From “The Book of Nottingham” published in 1926
Nottingham perhaps cannot show so long and so glorious a history as London or York, but it has a past of which any town should be very proud. So far as dated history goes, it cannot point to anything earlier than 868 A. D., but before that, long even before the Romans came to Britain, there was a settlement on the spot where Nottingham has subsequently grown up.
The name “Nottingham” will be used for this settlement, though it did not originate until Anglo-Saxon times. No earlier name has survived on reliable authority, though some early writers mention Tigguocobauc as the British name for this settlement.
A large body of legends have collected to make up for the fact that no real history has come down to later times. While these legends are picturesque, they are so obviously fiction that in the light of present day knowledge, no reliance can possibly be placed on them. They amused, and perhaps edified the generations that have passed away, and so they served their purpose, and may now be given a decent, if somewhat tardy burial.
Nottingham owes everything to its position, which is unique in many ways. It is both a river town and a road town in the sense that it derives importance from both these means of transport. Long before the Romans came to Britain, there were roads of a sort. Some of these served special purposes, such as to facilitate the distribution of that all-important commodity, salt, throughout the island. One such Salt Way passed through Nottingham, and was of considerable importance in the early settlement of this site. The river Trent was another decisive factor. Here there is a wide, fairly swift and decidedly fickle river, one not too fond of keeping to her regular course, but liable to strike out new channels for herself in times of flood. The Salt Way from the South crossed the Trent just below the hill on which Nottingham stood, and so this river crossing acquired a very great importance. No bridge was here, and passengers had to rely on a ford, or perhaps on a ferry boat, the winter or in bad weather generally this crossing would not be one to look forward to, and travellers would be only too glad to spend the night on one bank or the other rather than cross in the dark, or when the river was in flood. Again, probably from the earliest times, the lead from Derbyshire has been exported, and Nottingham would be the place where the metal would be put on board ship for transport to its destination. Similarly, other commodities were shipped from the North Midland districts. So much for the South, towards which Nottingham seems to face. She turns her back to the North, and there from the earliest times lay the untrodden and dangerous waste of Sherwood Forest, the haunt of wolves down to the 13th century, and perhaps of bears in primitive times. The tracks through this Forest were always dangerous, for it was the haunt of every sort of beast of prey, human and otherwise, and the honest traveller thought twice before he ventured to set foot in it alone. Here again, Nottingham came in useful, and the traveller could wait until a little band of his fellows collected, and were in sufficient force to deal with any threatened attack.
In these ways, Nottingham’s surroundings pointed it out as a place of settlement, and there were other reasons for establishing a village on this site. The hill on which St. Mary’s Church stands today is admirably suited for defence. Some forty acres in extent, it is precipitous on the South, and very steep on the East and West, so that it is only on the North that any careful precautions need be taken. Well provided with water, it was a position which any body of primitive men would be sure to occupy. Who the earliest settlers were, there is no means of telling, for they have left no traces behind them. Indeed, the remains of prehistoric man are singularly few in the neighbourhood. Nottingham stood at about the northern limit of the land occupied by paleolithic man; but of neolithic man there are a few remains. The Britons of this Midland district were a peace-loving people, cultivating their fields, tending their flocks, and caring little about wars of conquest. When the Romans came. Nottingham did not appeal to them. Rivers were not much in their line, and they looked upon this as essentially a river town. The Fosse Way which they made (or used) passed ten miles to the east, and avoided river crossings on its way between Leicester and Lincoln. Nottingham lay off the track, which accounts for the fact that it does not figure in the history of the Roman occupation of this island. Here and there, doubtless, Romanised Britons had their villas, but Nottingham remained a little settlement of natives, and the wave of Roman civilisation passed her lightly by.
So perhaps four or five centuries passed, and still the little hill of St. Mary’s was large enough for the needs of the inhabitants. Then came the Anglo-Saxons, who penetrated Britain largely by means of her water-ways. To them Nottingham appealed, and they settled here. What happened to the earlier inhabitants, no one knows. Perhaps they retired into the fastnesses of Sherwood Forest, or even the more remote Peak, or perhaps they remained to do menial services for their conquerors. It was these Angles that gave its name to Nottingham. The name means ” the homestead or settlement of the family of Snot” for until the Normans came, there was an initial ” S ” in the name. Who the eponymous Snot was, or whence he came, history does not relate, but he settled on St. Mary’s Hill, and also on the hill to the east, which came to be known as the ” ton of the family of Snot “-Snotington, now called Sneinton.
