by Joe Earp
Drury Hill if it had existed today would have most certainly rivalled York’s very own Shambles as one of the most important and picturesque examples of a medieval thoroughfare. However Drury Hill was not to be and despite many protests the ancient thoroughfare was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the entrance to the then new Broad Marsh Shopping Centre.
Drury Hill, with its narrowness and congestion, and its curious haphazard buildings, gives us a good impression of what medieval Nottingham would have looked like. Drury Hill was 4ft 10 inches wide at its narrowest point and signs had to be posted to alert traffic to this hazard. Drury Hill was so narrow that it was said that at its narrowest people from the two adjacent buildings could reach over and join hands.
Drury Hill was part of the town’s old mediaeval business thoroughfare through Nottingham which, came down Narrow Marsh and passed north along Bridlesmith Gate. Although very steep, the gradient of Drury Hill was comparatively slack when compared with either Long Stairs, Malin Hill or the Hollowstone of its day. To get a good impression of how steep Drury Hill was it is worth going through the entrance of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre (just off Lower Pavement) and going down the escalator. By going down the escalator you really get feeling of how steep and narrow this medieval thoroughfare actually was. It is however, very hard to picture all of the old medieval buildings which were once there compared to the modern shopping centre.
The old name for Drury Hill was Vault Lane, which became Parkyn Lane. It was probably named after some member of the Parkyn family of Bunny who lived there. It eventually changed its name to Drury Hill in about 1620. The Drury to which the name refers was a certain Alderman Drury, who was something of a figure in Nottingham in the days of King Charles I. He bought the house which faced Low Pavement and which occupied the site of numbers 2 and 4 Low Pavement and under which are enormous rock hewn cellars or vaults with a fascinating history, which gave the name of “Vault” to the Lane.
Drury Hill must have been a very important route in its heyday, for when the town was fortified in Henry II’s. time provision for a gateway, which Thoroton refers to as a postern, was made on the summit.. J Holland Walker (1926) comments “I don’t think that this postern is a postern in the ordinary acceptance of the term as just a mere undefended opening in the wall. It is shown in Speed’s map as a little, square tower through which the road passed and it was probably defended by gates and a portcullis. It appears to have been pulled down in 1735, but a portion of it was left standing, for Deering in 1745, refers to it as being partially standing in his day. It was protected by a gatehouse which was on the site later occupied by the Postern Gate Inn, or the Bull’s Head as it was earlier called. In making alterations to this inn in 1875 a portion of the old gatehouse was exposed and when the inn was pulled down in 1910 a sharp look-out was kept and the ground plan of the ancient building was recovered and details of it were published by Mr. Dobson in 1912. It appears to have been a roughly squared building 17ft. by 19ft”.
To show how ‘ancient’ Drury Hill must have been we found a postcard in our collection which is of Drury Hill, Nottingham, G Hodgson, dated 1904. The picture on the postcard shows ‘Old property at the bottom of Drury Hill, Nottingham, c 1890’s’ (see photo attached). The message on the back of the postcard reads: “How do you like the picture on the other side, looks a bit ancient does it not?”. If Drury Hill was described as looking ancient by someone in 1904, it just shows how old some of the buildings along there must have been!
We all know what eventually happened to Drury Hill, which was the eventual demolishing of one of Nottingham’s oldest thoroughfares. The demolishing of it caused a lot of anger back in the day, anger which can still be felt today among a lot of local residents and visitors to Nottingham. The only object left today which marks the site of Drury Hill is the original road sign which can still be seen on the wall to the right of the entrance to the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre (see photo). We can only speculate today what Drury Hill would have been like if it was left alone. Perhaps it would have been one of Nottingham’s most popular shopping streets on equal level to the Shambles in York. Or perhaps it could have been incorporated into a living history museum, very similar to something like Beamish in Northumberland?