St. James’s Street: A Great Medieval Thoroughfare

by Frank E Earp

A few weeks ago I visited Lincoln and took a guided walk through its ancient castle. Whilst on the castle walls I was impressed by the view across the roof tops of the city laid out between the castle and the cathedral. The crooked roof lines indicated timber-framed buildings masquerading beneath a shell of red brick as something more modern and their jumbled arrangement suggests a medieval town plan. I began to mentally compare the equivalent view from the walls of Nottingham Castle across the part of the city that would have been the old Norman town. The contrast is startling, for in Nottingham we have modern shops and officers, – many high-rise, – lining busy city streets. Gone is the original medieval town plan. Or has it? Dig a little deeper and we will find more than meets the naked eye.

The First Castle: The origins of both Lincoln and Nottingham castles and their accompanying towns are strikingly similar. Both castles began life as Norman ‘mote and baily’ castles on strategic sites, built William Peverel on the orders of his father William the Conqueror around the year 1068. Both were set to dominate existing settlements; Lincoln, a Viking commercial and trading settlement and Nottingham, a Saxon Borough on a neighbouring hill around the Lace Market. The Normans were super-efficient at building these timber and earth castles to a standard design adapted to fit the chosen site. Many of these supposed temporary structures lasted hundreds of year before the most important castles were rebuilt in stone, which in the case of Nottingham Castle, was over 60 years later in the reign of Henry II. By this time a whole new Norman town had grown up with streets stretching north-east from the castle gates to the open space of the market which separated it from the old Saxon Borough. This market was to grow into one of the largest in the country. John Leland (Leyland), writing in the reign of Henry VIII, describes the market as; “….the Fairest without exception in all England.”

Norman Town: To create their new town, the Normans first established a number of parallel lanes linking the castle to the open space of the market. On the castle side, these ran at right angles from the ancient earthwork known as the ‘Hollows’, – which by this time had become a sunken road, – now part of Castle Road. This arrangement formed a grid pattern with roughly rectangular building plots of land between the lanes. By far the largest plot of land within the Norman town was that enclosed by St. James Street and Friar Lane which form its two long sides and The Hollows – now Castle Road and Beast Market Hill, – now Angel Row/Wheeler Gate, which formed the two short sides. As commercial properties and private houses began to be built on these vacant plots, a network of interconnecting alleys, side roads and yards grew up to form the new town.

Although not now recognisable on the ground, the Norman layout is still visible on a modern street plan of the City and the original lanes may still be walked; Mount Street, St, James Street, Friar Lane, Hounds Gate and Castle Gate. Only one of the five original Norman lanes retains its earliest name. Now St. James Street, from its creation to the present day, this road has been known by many variants of the same name: ‘Seynt Jame Lane’, ‘Seynt Jamgate’, ‘Sent Jacobs Lane’ and ‘Vicus Sancti Jacobi’. There is good reason for this to be the case. When the Normans first laid-out their new town, the land between the Castle and the market was not entirely empty. On a site now occupied by Bromely House Library, stood two buildings which played an important role in both the development of the area and indeed, Nottingham as a city. These were a Saxon manor house known as The Red Hall and its attendant private chapel dedicated to St. James. It wasn’t long before those using the new road closest too and leading past the chapel called it ‘Seynt Jame Lane’ (St. James Lane).


Part of John Speed’s map of Nottingham, 1610.


Typical Norman Mote and Baily Castle

It was not military considerations alone which prompted England’s new king, – Duke William of Normandy, – to choose Nottingham for the site of a castle and new Norman town. By the year of the Conquest (1066) the little settlement of Snot’s, people, – ‘Snotingaham’, had grown into a thriving Saxon Borough, with an estimated population of 600 to 800 person. It had become an important ‘shire-town’ on the edge of a Royal forest with its own parish church, – St. Mary’s, – and a place that even minted its own coins. Leaving aside the importance and value of the Royal forest, Snotingaham, at this time returned annual tax revenue to the Crown of 75s. 7d. (£3. 15s. 7d.) with an additional 40s. (£2) from the two ‘moneyers’ (coin makers). To the west of Snotingaham was the manor and lands held for the Crown by the Saxon nobleman Earl Tostig. This manor contributed a further 3d. to the annual tax of the Borough, of which the King had 2d. and the Earl 1d.

A Saxon Manor: It is extremely likely that the Saxon great house known as the Red Hall, (mentioned in the first part of this article), was Tostig’s home. Like the lands and estates of every Saxon noble, Tostig’s manor had been forfeit at the time of the Conquest and was now in the hands of William Peverel. The convenience of having a manor house and chapel so close to the site of the castle was not overlooked by the Norman’s and the Red Hall was used by Peverel as both a dwelling and administration centre whilst the castle was under construction. Bounded on both sides by two of the new Norman lanes the Red Hall and the little chapel of St. James became the first significant buildings in the developing Norman town. The Domesday Book of 1086 records that Hugh Fitz Baldric had built 13 houses in the new township after he had taken the office of High Shire-Reeve (Sheriff) of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests in 1069.

The Chapel of St. James: Second only to the parish church of St Mary’s, the private manorial-chapel of St. James was the oldest Christian place of worship in Nottingham. There is evidence to show that the land around the chapel was still being used by inhabitants of the manor as a burial ground when the Normans ceased the property.

