Street Tales: The Origins of Nottingham

10 July 17 words: Joe Earp

Both for the buildings on the side of it, for the very great wideness of the streets, and the clean paving of it, it is the fairest without exception of all England.” – Said of Nottingham in the time of Henry VIII, c 1512

illustration: Eva Brudenell

Nottingham, or as it was most likely called, Snott’s encampment, started life in about 900AD and was a small collection of insubstantial hovels around where the ice stadium car park is now. Due to the yearly flooding of the Leen, it is believed Nottingham’s earliest inhabitants soon moved to higher, but rockier ground.

The first eyewitness account of Nottingham’s existence is in 950AD; when the monk Asser, chronicler for King Alfred, passed by on his way to Lincoln. Although he would have been some way off, the wide floodplains would have put little in his line of sight.

Asser wrote in his diary “…this day passed by Tigguocabauc”. Tigguocabauc is Welsh/Latin for “cavy house”, and describes his view of the south-facing rock face, with its myriad rock-hewn chambers.

But Asser wrote down a description of what he had seen, not the name of the place. The name Nottingham comes mostly from the Anglo-Saxon period, and would have then been Snottengaham; “Snott” being the name of the tribe; “enga” or “ing/eng” being water or by the water; and “ham” being a dwelling or hamlet. So the name Snottengaham was a description of the people and their place; “the hamlet of Snott’s people by the water”.

But what about the “S”? Where did that go? Well, after the Norman conquest came the Domesday Book, collated and written by Normans, who were French. They had great difficulty pronouncing “Sn” so, seeing as they were in charge, decided not to bother.

Therefore, Snottingham became Nottingham. I’m inclined to think they had little to do with Sneinton…

For more on Nottingham History check out the Nottingham Hidden History website.

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