Is the county of the river Trent, which flows through it from south‐west to north‐east, Nottingham was an important river crossing. The Great North Road crossed the Trent at Newark and ran up the eastern side of the county through Tuxford and East Retford to Bawtry. The Fosse Way ran south‐west to north‐east, crossing at Newark on its way to Lincoln.
The shire developed in Saxon times around Nottingham itself, where the rock made a strong defensive position. Various derivations of the name have been suggested but the earliest usage was Snotengaham, the settlement of Snot's people: the opening S, being difficult for the Normans to pronounce, was dropped after the Conquest. By the treaty of Wedmore of 878 it was retained by the Danes and formed one of their five boroughs. Though Danish rule lasted less than 50 years, Danish settlement was strong: there are many Scandinavian place‐names—Fiskerton, Gunthorpe, Thoresby, Granby—and the shire was divided, not into hundreds, but into wapentakes. In the early 920s Edward the Elder recovered the town, and built fortifications and a connecting bridge.
Nottingham retained its importance throughout the medieval period, its goose fair in October attracting traders from all over the country. East Retford, Newark, Mansfield, and Worksop developed as market towns, but the area remained thinly populated. The dissolution of the monasteries strengthened the influence of the gentry and nobility. The Stanhopes gained 20 villages that had belonged to Shelford priory; Welbeck abbey found its way to the Cavendish family, Rufford priory to the Saviles, and Newstead abbey to the Byrons. As the gentry moved up the social scale, the north of the shire became known as the Dukeries, Newcastle having Clumber, Portland Welbeck, and Rutland Kelham. The duke of Kingston's estate was at Holme Pierrepoint, east of Nottingham.
The agricultural character of the shire began to change in the later 18th cent. The Trent had always been a busy thoroughfare, but was augmented in the 1770s by the Trent and Mersey canal; by the Chesterfield canal in 1777 serving Worksop and East Retford; and by the Grantham canal, opened in 1793. The development of a canal network made the transport of coal much cheaper and led to a great expansion of the Nottinghamshire coalfield. The same period saw the development of the textile industry, Hargreaves and Arkwright setting up factories in Nottingham. But a severe recession after the Napoleonic wars caused great distress and gave a radical tinge to local politics. Brandreth's Pentrich rising of 1817 was in part the product of unemployment and low wages; in the reform crisis of 1831 the duke of Newcastle's mansion at Nottingham was burned; and Nottingham was the first town to return a chartist MP when it chose O'Connor in 1847. In the later 19th cent., prosperity returned and there was a diversification of local industries. Boot's Pure Drug Company was established in 1883; the Raleigh bicycle company had 800 employees by 1896; and Player's tobacco company employed more than 1,000 by 1898. Coaching towns like Tuxford and Blyth stood still as the railways passed them by, but Mansfield and Worksop expanded at roughly the same rate as Nottingham, and the balance remained the same.
Subjects: British History.