As time passed, a suitable residence and chapel were constructed within the confines of the castle wall and Red Hall was abandoned, slowly to decay into the pages of history. St. James chapel however survived and for a time became a ‘moot-hall’, – a kind of court-house, – of the Honour of Peverel. The various estates and manors own by feudal lords like Peverel, – who at this time held around 150 villages in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, – were collectively known as an Honour. Courts to settle legal disputes and disagreements between creditors and debtors and those seeking damages for trespass, were held in buildings known as moot halls.

St. James Chapel, which now became known as the Moothall, was accessible from both parallel lanes on either side. Having already given a name, ‘Seynt Jame Lane’ to the lane on the western side, that on the eastern side, (what is now Friar Lane), became known as ‘Moothall Gate’. The same building thus gave names to two of Nottingham’s streets. As a chapel it also gave its name to one of the City’s Wards, ‘Chapel Ward’, and to one of the gates in the medieval town walls, ‘Chapel Bar’.

Sometime between 1102 and 1108 William Peverel founded a Priory of the Cluniac Order in Lenton. The Moothall was given to the Prior and monks of Lenton and returned to its duties as a chapel and place of worship.

A reference to ‘the chapel of Nottingham’ in 1130-31 may well refer to St. James rather than the chapel within the Castle. The first reference to the chapel by name comes from documents of 1265-6, relating to ‘a certain chaplain at St. James’s outside the Castle’ who was given an annual stipend of 50s.


Typical (wooden) Saxon Hall and (stone) Chapel.

As villages and towns expanded and the need for new parish churches arose, it was customary wherever possible for private manorial chapels to receive parochial status. This does not appear to have been the case with the chapel of St. James. It would seem that when a new parish church was needed, St. James may not have been the only suitable chapel within the area. The foundation deeds of Lenton show that St. James was one of three private chapels given to the Priory along with the already established parish church of St. Marys; St. Nicholas and St. Peters being the other two. It was St. Nicholas on Castle Gate which was to become the first ‘new’ parish church in the mid-12th century, followed a few years later by St. Peters on Hounds Gate /St. Peters’ Street. This clearly demonstrates how rapidly the Norman town expanded.

The reason why St. James never developed into a parish church may be considered as both practical and political. Although it is referred to as a chapel with its own chaplain in 1265-6, the building continued to be used as a courthouse for the Peverel Court until 1328

The coming of the ‘White Friars’: In 1272 a small group of Carmelite Friars, – also known as White Friars from the colour of their habit, – acquired a plot of land to establish a new Friary between St. James Lane and Moothall Gate. They also acquired a row of houses which bounded their property to the north along the side of Beast Market Hill. The Friary itself was a modest group of buildings for the Carmelites were an order bound to a vow of poverty and relying on begging and charity for a living. Very quickly after the establishment of the Friary, Moothall Gate became known as Friar Lane, – a name by which it is still known today. The Friars where to remain on this site for the next 250 years.

Having acquired this valuable central plot of land the Friars were presented with a problem, part of the site was already occupied by a building they did not own. Documents of the time state that they; ‘found their way barred by the decayed chapel of St. James’. For the next 44 years there followed a protracted ‘battle’ between the White Friars and the monks of Lenton for ownership of the chapel. In 1308 the Friars received permission from the Archbishop of York to dedicate an alter to the Virgin Mary, but this is likely to have been in one of their own buildings and not within the chapel.

Finally in 1316, King Edward II signed a deed which transferred to the Friary; ‘a certain plot of land, with the Chapel of St. James on the same plot, in the town of Nottingham, which he, (the King) had of the gift and grant of the Prior and Convent of Lenton, and a little lane leading to the chapel aforesaid, which chapel and lane adjoin the house of the said Prior and brethren’. However, having acquired the chapel, the Friars were still had the problem of the Peverel Court. Although with the deed of transfer, the Court had been moved to the county hall, someone had neglected to tell the kings bailiffs who were still trying to access the site some 12 years later. In 1328 we find record that the bailiffs had made the complaint that the Friars had; ‘enclosed the said chapel with a wall within their house, and so they impede the king’s bailiffs of the aforesaid fee, so that they cannot hold court in the aforesaid place’. The dispute was settled and the Friars were at last discharged of any duties relating to the court. This is the last time that the ancient chapel is called by the name of St. James, although the original Norman road continued to be referred to as St. James Lane or one of its many variants. From this time on the chapel becomes known as the Church of the Friary.


Carmelite Friar in distinctive brown and white habit.

By the 12th century, Nottingham Castle had been completely rebuilt in stone and had become one of the finest royal residences and strongest fortresses in the Country. No wonder then it was the favourite residence of successive monarchs through to its destruction in the Civil War.

As the Castle grew and prospered, so did the new town at its foot. The little chapel of St. James, now the Church of the Friary, continued to play its role in the town’s life. It is extremely likely that the chapel played host to royalty from the time of the Conqueror himself. Records show that in August 1511, whilst staying at the Castle, Henry VIII attended divine service at the ‘Friar’s Church’ on three successive Sundays. Ordinary people too used the chapel and not always for the right reason. In 1393 we find that a man by the name of Henry de Whitley sought sanctuary from the law in the church after murdering his wife. The good Friars; ‘kept (him) to the church and (he) could not be taken.’ The will of Henry Fischer published in 1467 includes the request that he be buried; ‘In the church of the Friars Carmelite before the alter of St. Anne’.

