Early Modern Nottingham (1500 – 1799)

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‘View of Nottingham from the East’ by Jan Siberechts c1695 © Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
‘View of Nottingham from the East’ by Jan Siberechts c1695 © Nottingham City Museums and Galleries


A charter signed by Henry VIII licensed a group of Nottingham people, including Dame Agnes Mellers, widow of Mayor and bell founder Richard Mellers, to establish the Nottingham Free School, which later became Nottingham High School.

11 April 1538

Nicholas Heath, the last Prior of Lenton, was condemned for high treason and hanged in front of the gateway to the great Cluniac Priory of Lenton.


Nine monks were gruesomely quartered and dragged round by Cow Lane, Nottingham, having been found guilty of treason for refusing to renounce their Roman Catholic faith. Cow Lane was renamed Clumber Street in 1811.

February 1539

Nottingham’s Carmelite Friary (White Friary) was dissolved; it was located on land between Friar Lane and St James’ Street known as Friar Yard.


The first documented reference to Nottingham’s ancient Goose Fair appears in the Nottingham Borough Records.

21 February 1551

Edward VI’s charter (Nottingham’s first illuminated charter) granted property of St. John’s Hospital and St. Mary’s Chantry (both dissolved during the Reformation) to Nottingham Corporation for the upkeep of Trent Bridge.


A great storm swept over Nottingham damaging churches and other buildings.


William Lee was born about the year 1563 in Calverton near Nottingham; in 1589 he devised the first stocking frame knitting machine.

1580 to 1588

The spectacular Elizabethan mansion Wollaton Hall was designed by Robert Smythson and built by Sir Francis Willoughby.


A number of the lath and timber houses of the old medieval part of Nottingham were destroyed by fire.

2 October 1603

Huntingdon Beaumont started construction of the country’s first documented railway in Nottingham; two miles of wooden waggonway track.

1 October 1604

The country’s first documented and earliest form of railway, two miles of wooden waggonway track between coal pits in Strelley and Wollaton, was laid and completed in Nottingham by Huntingdon Beaumont.


The Nottingham Arms were officially recognised by the College of Arms, but it is not known how long they had been in use before that date, although the crest is based on the Seal of the City, which has been in use since the 15th century.


Architect John Smythson’s plan of Nottingham Castle is the earliest surviving document to give detailed layouts and accurate information about the medieval construction.


Religious dissenters moved in to the area known as Rock Yard, below the Castle, as it fell outside the boundary of the town authorities and had for decades been a popular retreat for all kinds of thieves and vagabonds.


Richard Bullyvant became Nottingham’s first postmaster.


James I granted Nottingham Castle and the surrounding estate to Francis, Earl of Rutland, the last constable of the castle.


Royal Mail coaches running to and from London were the earliest documented post in Nottingham.

4 August 1634

Charles I made his first visit to Nottingham.


The Mayor, Sheriff and Aldermen were required to officially open Goose Fair by reading out a proclamation and ringing bells.


The old Heth Beth Bridge over the River Trent fell into such decay that one arch fell down completely.


By 1637 there was a fortnightly delivery of mail between Nottingham and London, with the postman covering the distance of over 100 miles on foot.

22 August 1642

Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham Castle to signal the outbreak of the Civil War.


Royalists from Newark took control of Nottingham and briefly lay unsuccessful siege to the castle, using the tower of St. Nicholas’ Church as a vantage point from which to fire into the fortifications; the church was later demolished by Colonel John Hutchinson, the governor of Nottingham Castle, to prevent it being used as a gun platform.


Goose Fair was cancelled because of the plague.


Oliver Cromwell visited Nottingham.


George Fox, founder of the Quaker Society, started his ministry in Nottingham.


Colonel John Hutchinson got Parliament’s approval to remove the Nottingham garrison and demolish Nottingham Castle.


Nottingham’s silver oval wait badges were probably made in 1654; they were worn by the official musicians until the office of town wait was abolished in the l830s.


Sometime around 1660 Nottingham cloth merchant Thomas Smith began to offer banking services to his customers; the first private bank outside London and one of the earliest banks in England.


Trent Bridge was nearly destroyed by the severe winter weather.


The two Sheriff’s silver maces were made at a cost of £8 or £10 apiece and each Sheriff was obliged to reimburse his predecessor for their cost, less ten shillings, until they were paid for.


Sir Francis Willoughby of Wollaton Hall wrote the world’s first systematic study of birds, his major works on the subject were published in 1672 after his death.


The ruins of Nottingham Castle were cleared.


The site of Nottingham Castle was bought by William Cavendish, First Duke of Newcastle, who began building a residence on the rock summit; he died when the walls were only a yard high.


The Duke of Newcastle’s mansion on Castle Rock was completed; the architect was William Marsh.


