50+ Nottingham Facts you (probably) didn’t know

Nottingham is the home of The Dark Knight Rises’s Wayne Manor (see above) but it is also a vibrant city with a lot of interesting history, weird facts and even weirder people.

Below you’ll find over 50 facts organised into the following sections:

Nottingham Facts

Here are some interesting facts about Nottingham that you might not know and some you might (spoiler: the Cheese Riot fact is my favourite).

History 🏰

  • Nottingham was originally called Snotengaham. It was ruled by a Saxon chief named Snot, and the name translates to “the homestead of Snot’s people.”
  • There are over 700 man-made caves under the streets of Nottingham, carved from the soft sandstone on which the city was built. Over the years, the caves have had many different uses, including tanneries, pub cellars and air raid shelters. The cave passageway known as Mortimer’s Hole that runs underneath Nottingham Castle is said to be haunted by local nobleman Roger Mortimer.
  • It is illegal to rent out the caves in Nottingham and has been since the creation of the Nottingham Inclosure Act in 1845.
  • The Great Cheese Riot broke out at Nottingham’s Goose Fair in 1764 over the price of food. Large cheeses were stolen and rolled down Wheeler Gate and Peck Lane, and the Mayor was knocked down by one such cheese.
  • The Goose Fair is one of the UK’s largest and oldest fairs, dating back to the 13th century. Over a million people visit Nottingham’s famous fair every year but the modern funfair rides and vans selling chips with mushy peas are a far cry from the fair’s origins. Thousands of geese would be brought on foot from Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk to Nottingham, travelling down Goosegate and to the Market Square to be sold for the traditional Michaelmas dish of roast goose.
  • Nottingham has an estimated population of just 306,000 due to its very small official city boundary. However, the wider Nottingham Urban Area has an estimated population of 733,000 (in 2019), making it the 9th largest urban area in the UK.

Books 📚

  • The country’s first children’s library was founded in Nottingham in 1882.
  • JRR Tolkein wrote his poem The Voyage Of Earendel The Evening Star while staying with his aunt, Jane Neave, at her farm in Gedling. Tolkein stayed with her at Phoenix Farm in 1914, and she is thought to have been the main inspiration for Gandalf in Lord of the Rings due to her strong presence and mystical nature.
  • The 1958 Alan Sillitoe novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is set in a working men’s club in Nottingham. It was developed into a film in 1960, and a play for the Nottingham Playhouse in 1964, with Ian McKellen playing one of his first leading roles

Music 🎸

  • Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson was born in Worksop, where he initially lived with his grandparents before moving to Sheffield with his parents when he was six years old.
  • The first ever gig by Paul McCartney and Wings took place at the University of Nottingham Students’ Union on February 9th 1972. Tickets cost just 40p—a bargain for Macca’s first live performance in five years.
  • In 1981, the Notts County Choir released the song County’s The Team For Me, which Radio One DJ Noel Edmonds described as being “the worst pop song of all time”. Despite this, it was made available on the album The Complete Notts County Songs & Chants in the year 2000.
  • Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys wrote the group’s hit 1984 song West End Girls while staying with his cousin in West Leake.
  • Musician Jake Bugg was born in Nottingham and grew up in Clifton, where he started playing guitar aged 12.

Famous people 🎩

  • Robin Hood is probably Nottingham’s most famous resident. The legendary outlaw was said to steal from the rich to give to the poor, though it’s not clear whether he was actually a real person. Many local streets, buildings and institutions reference the legend of Robin Hood, such as Maid Marian Way in the city centre.
  • The Sheriff of Nottingham was, and still is, a real position, although the role is now purely ceremonial.
  • King Edward VIII owned Grove Farm in Lenton in the early 20th century while he was still the Prince of Wales. He kept a herd of shorthorn cattle there.
  • There is a blue plaque at 13 Linden Grove in Beeston, where Mahatma Gandhi visited his nephew in 1931. His nephew, JV Joshi, was lodging there at the time while studying at the University of Nottingham.
  • Comedian Ken Dodd’s first professional performance took place in Nottingham at the Nottingham Empire Theatre of Varieties in 1954.
  • Comedy actress Su Pollard was born in Nottingham. Following an apprenticeship at the Arts Theatre in Nottingham, she appeared on the talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1974 singing I Cain’t Say No from the musical Oklahoma!. She came second to a singing Jack Russell.
  • Micky Dolenz of The Monkees lived in Winthorpe near Newark in the 1980s.
  • Renowned British actor and former Dr. Who Matt Smith once played for Nottingham Forest’s youth team.

Sport ⚽

  • Following his experience in cricket, Hucknall-born sportsman Sam Weller Widdowson brought the use of shin guards to association football in 1874 during his time playing for Nottingham Forest.
  • When Nottingham Forest beat Derby to win the FA Cup in 1898, they wore their opponents’ shirts in the photos, as the photographer worried that Forest’s red shirts wouldn’t show up.
  • Sir David Frost was offered a contract to play for Nottingham Forest in the 1960s but turned it down because the maximum wage was £15 a week.
  • Former Nottingham Forest Player Peter Shilton was the first football player to make 1,000 League appearances.
  • Ice skaters Jayne Torvill and Christoper Dean both hail from Nottingham. Their performance to Maurice Ravel’s Boléro at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984 earned them the accolade of being the highest scoring figure skaters of all time for a single programme, receiving twelve perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s from the judges.
  • Boxer Carl Froch, MBE, was born in Nottingham. He was named the best active British boxer, pound for pound, by the BBC in 2013, and his fighting record at retirement was 33 wins and 2 losses.

