other places such as London and York. We once had, also, "Cowlane Bar," and still have " Chapel Bar," but now as a street.

The next roadway for consideration will be the one which, after as great or greater preparations and changes than any other of the sort in Nottingham, is now known as Woodborough Road, the circumstances connected with it being generally different as to most roads. Of the old narrow road, and of the footpath, etc., I have a complete recollection, but they do not always appear to be properly recognised or understood by others younger. The road has been referred to as though it was an old one, which, as implying a highway on which vehicles could be fully used, is thoroughly inaccurate. The details relating to the great changes are, no doubt, in some degree, still retained in the memory of a few old citizens, and may be fully understood after examining the large old official plan of the town, which is conclusive.