Broad Marsh

BROAD MARSH is an extremely dull looking street, but in spite of its dullness a good deal of interest still clings to it if one takes the trouble to find out its history. Its situation is on part of the site of the establishment of the Grey Friars, being in fact in all probability its northern boundary just as the line of Canal Street was its southern boundary. These Grey Friars were the followers of the great St. Francis of Assisi. The order arrived in England about 1224 and I am not sure of the date at which they established themselves in the low swampy and foul land by the marshy banks of the river Leen outside the town walls of Nottingham. It was however, sometime in the 13th century or about the time that Simon De Montfort was struggling to establish the first parliament. There is very little recorded of their movements and all we know for certain is that their premises were surrounded by a stone wall and that they had a great cross which would probably be used as a preaching cross. They were suppressed in 1539 two years after the Pilgrimage of Grace and their estates were granted in 1548 to Thomas Heneage. In 1511 the Corporation took down the wall and took up the foundations of their Cross and so except for the name of Grey Friar Gate there passes out of Nottingham's history the story of the work so nobly begun and so poorly ended by this great order of the Grey Friars.

Broad Marsh is so called in contradistinction to Narrow Marsh, for here the land between the river Leen and the foot of the cliff was more extensive than it was further east. In it have lived several remarkable people and firstly by way of showing the change of social status which takes place in a town during a hundred and fifty years, let us consider the case of two ladies Mesdames Elizabeth and Casandra Willoughby. These two ladies were the daughters of Francis Willoughby, Esq., of Cossall and were relatives of Lord Middleton, the owner of Wollaton Hall and the head of the great Willoughby family. They were also connections of Rothwell Willoughby, Esq., who built the magnificent Willoughby House on Low Pavement. They were staunch Roman Catholics as was their father and it is interesting to remember that Francis Willoughby of Cossall was one of the few Roman Catholics who was made High Sheriff of Nottingham before modern conditions obtained. He was created High Sheriff in the reign of James II. which speaks very highly for the esteem in which the family was held, or on the other hand it may be taken as an indication of the Catholic tendencies of King James II. which eventually led to the loss of his throne. These two ladies lived in the house now numbered 9 to 11 and used as the Black's Head public house. It has a modern coat of rough-cast towards Broad Marsh but the rear of the premises still show interesting 18th century remains and when the two good ladies were alive their gardens probably joined those of Willoughby House which extended right down the slope of the cliff. It is recorded that they paid 10s. a year to the Corporation for the use of a stable in Broad Marsh, the position of which I have never been able to trace. Mistress Casandra Willoughby died in 1774. Both she and her sister appear to have been exceedingly charitable and kindly souls and although strict Catholics to have extended their ministrations to anybody whom they might serve. Her sister Elizabeth survived her until 1780 and at her funeral at Cossall an incident took place which illustrates the ignorance and superstition of the times. When the family vault was opened a glowing light was observed to be proceeding from the far and dark corner of the vault which so alarmed the undertakers that for a little while nobody could be found to enter the tomb, for they feared that they had to deal with a veritable ghost. However, upon investigation it was discovered that the light emanated from certain bones which were giving off a phosphorescent glow. This "Black's Head" has further claims upon our notice for it was the residence of Captain George Cartwright, second son of W. Cartwright, Esq., of Marnham after his return from Labrador in 1786. "Old Labrador" had spent six years as a hunter and trapper in the wilds of Labrador and he is interesting as being the last person in Nottingham to pursue the ancient pastime of Hawking. Eventually he retired to Mansfield where he died in 1819. There was a cotton mill in Broad Marsh late in the 18th century which belonged to Messrs. Killingley and Green which must have been one of the earliest of cotton mills but it was burnt down in 1792 and its site is lost.

Later in 1847 a very curious old miser called Thomas Darker was living in a yard off Broad Marsh which was called Barker's Court after him. Although really a wealthy man he became mentally deranged and secluded himself in a miserable apartment in an upper storey in this court. He deprived himself of almost every one of the comforts and most of the necessities of life and he kept his door closed and refused to see anybody. After nightfall he issued forth and would obtain water for his necessities from a neighbouring well. Apart from that excursion into the outer air he never seems to have left his voluntary prison. Upon one occasion his brother forced an entry into the room, but was met by black looks and threats and was told that he was in grave danger of being shot for his intrusion. At last old Darker died, the cause of his death being a fever into which he was thrown by the mental excitement caused by the Corporation insisting upon his spending money in covering up an old disused and dangerous well and after his death considerable quantities of gold and silver coins were found in his chamber. Another interesting person who was connected with Broad Marsh although I do not think that she lived there was Margaret Doubleday. She was a washerwoman and by care and hard work she accumulated a fortune of £100 a very considerable sum in her day. She gave a bell, number seven in the present ring of St. Peter's Church in the year 1544. This bell was inscribed "Ave Maria of your Chan tie for to pray for the sole of Margere Dubleday." It has been recast several times and its present inscription is "I was given by Margery Doubleday about the year 1544 and recast with the other bells in 1771, Pack & Chapman F.O. London, fecit, recast in 1902 the year of the Coronation of King Edward VII. by John Taylor & Co. Loughborough." The diameter of the bell is forty-five inches and the weight of the bell 15 cwt., 2 qrs., 1lb.

