Topographical, and other early notes about Nottingham.

By Mr William Stevenson.


MY discovery, and location (about 1870), of a more ancient system of earthworks, than those associated with the Henry III., or Edwardian, walls and gates of Nottingham, and the manner in which they influenced the trend of the neighbouring thoroughfares—as footways, roads, and in due time, streets—opened out a new field of topographical and historical study: one rich in possibilities, as it seemed able to restore a lost initial chapter to the town's history. The inferences then drawn were faintly supported by what had hitherto been known; but my son's labour in editing "The Records of the Borough," now city (1882-1889), coupled with sundry disturbances of the ground, on and about St. Mary's Hill, has pleasingly confirmed the deductions I here advance.

The plan of the old town, here pressed into service, is part of one of a series of great value, commencing with that quaint production, John Speed's map of the town published in 1610; it is that of Messrs. E. Staveley, and H. M. Wood, dated 1831—a fine example of surveying and engraving of that date. The original is 27in. square, and embraces the whole of the park, the New Radford of that date, the major part of the Forest, all the race-course, town windmills, and—on the east side—the then developing New Sneinton. From 1831, dating hack to 1610, we have a span of 221 years that show no change in the street plans of the town, save a minor disturbance to arrange a site for The General Hospital. This map has all the street names engraved in situ, which give it a crowded or indistinct appearance, which I have endeavoured to avoid in dealing with the street plans traced from it,

A stranger taking up this subject will possibly be at a loss to understand how old street lines can move or bend, or become disjointed as centuries roll or have rolled on. Take the instance of Chapel Bar. East and west of it we have a broad highway, and the obstruction was the outcome of "walling-in" the town in the 13th century: an archway, much narrower than the roadway, was arranged in that wall, and it was built close up to one side—the north—whereupon the buildings on the south side of the enclosed street gradually trended north. This map is here interesting as it shows the town improvement of widening the street, to its present breadth, then in progress. The pen must now be restrained from enlarging on this subject, and be content with the remark that the movements of street lines were the outcome of encroachments, largely traceable to town life, where space dictated the adoption of chambers above the ground floor levels—those chambers being built of wood and plaster enabled them to overhang in front or back. It often followed, when the ground floor posts showed signs of decay, that new ones were fixed in the streets to carry the projecting chambers, whereupon the older ones were removed, and 1 to 2ft. of "the common soil"—as they called it—was taken in or under the overhead roof of the house. In and about the old wooden or half-timbered houses in Bridlesmith Gate, this movement was lately, or still is, traceable.

Our earliest historical notes of Nottingham do not extend beyond the time when the site was occupied as a known town. It must have loomed large in the eyes of the Danish host in 868, when, seated at York, they moved at one bound from that city to Nottingham.

Its earthworks may not go beyond that period, but this remark cannot be applied to its system of roads, which read back to an age unknown, and point out the site of the town as an important centre on the north side of the Trent. The ford, or fords, crossing the Trent, were a feature on the south side, and the hill of Besk-wood was a distinctive mark on the north. In going north, or north-west, it was always a question which side of that hill should be traversed; the one, by what became known as Rufford and Blyth, and the other, as Newstead and Clown, or Bolsover. Mansfield was not in line, but, like the Roman villa at Mansfield Woodhouse, was situated between, or in the fork of those roads; each to have a great hostelry, at Rufford and Newstead. In the west, the physical character of the ground was so marked that the road, or roads, could only trend on the ridge or space in front of the Derby Road entrance of the old cemetery. Beyond this, it became a three grained fork; each more or less a township, manor, or parish boundary. Added to this, there was a footway westward, across the park, direct to what we know as Beeston—still existent (note how the two parallel roads are now connected in front of the second lodge of Wollaton Park). This footway could never have been a cartway out of Nottingham, and it is doubtful if even a bridleway—judging from its fellow, the "Park-steps," at the top of Park Row; still its line in our town is "Hound's Gate," later partly kept alive by the Norman and Royal Castle.

As an inhabited town—independent of any earthwork—we must view Nottingham as the most prominent place in the country for rock-houses, or dwellings in the rock; not only wrought in the exposed cliffs, but burrowed into the sides of the deeply worn sunk roads— "Derby Road" on both sides, and "Mansfield Road" mainly on one side. Whatever date we assign to the latter rock habitations, we can only view them as a late page in the history of the roads themselves.

Asser, the historian of King Alfred,1 noted that Nottingham had an older, or British name, "Tigguoco-bauc," meaning in old Welsh, "dwelling of caves" (literally "cave-house"), but the name has come down to us corrupted or obscured in expression.

The oldest road, or way, in and about Nottingham, is that which forms the ridgeway on the hills north of the Trent valley. Coming from the east at Carlton Hill, it makes straight for St. Mary's Hill, crossing the Beck stream, an ancient ford, later the place of a stone bridge, near where now is the north end of Manvers Street. (See map-tracing I.) That ford was a boundary point of the townlands of Nottingham, which, further north, embraced the valley of that stream on either side; conversely, it was a west boundary mark of the Sneinton township, or manor, and its only crossing-place to Nottingham, except a footway, of which "Pennyfoot stile" was a portion. Having crossed this low point, its line was Barker Gate, Pilcher Gate, Byard Lane, and Pepper Street. When the earthwork of the town was wrought, the sites of the three former were enclosed therein, and the through road was later pushed north to the outside of the earthwork, and the Hockley and Goosegate line came on the scene. Westward from Pepper Street (one of the only two streets of the old town with that Roman flavour, Stoney Street being the other), it took the winding valley way to the top of Derby Road, throwing off Hound's Gate to the left, thus giving us Wheeler Gate, Beastmarket Hill, Angel Row, and Chapel Bar. The three latter were manor boundaries, in Edward the Confessor's time, between Earl Tostig and that king's ancient demesne, i.e. the old town.

