The History of Nottingham's Alleyways

Words: Irina Surducan
Illustrations: Natalie Owen
Monday 26 August 2019
reading time: min, words

Cities are living things. Their streets and alleyways twist and turn like arteries, transporting people - their lifeblood - from location to location. As a city, Nottingham is an ancient creature that has evolved and adapted over time to survive in an ever-changing world, but its walkways are infused with memories of the past… 


Flying Horse Walk

Flying Horse Walk is another one of Nottingham’s shopping arcades, also home to a number of independent businesses and luxury brands such as Vivienne Westwood. It takes its name from Ye Flying Horse, a public house established in 1483. Later on it became the Flying Horse Hotel, which served actors performing at the Theatre Royal and visiting cricket players. In 1980, the old Flying Horse Hotel was converted into the shopping arcade we know today and retains a Grade II listed status due to its centuries old history. 

2019 has been a hit-and-miss year for the Flying Horse Walk. In May, the arcade celebrated its 30th birthday as a shopping location, and shoppers were invited to a day of celebrations that included cheese tasting at The Cheese Shop, beer tasting at Brew Cavern and complimentary drinks at Vivienne Westwood. More recently, however, it was the site of the theft of around £1500 worth of sculptures. 


Market Street

Originally, Market Street was very different from what it is today. In centuries past it started out as a narrow alley called Sheep Lane, but was the site of quite a few accidents. Owing to its limited width, pedestrians were crushed by carts traveling in the opposite direction, leaving blood stains on the brick walls and cobblestones below, and giving the street it's informal new name: Blood Lane. Eventually, the street was widened in 1866 as part of general civic improvements. 

The local gentry intended for it to be named Theatre Street, as it led from Market Square to the Theatre Royal. However, the market people had different ideas. Under the cover of night, they surreptitiously unscrewed the sign and replaced it with one stating Market Street before the official unveiling. The next morning, the Mayor proclaimed the new road to be “Market Street” to the chagrin of the gentry, but the name stuck to this day. 


Bottle Lane

Bottle Lane is a narrow little alleyway that runs unnoticed between the Lace Market tram stop and Bridlesmith Gate, alongside Waterstones. It was originally called Lyndby Lane after Hugh de Lyndby, Mayor of Nottingham in 1400, and retained this name until 1750. 

The origin of its current name, however, is a mystery. In an article published in 1928, Holland Walker of the Thoroton Society speculated it could be a corruption of the word “Bothell”, a rough tenement, or perhaps a nod to leather bottles used in ancient days, as there is no evidence of glass-making in the area. Whatever its origin, Bottle Lane is a name which is sure to elicit a chuckle from the observant passer-by. 


Peck Lane

Peck Lane is a rather unassuming alleyway leading from Cheapside to St Peter’s Gate. Although its name might suggest a romantic origin, in the thirteenth century, “peck” referred to a portion of oats used to feed horses, which has led some to speculate Peck Lane may have existed in some form or another for a staggering eight centuries. 

Possibly the most interesting thing about Peck Lane is what happened there on 2 October 1766. Goose Fair was in town and the locals were growing unhappy with the high prices of cheese, sparking what is now wonderfully known as the Great Cheese Riot of 1766. The people of Nottingham rolled the merchants’ large wheels of cheese down nearby alleys in protest. According to Valentine Yarspinner in the book Nottingham Rising, the Mayor himself was unceremoniously tripped up by a wheel of cheese hurtling down the lane. The accident wasn’t fatal, which was gouda news for him. 


Cobden Chambers

Cobden Chambers is in the heart of Hockley village and is one of Nottingham’s best-kept-open secrets. Although today it is home to some of the best independent businesses in Nottingham, it started out as a photographer's studio in the 1800s and was the base for the Nottingham Society of Artists between 1895 and 1912. Cobden Chambers retained its artistic credentials up to the 1970s when it was the editorial base of Platform, a monthly arts magazine. But perhaps its biggest claim to fame was its status as the office for Notts County Football Club all the way back in 1890.  

With its walls adorned in some pretty cool artwork, there’s something other-worldly about Cobden Chambers, which has become a hub for creative businesses including The Front Room hair salon, Forever Records, Studio Chocolate and THiNK. It even played host to some Scalarama film screenings, including a showing of Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis (1927) in 2015.


West End Arcade

The West End Arcade snakes its way from Angel Row to Lower Parliament Street, and is well known for its quirky shops and independent businesses, which include autograph and vinyl establishments. It was first opened in the 1920s, and is currently the oldest shop on the premises is the jewellery outlet right across from the vintage record shop. Visitors are advised to take a peek into A Touch of Jeanius, an antique bookshop reminiscent of Black Books, but with a welcoming owner.  

If you thought Blood Lane was the only street in Nottingham with a grisly past, think again. In 2012, the escalator in the West End Arcade was closed down after a man lost his toe in an accident. After being stuck there screaming in pain for almost half an hour, he was eventually rescued. Sounds like a toe-tally awful experience. 

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