Not all was peace and harmony in the Carmelite Friary. In 1441, a stone mason appropriately named John Mason, sued the White Friars for 2s 6d (half-a-crown); ‘….which the aforesaid prior owes and unjustly dertained from him, to wit, for his labour working on a stone wall’. Although the court ordered an inquiry, we do not know its outcome and weather John Mason received his money. In 1515 records show a reported attempted murder at the Friary. Seventeen years later in 1532 an actual murder took place, when the prior, Richard Sherwood, struck and killed one of his ‘brothers’ after a drunken quarrel.

The dispute between the Carmelite Friars and the monks of Lenton which had begun with the quarrel over the chapel seems to have rumbled on into the 16th century. At about the same time as Henry VIII visit, Dan Elingham, – ‘….a monke of Lenton, of St. Benedict’s order’, – was also visiting the Friary. He was dismayed to see a picture depicting John the Baptist dressed in Carmelite habit. In protest he wrote an open letter in Latin verse addressing the saint himself which began with the line; ‘Christa Baptist, this vesture does not become thee, he that clothed thee as a friar hath departed accursed’. An unknown White Friar replies in the same vain in a supposed answer from the Baptist, beginning with the line; ‘Elingham, thou liest, in metres both foolish and wonderful’. Concluding with the line; ‘I am a Carmelite by merit, but thou a Gehazite and false brother of Benedict, non benedictus, (not blessed)’.

After playing its part in the daily life of Nottingham for nearly 250 years, the end came for the Carmelite Friary on 5th February 1539 when the Friary and church were surrendered to the King’s Commissioners at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. By this time out of a thriving community, only the prior and six brothers remained in residence. With the friars gone, the abandoned ancient chapel and other friary building quickly fell into disrepair, a proses which was speeded up by the fact that the site was regularly plundered for stone and other building material. But this was not the end. The memory of the White Friars and the ancient chapel of St. James continued in the names of the adjoining roads, Friar Lane and St. James Street and the site of the friary, as we shall see, was reborn in a different guises.

Grey Friars: The White Friars were not the only friars to be seen within the town of Nottingham. Around 1230, shortly after their foundation Franciscan Friars, known as Grey Friars, acquired land on the south western edge of the Norman town. The area between Grey Friar Gate and Cannel Street is now occupied by the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. The friary was originally built almost entirely of timber including oaks from Sherwood Forest, donated by King Henry III. The Friary church must have been a substantial building as records show the King donated 20 tiebeams for the construction of its roof. Around 1256, the church was rebuilt in stone taken from the Kings quarry in Nottingham. The nave and body of the church was completed in 1303, whilst the isles or side chapels were consecrated in 1310. The Grey Friars remained in Nottingham until 1539 when, just two days after the White Friars, the Warden (Prior) and seven friars surrendered the Friary surrendered to the King’s Commissioners


Franciscan Friar also known as a Grey Friars.

So far in this article we have seen how St. James Street developed from one of the original lanes of the new Norman town which grew-up in the shadow of the developing Nottingham Castle. We have also seen how, as a new road, its importance as one of the town’s main thoroughfares was guaranteed by two existing buildings, The Red Hall and the Chapel of St. James, – from which the street takes its name.

Medieval Thoroughfare: What of the street itself and the more humble commercial and private properties which lined its flanks? The Borough Records show that St. James Street developed in much the same way as any other medieval street Europe. Such streets were typified by half-timbered houses and tenements, (shops or business premises with second story accommodation above).

A network of yards, alleyways and passages connecting the original Norman lanes would have quickly developed. One such alley which became particularly notorious was Thoroughfare Yard, which connected St. James Street to the Market Square. This original passage survived well into the 1930’s.

The earliest reference to St. James Street by name comes from the Borough Records of 1315 and refers to a ‘messuage’ (a domestic dwelling and out buildings): ‘….in Vico Santi Jacobi next (to) the lane which leads towards the Berewordlane’. Berewordlane, now Mount Street, was another of the original Norman lanes. An entry in the Records for the year 1394 provides us with the name of one of St. James Street’s residence, John de Tannesley who acquired a tenement: ‘….in the direction of the Friars Carmelite on the eastern side (of the street) and the Redhall, on the western side’. We do not know what kind of business enterprise John operated from his tenement on St. James Street, but it must have been successful. We find that 16 years later, in 1410, the name John de Tannesley listed as Lord Mayor of Nottingham. A third reference in the Records of 1463 tells us of a grant of three cottages: ‘….lying together with gardens adjoining in Seynt Jamelane on the eastern side.’

With no proper sanitation the fact that overcrowded medieval streets could be dirty smelly places is attested too in our next reference. The Mickleton Jury of 1395 received a complaint that: ‘John de Blythe, fleshewer (butcher), blocks up Seynt Jame Lane with blood, entrails and issues, to the serious detriment of all the people passing’. Water supply for the residence and their domestic animals would have been supplied by both community and private wells of which there are around 300 listed in the town by the year 1700.

Dorothy Vernon’s House: As well as the half-timbered buildings there were more substantial stone buildings in St. James Street which were occupied by some of the towns more prominent citizens. By 1572, the Carmelite Friary lay in ruins and only the knave wall of St. James Chapel remained. However, the site, – known as Friar Yard, – appears to have remained undeveloped, for we find that in that year Sir John Manners (second son of Thomas Manners the 1st. Earl of Rutland), acquired the site together with an adjoining orchard and pastures. Incorporating the ruins Sir John built a substantial two storey ‘town house’. This house appears to have been somewhat unusual in that access to the second floor was via a spiral staircase in the outside front wall. Sir John’s wife was Dorothy Vernon daughter of Sir George Vernon of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire and the house quickly became known as Dorothy Vernon’s House. The story of Sir John Manners and his wife Dorothy Vernon is one for another article.