Trent Bridge was badly damaged and a considerable portion carried away by a flood.


Highwaywoman Joan Phillips was hanged for highway robbery on a scaffold at the junction of Loughborough Road and Wilford Lane.


The approximate date of the formal establishment in Nottingham of Smith’s Bank by local merchant and banker Thomas Smith.


The first race meeting was held around this date on the old Forest Racecourse, just to the north of Nottingham; the course was said to be one of the best in England.


The Royal Charter of William and Mary was the last to deal with town government in Nottingham.


Powers were taken to supply Nottingham with water and a Waterworks Company was formed, taking water from the river Leen at the Castle rock and pumping it with an hydraulic engine, housed at the foot of Finkhill Street, to a reservoir on the east side of Park Row.


Nottingham banker Thomas Smith died. Thomas had established Smith’s Bank in about 1688; the first private bank outside London.


Nottingham’s population was about 6,000.


Marshal Tallard, the French general, was captured at the battle of Blenheim and spent 14 years in exile in Newdigate House on Castle Gate in Nottingham.


The Nottingham Bluecoat School was founded as a co-educational Charity School at Weekday Cross.


William Elliott (1707 – 1792) a Nottingham hosiery entrepreneur was born. In the 18th century William Elliott was Nottingham’s richest man through his secret recipe for a black dye that gentlemen used on their tights to show off their legs.  He lived and worked in Brewhouse Yard.


Abel Collins Almshouses were founded at Park Street and Houndsgate in Nottingham.


William and Anne Ayscough, along with John Collyer, became Nottingham’s first printers.


Nottingham’s early Malt Cross was replaced by a roofed structure of six columns on a base of four steps and surmounted by sundials.  The earlier Malt Cross was first mentioned in 1495, when it was a long shaft standing on ten steps, which had stood in the Market Place at the foot of St James’s Street for centuries and had been used in the 15th and 16th centuries to announce historic events, and sometimes for public whippings.

7 August 1712

The Weekly Courant was first published on Bridlesmith Gate in Nottingham, by William and Anne Ayscough. Later title changes included Nottingham Weekly Courant, Ayscough’s Nottingham Courant and Nottingham Journal.


The crumbling remains of the old dividing wall in the Market Place, between the English and the French boroughs, were finally swept away.


The corporation ordered the Market Place to be paved.

2 March 1719

William Ayscough, a Nottingham stationer and printer, died. Along with his wife Anne he had introduced typography and printing to the city in 1710.


John Plumptre, who promoted education among poor people, was the first of the Trustees in the Deed of The Blue Coat Charity School.


The new Exchange was built at the eastern end of the Market Place; the building was designed by the Mayor, Marmaduke Pennel.

26 April 1724

During the spring assizes, part of the floor of Nottingham’s Shire Hall collapsed and several people fell through into the cellars.10


The Shambles, a group of old shops, was demolished to make room for the new Exchange buildings.


Trent Bridge was repaired again and a toll house was set up.

27 June 1729

A lease was granted by Nottingham Corporation for land to build a workhouse at the junction of York Street and Mansfield Road.


Jessamine Cottages, originally called Workhouse yard, on Gillyflower Hill, were built in 1729 as a workhouse and remained as such until 1815, when the workhouse was divided into tenements. Gillyflower, or July Flower, Hill was named after the wild wallflowers that grew there.


The first fully-fashioned cotton stocking was produced in Nottingham.


Kitty Riley, an inmate of the Nottingham Workhouse, died at the age of 100.


The grand Georgian Assembly Rooms were built on Low Pavement.29


The last surviving medieval gate, Chapel Bar, was demolished to improve traffic flow and several narrow medieval streets were widened.


Nottingham’s population was about 11,000.

23 August 1750

There was a severe earthquake in Nottingham, causing great alarm, but little reported damage.39

September 1752

The year the calendar was revised, missing out 11 days of September, was one of the few occasions Nottingham’s Goose Fair was not held.

2 October 1753

The date of Goose Fair was switched from September to start every year on 2 October.


The foundations of Nuthall Temple were laid, although there had been a hall at Nuthall for centuries.23

30 November 1759

Mass murderer William Andrew Horne was executed on Gallows Hill at the top of Mansfield Road.


Nottingham’s first Theatre Royal was built, in St Mary’s Gate, becoming the Royal Alhambra Music Hall in 1856.


Street lighting was first installed in Nottingham, using lamps filled with whale oil.17

2 October 1766

Nottingham’s ‘Great Cheese Riot’1 took place at Goose Fair over the high cost of cheese, during which the Mayor was knocked down by a large rolling cheese.

3 October 1766

Infantry and cavalry were brought in keep the peace following the riots of the previous day, but later that evening there were serious clashes between the rioters and military, with some people wounded by gunfire from the soldiers.1


James Hargreaves settled in Nottingham and built the world’s first cotton mill off Lower Parliament Street.