Again there is a blank in the town’s history, which can only be filled by probable suggestions. The Anglo-Saxons seem to have occupied the little hill-top fortress of their predecessors which they strengthened, and all over the district Angle villages grew up as one clan after another found a resting place after its own taste. It is interesting to note the persistent disregard of the Angles for the benefits of Roman civilisation. Here, for instance, they had s a Roman high-way-the Fosse Way-to serve as a connecting link between the north and south; but they did not.
Their villages were established anywhere but on the road; tact a study of the map gives the impression that a Roman road was looked upon rather as a possible source of danger, and therefore a thing to be avoided.
Another two hundred years passed, and the practical Danes began to hammer their way into England from its eastern coast. At first they came as raiding pirates, but finding a rich country, they decided to settle down and turn the Anglo-Saxons out. They again were a river people in the sense that they preferred the water to the land as a means of approach.
Nottingham was a town of some importance in the Kingdom of Mercia-in fact it was the seat of government of a sub-King, Burhred by name, at the time (868) when the first Danish vessels sailed up the Trent and anchored below the old town. How the inhabitants must have viewed these raiders with fear, for no doubt tales of their atrocities had gone before them. Burhred knew he had no chance against these virile enemies, and so he very prudently withdrew from the town and allowed the Danes to occupy it. There may have been a fight before this took place, but if so, the Chronicler forgot to mention it. The greatest ruler in England at this time was Aethelred of Wessex, and to him Burhred sent a messenger asking help. Aethelred and his army promptly responded, and with him came his young brother Alfred. They found the Danes strongly entrenched in the town, and as winter was coming on they thought that it would be better to talk than lay siege to the town. The result of the negotiations was that the Danes agreed to return north to York if they were allowed to winter in Nottingham. They kept their promise in the following Spring, but it was not long before Nottingham once more was captured, and this time it remained Danish for a number of years. The Danes appear to have settled down with the Angles, so that the town became a mixed one, and on the whole inclined to look with favour on the Danish rule, which was certainly of a stronger nature than that of the Angles had been.
The years passed by and the mixture of conquerors and conquered became more and more akin to the Danish nature.
The hand of the Dane lay heavy on the Midlands, and something approaching organised government became a fait accompli. The organisation was a loose one-a confederacy of the five chief towns. Nottingham, Leicester, Lincoln, Stamford, and Derby- and ruling over each town was a jarl with an army under him. The Danes formed a landed military aristocracy with a subject English population.
Such was the state of affairs when Alfred’s son Edward the Elder came to the throne. The fact that the Danes held the Midlands was not a thing to be permitted, and so he and his warlike sister Aethelflaed undertook the reconquest of Danish England. The chronology of this period is a little vague, but it seems that between 916 and 918 the Five Boroughs fell into Edward’s hands, Nottingham being the last to yield. The passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is very interesting: ” In this year before Midsummer King Edward went north with a force to Nottingham, and commanded the burh to be built on the south side of the river, opposite the other, and the bridge over the Trent, betwixt the two burhs; and then he went thence into Peakland. ”
Edward was too wise a man to try to undo the mixture of English and Danes. He reclaimed the old population, but so strengthened the town that under a strong ruler it was not likely to revert to its Danish masters.
This mention of the Trent Bridge is the first we have-in fact it is the earliest mention of a bridge in the Chronicles.
These burhs, built by Edward, have been misunderstood. They have, quite wrongly, been likened to the later Norman Castles, which were fortresses built to hold an alien minority living among a possibly hostile population, whereas a burh was a fortified enclosure designed to shelter a people against attacks from an alien. The burh on the south side of the river was probably on the site of the present Trent Bridge Cricket Ground. This would enable Edward to control the passage of the Trent-a very important thing considering the importance of the road that passed over the newly built bridge.
The Death of King Edward
When Edward the Elder passes from the stage a period begins and continues for a century and a half-a period of dreariness and destruction. So far as Nottingham is concerned, there is a blank. What happened during this time, which lasted as long as from the beginning of the French Revolution down to the present day, no one can say. Mercia is frequently mentioned, but Nottingham never. Characters flit across the stage too quickly for them to be envisaged. It was a period of wars and harryings and from the fact that Nottingham ceases to be mentioned it is not too much to assume that the town suffered so greatly that it lost much of its former importance. No town that is frequently changing hands can progress, and probably this is what Nottingham was doing.
