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Street Tales: Castle Rock BC

2 March 17 words: Joe Earp

We delve a little deeper into the history of our city's streets to give you the tales they never would have taught you at school...

Image: Eva Brudenell

Looking up at Castle Rock from the south, you can imagine the earliest Notts residents living in the many caves, in a sort of multi-story tower block. Indeed, the earliest recorded name for Nottingham was Tigguacobauc – ‘cavy house’ – given by the Welsh monk Asser.

The only problem is that caves are notoriously difficult to date. Although there is no archaeological evidence for occupation of Castle Rock ‘BC’, there are written references that may give a clue to two artificial structures that were on the site.

The Derry Mount: At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, the king was at the castle to rally support. Raising his royal standard above the castle ramparts didn’t produce the desired effect, so on 22 August 1642, with great ceremony, the king and his retinue proceeded to a spot “just north of the Castle gateway” and once again raised the standard. The rest, as they say, is history.

In one account, the spot chosen is referred to as Derry Mount. However, another account describes it simply as “a flat, round spot on the top of a rocky knoll.” This is now recognised as being a spot on Standard Hill and is marked by a plaque commemorating the event.

Mystery surrounds the Derry Mount and its place in history. There appear to be no references earlier than the seventeenth century, nor does it appear on any early map. In 1904, the Thoroton Society published an old plan of the castle superimposed on a modern street plan. The mount is marked between Mount Street and Park Row.

Of these two sites, Standard Hill is more directly north of and closer to the castle gate, and a considerable distance east of the Derry Mount site. Matters are confused even more by the fact that Victorian writers are uncertain as to whether Mount Street derived its name from the Derry Mount, or a nearby ‘windmill mound’. Was the Derry Mount a prehistoric mound? It’s interesting to note that as a place name, Derry is derived from an ancient Gaelic word meaning [sacred] ‘oak grove’.

The word appears not to be generally used in this context outside Ireland. However, Nottinghamshire had two examples. A second mound also known as the Derry Mount existed in Arnold, south-west of the parish church. This site is close to the Iron Age/Roman settlement at Dorket Head and may once have been a part of a prehistoric monument complex.

It has been suggested that the name was appropriated from the Seige of Derry, but this seems unlikely as there appears to be no other Irish connection. Certainly this would not apply to the Nottingham Derry Mount, as the Siege of Derry postdates the raising of the royal standard.

It’s possible that there were three artificial mounds or enhanced natural features along the ridge-line north of the castle site. In this case, it’s likely that they were prehistoric in origin and at least one was the site of a sacred oak grove, giving it the name of Derry Mount.

A more likely alternative is that Derry Mount never existed as an independent site. The name may have originally referred to the windmill mound, and confusion arose when the account of the raising of the standard was written by an author unfamiliar with the area.

This does not rule out the fact that the windmill site may have been a reused prehistoric mound – which has occurred elsewhere – or that the Standard Hill site was formerly a prehistoric mound.

Nottingham Hidden History website

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