by Frank E Earp
Looking up at Castle Rock from the south, we would suspect that the earliest residence lived in the many caves, in a sort of multi-story tower block. We may believe that this was Asser’s ‘Tigguacobauc’, – ‘cavy house’, – the earliest recorded name for Nottingham. However, caves are notoriously difficult to date. The cave’s physical architecture only gives us an approximate date as to when they were cut or modified. Without archaeological finds in a stratified layer, it is impossible to date the earliest occupation.
There are claims that early historians found Roman tiles embedded in the wall of a cave at near-by Lenton Hermitage. Without other finds, it is impossible to say that these caves were cut at this period. These tiles could have originated anywhere and brought in as decoration.
Although there is no archaeological evidence for occupation of Castle Rock ‘B.C.’, there are written references that may give a clue to two artificial structures that were on the site.
The Derry Mount: At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, the King was at the Castle to rally support for his cause. He began by raising his flag or royal standard above the Castle ramparts, but this did not produce the desired effect. On the 22nd Aug. 1642, with great ceremony, the King and his retinue proceeded to a spot ‘just north of the Castle gateway’ and once again the standard was raised. The rest as they say is history.
In one account of this momentous event, the spot chosen by the King is referred to as the ‘Derry Mount’. There is however, another account which describes it simply as; ‘a flat, round spot on the top of a rocky knoll’. A wooden post marked the spot for several years, until the site changed ownership and it was removed. This is now recognised as being a spot on Standard Hill and is marked by a plaque commemorating the event.
Mystery surrounds the Derry Mount and its place in history. There appears to be no references to the Mount earlier than the 17th century nor does it appear on any early map. In 1904, the Thoroton Society published an old plan of the Castle superimposed on a modern street plan. The Mount, – which is described as being ‘now levelled’, – is marked between Mount St. and Park Row – to the west of the modern Mount St. car park.
Of these two sites, Standard Hill is more directly north of and closer to the Castle gate and a considerable distance to the east of the Derry Mount site. Matters are confused even more by the fact that Victorian writers are uncertain as to whether Mount St. derived its name from the Derry Mount, or a nearby ‘windmill mound’. Was the Derry Mount a prehistoric mound? It is interesting to note that as a place name, Derry is derived from an ancient Gaelic word meaning (sacred) ‘oak grove’, – as with Londonderry or simply Derry in Ireland.
The word appears not to be generally used in this context outside Ireland. However, Nottinghamshire had two examples. A second mound or rounded knoll also known as the Derry Mount existed in Arnold, south-west of the parish church. This site is close to the Iron Age/Roman settlement at Dorket Head and may once have been a part of a pre-historic monument complex in this area.
It has been suggested that; ‘It is possible that the name was appropriated from the ‘Siege of Derry’ (1689). This seems unlikely as there appears to be no other Irish connection. Certainly this would not apply to the Nottingham Derry Mount as the Siege of Derry postdates the raising of the standard.
Taking all things into consideration, what can be said of the Nottingham mound? It is possible that there were three artificial mounds or enhanced natural features along the ridge-line north of the Castle site. In this case it is likely that they were pre-historic in origin and at least one of the three was the site of a sacred oak grove, which gave it the name of Derry Mount – ‘mound of the oak grove’.
A more likely alternative is that the Derry Mount never existed as an independent site. The name may have originally referred to the windmill mound and confusion arose when the account of the raising of the standard was written by an author unfamiliar with the area.
This does not rule out the fact that the windmill site may have been a re-used prehistoric mound, – which has occurred elsewhere, – or that the Standard Hill site was formally a pre-historic mound.