We have now concluded our brief history of St. James Street, from its Norman beginnings through to the end of the medieval period. However, the story does not end there. The streets role in the history and development of the City of Nottingham down to the present day will be the subject of a future article.


The Sevens Building.. A typical medieval house.

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A Brief History of Beeston Church- St John the Baptist

by Joe Earp

At the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066, the then village of Beeston had three Saxon Manors belonging to Alfag, Alwine and Ulchel. By 1086 these had passed to the Lordship of William Peverel. Although there is no mention of a church in Beeston at the time of the Domesday – 1086, – it is likely that one existed. When Peverel endowed his Priory at Lenton he gave the ‘living of the church’ and the right to appoint a vicar to the monks. Probably under their influence, the simple wattle and daub structure evolved into a substantial stone building on the site of the present church. The font to the church is ‘Early Englsih’ and dates to the first stone built church on the site, built around the thirteenth century.

For the next 400 years not only the Church but the whole of Beeston and its villagers came under the control of the powerful Lenton Priory. By the year 1583, – the year of the Priory’s Dissolution under Henry VIII, – the medieval building had reached its height. After the Dissolution the Crown retained possession of the advowson of the vicarage. It was in the 16th century when the plague carried a way a third of Beeston’s population of between 300 and 350 souls. Their bodies were interred in a communal grave inside the Churchyard, this later became known as ‘the plague hole’.

The church was rebuilt under Henry VIII, using stones from the fourteenth century church. It was in late perpendicular architectural style, with a nave, chancel and small tower on the south side. It could accommodate 270 people in enclosed pews, of which only 35 were free and unappropriated. There was a doorway in the south wall of the chancel, used at this time by priests, but it is now blocked by the choir stalls

The church, except the chancel, was rebuilt in 1843 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The new church was built to seat 800 and cost approximately £3,500, of which £3,100 was raised by public subscription, thanks to the efforts of the Rev F.T.Wolley. Wolley’s wife laid the foundation stone for the rebuilding, but died before it was completed. The church was reconsecrated on 5 September 1844 by the Bishop of Lincoln, and a special train was laid on from Nottingham for the service, which included the consecration, morning prayer, Communion service and a confirmation.


St John the Baptist Parish Church, High Road, Beeston, c 1904- Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

Since 1843, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s church has served the community of Beeston well. In 2007 a £860,000 re-ordering and renovation moved the main entrance to the west end, and cleaned the interior, with new heating, seating and a new organ. The next major stage of the restoration was in January 2012 and cost £5,000. This was to replace the lead on the roof after it had twice been targeted by thieves.

The final stage started in June 2013 and included cleaning of all masonry and re-pointing open joints, which cost £40,000. Stone restorer and cleaner Ivan Sorockyj reported to the Nottingham Post in January 2014: “I have worked on the project since the start and now it is finished it looks brilliant. We used a lime mortar as part of the restoration which is what was originally used when the church was built. The only problem we experienced was doing our work around the day-to-day running of the church because we obviously had to stop for services and funerals. It has been a great pleasure to work on and you can tell the difference.”


Beeston Church during the restoration and cleaning, August 2013- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Most recently the church has seen even more changes with the tram developments around the town. Part of the tram route goes past the church and leads to the Beeston Tram Station. It has been quite interesting to note how much of the tram tracks have taken up the churchyard.  Over the summer of 2013 a skeleton of a woman dating to the Victorian period was exhumed after it was discovered during the tram construction work. The Rev Wayne Plimmer, vicar at Beeston Parish Church, made a statement to the Nottingham Post regrading the skelton: “What has been discovered is the remains of a Victorian burial. Because it’s a full skeleton the contractors have to get the Ministry of Justice’s permission to exhume the remains. Part of that process is ascertaining if there are any living relatives. As long as the remains are treated with decency I’m philosophical about it. Any kind of activity around this body will be undertaken with dignity.”

The churchyard was closed for burials in the late 19th century, while gravestones were moved from the original plots to the sides of the graveyard in the mid 1950s. During the period of tram construction work around the church it is sad to see how many gravestones have been damaged and destroyed. Recently some more gravestones and a magnificent looking sandstone tomb were left broken up awaiting to be took away.


The photograph shows recent broken gravestones caused by the tram works, awaiting to be took away- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Despite all of the recent works on the church and around the surrounding area, the future looks bright for the next chapter of the church’s history. The Rev Wayne Plimmer commented: “We are a thriving church. The churchyard is a feature of Beeston and when the tram comes it will be a focal point.”

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A Nottinghamshire Calendar – August – A month of Carnivals, processions and hopefully good weather!

by Ross Parish

August is another month in the year bereft of many customs; this was because it was the time for the harvest to begin, but more of that next month. However, in more recent years because of the weather (or usually hope for it) and the school holidays events have developed. The precursor of this was the Sunday school outings which were very popular in the 19th century and involved games and a picnic.

The most traditional based, if not traditional sounding, of these is Nottingham’s Pagan Pride. A new event, of only five years, but firmly based around the older and pagan tradition of commemorating Lammas which was a harvest celebration focused around the 1st August. The colourful appearance of hundreds of neo-pagans celebrating their faith is a welcome addition to the calendar as they process from the market square to the Arboretum.


