Part of the England’s East Midlands, Nottingham is just over 200km north of London. It’s steeped in the legend of Robin Hood and is surrounded by Sherwood Forest to the north. The city gets its name from an Anglo-Saxon chieftain named Snot, who ruled the area of Snotingham, meaning the homestead of the people of Snot.
A week ago, I was in Norwich for a couple of days, and after a short week at work, I headed north to do the same in Nottingham.
Robin Hood Statue
It’s impossible to think of Nottingham without at some point thinking of Robin Hood. While there’s no actual proof he was a real person, it’s believed the name was a local reference to bandits in general. A legend grew around the character, spawning books and movies and growing a host of folklore about his Merry Men, his lover and nemesis, the Sheriff. The statue is in place outside Nottingham Castle.
Situated outside the Playhouse in Wellington Circus on the Northside, the 6-metre diameter circular stainless steel mirror weighs nearly 10 tons. Its surface is said to reflect the ever-changing environment. A similar but somewhat larger 11-metre mirror was installed at the Rockefeller Centre in New York. With others in Monaco, Saint Petersburg and Tilburg, the Netherlands.
Arboretum was the first designated public park in the city, opening in 1845. As the town grew around it, the neighbourhood took on its name. Past the lake and carpet bed, along the path with the Aviary to the left and Victorian flower garden to the right, the Arboretum opens into a pleasant grassy park lined with trees. Other features on the Arboretum include a formal garden, a Chinese bell tower, and a Bandstand. However, the latter was cordoned off for special events. A pleasant stroll on a cloudy afternoon.
Theatre Royal Nottingham
The grand theatre in the heart of Nottingham is connected to the Royal Concert Hall. Like its namesake in London, it regularly attracts major touring dramas, opera, ballet, West End musicals and even an annual pantomime. It can seat 1186 people over four floors.
While not as sprawling as the universities of Oxford or Canterbury, Nottingham’s University takes up a fair chunk of the north side of the city.
Old Market Square
At the base of the steps leading up to the city council chambers is one of the largest paved pedestrian squares in the UK. It was originally the centre point between the Norman town of Nottingham and an old Anglo-Saxon town called Snothryngham (the original spelling), where a market square was formed. It was also the site of the Nottingham Goose Fair between the 12th century and 1928, when it was moved due to space limitations. The fair has gathered in October every year for most of those 700 years, although it was cancelled in 1646 due to the Great Plague and during both world wars. It was also cancelled last year for the COVID pandemic. In 1764 it was notable for the cheese riot that occurred due to the significant increase in cheese prices from the previous year.
Motorpoint Arena and National Ice Centre
The Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham is the sister Arena to the one in Cardiff I visited 18 months ago, before the world got strange. It is also used as a concert venue, although I didn’t go inside this one. Connected to it is the National Ice Centre, UK’s first twin Olympic-sized rink, and where Nottingham-born Olympic champions Torvill and Dean first developed their love for skating.
Built-in 1068 by Willian the Conqueror and originally a wooden structure, it was replaced by the more defensible stone castle. Then by 1651, it was largely demolished except for its walls and gates.
20 years later, a ducal palace was built on the site, only to be burned down by rioters. It was then rebuilt and became the art gallery that stands there now. During my visit, it held a display on three of Nottingham’s most rebellious and bloody episodes, a creative gallery and the museum of the Mercian Regiment.
The castle, ducal palace, and the art gallery were all perched atop a bluff of Triassic sandstone riddled with caves and underground passageways. It was through some of these tunnels that various acts of violence were brought against the castle and palace. During my visit, I went down into some of the caves and tunnels beneath the gallery on a cave tour.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
Nestled at the base of the Castle walls, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be the oldest inn in England dating from 1189AD, the year Richard the Lionheart became king. However, there is no documentation to verify this date. Several other inns across the country claim the same honour, including several in Nottingham. But, after I visited the castle, I had to pop in for lunch, because maybe it is the oldest, perhaps it’s not, but the Fish and Chips were good.
Near the National Ice Centre is a contemporary art space with large sprawling rooms, sparsely decorated with art. This one is from a Brazilian artist and contains several large pieces, along with many wall hangings. It was only a quick visit as there was honestly not a lot to see.
National Justice Museum
The museum is housed in a former Victorian courtroom, prison, and police station, and details the historical process where people could be arrested, tried, sentenced and executed. A visit to the museum often starts with a court trial with several audience members playing roles. This little role play is designed to show how cutthroat the system could be.
Beneath the courtroom, are several floors of cells, which get steadily worse the lower you go until at the bottom they are little more than dark, dank caves where prisoners were held. The prisons were separated into men’s and women’s gaols, with the men doing more hard labour, while the women did more menial labour.
The back courtyard has a set of gallows where a mock hanging takes place, although the ‘prisoner’ (a member of the audience) gets saved by a writ from the king. The back courtyard only held a small number of hangings at the time as most were held on the front steps, so locals could watch.
Nottingham is smaller than many of the other cities I’ve explored and has perhaps more of a common township feel than a magical place where legends were born. Yet, I still enjoyed exploring another of England’s historical locations.
Until next time,
The World Wanderer