Reverting to Goose Gate, the old through line via Pilcher Gate, Byard Lane, and Pepper Street cum Hound's Gate, was superseded by the later one of Chandler's Lane (lost in Victoria Street), the Poultry, South Parade, Friar Lane, and Park Street; the Poultry and South Parade being by or near the manor boundary, between the old and what became known as the new borough: but here the exact bound was no doubt later agreed upon to be half-way between the Poultry and Cheapside, and half-way between South Parade and Long Row; hence the mysterious stone "Market Wall" with passage ways at intervals through it. It is curious that Chester has a "Pepper Street," or "Gate," and had a Market Wall. (See Speede's map, c. 1610.)

But stay, we are driving too fast: going west, what was indicated as Chandler's Lane, seems to have originally increased in width — hence the distance apart of the Poultry and Cheapside—the width gradually broadening until one comes west to the block or island of property known as "The Shoe Booths," screening the view of Henry Kirke White's birthplace from the north end of Peck Lane. This implies the existence of some portable booths or stalls in the one day a week or Saturday market, until their site became permanently occupied. Other instances of a like innovation may be found in Newark market-place, where we have a square detached block; also in Grantham, where we have the island block between the open market and the Angel Inn.

In the 18th century, those shoe-booths were attached at their west end so as to extend the grand facade of the New Change, and they thus, in part, lost their older island character. I go back beyond that period, and even beyond the time when those booths became fixtures, which gives us the picture of the Poultry and the Cheap-side as a street somewhat trumpet-mouthed at its west end.

What I am here coming at is this. We have seen above, the reconstruction of Pilcher Gate, Pepper Street, and Hound's Gate, further north, but not Wheeler Gate and Beastmarket Hill. Let us now again go back to the top of Goose Gate. We may picture a man with a wain, or a string of laden horses, going west, his objective being the top of Derby Road. Going via Chandler's Lane site he would bear to the right, and forge the line that later became the Cheapside, and make his junction with the older through-road somewhere on Angel Row way. After crossing the Bridlesmith Gate and Clumber Street line, all on his right hand would be the old borough, and all on the left the new borough (new in degree, but not so by the incident of the Norman Conquest), to the top of our now Chapel Bar, where the new borough would drop out.

With this picture in the mind's eye, pass some unrecorded time—a century or more—and see a nearer cut being gradually formed, a footway developing to a road in the open ground (for so most of our roads and streets grew, without the modern cost and ceremony of an act of Parliament) from the top of Goose Gate to the top of Chapel Bar—to the north of Chandler's Lane and the Cheapside. This gave us Pelham Street, and the Long Row, east and west. This latter, having its frontage to what became the great Saturday market, grew to be a valuable asset, and was cut into sections with narrow fronts like the "Rowes" at Yarmouth, the "Garths" of East Yorkshire towns, the "Wynds" of Edinburgh, the "Courts" and "Yards" of Mansfield, and they had their back-ways, and hence their "Back Lane," popularly called "Back-side"—which, in the 18th century, was improved into "Parliament Street," upper and lower. This large and regularly planned area, distant from, but part of the old town, I do not view as earlier than the Norman Conquest, or Peveril's time. Its only counter-part in Nottingham is on the south side of Narrow Marsh, where some of the sections bore, or still may do, the euphonious titles of "Alley" and "Court." Of the two districts, I should assign the earliest date to the latter, which is possibly the croft of the priest recorded in the Domesday survey, where he had sixty-five houses.

In Nottingham, the word "croft" had an expanded meaning, as in the great divisions of the old meadows "Eastcroft," and "Westcroft." (Dutch kroft high, dry ground, probably a relative term.) I have not noticed its Nottingham use except on low-lying ground. Bailey gives its meaning as:—"a little close adjoining to a house for pasture or tillage."

Whilst on the "Long Row" I cannot do better than drop a note on the Great Market-place. It is not the old "several market" of Nottingham, the Week-day Market, which might there imply every day, Saturday excepted: it has always been a "joint-market" owned, if not divided, by and between the two manors, old and new. It reads very much like a Norman foundation, the founder of it being one of the three Peverils. So far as the old borough was concerned, it would not need a charter—being a king's manor, and I doubt if chartered markets existed at that early date. The first we hear of it is in the charter to the town granted by Henry II., 1155-1165, but it was in existence before that date. "Moreover, the Men of Nottingham and Derbyshire ought to come to the borough of Nottingham on Friday and Saturday, with their Wains and packhorses." This pictures the market from Friday at sunset to Saturday at the same time. The Poultry and Cheapside portion of this part of the market area was at the north-west corner of, and immediately outside the earthwork or the bounds of the old town; the direct way to it being Bottle Lane, where it was known as the "Woman's Market." Immediately north, were and are the Shambles, a Norman name; whereas, in the week-day market, the older Anglo-Saxon "Flesh-hewer's booths" obtained—their echo is "Fletcher Gate." The Great Market-place was an open area from Monday to sunset of Friday, except during the days or weeks of fairs, and except when heavy timber, brought to the market, was allowed to remain from one week-end to another. This trade fixture—so to speak—gave the south-side of the open space the interesting name of "Timber Hill," now South Parade.

I think the Shambles were portable booths, originally occupied on Saturdays by the butchers of the old and new towns, and the country people. The latter only opened on Saturdays in my time, and their stands were known as "The Dunkirk Shambles." Why? The glazing and roofing in of the Shambles are modern. The "New Change," when built, advanced its own depth westward, into the old open market; formerly the old two-storey building, "The Spice Chamber," advanced very little, if anything, west of Peck Lane.

(1) Asser's Life of King Alfred—W. H. Stevenson, page 230.