The cloud begins to disperse during the nine months following the death of Edward the Confessor when England was faced with the horrors of invasion and disputed succession, when not only were Englishmen and Danes in opposition, but Englishmen were fighting Englishmen. Brother fought brother during this year of anarchy. Nottingham men no doubt served under Edwin of Mercia against Tostig, enjoying victory and then suffering defeat just as William the Norman was about to land on the south coast. Harold was called north to deal with an invasion by the King of Norway. The Mercian force was decimated, and in no condition to return south with Harold to his death at Senlac.
Here, then, is a resting place in Nottingham’s history, and what is there to see ? A small town set on a hill, and peopled with a mixed Angle and Danish population, very hardy and full of vitality, yet loving home better than England.
It is a moot point whether there was any fortification on the Castle Hill. It is never mentioned, but it is more than possible that during the stormy century through which the town had passed the strategic importance of this site had been realised and utilised.
William the Conqueror
By the time William the Norman came to Nottingham in 1068, there was no thought of opposition, and the situation was accepted. The yoke of the virile Franco-Norseman was accepted perhaps unwillingly, but, none the less, it was accepted. England was shared out among William’s followers, and much land in this district fell to William Peverel. In 1068 the position was different from what it had been previously. Here was an alien minority that had to hold a conquered majority, and to them the site on the Castle Hill at Nottingham appealed. So the Chronicles say that William ordered Peverel to build a castle with the idea of keeping the town in subjection.
With the Norman Conquest a curious feature comes into prominence. The town is divided into two-an English and a Norman Borough, each with its own customs and officials, a division which persisted for many years as a reality, and of which traces did not entirely pass away until 1835. Why was this curious arrangement made ? It seems in this case to indicate that the population of Nottingham were sufficiently strong to make it wiser to leave them alone and trust to the future. There is no doubt that William recognised the strategic importance of the town, and did not wish to antagonise it.
Populations of towns in these times were very different things from what they are now. Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, gives the number of burgesses in Nottingham as 120, a reduction of fifty-three in the last quarter of a century. If the families are reckoned, the number of inhabitants of the town cannot have been much more than 500.
The Norman Kings governed the counties by means of Sheriffs, and Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were grouped together and placed under one man. The Sheriff would be the man who would be responsible for the supervision of the building of the Castle. This seems to have been the work of Hugh, son of Baldric. It was these Sheriffs, chosen from the noble class, that kept the more turbulent members of their class in order.
So Nottingham prospered until misfortune fell on it in the grievous days of Stephen, when for nineteen years all the horrors of civil war showed England what the rule of a weak King meant. The Castles of Nottingham and Newark were held for Stephen against Matilda and Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and at the battle of the Standard in 1138, the Nottingham bowmen under William Peverel played a noble part in the victory won by Archbishop Thurstan of York. In 1140, Gloucester attempted to seize the Castle, and the town was burnt down, a fate it suffered again in the year of Henry II’s accession.
In 1155, Peverel was deprived of the Castle, which became a royal possession, until in 1174 it was granted to Prince John Henry treated the town very well, giving it its first Charter, and helping the inhabitants to rebuild it, adding walls and strong gates.
The connection of Richard I and John is rather with Nottingham Castle than with the town, and will be dealt with when the old fortress is described. Though he was a bad King, and a worse man, John seems to have been liked at Nottingham, and it was to this district John turned when his end approached. He was on his way to his hunting lodge at Clipstone in Sherwood Forest when his illness proved too much for him, and he died at Newark Castle. John had given the town two Charters.
Passing of King John
When John died and his young son succeeded him, the shadow of the Castle seemed to pass away, and the municipal life seemed to enter on a period of rapid growth under the nurturing care of a beneficent royalty. It is only under Edward II that signs of bad feeling became apparent.
Edward I in 1295, called up Knights of the Shire and burgesses to the national Parliament, and in 1284, Nottingham was allowed to elect its own Mayor, since which time an unbroken list of Mayors has come down to us.
