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 It was originally made of wood and later re-built in stone in the twelfth century.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.