Nature and animals 🌲

  • Sherwood Forest is home to the Major Oak. Thought to be between 800 and 1,000 years old, it is England’s largest oak tree with a girth of 10 metres and weighing an estimated 23 tonnes. Legend has it that the Major Oak provided shelter for Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
  • The first earthquake ever recorded in Nottinghamshire was on April 25th 1180.
  • Every single Bramley apple in the world is descended from a single tree planted in Southwell. Planted by a girl called Mary Ann Brailsford in 1809, the tree unfortunately fell victim to an incurable fungal infection, and was sold to Nottingham Trent University in 2018 in a bid to preserve it for as long as possible.
  • The myth that lemmings commit mass suicide is said to have been started by Nottingham local Arthur Mee. Born in Stapleford and a former editor of the Nottingham Post, he included the incorrect information in an edition of his Children’s Encyclopedia, published from 1908 to 1964.
  • The world’s oldest guinea pig passed away in Nottingham in 1979. Named Snowball, he was 14 years and 10 months old.
  • Animal rights group PETA wrote to Nottingham councillors in a bid to get the city to change its name to “Not-Eating-Ham” on Christmas Day.

Businesses 💼

  • Raleigh Bicycle Company, one of the oldest bicycle manufacturers in the world, was founded in Raleigh Street, Nottingham in 1885.
  • Nottingham resident Frederick Gibson Garton created HP Brown Sauce. He came up with the recipe while living in the Royal Oak in Basford, and made the sauce in his pickling factory round the corner on Sandon Street. Garton named the sauce HP after the Houses of Parliament, as he heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had begun serving it.
  • Player’s Cigarettes were once manufactured in Nottingham. In 1901, they merged with other cigarette companies to form The Imperial Tobacco Company to compete with American manufacturers.
  • British pharmacy and beauty retailer Boots was founded in Nottingham by the Boot family. Jesse Boot took over his father’s pharmacy, The Boots Company, and turned it into a nationwide chain. He was a great supporter of the city of Nottingham and donated land for the new University College at Highfields, now the University of Nottingham, which opened in 1928.

Inventions and new technology 💻

  • Nottingham was home to the country’s first high-pressure water supply, using a water wheel to pump spring water from a reservoir in Basford. The Trent Waterworks Company opened its works near Trent Bridge in 1831.
  • Nottingham-born physicist Louis Essen built the first atomic clock in 1955. The clock was so accurate that it would only lose one second every 300 years.
  • Ibuprofen was created by the Research Department of Boots while looking to create a safer alternative to aspirin. It was discovered by Dr. Stewart Adams and patented in 1961. The original laboratory was located on Pennyfoot Street, which is now home to BioCity.
  • The first subscriber trunk dialling telephone call that allowed a caller to dial a number without an operator was made in 1962 from Nottingham Council House to Belfast.
  • The first domestic “TV recorder” in the UK was created by Nottingham locals Norman Rutherford and Michael Turner. Called Telcan, it was launched by the Nottingham Electric Valve Company in 1963. There are only two known Telcan machines currently in existence, one of which can be seen at the Nottingham Industrial Museum at Wollaton Hall. Rutherford and Turner also developed the first combined TV and VTR, as well as the first handheld camcorder.

Buildings and monuments 🏛️

  • Unveiled on April 29th 1995, the sundial in Portland Square, Sutton-in-Ashfield, is said to be the largest sundial in Europe.
  • The Old Market Square in Nottingham city centre is England’s biggest market square, covering 5.5 acres.
  • There are three pubs in Nottingham that claim to be the oldest pub in England: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Ye Olde Salutation Inn and The Bell Inn. The Trip is thought to date back to 1189, though there is no documentation to support this. Its name comes from the belief that pilgrims or crusaders would stop at the inn on their journey to Jerusalem.
  • There have been several Nottingham Castles over the centuries. The first to be built on Castle Rock was a wooden structure that was built in 1068. This was replaced by an imposing stone castle during the reign of King Henry VII, which was demolished in 1649 following the English Civil War. The present ‘Ducal Mansion’ that we know as Nottingham Castle today was built by Henry Cavendish between 1674 and 1679. While it was burned down during riots in 1831, it was restored and re-opened in 1878 as Nottingham Castle Museum.
  • The bell in the 200-foot dome of Nottingham’s Council House that strikes the hour is called Little John. It weighs 10.5 tonnes, it has the deepest tone of any clocktower bell in Britain, and it is believed to be the loudest clock bell in the country.
  • A housing estate in Bulwell called Lunar Estate is home to roads named after Apollo astronauts. They include Aldrin Close, Apollo Drive and Shepard Close.

Transport 🚗

  • The first road in the world to be laid with Tarmac was Radcliffe Road in West Bridgford, after the British patent was obtained by County Surveyor Edgar Hooley in 1902.
  • Nottingham’s first number plate was AU1. It was registered by William Dowson in 1903, although the same number plate was used for Goldfinger’s Rolls-Royce in the 1964 James Bond film.
  • The UK’s first ever helicopter commuter service opened in July 1956, taking passengers between Lenton and Leicester. The fare was 11 shillings single or £1 return, but the service closed in November due to fuel rationing caused by the Suez Crisis.

Film, TV and radio 🎬

  • Ian Fleming refers to Nottingham Castle in his 1961 James Bond Novel Thunderball, calling it an “extraordinary trademark of a doll’s house”.
  • The UK’s first ever radio phone-in took place on February 4th 1968 on Radio Nottingham. It’s believed that the subject in question was pest control.
  • Lady Bay Bridge featured in the 1982 TV series Smiley’s People, which was based on the spy novel by John Le Carré and starred Sir Alec Guinness.
  • There are over 100 film versions of the Robin Hood story.

I’m a freelance digital marketer who has lived in Nottingham for a while now and I spent far too long compiling this list.