No better evidence of the municipal strength of Nottingham at the beginning of the 14th century could be found than the quarrel between the town and John de Segrave, the unpopular Governor of the Castle. It was no easy thing for a town to bring such a man to account, and in the end the burgesses took matters into their own hands, and besieged the Castle for eight days without success.
Few incidents in Nottingham’s history are better known than the seizure of Mortimer and Queen Isabella by the youthful Edward III. Edward took advantage of his mother’s unpopularity to lead a conspiracy against her and Mortimer. It was successful, thanks to a secret passage into the Castle being used, for the Castle itself had been strengthened in anticipation of trouble.
Nottingham’s history, however, was not all wars; far from it. Here was a very vigorous merchant community well supplied with Royal Charters. Wealth was pouring into the town, and the Guilds were assuming the position of autocrats which was eventually to bring about their downfall. No doubt Nottingham sent its quota of men to the armies in France, and paid the money demanded to maintain the forces that conquered more than half France.
The 14th century was a time when Englishmen of whatever class they might be, realised that they were of one race. Chivalry was dying, and the wealthy burgess was of almost equal importance to the country as the noble.
Then the nobility waged that suicidal war known as the Wars of the Roses, and a new nobility arose, derived from the merchant class. The Yorkist sympathies of Nottingham were rapidly changed to enthusiasm for Henry Tudor when the Battle of Bosworth ended with the death of Richard III. Towns like Nottingham could not trouble about the rivalry between two noble families, and it was always safer and more profitable to side with the winners. This soon proved to have been a wise step, for disaster befel those who tried to oust Henry Tudor from the throne. The rising of Lambert Simnel is closely connected with this district in that the rebel army was completely overthrown by the royal forces near East Stoke, a little village four miles south of Newark. The night previous to the battle, Henry VII and his army slept in the meadows between the Nottingham hills and the Trent.
Aftermath of the War of the Roses
For the next twenty years or so Nottingham appears but little in the limelight. No doubt she went on growing wealthier and nothing could deprive her of her fine geographical position. It was, in fact, this that next brought her into prominence. The north of England had little sympathy with Henry VIII’s religious policy of suppressing the monasteries. When the lesser ones were dissolved, an outburst occurred in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, and to a lesser extent in Nottinghamshire. This rising, known to history as the Pilgrimage of Grace, was viewed very pessimistically at headquarters. In October, 1536, it was known that the rebels were gathering at Newark, and the Earl of Shrewsbury was ordered to hold Nottingham and the line of the Trent at any price. The Lincolnshire rising failed, and the threat to Nottingham never materialised. Further north, the line of the River Don was to be held, and then the royal forces were to fall back on the Trent if faced by overwhelming numbers. The garrison at Nottingham Castle numbered 500, and at Newark 700. All these preparations proved unnecessary, and the rising ended in a fiasco. As a reward for his services, the Earl of Shrewsbury received the recently dissolved Rufford Abbey in Sherwood Forest.
Quite a stir must have been caused in the town, when, for some crime unknown to us to-day, the Prior of Lenton and some of his monks were put to death. Probably in the minds of the record makers of those days it was not considered necessary to mention an event so well known to everybody, and so future generations are left in the dark, as is so often the case, as to what actually happened.
Nottingham has little or nothing to show during the reign of Elizabeth-in fact, the only event that is of note is one that never occurred. It had been arranged that on September 3rd, 1562, Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots were to meet in Nottingham, and vast preparations were made to entertain the great retinues. The meeting, however, was postponed, and was never rearranged.
The Civil War
There is no period in all the history of the East Midlands district that stands out so prominently as the period of the Civil War of the mid. -17th century. There is something very dramatic in the series of mistakes made by those singularly tactless gentlemen, James I. and his son Charles. We feel, as we turn over the pages of our histories, that they were unconsciously fulfilling the decrees of a relentless destiny which aimed at their downfall. James I’s introduction to the district was symptomatic of the future. He had progressed slowly southwards to his new southern Capital surrounded by men who looked on the throne of England as a source of wealth to themselves; he knew little of the feelings of Englishmen, and does not seem to have cared much more.
Newark, we are told, he caused a thief to be hanged without any trial, an action which shocked the law-loving Englishmen, and did not impress his new subjects with a feeling of respect for this foreigner who came from the north to rule England.
