by Paul Nix
Originally no more than a row of tradesmen’s counters and stalls abutting the Great Market Place (6.4 acres), but as trade grew replaced by wealthy merchants’ houses with shops at street level.
These merchants’ houses grew as did their trade until Long Row was a row of 5- and 6-storied timber skyscrapers, each floor jutting out (1m average) above the floor below.
This meant that the top floor of the building was halfway out over the street. That was alright when they where first built, but in later years when the timber had started to warp and move, the Council of the time – not wanting these skyscrapers to crash down into the Market Place – had a problem.
From the time of the very creation of the Market area a strict law had been passed that NO building was permitted on it, but now they were faced with a dilemma. It was resolved by them granting each occupier along the Row 2, 3 or 4 (depending on width abutting the market) pieces of land each 2ft square – large enough to insert the base of a long length of timber, the other end of which was propping up the top storey of their building.
These Free Gratis pieces of land were retained when, with the introduction of brick, the buildings were rebuilt; it meant extra floor area in the upper storeys. Even today most of the building facing on to the Market Square have a row of pillars supporting the upper floors and giving a nice colonnade beneath for their patrons.
At the Chapel Bar end of the Long Row is the site of the George & Dragon Inn (there is still a modern pub of that name on the spot), the first building in Nottingham to have tiles on the roof. A tale is told of a butcher and his lad/helper staying at the George. He had come for market day to purchase some new butcher’s knives, having heard tell of the local smiths’ skill.
Now obviously the master stayed in one of the rooms on the first floor, but the boy was relegated to the attic for his bed with all of the other lads and servants. There he got talking to another boy, who like himself, said it was his first time out of the village that he was born in and visiting a town.
The lad listened in disbelief as he was told about the covering of the roof, it being tiles. The butcher’s lad could not be convinced; he knew that roofs are covered with reed or straw, not these “tiles”, so to settle the upon the truth it was decided that they go up and have a look for themselves.
In the yard behind the Inn a long ladder was found and put against the back of the building. It just reached the eaves of the roof, the other boy held the ladder as our butcher’s lad climbed it.
Once off the ladder and onto the roof he decided, because he thought that no one in his village would believe him, to take one of these tiles away with him. The tiles lower down the roof would not come loose so he climbed up to the ridge where he slowly managed to extract one; he was so engrossed in this that he did not hear the other fellow call him.
Down below the other lad had heard his master shouting, and so that no one should see what they where doing he took the ladder down, calling to the butcher’s boy to tell him what he had done.
A tile extracted, the butcher’s lad slid back down the roof; on reaching the edge he scrambled down to the eaves expecting to find the ladder: it had gone – and so had he, his hands both fully occupied clutching the tile!
The other lad never returned, and in the morning, when the butcher’s lad was called for and did not come, a search was made for him. He was found in the yard on his back still clutching the unbroken roof tile, stone dead. After some investigation the other lad came forward and told all.
At the other end of Long Row we have the tale of the first recorded use of braces (for holding up trousers) in Nottingham.
A soldier in the Nottingham Militia was staying at one of the inns on the Long Row, and retired to his bedroom. Some time later smoke was seen issuing from beneath his door.
The door was broken in and he was found on the bed: all ablaze – the inquest into this incident reported that:
He had been wearing these new fangled braces to hold up his trousers and while trying to disentangle himself from these dangerous devices, he had fallen against the corner of the bedside table, knocking himself unconscious, tipping over the candle, both ending up on the blazing bed…