Margaret Doubleday also gave a close of land in the south side of Broad Marsh to provide a fee of 20s. per annum to the Sexton of St. Peter's in order that he should ring her bell at four o'clock each morning in order to call the washerwomen of the town to their useful avocations and further than this she gave another close of land to provide fees for prayers to be said for the rest of her soul. As these gifts were made about 1544 five years after the suppression of the greater monasteries and four years before the issue of Edward VI's. book of Common Prayer, they formed an interesting contemporary comment on the spread of the Reformation and of the tenacity of the belief in the Old Faith. It seems probable that the two closes which Margaret Doubleday left are the site upon which St. Peter's School and workhouse afterwards stood. This site is represented to-day by the ground upon which St. Peter's School stands, the burial ground at the rear and the open space in front of Canaan Street Chapel together with the ground upon which that chapel stands.

The Old General.
The Old General.

This poor house of St. Peter's was the home of Benjamin Mayo better known as the "Old General." He was born sometime about 1779 and he died in 1843. He was a half-wit but a great character in the town. He must have been rather an attractive character for when St. Peter's poor house was dissolved Mr. Hudson the master took him into his own house and provided for him for a number of years rather than let him go to the new Union Workhouse in York Street, which speaks volumes both for Mr. Hudson's charity and for Old General's popularity. Eventually Mr. Hudson left the town and Old General went to St. Mary's workhouse. After a time he had a fall, from the effects of which he died and he was buried in Broad Marsh burial ground. There is however, an epitaph to him in the top walk of the General Cemetery close to the permanantly closed gateway which leads into Clarendon Street which reads "Benjamin Mayo commonly known by the name of "The Old General" died in Nottingham Union Workhouse 12th January 1843, aged sixty-four years. A few inhabitants of this town associating his peculiarities and eccentricities with reminiscences of their early boyhood have erected this tablet to his memory." In stature Old General was of medium height but very much bent. One of his legs was badly deformed so that his progress, which was generally a jog-trot, was very peculiar. His clothing was of the usual pauper grey but towards the end of his career he obtained a red coat which he wore with great pride. He wore no hat to cover his closely cropped head until he reached the age of about sixty when he adopted a military cap. He regarded himself as second only to the Mayor in importance within the confines of Nottingham. His great day was on Mickleton Monday. The Mickleton jury were accustomed to beat the bounds of the town on the first Thursday in September and the following Monday they proceeded through the streets of the town to take note of any obstruction or irregularities and that was when Old General was at the height of his glory. Followed by all the school children of the town whom he marshalled in some sort of military array and over whom he acted as general, he followed the jury prepared to remove any offending obstacle immediately. Did a doorstep project into the thoroughfare it was immediately turned up by Old General's followers acting under his instructions, or did a sign not meet with the approval of the Mickleton Jury Old General and his troops made short work of it. It was a great day for the school children, they demanded a holiday and most of them got it. Some few school masters however, held out against Old General and refused to liberate their pupils, when sieges were undertaken and mud and stones plentifully thrown. Old General however, was open to bribery and twopence would usually buy him off. The proceedings terminated by the army demanding admission to the Castle which was of course always refused but as compensation sweetmeats were thrown over the gateway for the children to scramble for.

Memorial plaque to Benjamin Mayo, 'The Old General', in the General Cemetery.
Memorial plaque to Benjamin Mayo, 'The Old General', in the General Cemetery. It records that he died on 12 January 1843 in the Nottingham Union Workhouse and the tablet was erected by "a few inhabitants of this town associating his peculiarities and eccentricities with reminiscences of their early boyhood."

Like most half-wits Old General had a keen sense of humour which is well displayed by the following two stories. He used to be fond of drilling boys in the Market Place and upon one occasion he was so engaged when a party of officers from the barracks on the top of the Park came up and watched his proceedings. One of Old General's recruits was particularly dull and stupid and was constantly making mistakes in his drill. Laughingly an officer said to Old General "What will you do with him, he is too stupid for a soldier? "Old General said nothing to the officer but called the boy out of the ranks and standing him in an appropriate place said, "There lad you'll never make a soldier you are too stupid so I'll make an officer of you." Upon another occasion he went running through the town calling out "Speech by the Prince of Wales, full account of what his Royal Highness said yesterday." A customer purchased one of these speeches and found he was presented with a blank sheet of paper. Protesting against the imposition he received the reply "Quite correct Sir, 'is Royal 'ighness never said now't." Well, peace be to his ashes; judging from his face which appears in a picture in the Castle Museum he must have been a rather lovable old character.

Canaan Street Chapel was built about 1883 but there was an older chapel on the site, the foundations of which were laid in 1823. It belongs to the Primitive Methodist connection, a secession from the great mother church of Methodism which commenced in Tunstall in 1811. For a long time the connection was confined to Staffordshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire but it gradually made headway and is now a very important religious community. It is interesting to remember that in 1814 this body was first nick-named the "Ranters" and this name which has been accepted into our vocabulary originated in the Derbyshire town of Belper.

Deering's map of Nottingham shows that there were lead works at the corner of Broad Marsh and Grey Friar Gate, for in considering Broad Marsh's history we must remember that Carrington Street is quite a modern thoroughfare, only constructed about 1829, and that anciently Broad Marsh extended right across the site now occupied by Carrington Street. These lead works have completely disappeared and I can find no traces whatever of their history, but the building seems to have occupied the site of the modern Collins Alms-houses.