Poplar Street, Fisher Gate and Carter Gate

POPLAR STREET was so called in 1905 and it is rather an unfortunate modern name replacing the older one of Butcher Street, which was quite a modern street formed across Butchers Close in 1800. This Butchers Close was a small tract of land which was used by the butchers for grazing purposes and over which they attempted to establish absolute rights by means of a law suit in 1779. By good fortune, owing to a technical error, the Corporation were able to maintain their rights and the butchers lost their case. The chief interest in this street lies in the fact that it was the site of the first gas works in Nottingham. I am not quite sure where they were situated but I think that they were at the corner of Poplar Street and a little unnamed street at its western end, which up to the sixties of last century was called Gas Street. The gas works were established in a disused mill belonging to John Hawkesley in 1819 and they cannot have been very extensive for at first they were only called upon to supply ten public lights.

The history of public lighting in Nottingham is not without interest. The earliest public lighting in England occurs in London where, in the reign of Charles II. a patent was granted to hang an oil lamp in the front of every twelfth house. In 1762 power was taken by the Nottingham authorities to provide public lights. This lighting was procured by means of whale oil and standards were set up here and there throughout the town bearing thick globular-shaped lanterns of glass partially filled with oil upon which a wick floated. Two of these lamp holders have come down to our own days. One, a somewhat elaborate one at the foot of the steps at the south east corner of St. Mary's Churchyard and the other a very simple one at the corner of Kaye's Walk and St. Mary's Gate. These were set up in 1807 and can only have been in use for about a dozen years. The supply of whale oil was kept under the steps of the old Guildhall in Weekday Cross and it is recorded that upon one occasion the cold was so severe that it froze up. It must have been an unpleasant and evil smelling neighbour for the district. The oil was procured from the skippers of the whaling ships which used Whitby and other north eastern ports and these mariners from time to time brought home portions of the gigantic skeletons of their victims and they distributed them either as curios or as advertisements. In Yorkshire, particularly in the district behind the whaling ports, field gates made from jaw bones of whales and other relics of the trade are of quite common occurrence, but further south their numbers diminish and they are very scarce indeed in our county. We are fortunate in having one such reminder within the city. It is a shoulder blade of a whale and is used as a sign board for the "Royal Children" at the corner of St. Nicholas Street and Castle Gate.

In 1814 there was a brass foundry at the corner of Bridlesmith Gate and St. Peter's Gate. It has of course all disappeared and its site is absorbed under the modern roadway, but it belonged to a Mr. Taylor, and during the winter of that year he illuminated his work shops by means of gas which he made on the premises and this was the first recorded use of gas in Nottingham.

In 1819 as we have seen a public gas supply was inaugurated and the streets were first illuminated on April 13th. Ten gas lamps only were lighted, one at the top of Hollowstone, one at the top of Drury Hill, five in Bridlesmith Gate and three in front of the Exchange. Crowds flocked from far and near to witness the miracle of a flame burning without a wick but these crowds were terrified lest the pipes conveying the gas to the burners should explode and blow them up. In the following year 1820 a meeting was held to consider the question of extending the gas supply, but somehow or other it got mixed up with a question of policing the town and considerable opposition was manifested. However, eventually it was decided to extend the gas works and they continued to grow until 1874 when they were taken over by the Corporation.

It is interesting to remember that electricity was first used for illuminating purposes in Nottingham on November 4th, 1878, while the Corporation first supplied electricity to light the Market Place in 1894.

FISHER GATE is curious inasmuch as it has little or no history, which seems very strange when one realises how close to the hub and centre of mediaeval Nottingham it is. It must be an old thoroughfare, its name guarantees that and it was the habitation of the fishermen who exercised their trade in the waters of the Trent and the Leen and their overflows. This fishery was very important and extensive and a very valued privilege down to the Conquest, but after the advent of the Normans the native Englishmen were deprived of their right to fish in the Trent which gave rise to much dissatisfaction and disputation.

In 1585 the south side of Fisher Gate is referred to as the "Holmes" and in it was placed one of the butts of which there were several on the outskirts of the town. This butt was spoken of as "The Marks in the Meadows," and the district was called "Buttgreen." This is a little-known fact, but it accounts for the name of Arrow Terrace which leads out of the south side of Fisher Gate. The only interesting house that I have been able to discover in the length of the street may be well seen from Percy Place. It is a fine double-gabled brick-built house of the 18th century facing south and presenting quite a picturesque appearance with its mass of creepers. It looks as if it ought to have a story, but so far I have found nothing whatever about it.

In olden days Fisher Gate led into a somewhat narrow thoroughfare called Willoughby Row and this in turn led into Pennyfoot Row or Style as it was often called. Both these streets have been absorbed in the modern Fisher Gate, which is now a wide busy street with a great open space on its northern side, which is shortly to be absorbed for municipal and other purposes, but I mentioned them because "Pennyfoot" is about the hardest philological puzzle that I know of. If I might venture a suggestion as to its meaning I would suggest that it is really Panny Foot Stye; "Style" we know to equate with "Stye" and to mean a pathway as in the well known Stye Head Pass in the Lake District. "Panny" contains the root "pan" which means "to connect" or "to associate." We have it in the ancient proverb:—

"Weal and woman never pan
But woe and woman ever can "

and I think that the full meaning of the name is "the footpath which connects Nottingham with Sneinton" which accords well with its history, for it did indeed join Nottingham with Sneinton  Hermitage by means of a foot bridge over the river Beck.

Running out of the north of Fisher Gate is CARTER GATE which is first mentioned in 1583 and which is obviously late as its name proves. It is a breach through the old defences of Nottingham which shows that they must have become worthless before it was made and it is associated I think with Coalpit Lane and that route of traffic by which the coal from Wollaton was conveyed to the Trent Side. We first hear of these pits about 1580 which accords well with the first reference to Carter Gate in 1583. It terminated in Sneinton Street which was formerly called Newark Lane and has an easterly branch which we call Southwell Road but which was originally called Glass-House Street.

Glass works depicted on Buck's prospect of Nottingham, c.1750.
Glass works depicted on Buck's prospect of Nottingham, c.1750.

Buck's view of Nottingham of 1743 shows glass works in this neighbourhood and they belonged soon after this view was produced to a certain Italian, Count Palavicini or Paravicini who used them for the manufacture of both glass and pot and whose name has come down to our day in Count Street which runs parallel to Fisher Gate.

St. Mary's Burial ground, the entrance to which is on the western side of Carter Gate, has a story associated with body-snatching which we shall understand better when we come to consider the other graveyards of St. Mary's, but there is a pathetic story to tell of the weighing machine which stood until the last month or so just at the junction of Machine Street, which has now disappeared in the alterations consequent upon the construction of the new arterial road, and Carter Gate. This machine was erected in 1838 and deep foundations were dug for its accommodation. A dog fell into this excavation in the course of one night and its cries attracted the attention of a Police Inspector called Isaac Phelps. He procured a ladder and went down into the hole to rescue the dog, but to his horror found that the dog was mad and before he could escape he was badly bitten. He received the best contemporary medical assistance but it was unavailing. He developed hydrophobia and died miserably.