Nottingham: The Early Years

Nottingham as a settlement began in the area we now call the Lace Market. This was high ground, giving views of the surrounding area at a time when territory was gained and lost through combat and conflict. The Saxons who established this settlement were protected on one side by a sheer cliff, at the base of which was marshy land that later became known as Broad Marsh and Narrow Marsh. The leader of the group was named Snot, which probably wasn’t as unfortunate then as it would be now. They dug a ditch around the settlement to hinder possible invaders, and later built a wooden wall. The perimeter of the site’s boundary roughly corresponded with modern Hollowstone, Bellar Gate, Goose Gate, Carlton Street and Fletcher Gate.

The spiritual centre of the community (which initially would have been pagan) was at the site now occupied by St Mary’s church. When paganism made way for Christianity, existing temples and sacred places were converted. I wonder what originally made the site significant enough for pagans to build a temple there.
Commerce was conducted at the market, held at the junction of High Pavement and Weekday Cross, in the area that now lies between Nottingham Contemporary and Piccolino’s.
The small settlement outlined above is how Saxon Nottingham continued until around 1066, when the Normans arrived and set up their base around Castle Rock. They constructed a wooden fort (later replaced with a castle of stone) atop the rock. The Normans had trouble pronouncing ‘sn’, and so ‘Snotengeham’ (meaning ‘place of the people of Snot’) became Notengaham, and this eventually evolved into our modern pronunciation and spelling. The word ‘Sneinton’ (which translates roughly as ‘the farm of Snot’) survived the limitations of Norman pronunciation, though Notintone Street recalls the conqueror’s version of the place name.
The two communities of Saxons and Normans co-existed side by side, and when the market grew too large for Weekday Cross, it was moved to the area we now call the Market Square. The line roughly through the middle of the square represents the divide between the Saxon and Norman portions of the market. The Normans boosted the settlement’s fortifications, and walls were constructed around the area. The route of the walls extended from the Saxon area/Lace Market in the east, along what is now Parliament Street, and onto the Castle in the west. The walls were reportedly expensive to construct, and as a result, generally incomplete. Nine gates punctuated the walls. One was where modern Clumber Street meets Parliament Street, and would have provided access to visitors who had travelled along Mansfield Road. These visitors would have passed Nottingham’s gallows (reputed to have stood upon the precise spot occupied by the modern St Andrew’s font) on their approach. A further gate was on Parliament Street, just before the roundabout Derby Road and Maid Marian Way convene. This one had a chapel built within the gate, and was known as Chapel Bar.
Modern Castle Boulevard roughly marks the route of the River Leen in those days. It passed the foot of Castle Rock, where it helped facilitate a brewing facility serving the castle’s inhabitants; hence the modern name of Brewhouse Yard. Travel out of town on Castle Boulevard nowadays and you come to Lenton, whose name means ‘farm on the river Leen’. The river, its associated marshland, and the natural cliff face, made the southern border of the settlement a naturally difficult area to approach. The area around the castle was fenced off and stocked with deer for hunting by royals and their visitors. This  zone is now concreted over and covered with brick buildings, but remembered in the name, The Park.
This was all a long time ago, but it always makes me smile how many old place names survive, and how many modern ones reflect, respect and remember the past.
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