The History of Nottingham

The city of Nottingham, in the East Midlands of England, rests upon the rivers Trent and Leen. The city proper has approximately 300,000 residents, while the city and its surrounding suburbs and towns holds closer to 700,000 people.

The history of settlement in the area dates from well before the Romans, and there are numerous signs of Roman-era settlement as well.  It was once called “Tigguo Cobauc”, meaning “place of cavy dwellings”, as inhabitants of the area over history have almost always made use of the abundant local caves in the soft sandstone bluffs around and under the city.  Most of the caves are man-made, rather than naturally carved; they have been used as dwellings, stables, storage chambers, and workplaces.  Because of their constant cool temperatures they were used by brewers and butchers, and because they could not be set afire, they became popular as the workshops of smiths, bakers and chandlers.

The earliest continuous habitation began with a settlement of Anglo-Saxon invaders, who settled the hills and river banks sometime after 600 AD, occupying the area now known as the Lace Market.  Their leader was named Snot, and the town became “Snotingaham”, the “home of Snot’s people”.   This gradually became the modern name “Nottingham”.  In the 9th century, the now-thriving town was captured by the Danes, and became one of their law-bound boroughs.

In the 11th century, William the Conqueror established the first Nottingham Castle on a hill opposite the Anglo-Saxon town, with a Norman French settlement growing up around its walls.  Gradually the two groups merged into a larger city, and in 1449, Nottingham became a “county corporate”, which allowed it self governance.   Nottinghamshire became famous as a centre of wool and cloth trade, and its annual Goose Fair was attended by traders from all over the country.

In the middle ages, the many legends of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham sprung up, set in the local Sherwood Forest to the north of the city.   Many historians have created conflicting suppositions about the true persons and facts beneath the elaborate layers of legend; it’s likely the truth will never be known.  The Robin Hood stories remain a popular draw for tourists and historians alike however, and the names and symbols from the legend remain important parts of local colour.

There are three different pubs in Nottingham which claim to be the oldest pub in England: Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, The Salutation, and The Bell, each of which appears to have some legitimate claim to the title.

The wooden Nottingham Castle built by the Normans was eventually replaced with a stone one, and expanded by many of its later royal inhabitants, until its defences were rendered obsolete by the invention of cannon.  The ancient stone castle was razed after the execution of Charles I in 1649, then rebuilt as a “Castle Mansion” after the Restoration.

Nottingham had been known for trade in cloth and lace-making for centuries, but it became a true centre of industry as the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century launched Nottingham into the era of giant factories, warehouses, transportation and machine industries.  However, the changes were not as kind to the workers as they were to the owners, and Nottingham Castle was burned again in 1831 by rioting slum dwellers, and would not be restored until 1878, when it became the Nottingham Castle Museum, England’s first public museum.

Other famous trades which got their start in Nottingham during the 19th century include Boots the Chemist, Raleigh Cycles, and Player and Sons cigarettes.

The University of Nottingham opened its doors (as the “University College”) in 1877, joined almost a hundred years later by Nottingham Trent University.  The well-regarded Nottingham School of Fashion was founded by famous local menswear designer Paul Smith.

In 1889, Nottingham became a county borough, which was expanded a couple of times over the following decades by the inclusion of growing nearby towns.   The city is an interesting mix of architectural styles, containing everything from medieval walls and gatehouses to Victorian and Georgian styles, created by some of England’s most noted architects.  Local landmarks include the Old Market Square, the Council House, and Wollaton Hall, which once housed the city’s natural history museum.

In recent years, historical preservation and modern development have gone hand in hand.  The ancient stone caves beneath the city were preserved when local shopping development began, and are now open to the public as a museum-like exhibit beneath the Broadmarsh Shopping Mall. The 19th century buildings of the Lace Market are side by side with the artistic quarter of Hockley Village.   In the evenings, fine dining and nightclubs entertain the same visitors who enjoy the Brewhouse Yard Museum and the Robin Hood tours by day. Music, arts and culture are well-supported within the city of Nottingham.

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