On the eve of a new exhibitions about Vikings in Nottingham, the Lakeside Arts Centre at the University of Nottingham present David Knight talking about The History of Nottingham, including looking at the cities defences and caves.
There is evidence of pre-medieval hunter-gatherers living around the Nottingham hinterland as far back as 9500-4000BCE. The earliest evidence in Nottingham itself is from the Iron Age and Roman era and this is principally pottery. It's highly likely that Nottingham was extensively occupied at this time but evidence for it has subsequently been destroyed.
There are similar problems with identifying the first Anglian settlements because archaeological features and deposits are often scraped down to the sandstone before new foundations are built. But there are some structural remains and also some other things such as coins. Around 650-850 CE, there is evidence of an early enclosure at Boots Garage and Fisher Gate, which is possibly Middle Saxon and indicates early land division.
Early 17th century maps of Nottingham show two concentric roads in the Lace Market - Goose Gate and Woolpack Lane. These respect a very substantial intervening ditch, which was constructed as part of the Anglo-Scandinavian defences. The first archaeological evidence of the caves beneath Nottingham doesn't come until the high medieval era (1066-1485) but Asser, a monk, wrote in 893 about the uses of caves,
claiming that Snottingham was known as House of Caves. The Danes had overwintered in Nottingham (or Snottingham, as it was at the time) in 868 and were besieged by an army of Mercians and West Saxons. In 918, Edward I captured Nottingham from the Danes and repaired the defences.
The Danes had occupied Nottingham from 877 until 918 and there was a strong Danish impact on street names - all of the Gates come from the Danish word "geta" meaning street. There is also evidence of Scandinavian structural remains at Halifax Place, near St Mary's Church, which could have been Danish long houses, although this has not been confirmed. Halifax Place is also one of the few places in Nottingham where Viking artefacts have been found. There is also a potential Viking burial site in Sneinton, which was discovered in 1851 during building work. Two iron swords, a spearhead and human remains were discovered at the site.
Following the Norman conquest, the ditch was filled in and housing was built on top of where it had been. In 1067, the castle was built and the Norman borough between the castle and the Lace Market showed a big growth. It seems that at this time there were no southern defences for the city, just north, east and west and these were improved in the 13th century with the building of a wall. Woolpack Lane marks the junction between the old Anglo-Danish defences and the newer, medieval ones and there was a re-cut of the pre-conquest ditch by another one dug in the 12th century. St Mary's Church is even in the Doomsday book where it is listed alongside 191 houses in Nottingham.
Three caves at Halifax Place have been conclusively dated to the high medieval timeframe - these caves were used for tanning and the kilning of malt. A cave at Fisher Gate, dated from somewhere between 1100-1350 featured a rock-cut corn drying oven while a 13th century cave on Goose Gate is probably the best example in Nottingham of a poetry kiln.
The Vikings exhibition is on at Lakeside Arts from the 25th of November until the 8th of April. David Knight is working on the ongoing Origins of Nottingham Project.