A Tour Of Nottingham
Nottingham is famous for many reasons, not least that it’s menfolk seem to like wearing tights – think Robin Hood, Dean off of Torvil and Dean. It’s also the home of Raleigh™, Boots The Chemist, Paul Smith, lace, the very first football club, cricket and the oldest inn in England. In 2015 it was named both Home Of English Sport and a UNESCO City Of Literature. Hi Five Nottingham!
Back when 1970 was fashionable, some numpty at the Borough Council had such a love affair with concrete that the original ‘Maid Marian Way’ that had stood for 100’s of years, was transformed from an Avenue of Tudor beauty to something only Kevin McLeod’s Russian half-brother would advocate. Today we’d be a city rivaling Chester, York and Stratford in architectural impressiveness if only someone had diverted Mr BoroughCouncil’s attention, maybe with a cheese fondue or lava lamp display. So now we are left with a maelstrom of designs, some not so kind on the eyes, but fortunately quite a few grade I and II listed buildings remain to remind us of yesteryears glory and heyday.
The city of Nottingham has an elaborate past, a colourful history and a great many conspirational stories attached to it.
If it wasn’t for a few notable Nottinghamians, England would not take on the shape it does today, due to the way industry developed and certain entrepreneurial types got hold of an idea and ran with it.
Nowadays, it is a city of culture, a collective of creatives, foodies and large-hearted locals, and always makes me proud to be a resident.
This almost circular route around some significant spots in Nottingham is designed to highlight the above facts and features and hopefully you’ll leave loving it as much as I do! Enjoy your free walking tour!
Important Info : the walk is designed to take around 1.5 hours and finishes in the Market Square so you end in a conveniently central location. If you’re after some light refreshments during your walking tour then check out my top recommendations for coffee shops and Burger joints.
A Short History Of Nottingham
The city that you see today, it’s shape and footprints of old settlements, began in Anglo-Saxon times, around the 11th century. One unfortunately named Saxon chieftain, Snot, set up camp around the Lace Market area of the town and the place quickly became known as Snotingham – or People of Snot. Shortly after, the Normans invaded and put down roots at the base of Nottingham Castle singing French songs and eating snails. Over time, the two camps expanded and started to merge into one. Snot and snails…mmmm.
Other notable historical references include the start of the English Civil War when King Charles I raised the Royal Standard in Nottingham. He felt it was his God-given right to rule the country and that a parliament was not necessary. After spending a few months trying to raise an army from the North, he expected troops to arrive from the Netherlands down the River Trent from the Humber but alas they never came. Charles didn’t hang around long in Nottingham as the majority of townsfolk stood with the parliament in London. You will catch a glimpse of the Royal Castle later on this tour.
And we mustn’t omit to mention our favourite green-smocked outlaw, Robin Hood. Probably not quite from Nottingham but certainly spending much time in the town annoying his long-term enemy, the Sheriff. There are plenty of tales which incorporate various stops on our tour and you will no doubt notice our kindred affinity with the lovable rogue as you explore the city – road names and business logo’s, monuments and souvenirs. Our Robin and his band of merry men!
So, without further ado – let’s explore!
A Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Nottingham
Nottingham Playhouse is as good a place to start as any. Known for its thrilling theatre but also one of the cities landmarks – The Sky Mirror by world famous Anish Kapoor. The same guy who created the Bean in Chicago and just as good a photograph opportunity here in Nottingham too – shoot away!
Leaving the Playhouse Theatre, walk up Derby Road for about 2 minutes/150 metres until you see this carpark entrance on your left…
This is a hidden gem that even many Nottinghamians don’t know about. The Park Tunnel. Dug out of the old sandstone, the tunnel was originally commissioned by the 4th Duke Of Newcastle in order to connect the town centre with a housing estate built for the wealthier homeowners of Nottingham. Walk through what looks like a parking garage, out the other side towards the Park Estate and you can’t help but be impressed by this feat of engineering. The Park was originally a hunting ground for the 1st Duke of Newcastle, however, when the 4th Duke decided it needed to become a residential estate, there was no easy access to the town square so a large tunnel to accommodate horse and carriages was built. Unfortunately though, the tunnel was almost rendered useless as the gradient is so high it was nearly impossible for horses to pull their carts up it!
Climb the steps to the top and cross The Ropewalk to the gates leading to Park Terrace. Follow Park Terrace to the left.