The history of the forty years after the death of Elizabeth leads up gradually to the Civil War. No two towns played a more distinguished part than Nottingham and Newark, the former held for the Parliament by that fine gentleman, Colonel Hutchinson, despite every ingenious trick of the Royalists to capture it; the latter held with a loyal zeal that drew admiration even from its opponents, by successive Royalist governors-a virgin fortress that only surrendered in the end at the expressed wish of its sovereign himself.
There are one or two things which should be carefully noted about this War. It was largely a religious war, and yet it was not disgraced by any of the atrocities which characterised the contemporary religious wars which were throwing back the civilisation of Central Europe by more than a century. It was a war between two minorities, for the majority of Englishmen took no active part in the struggle until they found that it was better to side with one party than to be plundered by both.
The Reign of Charles I
On August 12th, 1642. Charles I summoned all his supporters to meet him at Nottingham on August 22nd. His reasons for doing this are characteristic of much of his staff work. They were based on misconceptions. He believed that the district round Nottingham was wholeheartedly loyal to him, which proved to be far from the case; that the Castle was a strong military position instead of an uninhabitable ruin; that the river would prevent his enemies from reaching him, instead of which, owing to the drought, it proved to be easily fordable. Poor Charles ! Inefficient himself, he was always the victim of others, whose inefficiency he was not clever enough to detect.
Charles hardly believed that his opponents would go to the length of waging war on him. The sacred name of King would prevent that. But he did not realise that whereas the shares in Monarchy Unlimited, had stood at a big premium in 1600, in 1642 they were a long way below par, thanks to his father and himself. Lord Savile expressed the thoughts of the bulk of Englishmen when he said, ” I would not have the King trample on the Parliament, nor the Parliament lessen him so much as to make a way for the people to rule us all. ”
It was on August 22nd, 1642, that the Standard was raised in a field adjacent to the Castle, on a site now within the grounds of the General Hospital. Each evening it was carried into the Castle, and each morning it was set up again. This lasted until the 25th. The response to the summons was scanty, and meanwhile Charles’ enemies were massing at Northampton. On September 10th, the Earl of Essex took command of the Parliamentarian army at Northampton, and had he marched direct on Nottingham, it is difficult to see what could have saved Charles, and the war would have been over as soon as it began. Essex, however, was no general and the opportunity passed. Charles evidently realised the danger he was in, for on September 13th he left Nottingham and marched to Shrewsbury.
The next few months were a very critical time in this district. In normal times, the Trent could only be crossed by bridges at Newark and Nottingham, and by Wilden Ferry higher up. Of these, the first and last were in Royalist hands, so it was very important that the Parliament should secure Nottingham in order that they might have a means of passage between the north and south. Sir John Digby’s scheme for securing the town for the King failed, and the Parliamentarians were sufficiently in the ascendant to enable them to hold the town and set up fortifications. Their leader was John Hutchinson, of Owthorpe. Nominally the conduct of affairs was in the hands of a Committee-this was a great age for Committees-but Hutchinson did not get on well with them, and they proved a hindrance rather than an assistance to him.
It was also of prime importance that Newark should be in the hands of the Parliament. At present, the Royalists held it, but early in 1643 an attack on it was planned, which was so nearly successful that the town was entered. Hesitancy on the part of one of the attackers’ leaders led to a revival among the Royalists, and the attack failed.
The Parliamentarians at Nottingham realised that it was only a question of time before an attack was made on them from some quarter or other. Most of the large country houses were in Royalist hands, and all had been fortified: so preparations were made to strengthen the town’s defences. These were in a very bad state, and it was almost a hopeless task to improvise anything that would prove impregnable.
Early in 1643, we find Oliver Cromwell operating with the Lincolnshire forces against Newark. Numerous skirmishes took place with little effect on either side. The force Cromwell led was the nucleus of that fine army which was to win the war, and eventually to set up a third party to those of Parliament and King. There can be little question that the story of Newark at this time is more interesting to read than that of Nottingham. Every now and then those two fine cavalry leaders, the Princes Rupert and Maurice, appear on the scene, and the numerous assaults made by the Newarkers lend a glamour to this little town’s history.
