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Street Tales: Market Street

17 October 14 words: Joe Earp
illustrations: Mike Driver

Once upon a time, the proles of Nottingham got one over on the gentry through the medium of road-signage...

It’s been said that Nottingham’s Old Market Square is the largest public space in the UK after London’s Trafalgar Square. Even before the beach, the skaters or our dear namesake moved in, it already had a long history that was smack bang at the centre of Nottingham life.

What you probably didn’t know is that the square as it is now was not actually the site of the original weekday market for Saxon Nottingham. This was at Weekday Cross, but the Norman population from around Nottingham Castle had beef with having to drag themselves all the way over to the Saxon side of town to go to market. So to ease the tension, William Peveril, who built the castle, founded a new market on neutral ground for the two boroughs, which we now know as the Old Market Square. It was a large market of five and a half acres, and functioned from the eleventh century until 1928.

When the square was first created, a wall was built across the market from east to west, dividing the animal market from the grain and commercial market. It has long been speculated that the wall was built to separate the two peoples of the town, the English (Anglo-Saxons) and the French (Normans). The old positioning of this historic wall was reinstated when the square was redesigned in the noughties, with a stainless steel drainage channel running right down Slab Square’s centre.

Just off the square, we have what is now Market Street. This started out as a narrow alley called Sheep Lane but, due to its limited width, it was a bit of an accident black spot. Pedestrians going up and meeting carts coming down resulted in quite a few people being squashed against the sides, usually resulting in blood stains on the floor and wall. This led to the locals referring to it as Blood Lane.

When it was widened in 1866, the gentry decided to call it Theatre Street, because it led from the Market Square to the Theatre Royal. The market people had other ideas though and the night before the official unveiling some cheeky boggers unscrewed the sign and replaced it with one named Market Street.

The following day was market day and everyone, the gentry and the market people, congregated at the bottom of the freshly widened Sheep Lane for the opening ceremony. The mayor pulled on the cord to reveal the new sign and saying what he saw, proclaimed the new roadway to be “Market Street”. Even though a portion of the assembled crowd – mostly gentry – complained and tried to point out the mayor’s error, they were heavily outnumbered and it’s stayed to this day.

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