The Pagan Pride Procession Leaves the Market Square to begin their Journey to the Nottingham Arboretum- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

However, there is an older Nottinghamshire tradition associated with Lammas. An account reads:                                                                                                                                         

“A novel, service was held at Selston, a mining village in England, recently. At one time Selston was fairly rich in charities, but about one hundred years ago they were allowed to lapse. Some of the charities consisted in the distribution of bread to the poor on Lammas, or Loafmass day……..This distribution took place from a tombstone in the parish churchyard. In order to revive this custom the rector held a similar service, when loaves presented by the parishioners were given away from the same tombstone, and in order to enhance their value and the interest attached, a silver coin was baked in the loaves.”

This is possibly a unique and certainly unusual custom, which sadly has since lapsed and there is no local knowledge of it. Interesting, its association with a grave suggests it may have originated as a form of sin eating a way of passing on the sins of the deceased a common pre-Reformation funeral custom mutated into the wake.

A more colourful affair is Nottingham’s Caribbean Carnival. This has run since 1974 and as such is, after the famous Notting Hill Carnival, the oldest in Europe. It originally was undertaken by the St. Kitts community of the Meadows in Nottingham. It continued, spasmodically through the 1980s and 1990s due to funding problems. The Carnival was cancelled in 1998, due to security and safety aspects but this prompted the City Council to get help from outside sources such as Tuntum Housing Association, who helped to create an infrastructure to help re-form the Carnival and it was revived the following year. The Carnival consists of a parade of mass bands and colourful costumes which snakes vibrantly through the city to the Forest recreation ground where there are stages and a fun fair.


Colourful Costumes at the Caribbean Carnival- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

A more traditional procession is to be seen at Egmanton on the weekend nearest to the 15th of August. This is the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Egmanton. This has been held since 1919 and consists of Mass and an outside afternoon procession of the effigy of Our Lady and benediction. It has been a popular pilgrimage for members of the Anglo Catholic movement and on its Golden Jubilee in 1979; the High Mass was undertaken by the Lord Bishop of Southwell, the Rt. Revd. John Denis Wakeling.

The fine weather meant that feasts and wakes were often undertaken in August especially with parishes with St. Mary as their patron. Radcliffe Feast was moved from August 20th to the day of Our Lady of Assumption as the old date fell in harvest time. Whilst, Papplewick Feast was on the first Sunday after their Sheep fair, which the last Tuesday in August. Today events such as  Nottingham’s Riverside and Bleasby Festival continue this trend of August fairs….and the hope of a fine August Bank Holiday Monday!

Edited and extracted from the forthcoming book A Nottinghamshire Calendar Pixyledpublications

Interested in customs

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A Brief History of the St Anns Allotments

by Joe Earp

Nottingham has a long history of allotment gardening. The St Anns Allotments are the oldest and largest detached town gardens in Britain, possibly the world. Their unique history and heritage has been recognised and it is a Grade 2* listed site.

The site has been in continuing use since the last 600 years. The name St Anns Allotments is a fairly modern name for the site and for many hundreds of years it was known as the Hungerhills. It has been suggested that the name Hungerhill comes from the Old English word ‘hungor’ which meant ‘sparse’ and was used to refer to bleak and bare hills. Another suggestion is that it derives from ‘hangar’ which meant a meadow or grass plot usually by the side of a road. A third suggestion is that it derives from ‘Hangra Hills’, which literally means hillside of clay. This third suggestion is quite probable as the whole site sits on a ancient filed which was known as the Clay Field.


This photo of the Hungerhill Gardens (c 1860s) gives a good impression what the site might of looked like in mediaeval times. – Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

The earliest reference to the site comes from a record transaction for a John and Anabilla releasing 2 acres of arable land to Ralph de Perewyche. Which explains: “The wronghlandis abutting upon the Becke Sike, or brokk and the other lies in lyngwolddale abutting upon Hongerhill”.

The land was originally owned by St Mary’s Church and the hospital of St John. In 1551 the land became the possession of the Nottingham Corporation who had acquired it from Edward VI. By 1605 there are records which show that the Nottingham Corporation leased two or three acres plots to 30 Burgesses or Freemen of the town of Nottingham. The plots were known  as Burgess Parts. This leasing of the land at £15 per year allowed the Corporation to use some of this money for the upkeep of the medieval Trent Bridge. The allotment of land to the Burgesses continued over the next 250 years.

By 1831 the population of Nottingham had grown from about 11,000 in 1750 to 50,000 by 1831. Most of the population of the town of Nottingham lived in the original medieval layout, which by the early 1800s,  was cramped and compact. The idea was quickly reconsigned that the Burgesses Parts, which were mainly used for grazing, could be turned into individual gardens and leased out to wealthy tenants. The Corporation to begin with were not happy about subletting and complained about these proposed gardens. However the idea was soon agreed and by 1832 30 Burgess Parts had become as many as 400 cultivated gardens.

These new detached gardens offered the wealthy Nottingham Victorians the chance to get out of the ever growing city and create their own pleasure gardens, within distance of the town. The plots were used and enjoyed by the shopkeepers and professional people who lived over their businesses in the town centre and so had little garden around their homes. Many had summerhouses where tenants could relax, enjoy their lawns and flower beds, make tea or a meal on the stove, and cultivate their fruit and vegetables. Glasshouses were also common.