Sir John Hutchinson is deserving of a great deal of sympathy. He is one of the great figures in this period when men found themselves, and he had to act with men who were very much less than he. He had to defend a town that was not wholeheartedly loyal to the cause of Parliament with a force totally inadequate for the purpose. He was an honest man who was no bigot, and he had to work with many who were not honest, and were narrow bigots. Eventually it was decided that it was hopeless to try to hold the town of Nottingham, and so the garrison retired to the Castle, which was too dilapidated to find shelter for them all. One of the most persistent thorns in Hutchinson’s flesh was a certain physician in the town, Dr. Plumtre, who was an atheist. Eventually the two came to blows, and the doctor left the town.
The Royalists realised Hutchinson’s worth, and did their best to win him over to their side, but without any success. In September, 1643, Nottingham nearly fell to an attack by a force of Newarkers led by Sir Richard Byron. The town was actually captured, and with it the Castle garrison living there. For five days it was held and the Castle bombarded, but help came, and the Newarkers were driven off. Thus life went on-a cat and dog existence-between these two towns, until gradually Parliament gained the upper hand, and Newark was closely invested only to be relieved by Prince Rupert.
By the middle of 1645, the Royalist garrisons in the country houses of the county had been reduced, and now that the Scotch Army had joined the Parliamentary forces, Newark was besieged for the last time. Though far outnumbered, the gallant town held out and it was only by the orders of Charles himself that they admitted the enemy.
Poor weak Charles ! He had come to the end of his tether. His tortuous mind toyed with the idea that he might separate the Scotch from the Parliament, and to effect this he made his way in disguise to the little town of Southwell, where he got into touch with the Scots’ general, much to that gentleman’s surprise, if we may believe him. However, Charles found that he had made one more mistake, and entered into a captivity which only ended with his death. It was after Charles had surrendered to the Scots that he gave the order for Newark to admit the enemy.
The period of the Commonwealth has little of interest to tell us. England was trying experiments in constitution building, none of which met with any success. Many of the ideas put forward at this time were excellent, and indeed far ahead of their generation, but they failed to become popular just because they were too early. England had thrown off monarchy, but its substitute was little better so far as the people were concerned, and after Oliver Cromwell died, it was only a question of time before Monarchy was restored.
Charles II came back on a wave of loyalty probably without parallel in our history. He could do pretty well what he liked, and woe betide those who opposed him. The Church of England did as she liked with her enemies, and took every precaution that there should be no back-sliding. All members of Corporations had to take oaths of non-resistance, and those who refused were compelled to resign their offices. In Nottingham the Mayor and one of the two Sheriffs were displaced. In 1662, when the Act of Uniformity was passed, three Nottingham ministers were driven from their livings, and laid the foundations of the Nonconformity in Nottingham which has carried on its traditions until to-day.
The Great Plague, which decimated London in 1665, took two years to reach the Midlands, and so far as Nottingham was concerned, the loss of life was not excessive, and this is attributed to the fact that in the low lying parts of the town, on the banks of the Leen, there were numerous tan yards, whose proximity saved the lives of many. We are told that many of the gentry left their noble dwellings on the hills, and went to live among their humbler fellows in the marsh below.
Nottingham in 1670 – A view from the West.
It was not long before people realised that though the Stuarts had had every opportunity of learning the stern lesson their father had been too stubborn to learn, they had learned little or nothing. They had been washed to the throne on the waves of popularity, and now the waves were ebbing, and people were realising that they must bestir themselves unless they wished to be the slaves of a despotism more exacting than any they had before experienced. The heart of this growing resistance lay in the towns, and so Charles and his brother James did their best to destroy municipal freedom by confiscating the Charters. If the Stuarts could once more control the Corporations, they could secure a Parliament which would be tractable. The trouble began in Nottingham in, 1682, and it was only on the casting vote of the Mayor that a vote was secured in favour of surrendering the long cherished Charters. The equality of the parties led to an unseemly struggle in Nottingham- Both parties appointed Mayors, who struggled for the Mayoral pew in St. Mary’s Church. James II added the threat of Roman Catholicism on the top of the despotism desired by his brother, and matters were in the greatest ferment when a new-Charter was granted in September 1688, which definitely destroyed corporate liberty. James had gone too far, and William of Orange was welcomed on all sides. The nobility and gentry of the Midland counties had collected at Nottingham ready to resist any attempt by James to enforce his wishes. The Duke of Devonshire led this opposition which of course threw itself heart and soul into the cause of William of Orange when he landed. After James had fled to France, his daughter Anne came to Nottingham Castle to live. This gave the Duke of Devonshire an excellent opportunity of showing his loyalty to Anne, who, it must be remembered, was the sister of the reigning Queen, Mary. He prepared a sumptuous banquet, and borrowed certain of the Corporation’s magnificent dinner service. Unfortunately for the town, quite a large quantity of the dishes and plates were never returned.
