A Brief History of Narrow Marsh

by Joe Earp

Nottingham was originally founded on a sandstone outcrop, below which to the south, were flood meadows towards the River Trent. St. Mary’s Church was established on the eastern end of this outcrop, and the Saxon town developed here. In the 11th century, the Normans built a castle on the western side.

01_lace_market_skyline_470x350

A view of the old Saxon Borough (Lace Market) and Narrow Marsh below
Credit: Ray Teece

To aid the defence of this castle, they diverted The River Leen to flow below The Castle Rock, and from there it continued in an easterly direction, before turning south to meet the River Trent. It flowed below the eastern end of the town, it left marshy ground between it and the sandstone rock. The western and wider area was called Broad Marsh, and the narrowest part, Narrow Marsh. The road running parallel with the river was called
Leenside.

In the late 18th century, The Beeston Canal was cut and this roughly followed the line of The River Leen from The River Trent towards Nottingham and below the town on the sandstone. The River Leen was yet again diverted.

The areas of Broad Marsh and Narrow Marsh were therefore freed from flooding problems and they were built on.  There was a thoroughfare named Narrow Marsh, as well as the whole area being so called, and this was changed at one time to Red Lion Street, after the eponymous public house.

As has been said before, the Narrow Marsh area became notorious in the early 20th century as a very rough area. The area was notorious for its crime, poverty and slums, but that history is for another article as they say. It was reported that  policemen when patrolling Narrow Marsh would only venture in pairs.

narrowmarsh

A sky view of Narrow Marsh, Nottingham
Credit: Nottingham Hidden History Team

J Holland Walker (1926) in the Transactions of the Thoroton Society, briefly discusses the early history of Narrow Marsh:

“ONE hardly recognises Narrow Marsh under its modern name of Red Lion Street which was bestowed upon it in an access of zeal in 1905. I think the authorities must have come to the conclusion that the cup of wickedness of Narrow Marsh was full, and that the very name had something unholy about it and so they thought that by changing the name they could change the character of the inhabitants. Well, their intentions no doubt are very praiseworthy, but in attempting to get rid of the name of Narrow Marsh they have attempted to destroy an extremely interesting relic of the past, and in spite of the official and very prominent notice board displaying the brand new name of Red Lion Street, the name of Narrow Marsh holds its own pretty firmly to-day, and this is not to be wondered at. It is the natural name of the thoroughfare situated between the river Leen and the foot of St. Mary’s cliff, and it has been called Narrow Marsh with an astonishing variety of spelling ever since 1315, or the year after the battle of Bannockburn. In those far off days it was called “Parvus Mariscus,” “The little marsh,” and rather dignified it looks in its cloak of Latin. It was part of the route from south to north, thrust aside by the fortifications of Edward the Elder’s burgh and also perhaps is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Nottingham. Its age is very great and it must have existed for centuries before its debut into history in 1315. Its physical features are, of course, the great 70ft. precipice which overhangs it on the north, and the river Leen which alas ! has now vanished, on the south”.

In the late 18th century, The Beeston Canal was cut and this roughly followed the line of The River Leen from The River Trent towards Nottingham and below the town on the sandstone. The River Leen was yet again diverted.

The areas of Broad Marsh and Narrow Marsh were therefore freed from flooding problems and they were built on. There was a thoroughfare named Narrow Marsh, as well as the whole area being so called, and this was changed at one time to Red Lion Street, after the eponymous public house.

Broad Marsh and Narrow marsh areas were demolished in the 1930’s but redeveloped was piecemeal due to the intervention of The War.

Red Lion Street Demolitions, Narrow Marsh, Nottingham, 1933

Red Lion Street Demolitions, Narrow Marsh, Nottingham, 1933
Credit: Nottingham Hidden History Team

Leenside was renamed Canal Street, which still exists and is a major road in Nottingham. If you stand outside the BBC Nottingham building at the top of London Road and look towards St. Mary’s church, there is a cliff of sandstone, and the Narrow Marsh area was here, running eastwards towards what is now the Tram viaduct (see top image).

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About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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One Response to A Brief History of Narrow Marsh

  1. barbara piggott says:

    MY GREAT GRAND PARENTS AND GREAT GREAT GRAND PARENTS OWNED FROM 79 TO 107A RED LION ST ACCORDING TO A COPY OF THE ILL OF GEORGE CLEMENTS SNR MOST WERE BOARDING HOUSES MY GRAND FATHER HENRY CLEMENTS WAS BORN AT 73 RED LION ST ALSO OWNED BY THE FAMILYI KNOW THAT AS WELL AS THE FAMILY THEY COULD HAVE AS MANY AS 20 BOARDERS IN EACH POPERTY AS WELL AS THERE OWN OR THE FAMILY OF THE PERSON RUNNING THAT BOARDING HOUSE FOR THEM GRANDAD WAS ONE OF FOUR CHILDREN AND ON STARTING WORK WAS A LEATHER DRESSER AT TURNERS TANNERY TRENT BRIDGE HIS FATHER AND GRAND FATHER WERE BOTH MAKERS OF FINE SHOES AND FROM WHAT MY FATHER BORN 1908 TOLD ME BOTH MADE SHOES TO ORDER FROM THE UPPER CLASS FACTORY OWNERS OR THIER FAMILIES , I WOULD LOVE TO FIND PHOTOES OF ANY OF THE PROPERTIES OWNED BY THE FAMILY

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