Stoney Street and King's Place

Looking north along Stoney Street from the top of Hollowstone (A Nicholson, 2004).
Looking north along Stoney Street from the top of Hollowstone (A Nicholson, 2004).

The name of Stoney Street gives one to pause, for it is remarkable how few "streets" there are in ancient Nottingham. Stoney Street and Pepper Street appear to be all that we have, the rest of the thoroughfares are "gates," such as Bridlesmith Gate, St. Mary's Gate, etc. This suffix "gate" is a very interesting reminder of our history, for it is the Scandinavian word, or something like it, meaning a "roadway" or "thoroughfare." What we refer to as a "gate," our Scandinavian forefathers spoke of as a "bar." This suffix "gate" is about all that we have left, except the lay-out of the streets of the older part of the city, to remind us that at one time Nottingham was the head of that great, but little understood, confederacy which was called the "Danish Burghs."

But the name of Stoney Street is really very difficult to account for. Upon the surface, the very fact that it is a "street," a word which derives from the Latin word "Strata," appears to indicate a Roman origin of the roadway, but I don't think that that hypothesis is tenable, for broadly speaking there is no Roman history of Nottingham, and what few Roman finds have been made have not been associated with Stoney Street. Whatever may have been the origin of its name it is of considerable antiquity, for it is part of the same thoroughfare which we considered when we were discussing Broad Street, which was referred to in King John's reign as the "Stane Street of Nottingham." The presence of the word "stane" or "stone" seems to indicate that, even at that early date, it was a paved road which would be very unusual unless it was of Roman origin. We must agree, I fear, to leave the question open until fresh light can be shed upon it.

Until comparatively recent years it was not a thoroughfare. It terminated as a cul-de-sac with a low cliff just at the southern corner of St. Mary's Churchyard, and is so shown in Kipp's View of Nottingham dated 1680. In primeval times it may have connected up with the upper end of Malin Hill, but such a connection early became blocked by the houses which afterwards became St. Mary's Vicarage, and all through the historic period of Nottingham's existence no such thoroughfare existed. About a hundred and fifty years ago this cliff was cut away, and a gradual slope made from the summit of Hollowstone to about where Kaye's Walk joins Stoney Street. This incline was called St. Mary's Hill, a name which has completely disappeared.

Stoney Street was not one of the business thoroughfares of ancient nor mediaeval Nottingham, but was the residential street, and in fact, down till 1750, a row of elms stretched along its western side and masked the residences of the gentry which were situated there. Its history is of far more interest than its appearance, for unfortunately nearly all the actual relics of the past have been swept away in the advance of modern industrialism. As one approaches St. Mary's Church, the first road that enters Stoney Street on the western side is Warser Gate, which is referred to in 1331 as "Walsete Gate," and it continues to be referred to in the city's records under similar names right down to almost modern times. It was the lane which ran along the inner side of the fortifications defending Nottingham, and its chief claim to distinction is that before the time of Edward I., that is to say till about 1290, it was the chief settlement of the Jews in Nottingham. Many mysterious caves and underground chambers have been found in its neighbourhood, which possibly may have served as strong-rooms for their Jewish owners in far-off times, but of that nothing definitely is known. Warser Gate was much altered about 1853, particularly at its juncture with Stoney Street, and even to-day its pavements throughout its whole length reflect various alterations in gradients which have not been very cleverly carried out by our forefathers.

Almost opposite the end of Warser Gate is the Black Horse Inn (No. 15), a house with a somewhat hectic past. It was one of the many recruiting houses for the navy, and of course such a house as this would not be overlooked by our friend the ubiquitous Tobias, and accordingly we find him inning there in the years 1728 and 1733. Strangely enough he does not seem to have been up to any mischief on either of these occasions, for in 1728 he was detained two nights by rising floods, and he records that he spent his time in buying two sets of old carriage harness from "Benjamin Green, Esquire," while in 1733 he was detained for eight days at the Black Horse, waiting patiently for Coney. When Coney arrived he brought Turpin with him, disguised as a pedlar, and to celebrate the joyful re-union the three rascals spent the day at the Salutation Inn, Jew Lane, "with much wine."

In King's Place, upon the western side of Stoney Street, was situated, until about 1827, the Catholic Chapel. It appears to have been a very unpretending room, and I do not know when it was first used for purposes of public worship. In the year 1824 the congregation was in the charge of an aged French immigrant priest, and in that year the Rev. R. W. Willson, who afterwards became the Roman Catholic Bishop in Tasmania, was appointed priest-in-charge. He was an extremely energetic minister, and within a year his congregation had doubled, and by 1828 he had collected funds for the erection of St. John's Roman Catholic Church, George Street, and their old spiritual home in King's Place was abandoned.

It is rather unfortunate for the traffic of the district that King's Place is a cul-de-sac. This inconvenience was foreseen many years ago by Messrs. Thomas Adams, who proposed to pull down the intervening property and to make King's Place a thoroughfare into St. Mary's Gate. They were quite prepared to provide a considerable portion of the funds necessary for the alteration, and the Corporation offered to supplement their generosity by a gift of £150. Unfortunately, funds from other sources were inadequate to provide the necessary sum of money, and so the proposed improvement had to be abandoned.