Everybody knows about Robin Hood, and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. But our city is brimming with history – scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll find there’s much, much more to the story of Nottingham.
We all know the legend – the tale of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, robbing the rich to give to the poor. Today, Robin remains a huge part of the city’s identity. He’s commemorated in James Woodford’s iconic statue, outside the Castle – a must visit, and a fantastic photo opportunity!
But for the real experience, put down the Prince of Thieves DVD and head to Sherwood Forest Country Park. This stunning 450-acre nature reserve lies 20 miles north of the city centre, and is home to the Major Oak – an ancient tree, rumoured to have been the hideout of Robin and his gang. Whether you’re a Robin-believer or not, it’s well worth a visit. It’s thought to be around 1,000 years old, and was voted ‘England’s Tree of the Year’ in 2014.
A little closer to home you’ll find the Castle – formerly home to Robin’s greatest enemies, King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Perched high on Castle Rock, It was originally built in 1067 by William the Conqueror, after the Battle of Hastings.
This was where King Charles I raised his flag in 1642, signalling the start of the Civil War – Britain’s deadliest military conflict to date. The areas north of Nottingham saw some of the war’s bloodiest battles, waged between the Parliamentarians (or Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers).
Charles was eventually captured, convicted of treason, and executed in 1649 – the monarchy was then abolished, capping one of the most intriguing eras in Britain’s history. You can find out more at the brand new National Civil War Centre in Newark, easily reached by bus or train from Nottingham.
That’s not the only time Nottingham Castle has played a key role in the fate of the country’s monarchy. On an October night in 1330, King Edward III sent his troops through a secret underground tunnel and into Nottingham Castle, to capture Roger Mortimer – the de facto ruler of England, who was suspected of murdering Edward II. Mortimer was arrested and led away down the tunnel, before being hanged at the Tower of London.
Mortimer’s Hole – as the winding tunnel became known – still lies open between the great caves beneath the castle, and you can take a tour of it yourself. Beware the ghost of Isabella of France, mother of Edward III, and wife of Edward II. Isabella was Roger’s lover – legend has it, she still haunts the caves to this day, crying out “Fair son, have pity on the gentle Mortimer.” Spooky!
In the late 1600s, the ruins of the Castle were converted into a mansion. It stayed that way for over 150 years, until it was burned to the ground by rioters in 1831. And just 20 years earlier, Nottingham also spawned a secret organisation of rebels, known as the Luddites. These were a group of renegade men, inspired by the mythical General Ned Ludd – the Robin Hood of his day, and another rumoured inhabitant of Sherwood Forest. The Luddites worked in Nottingham’s textile warehouses, and destroyed hundreds of new machines in protest at their low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of voting rights.
This spirit of rebellion has long been alive in Nottingham, and is best embodied by three of our most famous literary greats – Lord Byron, D H Lawrence and Alan Silitoe. All three writers broke big social taboos, with works that challenged the social norms of their day. Lord Byron’s ancestral home of Newstead Abbey is one of the many great stately homes that surround the city, and well worth a visit.
While you’ve got your walking boots on, take a stroll through Nottingham’s Lace Market and Hockley areas – home to the old warehouses and factories that were the engine room of the city’s world-famous lace industry. Our reputation is still going strong – when Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge introduced Princess Charlotte to the world, the young royal was dressed in a lace shawl made by Nottingham company GH Hurt and Sons.
Around this side of town, you’ll also find some stunning buildings designed by Watson Fothergill. One of Britain’s most famous architects, Fothergill designed and built over 100 buildings in the city. There’s loads more historic buildings in the centre of Nottingham too, from St Mary’s Church – dating back to 1086 – to the trio Trip to Jerusalem, Bell Inn and Salutation Inn pubs. All three claim to be the oldest in Britain – pay them a visit, and decide for yourself.
Nottingham’s most sinister and evocative attraction is the National Justice Museum – an independent museum, dedicated to the history of crime and punishment. It features a courtroom that dates back to the 1300s, a jail that goes back to 1449, and it was voted England’s Best Small Visitor Attraction of the Year in 2014. However, it has also been voted one of the most haunted buildings in the UK, so if Isabella doesn’t get you…
There’s so much history in Nottingham that you’ll find a lot of it without even realising. Enjoy a drink in the Malt Cross – one of the best pubs in town – and you’ll also be in one of the few remaining Victorian music halls in the country. To be precise, it’s the only one outside London. Visit Meadow Lane to take in a Notts County game, and you’ll be at the home of the oldest professional football club in the world. Enjoy a stroll and a picnic in the picturesque nearby village of Edwinstowe and you’ll also tread the ground where Robin Hood and Maid Marian supposedly married.
And literally beneath the surface of the city there’s a vast maze of over 500 caves – just like Mortimer’s Hole – which twist and turn their way below the city and date back to the Dark Ages. Evidence suggests they were inhabited from the 11th-century, and though inhabiting them was banned in 1845, there are stories of people living down there well into the 1900s. You can – and should – explore them all through the City of Caves.
If all of that’s not enough, then Cresswell Crags – a limestone gorge and network of caves at the north of the county – should convince you of Nottinghamshire’s historical significance. It’s one of the most important archaeological landscapes in Europe and the site of the only known prehistoric cave art in Britain. And if you need your Robin Hood fix while you’re out there – and we wouldn’t blame you – then check out Robin Hood’s Cave, another favoured hiding place of the most famous outlaw in the world.
You won’t find many places with a history that runs this deep.
William Booth, born in Sneinton in 1829, was a British Methodist preacher who founded the Salvation Army – still one of one of the biggest international charitable organisations in the world.
Captain Albert Ball, born in Lenton in 1896, was one of the Royal Flying Corp’s most famous fighter pilots during the First World War, who is commemorated with a statue inside the grounds of Nottingham Castle.
Alice Zimmern, born in Nottingham in 1855, was a writer, translator and suffragist whose work played a big part in the battle for women’s rights and education during her lifetime.
Erasmus Darwin, born in Elston in 1731, was a leading intellectual in the 18th Century, a respected physician, poet, philosopher, botanist, and naturalist, as well as the grandfather of Charles Darwin.
Marian Cripps, Baroness Parmoor, born in Nottingham in 1878, was a committed anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons campaigner who also founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
John Cartwright, born in Marnham in 1740, was an English naval officer, Nottinghamshire militia major and prominent campaigner for parliamentary reform who became known as the Father of Reform.
Jeremiah Brandreth, born in Wilford in 1785, was a revolutionary who led the Pentrich Rising in 1817, before being captured and executed for treason.
Thomas Cranmer, born in Aslockton in 1489, was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I, and a leading figure in the English Reformation.
Nicholas Hawksmoor, born in East Drayton in 1661, was one of the most famous English architects of his time, and worked alongside Sir Christopher Wren on the design of St Paul’s Cathedral.
John Russell Hind, born in Nottingham in 1823, was a leading astronomer and discoverer of several asteroids and stars, including Hind’s Crimson star, which is named in his honour.