Nottingham Street Tales: Drury Hill

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.

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Drury Hill, Nottingham, circa 1906- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

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Drury Hill, Nottingham, circa 1906. This photo shows how really narrow the thoroughfare was in places- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

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!

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Drury Hill, Nottingham, G Hodgson, dated 1904- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

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Message on the back of the postcard dated 1904 describing Drury Hill as looking ancient: Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

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?

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The only object left today marking where Drury Hill once was- Photo Credit: Joe Earp, Nottingham Hidden History Team.

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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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8 Responses to Nottingham Street Tales: Drury Hill

  1. It’s so sad to know that such amazing architecture and history was pulled down such a short time ago. I would much prefer to see this version of Drury Hill over Broad Marsh any day of the week!

  2. Annette Beattie says:

    I remember running down drury hill as a schoolgirl. I was always late for my bus at Broad Marsh. I can still picture the buses in the arch and the shelters. Happy memories. So sad to see it all destroyed and replaced by concrete.

  3. Julie edwards says:

    My mother a Nottingham lass would have loved to have read this piece. Sadly she is no longer with us. Very informative sadly torn down for developement and greed. They called it progress. Not in my eyes. Please keep up the great work.

  4. Carol B says:

    I walked down Drury hill to work. There was a lovely little dress shop and also a shoe shop. When I was a child there was a shop that mended dolls and teddies. We used to call it the dolls hospital. Can anyone else remember this shop.

  5. dukkidesign says:

    Reblogged this on dukkidesign and commented:
    An absolutely fascinating article, about a long lost but not forgotten Medieval thoroughfare. Now the entrance to the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, not far from our shop!

  6. Inchcock says:

    Imagine if they had not pulled down some of the places like the magical Drury Hill, Black Boy Hotel and the Flying Horse – but invested in them as tourist attractions? That would have been great for commerce along with Nottingham Castle visitors all within walking distance.
    Shame!

  7. Allabarra Lantern says:

    I remember driving down Drury Hill in the 1960’s in my Standard Ensign. There was barely enough room for the width of this large car. Like so many people, I have always felt that Nottingham planners have been very short-sighted in the destruction of its amazing history. The old buildings, streets and caves could have made Nottingham the History Centre of the country. What a fantatsic tourist trade we would have. Now visitors come from all over the world and are often very disappointed at what they find; …or don’t find.

  8. Malcolm Key says:

    I can remember my mum working at Hickling and Dobson Hosery on Drury Hill in the 60 s.
    One of her work colleagues was Betty Torville the mother of Jane Torville, who I met several times.
    I was at college and she was still at school in those days.
    A very noisy and dirty working environment,

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