Over time there was a slow transition moving away from gardens that were used by the middle classes for recreation towards allotment gardens for poorer workers. They offered low income families the opportunity to supplement their low wages by growing their own fruit and vegetables. Howit (1831) explained that many of the gardens had “excellent summerhouses and there they delight to go, and smoke a solitary pipe, as they look over the smiling face of their garden, or take a quiet stroll amongst their flowers; or to take a pipe with a friend; or to spend a Sunday afternoon, or a summer evening, with their families. The amount of enjoyment which these gardens afford to a great number of families, is not easy to be calculated – and then the health and improved taste!”


Hungerhill Gardens, St Ann’s, c 1860s- Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

During the Second World War the gardens were used and were vital for the Dig for Victory Campaign. The Dig for Victory campaign encouraged people to transform gardens, parks and sports pitches into allotments to grow vegetables. People also kept their own chickens, rabbits and goats. Nine hundred pig clubs were set up and about 6000 pigs were raised in gardens. The Government knew the British people could be starved out by a sea blockade; as much imported food came from Canada and America, supplies were vulnerable to attack from the German navy. The British Merchant Navy also had to change its role, to be available for transporting troops and munitions. The campaign was spearheaded by Lord Woolton, Minister for Food, and it fired public enthusiasm via radio broadcasts. It introduced ‘Dr Carrot’ and ‘Potato Pete’; displayed iconic posters in stations, shops and offices; produced leaflets and recipes, as well as specially written songs and slogans, and even lists of recommended ‘food for free’ in the countryside.


Dig For Victory Became a Very Popular Campaign in Nottingham, with many local people being shown how to grow high-yielding varieties and how to convert lawns into vegetable plots. Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

From the 1950s the allotments fell into a slow decline, (there was some renewed interest in the 1960s and 1970s) and by the early 1990s the site was suffering from further neglect and decline.

In 1993 a group of allotment holders formed what is now STAA Ltd (previously knowns as the St Anns Allotment Campaign) to protect and improve the allotments and so began the process of reversing the decline and once more turning them into a vibrant centre of community activity. Today the site is a vibrant and beautiful setting.

So next time you are out that way why not drop into the visitor centre and have a tour of the St Anns Allotments. For more information regarding visiting the allotments please refer to the link below:


Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.



Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.



Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.


Posted in Nottinghamshire Suburbs, St Anns | 4 Comments

Archaeology Along The Tram Route: Wilford

by Frank E Earp

History, not archaeology: The line carrying Nottingham’s newly extended tram network south to Clifton, crosses the River Trent via the Victorian Wilford Toll Bridge. It is by the reuse of this old bridge that the modern tram-works encounters history beneath the track rather than archaeology. How many of the passengers of the trams using the bridge will be aware of the fact that people have been crossing the river hereabouts for thousands of years?

Ancient ford: Wilford developed as a village divided by the River Trent and takes its name from a combination of the name of its principle founder and the ford connecting the two halves. The Domesday Book of 1086 lists the village of Wilford as ‘Willesforde,’ literally translating as Willa’s ford later corrupted to Wilfrid’s ford, confused by the dedication of the parish church. It is likely that there has been a ford at Wilford since prehistoric times. Now identified as being Roman, a paved ford bounded by oak post was found in the Tent a little way up-stream from the bridge in 1900.

The Ferry: From around the end of the 16th century a ferry began to operate crossing the river around the site of the bridge. It was Edward III who gave the ferry royal approval, which proved somewhat lucrative for the ferryman who was also given an alcohol licence for the ferry-house on the Wilford side of the river. The ferry-house became a very popular resort in its own rights and grew into the Ferry Inn.

The ferry boat, a kind of flat-bottomed punt, was originally hauled across the river by a system of ropes and pulleys attached to both banks, latter adapted to using iron chains. This made the boat very cumbersome to operate against the fast flowing stream and rather a dangerous crossing for the passengers, especially in bad weather. However, people form Wilford and other villages south of the river wishing to get to and from Nottingham market, continued to flock to the ferry rather than walk downstream to the safer crossing via Trent Bridge. It is this ferry which features in the legend of the Fair Maid of Clifton where Margaret, the Fair Maid, takes her milk and other dairy products to market and is ferried across the river by her lover Bateman.

Hazardous as it was, the ferry continued in use for over 300 years. We have no record of how many accidents happened in the early years of the ferry but in July 1784 disaster overtook the ferry and its passenger. The regular boat was out of use and under repair when 11 passengers embarked in the stand-in vessel all eager to get to Nottingham. A sudden gale midstream capsized the boat midstream an all were cast into the river. Most managed to cling onto the iron chain and raise themselves out of the swirling flood. However, in the confusion a man on shore mistakenly let down the chain and those clinging to it were swept away by the current. Only five survivors were eventually rescued from the waters.

A similar incident occurred exactly 35 years later when in July 1819 a party of 15 revellers from the Ferry Boat Inn climbed on-board the ferry for their journey home. This time it was not the weather which caused the accident but the chain which suddenly jammed when the boat was halfway across. One of the passengers was thrown into the water and drowned. The ferry was linked to another fatal accident on the 10th January 1837. A Wilford farmer by the name of John Oakley and two of his farmhands attempted to cross the river using their own boat further upstream. Caught by the current the boat drifted into the ferry’s chain and capsized.

Ever increasing traffic using the crossing led to calls for a bridge to be built and sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1862, a temporary wood structure was thrown across the river and the ferry went out of use. However, the Ferry Boat Inn, – now served by the new bridge, – continued to be a popular watering-hole as it is today.