The Shire Hall was re-built, the architect was James Gandon of London.

4 July 1776

The United States Declaration of Independence from the British Empire was adopted by the Continental Congress.


Colwick Hall was built by the River Trent about three miles east of Nottingham.


A new two storeys high brick grandstand, designed by the famous architect John Carr, was completed and opened on the old Forest Racecourse.25


The first Post Office in Nottingham was established in the shop of John Raynor, a seedsman on the west side of High Street.


A man sold his wife and children in the Market Place. The woman, aged seventeen, and her two children were put up for sale and sold for 27/6 (£1.37).

June 1779

Significant riots and disturbances in Nottingham by framework knitters.27

12 February 1781

A foundation stone for the General Hospital was laid on Derry Mount by the Mayor and Corporation.

24 November 1781

Samuel Fox the Nottingham philanthropist and abolitionist was born. Fox later supplied burials for cholera victims, food for people starving and helped start the first free school in Britain for poor adults in Nottingham.

18 September 1782

Building work was completed on Nottingham’s new General Hospital at Derry Mount, an open space inside the old Town Wall.


The Trent Navigation Company was formed in to improve navigation on the River Trent between Nottingham and Hull.


Mail coaches started to run between Nottingham and London.


The Great Mace, the Mayor’s symbol of authority, was stolen.

21 March 1785

Henry Kirke White, the English poet who died at the very young age of 21, was born in Nottingham.

13 July 1785

Nottingham’s (almost) first balloon flight. A Mr Cracknall started to inflate his balloon on the Forest Racecourse, but the huge excited crowd, that had gathered to watch the spectacle, became restless and a violent mob destroyed the balloon before it was fully inflated.


A new Great Mace, the Mayor’s symbol of authority, was made by John Stirland to replace the one stolen in 1785. The new mace cost £118 19s, it was made of silver gilt, roughly 4ft 6in long, weighing approximately 200 ounces and bearing the royal arms of King George the Third.


John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached his last sermon in Nottingham, from the pulpit in Hockley Chapel.

3 August 1788

George Africanus, recognised as Nottingham’s first black entrepreneur; employer, property owner and landlord, married local woman, Esther Shaw, in St Peter’s Church.

14 (or 17) October 1788

Robert Millhouse (1788–1839), an English poet, was born in Nottingham. Millhouse was named ‘The Artisan Poet’ and ‘The Burns of Sherwood Forest’, his works include The Destinies of Man, Sherwood Forest and Blossoms.

30 July 1792

The first sod was cut starting construction of the Nottingham Canal.

14 July 1793

George Green, a mathematical genius much admired by Albert Einstein, was born to a miller in Sneinton, Nottingham. Green’s work was the beginning of modern mathematical physics.

April 1796

The entire length of the Nottingham Canal was completed, 14¾ miles to Langley Mill, causing the price of coal to be halved in the city.


Pierrepont House, on what is now Stoney Street, Nottingham was sold by 1797 to Thomas Curtis and James Bellamy and converted for use as a fabric workshop. The buildings were demolished at the start of the 19th century.


All 33 miles of the Nottingham to Grantham canal finally opened.


The origins of Nottingham University could be said to go back to this year, when the first adult school in Britain was established in Nottingham by a Methodist, William Singleton, and a Quaker, Samual Fox, to teach both men and women.

Continue to 19th Century Nottingham (1800 – 1899)

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For other information about Nottingham click here

If you want to know more about Nottingham’s past there is further information in ‘Events and dates in Nottingham’s history’ and through these websites:

The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway

The Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire

Nottingham Local Studies Library

1 Yarnspinner, Valentine, Nottingham’s Great Cheese Riot & other 1766 Food Riots (Loaf On A Stick Press, May 2011) p8-9
10 Lowe, David, Nottingham Post, Bygones (Nottingham, Nottingham Post, 6 November 2013) p37
17 Rowbotham, Judith, Nottingham Post (Nottingham, Nottingham Post, 29 November 2014) p14
23 Nottinghamshire History, Website: Nuthall Temple (http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/monographs/nuthall/nuthall1.htm, Robert Holden, Nuthall Temple, Notts: Its History and Contents, 1916)
25 Dyer, Rachel, Nottingham Post, Bygones (Nottingham, Nottingham Post, 20 August 2015) p27
27 Dyer, Rachel, Nottingham Post, Bygones (Nottingham, Nottingham Post, 20 August 2015) p27
29 Dyer, Rachel, Nottingham Post (Nottingham, Nottingham Post, 13 August 2015) p40
39 Lomax, Scott, Nottingham City Council Archaeologist (https://www.facebook.com/nottingham.archaeology/posts/703402136533784)

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