There were still quite a number of people in Nottingham who regretted the departure of James, and would not transfer their loyalty to William and Mary. These people, who came to be called Jacobites, were apparently both numerous and highly placed in Nottingham. For the next fifty years, they were to cause a good deal of uneasiness in the minds of the citizens, as we shall see a little later. Any hope that the Stuart family would be restored after Anne’s death was destroyed by the accession of George of Hanover. The Old Pretender-James II’s son-was now only a pretender, and not the heir expectant. He would not agree to renounce the Roman Church, and so Englishmen preferred the foreigner George, who was certainly Protestant, though he could not speak a word of English. Force was now the only chance for the Jacobites, and for the next thirty years, plotting went on almost without a break. These conspiracies were Hopelessly mismanaged, and really met with only slight support south of the Scottish border.
Matters came to a head when the Old Pretender’s son. Prince Charlie, landed in Scotland and immediately attracted a Highland army, at the head of which he marched southwards into England. We cannot realise to-day the excitement which this invasion caused. Everyone who had anything to lose hurried southwards, and the roads were soon congested. Nottingham and all the district round it got wildly excited as the Highlanders approached Derby. The presence of Jacobites in their midst gave them a feeling of insecurity. Everyone was a strategist. As we read the documents of this year we cannot restrain a smile. It all seems so humorous to us to-day, but to those who lived here in 1745 it was very real, and extremely dangerous. Let us quote one contemporary letter: ” The country people are enraged against the Rebels to such a degree that if the country gentlemen had had the least gram of spirit to have headed them, they would never have come so far, nor I believe never will again. The women all declare in this country that they will never marry for the future but in the army, for they are the only people that have showed their heads and offered to protect them in this time of distress. ”
December 5th was a critical day. It was quite expected that the Scots would reach Nottingham, but the fates were kind and the Highland army turned northwards again, the Jacobite danger had passed never to return.
From the middle of the 18th century, a change begins to take place in England, and especially in the Midlands and north. This change has been called the Industrial Revolution, and its result was to turn what had been an agricultural community into an industrial one. It was during this period that the yeoman farmer disappeared, and that nearly all the open fields were enclosed and the countryside took on the appearance which it has to-day.
Nottingham felt the beginning and the full force of the change which has gone on ever since. Nottingham was in process of becoming a great industrial town. As each new invention came along, factories in ever increasing numbers reared their ugly heads. The standards of living changed; wealth was concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and there were more and more people who were harassed by poverty.
All through the earlier centuries, Nottingham had been surrounded by a belt of common lands the property of the burgesses. These lay round the old town and prevented its expansion. The question of over-population became acute with the opening of the 19th century. People left the town and went to live in the surrounding villages just beyond the common fields. Eventually, in 1844-5, these common lands were enclosed, and Nottingham was able to begin its process of expansion which is still going on. If a study of the industrial growth of Nottingham is made it will be found that there are few important inventions which are not connected with Nottingham In one way or another.
The coming of canals and railways gave Nottingham a position to which its geographical position entitles it. Gradually the town became the centre of the lace trade, and in the latter half of the 19th century enjoyed a period of very great prosperity. Lace has now gone out of fashion, and though other trades are growing up to take its place, the period of transition is necessarily a somewhat lean one.
The great industrial changes made the existing system of Municipal and Parliamentary representation effete and out of date, and this was only remedied by the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, and the series of Reform Acts beginning in 1832. The rejection of the Reform Bill in 1831 led to very memorable riots. The Duke of Newcastle, the owner of Nottingham Castle, was known to be the bitter opponent of all reform, and the rioters attacked and destroyed the Castle. It remained a blackened ruin until it was leased by the Corporation and turned to its present use as a Municipal Art Gallery and Museum.
That it may keep abreast of the times and bold its own, Nottingham is making rapid changes. Before these words are in print the demolition of the old Exchange in the Market Place will have begun, and preparations will be in train for the erection of a municipal building more in keeping with the importance of this old city.
from ‘The Book of Nottingham’ published in 1926
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