Friday, 9 September 2011

Medieval Nottingham

The old medieval town of Nottingham was entirely surrounded by Sherwood Forest

It was in fact within the forest, but seems to have been exempt from the forest laws within its walls and out across its great open fields.

Picture: John Speeds map of Nottingham 1610

The town was nestled on top of a natural rise in the Sherwood Sandstones, overlooking the Trent Valley to the south.

The Medieval town stretched from the ‘broadmarsh’ in the south to current day Parliament Street in the north (this street was originally called ‘backside’ – which caused great merriment in the 19th century when appalling sanitary conditions in the overcrowded Victorian town led the local MP to petition parliament to have his “backside cleaned”.

At the north side was the town wall accessed through the 'cow bar' gate along the Kings road to York.

Beyond this gate were the two great arable fields of the town, the Lingdale field (later called the sand field after the soils formed from the underlying geology) and the Wood field (named after its proximity to the great wood of the town which was adjacent to it to the north east. Renamed the Clay field by the 17th century- also because of its soil from the underlying Mercia Mudstones).

At the top of the hill (at current day junction with Forest Road) stood the town Gallows- eerily overlooking the town below. A stark reminder of the cost of law breaking!!

Beyond the gallows stretched the vast heather clad Basford Waste, stretching as far as the open fields of Arnold some miles to the north. This open heathland was used by the town to graze pigs and sheep and other livestock. Beyond the waste was the great Royal deer park of Bestwood with its tall wooden fence or pale and its hunting lodge visible on top of a large hill.

To the south the great meadows of the town stretched down to the banks of the Trent. These are reported as being awash with purple crocuses in the 18th century and must have been beautiful at certain times of the year.

The people of the town had the right to graze animals on the meadows in certain seasons.

The town bull was also kept here.

To the west, beyond the oaks and lawns of the castle deer park stood Lenton Priory, visible across the meadows from the River Trent to the south; along with St. Mary’s Church in the English town and the churches of St. Peter and St Nicholas in the French quarter, spiritual guardians of the town. The priory was the greatest stone building in the town. When it was built even the castle itself was still of wooden construction.

Picture: Lentun Habay (Lenton Abbey, Lenton Priory) redrawn by Andy Gaunt from the Belvoir map a late 14th- early 15th century map of Sherwood Forest.

To the east stood the village of Sneinton;  nestled on a sandstone bluff above the floodplain, with it’s hermitage of caves; shrines and dwellings of religious men.

The River Leen flowed eastwards past the foot of castle rock, diverted there to allow access from the Trent to the castle by William Peverel (see Medieval Nottingham Castle and the Honour of Peverel entries for more info). Wharves cluttered the area beneath the rock, where goods were loaded and unloaded for the castle. The Leen then headed south across the meadows towards the river Trent.

The River Trent was crossed by the road to London over the Trent Bridge known at the time as the Hethbeth Bridge.

This bridge was often in need of repair and must have been a wonder to behold with its chantry chapel and all the hustle and bustle of medieval life along its length.

Some remains of the medieval stone bridge are still visible to the south of the current bridge.

The river Trent must have been full of boats with large sales unloading and loading coal, wool, food, ale and luxuries such as spices which formed the economy of the town.

These were all traded either at the daily market at weekday cross in the old English quarter or in the Saturday market in the towns market square.

Nottingham was divided into two parts during the medieval period. The original English town (now the lace market area) and the ‘new’ or ‘French’ town which developed as streets radiating out from the Norman castle built by William Peveril in 1067 to the west of the town.

Between the two sides was the market square which would become the heart of the town over the following centuries.

This town and the landscape of Sherwood Forest form the backdrop to the stories and life of the age…

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