From here you have excellent views down into the estate and are looking upon some of the most expensive properties in Nottingham. The Park Estate began to be built in 1822 and much of it is of beautiful Victorian architecture. Park Terrace is some of the oldest examples and houses regularly sell for well over £1 million. Continue all the way along Park Terrace and you will notice the street lights are still the old gas lamps and many of the buildings are grade II listed, built by Nottingham’s signature architects Fothergill and Hine. At the end of Park Terrace you have some excellent examples of Fothergill’s style.
Watson Fothergill was born in Mansfield, the son of a wealthy Nottingham lace merchant. He had a massive impact on the style of buildings in Nottingham and as you walk around you will easily notice his trademarks of contrasting bands of red and blue brick, dark timber eaves and elaborate turrets. He eventually married Anne Hage, daughter of Samuel Hage who founded the Mansfield Brewery, another local industry that is still going strong today.
When you exit Park Terrace cut to the right of Harts restaurant, through Royal Standard Place (where King Charles I raised it) and down St James Street to the NCP car park entrance. Ride the lift to the top floor and take in the views of Nottingham from several corners…
In the middle ages Nottingham castle was one of the strongest Royal fortresses in the country and an occasional Royal residence because of its strategic positioning and some of the finest luxury apartments. But, after the civil war it was mostly demolished and the Duke of Newcastle had a mansion built around the remains. This building was set on fire in 1831 by rioters protesting about the poor living standards in the slums of Nottingham : Industry (particularly lace) had grown so quickly that it was impossible to keep up with the influx of workers to the city and it soon became overcrowded, ‘having the worst slums in the British Empire outside of India’.
It was rebuilt as a museum and is still fulfilling that role today. The Long Gallery holds a few masterpieces and the city council work hard with friends around the world to bring in exhibitions from all over the globe and it is always worth checking what exhibition may be on whilst you are visiting Nottingham.
Guided Tours are also held daily and explore the caves under the castle, a prominent feature of Nottingham and definitely worth your time and money : £5 each (under 5’s free)
Continue the walking tour by leaving the car park head towards Nottingham Castle and once you reach the corner of Castle Road and Friar Lane you will be able to see the original castle gates – not much remains of the Medieval Fortress but this formidable entrance way gives you some impression of the old royal stronghold that kept England’s Kings and Queens protected.
Walk a little way down the bank of Castle Road and not only will you pass some excellent examples of Fothergills handiwork in a pub bearing his name but you should also notice one of the oldest remaining buildings in Nottingham – a medieval oak framed merchants house. The fascinating thing about this quaint place though is that it was originally built half a mile away on Middle Pavement!! Before the monstrosity that is the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre was built, in its place stood rows and rows of this kind of home that would rival the Shambles in York. Whilst all the other beautiful shops and cottages were being razed to the ground to make way for BHS and Argos a certain Mr F.W.B. Charles had the gumption to take down this house piece by piece and reassemble it here on Castle Road – thank goodness somebody in the 60’s had a bit of foresight!
Directly opposite the timber house is Nottingham’s proudly displayed outlaw – The Robin Hood Statue. With its own hashtag the tourist attraction is kind of the only tangible thing we have to connect us to our heritage. Many would have you believe that the guy is just a myth, an archetypical hero of his time, but try convincing any Nottinghamiam of that! In my expert opinion too many legends ring true about Robin, and anyways – even if we do inadvertently weave a bit of fiction and fantasy into our olde world tales, why not!? Florida did OK out of a giant mouse with impeccable white shoes, can we not also have our piece of tourism which heralds a man who robbed from the rich to give to the poor? And, let’s face it, did a great job escaping capture on several occasions wearing nothing but tights. What a guy!? At a time too when Nottingham was pretty much a huge forest – can you just imagine the ladders??
The statue has been around since 1952 and the sculptor put a great deal of thought into how a Medieval forester would look. However, this turned out to be nothing like the Errol Flynn version, the actor who played the part in the 1938 Warner Bros film, which disappointed many visitors to the new 7 foot Bronze. Early days, people thought it a good idea to pinch the removable arrow as a souvenir, which cost the council £55 each time. Ironically, it was the real life modern-day Sheriff of Nottingham who came to Robin’s aid and commissioned a more permanent arrow to be welded to his hand.
Carry on down Castle Road till you reach Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem on the right hand side.
The Oldest Pub In England
Built in 1189AD, the same year Richard The Lionheart became king and Pope Gregory VIII called for a third crusade to the Holy Land, Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem claims to be the oldest Inn in England. It’s probable that its beginnings go even further back too if you are to count what used to be the Brewhouse for Nottingham Castle; every king and queen needs their mead!
