High Cross Street, St John's Street, and Broad Street

High Cross Street, leading out of Heathcote Street, reminds us of the many crosses that mediaeval Nottingham contained. What this High Cross was is uncertain, but I am inclined to think that it was the same as the Headless Cross, which is mentioned from 1310 to 1395 as standing in the earliest cattle market. Swine Green, the district bounded by the modern Carlton Street, Broad Street, Parliament Street and Thurland Street, is thought to have been this market, and if so, it is possible that these mysterious High Cross and Headless Cross are identical. This cross would be used as an ordinary normal Market Cross. In High Cross Street is situated the Clumber Hall, a building that has a certain amount of history associated with it. It was built about 1805, under the title of Hephzibah Chapel, and the district in which it was built was spoken of as "the paddock near Broad Lane." It was built for a body of Presbyterians, who were an off-shoot from the church worshipping in Zion Chapel, Halifax Place. They did not continue long in possession, for by 1808 they had become financially embarrassed, and sold the building to a body of Universalists, who in their turn sold it for a National School. About 1860 it was known as the Colosseum.

St. John's Street is now left almost derelict, but it was for a long time of great importance, for in it was situated the house of the brethren of St. John of Jerusalem. This order has a long and honourable history, although its Nottingham members were not very worthy representatives. They originated as a body of fighting men, pledged to succour pilgrims on the journey to Jerusalem, and in 1092 they founded a hospital in the Holy City. They gradually became extremely wealthy and important, and are better known perhaps as the Hospitallers. In or about 1140 they founded at Clerkenwell their first house in London, and their estates and recruiting stations soon spread far and wide. Their head, or Grand Prior, was of the utmost importance, and not only had a seat in the House of Lords but was the first lay baron in the Kingdom. After the failure of the Crusades, their chief seat was transferred from Jerusalem to the island of Malta. It was their custom to have small establishments called Commanderies on their estates, and this Nottingham hospital was one of these. It was established somewhere about 1200, for in 1209 we find the brethren repairing the Heth Beth Bridge. Their conduct was not altogether satisfactory, and in 1540 Henry VIII. seized their house and lands and suppressed the order. His successor, Edward VI., granted these lands, together with the chantry on the Heth Beth Bridge, to the Corporation for the upkeep of the bridge, and so laid the foundation of the Bridge Estate. In 1601 the first poor-house in Nottingham was established in the disused buildings of the brethren of St. John, and in 1789 the site was cleared and the town gaol was built on it. In this gaol, in 1825, the treadmill was first introduced to Nottingham. The gaol had to be enlarged in 1867, and remained in use till 1902, when it was closed and pulled down.

In 1790 a bag of silver coins, belonging to the reigns of Elizabeth and Charles I., were discovered in pulling down some old houses opposite the prison to clear the site once used by the City Lighting Department, buildings which were used as the Central Fire Station till about 1900.

The "Plough and Sickle," at the corner of St. John's Street and Broad Street is an interesting-looking XVIII. century house that appears to have no story.

Broad Street from Carlton Street (A Nicholson, 2004).
Broad Street from Carlton Street (A Nicholson, 2004).

Broad Street is rather a dull-looking thoroughfare nowadays, and does not carry the traffic that it used to do in ancient times. As a matter of fact, it is part of a very ancient trackway, being a continuation of Stoney Street and part of the ancient way to Doncaster and York. It is spoken of during the reign of King John, in a perambulation of Sherwood Forest as "the Stane Street of Nottingham."

Down to 1740 or thereabouts, it was known as Broad Lane, and a curious incident took place in it in 1794, which gives us a very good idea of the strange conditions obtaining in the town even so late as that date. It appears that some young men were larking about in Broad Lane, and by way of exercise were playing at leap-frog. In the course of their game one of them mysteriously disappeared, and it was found that he had fallen down a well some 40 feet deep, the mouth of which had been covered up with a few old boards and had been gradually buried in the accumulated refuse which formed the road and had been forgotten. He was rescued without serious injury, but the whole incident is characteristic of the happy-go-lucky attitude towards public safety which our forefathers adopted.

Wesley Chapel has really a rather imposing facade with its great pediment supported by fluted columns with their Ionic capitals. This type of building seems to have been quite fashionable for Dissenting places of worship, for we find it repeated over and over again throughout England, and it represents a Grecian Temple. Wesley Chapel was erected in 1838 from the designs of a certain Mr. Rawlinson, and it was regarded as a magnificent structure. It is designed to hold some sixteen hundred people, and cost £11,000 to construct. One gets some idea of the generosity of the Wesleyan body a hundred years ago when one remembers that when this chapel was opened by the Rev. J. Beaumont a collection was taken which amounted to £642, an enormous sum of money in those days.

Next door to Wesley Chapel is situated the Dispensary, which was built in 1849 and occupies the site which tradition assigns to the dwelling-place of Dame Agnes Mellers, the founder of the Nottingham Free School, and upon the opposite side of the road will be found a modern front of a lace warehouse, numbered No. 7, which masks an old Baptist Chapel which was closed for worship sometime about 1900. This was the chapel which was erected for the Rev. R. Smith and his followers, after the unseemly brawl at the chapel in Plumtree Place, which we have already considered.