‘Wilford Ferry’ by John Holland 1831-1879- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection

here is an old Nottingham legend which states that the River Trent between Trent Bridge and Clifton was only safe to cross in any year after 4 lives had been lost. In 1862, those crossing the newly built, but temporary wooden bridge at Wilford, must have felt reasonably safe. Whatever the reservations of those using the bridge, traffic continued to increase, pushing it beyond its safe capacity. By 1868 it was time to be thinking of a more permanent replacement.

THE TOLL-Bridge: The task of paying for a new bridge fell to the local MP, Sir Robert Juckes-Clifton 9th Baronet. This however was no altruistic gesture on Sir Robert’s part. In 1868/69 his company, – ‘The Clifton Colliery Company, – sank two shafts for a new colliery on the north bank of the river – Nottingham side almost opposite to St. Wilfred’s Church. A new and safe bridge was therefore essential for conveying workers and other traffic to and from the colliery. The Wilford Bridge Act of 1862 licenced the wooden bridge which replaced the ferry, to exact tolls for its use and this same Act was applied to Sir Robert’s new bridge.

Sir Robert’s bridge was manufactured of cast-iron by Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby. The fine red-brick toll-house on the Nottingham side was designed by E.W. Hughes. Sadly, Sir Robert did not live long enough to see either the colliery go into full production or the opening of the bridge. He died of typhoid at the age of 43 on 30th May 1869. A tall statue of Sir Robert, erected close by the toll-house, was unveiled when the bridge was opened to traffic on 16th June 1870.Punch Magazine was later to say of this statue that it had the ‘worst pair of sculptured trousers in England’.

The bridge, which was popularly known as the ‘half-penny bridge’, continued to be owned and operated by the Clifton family until 1969 when it passed into the hands of Nottingham City Council. The passing years had not been kind to the structure and it was found to be in poor condition and was closed to traffic in 1974. In 1980 the bridge took on a new lease of life when the centre span was demolished and replaced by a narrower foot bridge of steel girders and a reinforced concrete deck slab, becoming a footpath and cycleway to Wilford and beyond.

Like a Phoenix, the half-penny bridge has risen once again to the new challenges of its life in the 21st Century. Without losing any of its original charm and character, the central portion has been strengthened and widened to 12.2m allowing it to carry a two-way tram system as well as pedestrian and cycle paths. Sir Robert would be proud to know that the new tram lines will convey passengers from Nottingham over his bridge through Wilfred and past Clifton Hall, his ancestral home, to the terminus at Clifton. How many of those passengers will know that they are crossing the Trent where others have crossed for thousands of years?

I finish this article with a table of tolls for the bridge, as exacted under the 1862 Act: ½ d. – for foot passengers. 6d. – for every horse or other beast drawing any Coach or Stage Coach, Omnibus, Van, Caravan, Sociable, Berlin, Landau, Chaial, A-Vis, Barouche, Phaeton, Chaise Marine, Caleche, Carricle, Chair, Gig, Dog cart, Irish Car, Whisky, Hearse, Litter, Chais or any little carriage. 4d. – for every horse or other beast drawing any Waggon, Wain, Cart or other Carriage. 1½. - for every horse or mule, laden or unladen not drawing. 1d. or 6d. a score (20) – for every Ox, Cow, Bull or Neat cattle 1d or for a score 6d.

One cannot but wonder how much it would be for a fully leaden tram?


Wilford Toll-bridge and the statue of Sir Robert Juckes-Clifton. Photo by Tim Heaton. Note about the picture; Copyright Tim Heaton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Archaeology, Nottinghamshire Suburbs, Wilford | Leave a comment

Archaeology Along The Tram Route: Beeston

by Frank E Earp

 It is a sad fact that most archaeology these days is ‘rescue digs’ that are paid for by developers or local government ahead of development or engineering projects like the tram works. Not all archaeological sites and finds prove to be ‘exciting’ but are still worth the effort, as all offer to add to our knowledge of our ancient and not so ancient past. Such is the case for the work at Beeston.

At Beeston the tram line to the terminus at Bardill’s island pass through the heart of the old village and runs around the edge of the parish church of St. John the Baptist. The Domesday Book of 1086 does not record the presence of a church at Beeston, but it is generally believed that there would have been a small ‘timber’ building on the site at this date. The population of the settlement at this time has been estimated at between 70 and 80 persons. Like so many of our parish churches, as the population grew the old wooden structure was replaced by stone. By 1300, records show that St. John’s was under the control of Lenton Priory which appointed its vicar and collected the main tithes.

For a brief time during his war against the French, Edward III, – who wished to restrict the powers of foreign monastic orders, – took-over the living. It was at this time that a great disaster struck Beeston when 40% of its estimated population of 300 to 350 people, died of the plague. Their remains were buried in a ‘plague pit’ on the eastern side of the churchyard. Fortunately the tram works do not disturb this side of the churchyard.

With the end of the French war the living of St. John’s was returned to Lenton Priory where it remained until the Dissolution in 1538. Once again in Crown hands the church was rebuilt by Henry VIII using stones from the 14th century church. Except for the chancel, the church was rebuilt again in 1843 by Sir George Gilbert.

It is evidence of this last phase of building that has been exposed in a utilities trench alongside Chilwell Road. Here was a long section of the foundations or first few courses of the churchyard boundary wall either side of the original entrance. Also exposed on the Beeston side of the gate was a brick lined stone volt or funerary monument, – other grave stones were also recovered bellow what would have been the road surface on the Beeston side.