You must stop for a quick half in this iconic English pub, it’s every tourists favourite but there’s plenty of locals in here too. The nooks and cranny’s just keep appearing and you can continue climbing up and up into the sandstone foundations that the castle above is fixed to. In one fireplace sits an old chair that supposedly brings on pregnancy and upstairs in a lounge is an encased model of an old galleon ship – the tale goes that if you clean the ship, you die! It’s a fascinating place and worth a swift lager and a game of Ring On The Horn.
Exit The Trip and follow the building round to the right and past the Brewhouse Yard Museum to Mortimer’s Hole.
Built on Sandstone Nottingham’s underground world is home to over 500 caves, several existing under Nottingham Castle. This particular cave, or tunnel, starts at the base of the castle and climbs to the inner parts of the fortress. Legend has it that the then King of England, Edward III, came to Nottingham in October 1330 in order to surprise a man, Roger Mortimer, who was trying to usurp the throne. Handsome Mortimer had woo’d King Edwards mother, Isabella, many years before and had spent some time rallying support for his own ideas over the Kings. Leading his men through Mortimer’s Hole the King took his mother and Mortimer by surprise, some say conspiring around a table, others say in bed in their chamber. Either way Isabella was put under house arrest and Mortimer was taken to the Tower of London and sentenced to death for treason. This long-awaited capture led to King Edward reinstating respect and power and began a 50 year reign ruling the people fairly.
Trace your steps partway back up Castle Road and turn right down Castle Gate, admiring the beautiful Georgian town houses which would have once been the homes of Nottingham’s wealthier residents in the 1700’s. You are also now following in the footsteps of Richard III of Leicester car park/Battle of Bosworth fame; in 1485 he likely made his way from the castle to St Mary’s church for mass along this very road, his last journey before he died at the Battle of Bosworth.
Cross Maid Marion Way. You will pass The Royal Children Inn, another nod to the part Nottingham played in protecting Royal blood : Princess Anne, King James II’s daughter, fled from the Royal Court in London when her father’s rule was teetering on the brink of collapse in 1688.
Castle Gate becomes Low then Middle Pavement – an area of Nottingham city centre that must be admired for its architecture.
When you reach the top of the hill you are now at Weekday Cross. Before the town moved its daily market to Old Market Square, Weekday Cross was the main market in Nottingham and also the location of the town hall and Guildhall. Where once stood a bustling street market is now the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery – a modern art museum which holds some very good and quite strange exhibitions, all for free too. Go on, you may as well give it 10 minutes of your time whilst you’re here. Be sure to notice the lace work imprinted on the external concrete columns; a nod to The Lace Market of which you are about to explore.
Nottingham’s Lace Market
When the sun wasn’t setting on the British Empire, Nottingham was the heart of the worlds lace industry. This quarter-mile square of Nottingham is now a protected heritage area, showcasing the old factories, salesrooms and warehouses of the 1800’s – many of which have been turned into very trendy bars and restaurants. Given the old gas lamps, telephone boxes and 7 story high red-bricked buildings you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to Victorian England and if in fact you were there you could be most grateful for the standards set for factory life back then. Mr Thomas Adams, a local Quaker, did quite a lot to revolutionize the living and working quarters of the Lace Industries workforce – designs and specifications that were then taken and replicated in other industrial cities like Leeds and Manchester.
Back in Tudor times, stockings were made of cloth, progressing to hand knitted garments later on, but a certain Nottingham man – Rev. William Lee was about to change the history of tights forever. Impatiently, he grew very frustrated at the length of time his girlfriend took to make his tights, so he invented a machine to do the work faster. The Lace Industry was born. Well, actually, not for another 50 years – stockings were still in fashion and Paris hadn’t shown the world its designer frilly knickers yet. However, when Lancashire started competing for undergarments, Nottingham’s framework knitters were put out of jobs and Nottingham suffered greatly. Then walk in Mr Thomas Adams and his friend Richard Birkin, who seized a gap in the market and swapped the machines use over to lace. Nottingham then became the home of all things pimped and sexy, men were no longer wearing tights and women were ordering flamboyant garments from Paris – Lancashire could keep its knitted underwear! If you want to see one of the original managers offices, where fabrics were demonstrated and deals were struck then make sure you visit one of Nottingham’s hidden bars – The Hockley Arts Club at 20a Carlton Street to imagine what was once a thriving business empire.
