Brewhouse Yard Stories
The castle’s “hidden gem” tucked at the bottom of Castle Rock
Brewhouse Yard and its 17th Century cottages allow us to tell the stories of everyday people in a rapidly expanding and industrialising Nottingham but its history stretches back far further.
From a den for cutthroats and thieves to the genteel home of a stocking dyeing pioneer, Brewhouse Yard has just as many exciting stories as the castle atop the hill!
Crusades and Castle connections
The area that would later become known as Brewhouse Yard has long been associated with Nottingham Castle, not least for the famous Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem which it hosts!
Whilst it has been disputed that King Richard I famously drank at the Trip before leaving for the Crusades, we do know that water mills provided the castle with flour on the site from before 1217, when an invoice is dated for repairs to the mill in the papers of King Henry III.
Outside the law
The Brewhouse Yard was “an extra-parochial liberty” which placed it outside of the jurisdiction of the town’s parishes for law and order. This led to it becoming a hub for undesirables and quite the den of iniquity! It was also officially tax free, possibly leading to the rise of brewing in the rock caves. The Nottingham historian Robert Thoroton once described it as: “a great receptacle for fanatics, and other like people, who would not live conformable to the laws.”
Plot and intrigue
To preserve the powers of a King
In 1330, the castle’s caves provided the backdrop to the daring coup d’état where supporters of the young King Edward III captured the King’s mother, Queen Isabella and her new lover, Roger Mortimer. It was into Brewhouse Yard that Mortimer was dragged, put on a horse and taken to London to be executed.
Later, in 1403, Edward’s grandson, King Henry IV, gifted Nottingham Castle to his wife, Queen Joan, who even named the then 4 mills at Brewhouse Yard, calling them Sparrow, Donne, Dosse and Gloff.
Brewhouse Yard was sold out of royal hands by James I in 1611 and the earliest parts of the cottages began being built in the 1670s. It was not until 1680 that the first reference to “Brewhouse Yard” was recorded – though it is widely believed brewing and malting had been happening here for many years before.
It is in the 1670s that Samuel and Tobias Wildboare and their families lived at Brewhouse Yard. They were originally from Northampton but attracted to the area by its extra parochial status due to being members of an independent church. The Wildboares were comfortably off and lived in the new cottages until the early 18th Century, growing wealthy through cloth dyeing.
In 1732, William Elliot and his family move into the Brewhouse Yard cottages. Although his occupation is originally listed as a stocking trimmer and dyer, it later changed in 1750 to gentleman – another demonstration of the profitability of Nottingham’s hosiery trade at this time.
Protest and rebellion
A home of the Luddites?
At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Ley family lived in the cottages, renting it from the wealthy Norton family who owned the land. Although not paupers, they were not as well off as either the Elliots or the Wildboares. Both Charles Ley and his wife Frances were framework knitters, an occupation which steadily became less and less profitable with the rise of the industrial revolution and, after the end of the Napoleonic wars, imports arriving from Europe. The phrase “as poor as a stockinger” became a common one in Nottingham as industrial action and framebreaking like that of the Luddites showed this rising discontent.
Last residents and new beginnings
By the end of the Victorian period Nottingham’s knitting frames were gone and the great lace factories had taken their place. Living in Brewhouse Yard at this time were the Websters. William Webster was an ironworker whilst his daughter Lucy worked in the finish line at one of the lace factories. William’s son, John, was killed in action in France in 1914 serving with the Sherwood Foresters. The family left Brewhouse Yard in 1908, moving to St Ann’s, when the Waterworks took control of the area.
During the Second World War, the caves of Brewhouse Yard formed an emergency headquarters for the ARP. Here office space was available, with desks and telephone lines installed. Bunk beds were also provided for the volunteers to get some rest in case of a bombing raid of lengthy duration.
In 1972, Brewhouse Yard was purchased by Nottingham City Council, who carried out extensive repairs and restoration to the site. It reopened as The Museum of Nottingham Life in 1977.