Medieval Nottingham


Above is an excellent map of the medieval layout of the medieval town of Nottingham, showing the original French and English boroughs. Robin Hood would have been familiar with this!

After the Norman Conquest, King William ordered a castle to be built on the huge rocky red sandstone, on the site of the original Danish tower, to the south-west of the settlement. It was originally made of wood and later re-built in stone in the twelfth century. Nottingham Castle remained outside the towns boundaries until the nineteenth century.

So a Norman settlement grew up around the shelter of the new wooden castle, leaving the Saxons largely undisturbed in their area around St. Mary’s Hill. For administrative purposes, two boroughs were set up, one French and one English; each had its own language and customs with a boundary wall running through the market place. To this day two maces are borne before the Sheriff of Nottingham, representing these two boroughs. The church of St. Peter was founded alongside St. Nicholas, both were in the French borough, whilst the pre-conquest church of St. Mary’s , visited by Robin Hood in the medieval ballad ‘Robin Hood and the Monk’, was in the English.

Under this Norman protection in 1086 the two boroughs had between 600-800 people. The first of the Plantagenet king’s, Henry II commenced to re-build the castle and its fortifications around the town in stone. He also gave Nottingham its first Royal Charter in 1154 allowing the Burgesses (leading citizens) to try thieves, levy tolls on visiting traders and hold markets on Fridays and Saturdays. This charter also gave them the monopoly in the working of dyed cloth within a radius of ten miles.

The Market Square (the largest in England) quickly became a focal point of the town, it also had an annual fair and from 1284 Edward I permitted extra fair days and one of these days became what we now know as Goose Fair, when people from as far away as Yorkshire would come for the two day event.

During the medieval period, Nottingham’s main industry was wool manufacture. But there were many craftsmen in the town and some of those occupations can be identified by the remains of its old street names, such as Wheelwright Street, Pilcher Gate, Boot Lane, Bridlesmith Gate, Blow Bladder Street, Gridlesmith Gate, and Fletcher Gate.

To read more about Nottingham please click here.

13 comments:

Clement of the Glen said...

Medieval Nottingham

The Norman and Saxon Boroughs

robin hood said...

It always made me smile that the timbers for the original wooden castle were transported from Thieves Wood itself, a notorious place for outlaw attacks on merchants and tax collectors travelling down the Great King's Way.

Maybe in doing so, the Sheriff thought he'd be taking away Robin Hood's hiding place!

Trish said...

Fascinating! Is there any evidence of conflict between the residents of the Norman and Saxon boroughs?

I suppose Robin Hood chose to go to St Mary's rather than the other churches due to his devotion to Mary, yet it's interesting that it would have taken him to the Saxon rather than the Norman quarter, given his role in the later legends as a defender of the Saxons against the Norman overlords.

A wonderful and thought-provoking post as always, Clement!

Albie said...

The castle was built in 1067 as a response to unrest in the saxon population. It came under the control of the Peveril family. This is probably why the French quarter is so close to it.

The market square was the location of Goose Fair until 1928 when the current Council House was completed and the entire square paved with slabs (hence the nickname 'Slab square' today). The fair moved to its current location on Forest Fields at that time. The fair is held from Thurdsay therough Sunday over the 1st weekend in October.

The name Goose fair originates from the flocks of geese that were sold there as food for the population over the winter months - goose being the traditional Xmas Day dish. The flocks were driven from over great distances in those days, many from Norfolk 100 miles away. The geese had their feet covered in tar soas not to dmamge them as they were walked the long distance from places they were reared.

Clement of the Glen said...

Interesting detail about the timbers for the castle being taken from Thieves Wood! I have never heard of that before Robin, these local legends are always fascinating!! Many thanks.

Trish, it seems the Saxons and Normans got on with their lives reasonably quietly. I have not read of any major conflict at that time. Thank you for your comments, its great to hear from you!

Pity they moved The Goose Fair Albie. It would have been wonderful if they had kept it at its original medieval location. I believe it was Dickens's 'Christmas Carol' that started the trend of Turkey at Christmas.

Albie said...

Yes, it would be nice to have it back in the square. However, it has well outgrown the city centre and it would play havoc with the trams running there now. Might go to it this year, not been for ages......

Although we eat turkey at Xmas we always use goose fat to baste it and cook the rest of the trimmings.

Trish said...

Please forgive my Canadian ignorance on such matters, but couldn't they have sold their geese in Norfolk? 100 miles seems like a long way to drive a flock of geese. And they must have been awfully skinny and stringy once they got there.

Albie said...

Hi Trish, no forgiveness required..;o) The Goose Fair was the last major gathering of the year for the people in the East Midlands of England. It was a chance to buy all the goods & produce required over the winter months before the fairs started again the following spring. Goose was a main staple of the diet so producers would drive flocks from far and wide to sell their remaining stock before winter took hold. There would have been other livestock at the fait but creatures like geese would fare better through winter when fodder for larger anima;s like sheep & cattle was at a premium. They would provide fresh meat during these lean months.

As well as produce the Goose Fair was a major social event. A chance to catch up on gossip and the events from far and wide. Today, the fair is about fairground rides and attractions, entertainment and catching up with people. It is the last event of the year for travelling fair attractions before they retire home for the winter months. The atmosphere, smell and general ambience must be similar today as was 700 years ago.

Sorry that is a pretty poor explanation but I can't think how to word it better. The eastern parts of England at that time were mainly marsh and fenland areas where geese and water fowl would readily breed. Hence their predominance and them being driven to the last major fair of the year.

Trish said...

Oh very interesting! Thanks, Albie.

I did enjoy a traditional English Christmas once, at which goose was served up with all the trimmings. It was wonderful! I'd have that over turkey any time. If Dickens started the turkey tradition, then he has a lot to answer for. ;-)

Clement of the Glen said...

Thanks for your comments!

It makes it all worthwhile to get a response like this!!

Mike Giddens said...

I cant be sure but , did'nt Tiny Tim say, "Its such a goose father" if so maybe it was'nt Dickens who started the Turky thing, any thoughts??

Clement of the Glen said...

Do you know the Poulterer's, in the next street but one, at the corner?" Scrooge inquired.

"I should hope I did," replied the lad.

"An intelligent boy!" said Scrooge. "A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they"ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there -- Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?"

Hi Mike!

In the fifth and final stave, Scrooge awakens Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart, then spends the day with his nephew's family after anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Cratchit home for Christmas dinner. It is said that the popularity of 'Christmas Carol' and this scene made Turkey become a popular traditional meat at Xmas.

Mike Giddens said...

Hello Sir, yes i know abour that , i'll have to watch "Scrooge" again as i remember the words "Such a goose father"