Street Tales: Long Row

Words: Joe Earp
Illustrations: Mike Driver
Monday 02 February 2015
reading time: min, words

Years ago, the buildings on Long Row extended halfway over the marketplace and a young lad got a bit curious about the roof tiles

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Originally no more than a row of tradesmen’s counters and stalls abutting the Great Market Place, as trade grew these were replaced by wealthy merchants’ houses with shops at street level. As with their trades, the size of these merchants’ houses grew until the buildings were five and six storied timber skyscrapers, with each floor jutting out about one metre above the floor below. This meant that the top floor of the building extended halfway out over the street. Not initially a problem, but as time passed and the timber warped and moved, the council - not wanting these tall buildings to collapse into the Market Place - had a problem on their hands.

They resolved it by granting each occupier two, three or four - depending on width of the property - pieces of 2ft square land. This was to insert a length of timber to prop up the top storey of the building. The introduction of brick resulted in the rebuilding of these premises, and the free pieces of land were retained, giving extra floor area on the upper storeys. This can still be seen today as the buildings have a colonnade that offers shelter to patrons.

At the Chapel Bar end of Long Row was the George and Dragon Inn, the first building in Nottingham to have tiles on its roof. A tale is told of a butcher and his helper who had come to purchase some new butchers knives, having heard of the local smith’s skill, and were staying at the George. The master stayed in a first floor bedroom, but the lad was relegated to the attic with all of the other servants.

There, he got talking to another boy and listened in disbelief as he was told about the tiles on the roof. Knowing full well that roofs were covered with reed or straw, he could not be convinced so, to settle it, they decided to have a look for themselves. They found a long ladder in the inn’s yard which just reached the eaves of the roof; the other boy held it while the butcher’s lad climbed up.

Thinking that no one in his village would believe him, he decided to take one of the tiles as proof. The ones lower down would not come loose, so he climbed up to the ridge where he slowly managed to extract one. Down on the ground, the other lad had heard his master shouting and, to avoid getting in trouble, took the ladder down and called up to let the lad on the roof know what he’d done.  

Unfortunately, he was too engrossed in his task to hear the warning and, tile extracted, slid back down. On reaching the edge, he scrambled down expecting to find the ladder - it had gone, and so had he, his hands both fully occupied clutching the tile. The next morning when the butcher’s call was left unanswered, they searched for him. He was found in the yard, on his back, still clutching the unbroken roof tile, stone dead. After some investigation, the other lad came forward and told all.

On another morbid note, from the other end of Long Row comes the tale of the first recorded use of braces (for holding up trousers) in Nottingham. A soldier in the Nottingham Militia who was staying at one of the inns retired to his bedroom. Some time later, smoke crept up from beneath his door. The door was broken in and he was found on the bed, all ablaze. The inquest into this incident reported that “He had been wearing these new fangled braces to hold up his trousers and while trying to disentangle himself from these dangerous devices, he had fallen against the corner of the bedside table, knocking himself unconscious, tipping over the candle, both ending up on the blazing bed…”

For more on Nottingham History, check out Nottingham Hidden History Team on Wordpress

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