Saturday, July 07, 2007

Market Square, Nottingham, site of the Golden Arrow competition.

Long years after the Norman Conquest, Nottingham remained a divided town. The English, or Saxon contingent, continued to dwell around the site of their original fortress and hugely successful market at Weekday Cross. Not to mention their churches where the present day St Mary's now stands. The French, or Norman population, based itself around Peveril Castle, the castle ordered by William the Conquerer, and which we now refer to as Nottingham Castle. Each community had its own laws and officers.

Peveril was wise enough to see that force alone could not unite these two communities. So he initiated the establishing of a new market place on the derelict land between them, and which both communities would have safe access to. The place we now know as Nottingham's Market Square. The Saxon Weekday market would move there on Saturdays, along with several other small markets. A convenient old manorial wall ran across the site, and Peveril determined that the northern (Long Row) side was for the English and all the rest would be for his French supporters. But he also happily saw to it that goods could be easily sold across the wall, or even through it at various points. All this happened in the late 11th century. By the middle of the 12th century, when Henry 2nd was on the throne, Nottingham's Market Place was a thriving enterprise for all involved. But readers might be surprised to learn that a Saxon - Norman divide in law existed in Nottingham until the 18th century.

According to Robin Hood folklore, Nottingham's Market Square is the place where the famous Golden Arrow competition took place, a competition devised by the Sheriff of Nottingham to lure Robin out of hiding. There is speculation that such an archery display would have been part of the St Mathew's Fair, which was held each September. St Mathew's Fair then became the famous Goose Fair, the latter of which now operates outside the city centre. There are several archery contests mentioned in the earliest ballads of Robin Hood. In one of the very first, Robin Hood makes his escape and hides in the castle of Sir Richard of Lee. When Sir Richard is taken prisoner by the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin rescues him and kills the Sheriff in the process!

In recent decades a regular open air market has been replaced by occasional craft fairs and fairground rides. Varioous tales about Robin Hood tell of him coming to markets at Weekday Cross and Hen Cross (see THIS LINK), disguised as a stall holder. One tells of him coming to this market as a potter, selling his wares to the Sheriff's wife in an attempt to get her to lead her husband out into Sherwood Forest.

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