The line of the wall corresponded to the current edge of the churchyard running alongside of the road, with the apparent gate aligning to the modern path leading to the main church door. The wall was composed of un-mortared ashlar blocks standing to the height of around ½ m. Evidence that the gate may have been an imposing structure was demonstrated by the presence of large blocks of stone forming three sides of a niche or alcove. The wall on the Chilwell side of the gate stretched for around 7 m. whilst that on the Beeston side was slightly shorter with clear evidence that it had been ‘robbed-out’ at an earlier stage. Without dateable finds it is difficult to date stonework accurately. On my first visit, an archaeologist working on the site stated that the wall was possible of  late Victorian date, around 1900. However, if this is the case, it may be that it was built along the line of the original boundary from stone recycled from the demolition of the Tudor/medieval church. We must wait for the publication of the full archaeological report for more detailed information.

On a subsequent visit to the site I asked what would happen to the wall after completion of the ‘dig’. There were two options, either it would be removed and displayed in another part of the churchyard, or would be crushed and used as road fill. A visit to the site a couple of days later answered my question. The wall had been removed and the stones crushed. The gravestones will be re-buried within the churchyard and the funerary monument will covered with soil disappearing beneath the re-landscaped churchyard.

Beeston Wall 1

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Beeston Wall 2

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Beeston Wall 3

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Archaeology, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | 2 Comments

Fairs, fun and sermons….Some Nottinghamshire Customs of July

by Ross Parish

July is often short on traditional customs, however with its’ with long evenings and better weather, closeness to the harvest, July has the potential to be a good time for events and those which were established were feasts and fairs, or more correctly geographically speaking Wakes.

The most famed was the Charter Fair of Mansfield, which was around the 14th. It was more famed for its associated traditional dish, the Gooseberry Pork Pie. The fair itself was founded by Richard II in 1227 and stated that Mansfield could hold a market forever. The Mayor’s cutting of the Gooseberry pork pie was one of the ceremonies of the custom and this was watched by large crowds. The pie often contained 60 pounds of berries and these were distributed to the crowd and indeed smaller pies were made to be sold or taken home.  A photo exists with Mayor Alderman Maltby about to cut a giant pie in 1927 to mark the fair’s 550th anniversary and a similar pie was made and sent to Mansfield Massachusetts. When the custom died out I have not discovered by in 2010, the local radio station Mansfield 103 spearheaded a revival and sold the pies in the market. However, this appears to have been a one off.

Despite the risk of rain, Wellow had a St. Swithin’s Fair on the 15th granted in 1330 as did Woodborough, but on the first Sunday after the 2nd July. Duck and green peas were served on this day according to a correspondent of Nottinghamshire within living memory.

As Wakes appeared to have died out and fairs become simply fun fairs, Carnivals appear to have evolved. Some of these in the county have a fair age such as Radcliffe on Trent carnival and although ‘foreign’ in concept they have absorbed many traditional aspects such as a Queen, procession and fair..albeit now just for fun! A more formal affair was the Elkesley Robin Hood Feast for the members of The Loyal Portland Lodge which was founded in July 1859. This was revived in 2011 and is now associated with a re-enacted Oddfelllow’s walk and a small fete.

A less formal walk, so to speak, existed for nearly 30 years at Kimberley. The Pram Race which was a charity event done in fancy dress was a popular charity event, as seen elsewhere, was it appears effectively stopped due to claims over drunkenness!

Elkesey Feast (18)

The Oddfellow’s Elkesely Walk- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Perhaps the most interesting and unusual Nottinghamshire custom associated with July probably arose as a consequence of a Wakes week Fair, although this fair has long since gone, it continues. This custom is the Selston Tower Sermon, a little known event, although better known I think since I started to post about it perhaps and draw the Calendar customs website to it.  

Although tower services are relatively common, those which consist of choirs singing on the roof, often at Ascension Day, sermons are rare. Indeed, this may be the only example from a roof top, as St. John’s Sermon, Cambridge is from a pulpit upon the wall. Although it should be stressed that the choir indeed did sing from the roof, but perhaps it was thought too dangerous.

The custom is over 100 years old, dating from 1907 when the Reverend Charles Harrison started it. What prompted him to start the sermon is unknown, but it is thought that he did so to attract local travellers, who camped on Selston Green and would visit the grave of Boswell, the King of the Gypsies, often with their new born babies, in a local ritual of blessing. They may have been in considerable numbers if it was Wakes week. Another theory is that he may have done it to commemorate its restoration in 1904/5.

I was informed by Mr Tew, the present church warden, that one year an estimated congregation of 1000 attended, although they must have spilled over the churchyard wall and into the street!  You’ll be glad to hear that despite the precarious nature of the event, no accident has ever been recorded…except for one incumbent who almost never made it, this was when thirty years ago, the Rev Vic Simmons, was about to read his final tower sermon set his foot alight with weed killer (accidentally). He was determined to do it, stating:

“It was the highlight of the church year. I didn’t want to miss it.”

So a chair was carried up and no doubt he made a slow and rather tender climb to the top.

There is a tradition of inviting a guest preacher, for the 100th anniversary in 2007 saw the presence of the Rt Rev Anthony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood.  Mr Tew doubted that the tower service was enacted every year since 1907, but I had the fortune to speak to a 90 year old parishioner who remembered being taken ‘babe in arms’ to the service and regularly attended from her infant years.  A proper tradition for the warm summer’s day..when we get it!


Selston Church Tower- Photo Credit: RB Parish


Selston Tower Sermon- Photo Credit: RB Parish


Selston Tower Sermon- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Posted in Nottinghamshire Folklore, Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies | 1 Comment