From the Nottingham Contemporary make your way up High Pavement, popping your head in to the Pitcher and Piano bar that was once the High Pavement Chapel and got a mention in D.H. Lawrence’s novel ‘Sons and Lovers’ in 1913. It’s quite something, and if you log onto their website for their monthly free drink then you’ll certainly have time to appreciate the beautiful surroundings.
Carrying on up High Pavement you will find yourself outside one of Nottingham’s tourists attractions – The National Justice Museum. Set in the old Shire Hall and county jail, the museum is full of tales of crime and punishment. Standing outside the museum looking back towards the Pitcher and Piano you may well be able to imagine one terrifying scene; On August 8th 1844 Mr William Saville was set to be executed publicly for the murder of his own wife and 3 children. The crowds were growing due to the case receiving coverage in national newspapers, and within the 3 minutes following William’s hanging a hard push from impatient folk at the back of the crowd turned into a stampede. Within seconds several women and children were trampled by bigger spectators, broken limbs and terrible internal injuries but what came next was even worse. As you can see from where you stand, Nottingham’s terrain drops away behind the Pitcher and Piano and was once a very steep cobbled street, the pushing continued and before long masses of people were tumbling down the steep steps to Narrow Marsh below, 3 minutes later it was all over but 12 lost their lives and 100 or so were left with very serious injuries – William Saville inadvertently claimed more than just his wife and children’s lives that day.
Turn left on to St Mary’s Gate whilst noting St Mary’s church – apparently where Robin Hood was once captured by the Sheriff and led across the road back to where you just stood – the cells in the courthouse. Follow the path around the church, down Kayes walk, onto Stoney Street. You are right in the heart of the Lace Market now, surrounded by an architectural look representative of the Victorian era – red bricked warehouses similar to other old industrial cities like Leeds and Manchester but with the added architectural flare that Nottingham showcases all over the town – the handiwork of Watson Fothergill. Linger a while too at The Adams Building at the far end of Stoney Street to appreciate the beautiful facade : probably the finest example in the country of a Victorian lace showroom with all the mod cons like central heating and a workers bank thanks to the hearty old Philanthropist Robert Adams.
Climb the impressive steps of the Adams Building and take a short cut through what is now a Nottingham college campus, out the other side of the building into a courtyard filled with metal trees (Lace Market Square). Cross to the right down Adams Walk, past Rub, onto Fletcher Gate. Follow this road around to the right, all the way down Victoria Street onto Cheapside. On the left hand side you will notice a coffee shop called 200 Degrees – a beautiful 17th century coaching inn which needs to be visited inside too in order to appreciate its full beauty. After a quick espresso at one of the best coffee shops in Nottingham you can hit the pavements again with renewed energy. We’re almost done but not before stopping in the Market Square.
Market Square, Nottingham
Old Market Square took over from Weekday Cross hundreds of years ago as a meeting place for trade between the two camps, Norman and Saxon. Today it is the location for concerts, fairs and Christmas markets. At the base of the Council House sit two protectors, also known as Left Lion and Right Lion. Left Lion was long ago adopted by locals as a meeting place in town, and if you’re a Right Lion-er then you’re just weird!
European and FA Cup celebrations were held in the square with the Nottingham Forest Football team holding high their trophies in front of all their fans. And local hero’s, national treasures, Torvil and Dean also appeared on the council house balcony to adoring crowds after their Olympic win in ice dancing.
An ancient wall used to separate the two towns of Nottingham and was recently recreated in the squares redesign project in 2007 by a metal line through the middle which also doubles up as drainage – clever eh!
Before we finish our tour of Nottingham, let me lead you up King Street, past some impressive architecture to our final resting place – the statue of Brian Clough the legend. A north-eastern lad who rose to fame and still holds records of being one of the top goal scorers in English football history but in Nottingham he is honoured as the man who took Nottingham Forest to the top. One of the best football managers there ever was and Nottingham are proud to call him their own. Perhaps it’s also a little ironic that this particular spot in Nottingham was recently appointed as ‘Speakers Corner’ – Mr Clough was quite the outspoken character himself. This was the first official Speakers Corner to be designated outside of London and often attracts some colourful protestors.
So there you have it – not an exhaustive tour as there is certainly much more to see in this wonderful city, but hopefully some of the highlights that it would be a shame for you to miss otherwise. Do let me know how you got on with this free walking tour and I hope you have a wonderful stay in my hometown of Nottingham!
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