Clumber Street

Clumber Street (A Nicholson, 2004).
Clumber Street (A Nicholson, 2004).

Clumber Street, although only of secondary age, for it was part of the enclosure of old Nottingham, has always been of the utmost importance in the policy of the town, for it was a link in the great chain of through communication throughout the Middle Ages. It formed part of the earliest route via Narrow Marsh, Drury Hill and Bridlesmith Gate, and also it was a portion of the latter route via Hollow Stone, the Pavements and Bridlesmith Gate, so that ever since the formation of pre-Conquest Nottingham, which was certainly no later than 924 and probably much earlier, Clumber Street has been a part of the main road to the north.

For centuries it was called Cow Lane, and we can trace this name with a variety of spellings, such as "Cowlane" and "Kaulan," etc. right back to 1298. I think, probably, it derives its name from the fact that the cattle would be driven out along it to their pasturage, which was towards the modern St. Ann's Well Road, just as the sheep used Sheep Lane, the predecessor of Market Street, as their exit from the town. It is pleasant to remember that its name is very similar to one of the exits from ancient Rome, the Porta Mugonia. When Henry II caused the town to be fortified, one of the town gates stood at the northern end of Clumber Street about in the middle of where Parliament Street is nowadays, and of that we will say more later. Clumber Street, albeit a busy and important thoroughfare, has always presented a difficult problem to the Civic Authorities by reason of its narrowness. It was a little wider at its northern end than it was at its southern end, but that is not saying very much, and in 1812, sixteen feet were added to it through the action of the then Duke of Newcastle, who was desirous of marketing the land which had formed the estate upon which Thurland Hall was built, and who realised that a wider Cow Lane would be a very great advantage to the purchasers of the property he had to offer.

This widening all took place on the eastern side, so that there is nothing of antiquarian interest to be looked for on that side. At any rate, his action was looked upon as patriotic by his contemporaries, and the old name of Cow Lane was changed to Clumber Street in honour of the Duke. A great beam used to cross Cow Lane, which carried the swinging sign of the White Lion Inn, and this beam was a much-coveted point of vantage from which to witness processions and other public displays, particularly the ghastly execution processions wending their way to Gallows Hill. The White Lion Inn itself, which has come down to our own days as the Lion Hotel, was of the greatest importance to our forefathers. It appears to have been established in 1684, a year before James II came to the throne, and it was not until 1806 that the neighbourhood became so valuable that it was felt that its forecourt should be put to better purposes than being left open. Accordingly, in that year, shops were built over it which were only one storey high and which remained that height so as not to interfere with the light reaching the main buildings constituting the inn, which stood behind them. In 1847, the inn itself was sold, and its courtyard was built over.

It was one of the important inns of Nottingham, in fact, during part of its time I think we may be right in saying it was the important inn in Nottingham, although perhaps the associations of the Blackamore's Head were rather more aristocratic. It was a great social rendezvous, and was also celebrated for its cock fighting. In 1763, the great match between Nottingham cocks and London cocks, whose abandonment was caused by the poisoning of the competitors, which tragedy led, as we have seen, to the establishment of a Society for the Protection of Fighting Cocks which was arranged to take place within this inn. A few years later, in 1776, at a meeting of the aristocracy of the neighbourhood, it was agreed to erect a Grand Stand on the Nottingham Racecourse, and no less a sum than £2,460 was raised before the meeting broke up. In 1799, Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Stratford, was staying here when he was seized with his fatal illness and expired within the walls of the old inn, and in 1779 the Duke of Cumberland, brother of George III stopped here upon the occasion of his visit to Nottingham, when he was made a freeman of the town. A year before this, in 1778, the Honourable Charles Meadows, who was the Tory candidate for Nottingham, and who was the nephew and heir of the Duke of Kingston, made the White Lion his headquarters. He was opposed by Abel Smith, a member of the great banking family, and the stage was set for a very violent election campaign. However, after the poll had remained open for about a week, Mr. Meadows withdrew his candidature, and Mr. Smith was declared a member of Nottingham amidst the most extraordinary scenes of popular enthusiasm, for Mr. Smith was intensely popular in the town because of his benevolence and his deep sympathy with the distress of the frame-work knitters.

It was about this time that those ghastly attacks upon freedom of opinion which were called "the duckings "began, and they take their commencement from the action of a certain man called Linday of New-thorpe, at the White Lion. Thomas Paine had written a book called The Rights of Man, which was regarded by loyal citizens as an attack upon the King and Constitution. Paine became intensely unpopular amongst certain classes, and it was the custom to set up his effigy as a cock-shy. One such effigy was set up at Newthorpe and was fired at by the populace until all their powder was expended. They applied to Linday for a fresh supply, but he refused it, which led to a riot in which Linday's windows were broken. He applied for legal redress and attended a court which was held at the White Lion Inn, Nottingham, to press his claims. He was not successful in his suit and he, together with his companions were seized by the mob, for they believed that they were sympathisers with Paine, and were subjected to all sorts of personal insults and injuries. A well-known garment which we used in those days is called a "Spencer." It is a short coat without any tails and this coat gets its name from this outbreak, for one of the indignities to which Linday was subjected was suggested by a man called Spencer, and consisted in cutting off the tails of the wretched man's coat.

It is curious to think that this stronghold of the Tory party should so completely change its colour that by 1803 it had become the headquarters of the Whigs.

The main importance of the White Lion, however, is in the fact that during the first quarter of the 18th century and, in fact, down to about 1843, it was the headquarters of coaching in Nottingham. The Maypole, The Blackamore's Head and other inns did a certain amount of coaching, but the "Clapham Junction" of the Midlands was undoubtedly the White Lion. It was here that the through coach from London to Leeds stopped and changed its horses, giving its through passengers time for breakfast, besides dropping such passengers as desired to reach the neighbouring towns. Many coaches used it as their centre, as did also a good many wagons, so that radiating from it were innumerable routes by which passengers from other parts of the country could reach such places as Loughborough, Castle Donington, Matlock, Cromford and so forth.

It always seems to have tried to keep up to date, and we get an interesting instance of its struggles to maintain its position in the forefront of comfort from the remark that occurs in Woodward's curious Eccentric Excursion, which was written at the close of the 18th century. After reminding his readers that Nottingham was always celebrated for fish, particularly salmon, he points out that at the White Lion there was a large tank in which fish were kept alive so that the supplies offered to the customers of the inn should be fresh.