Nottingham: the Rebel City, with ‘a strange, black-souled vein of its own’
‘Once a rebel, always a rebel. You can’t help being one. You can’t deny that. And it’s best to be a rebel so as to show ’em it don’t pay to try to do you down’
– Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night, Sunday Morning
Ingrained in the city’s soul
Nottingham is the Rebel City. It has been for centuries. There’s something ingrained deep in our civic psyche that makes us defiant in the face of oppression, and brave enough to stand up and face it down. The spirit of folklore’s most-famous social justice champion – Robin Hood – continues to inspire modern Nottingham and its people. The city has a long tradition of opposing the establishment, inspired by Robin Hood, but also by documents like Magna Carta which prevented Robin’s famous enemy King John – and subsequent monarchs, from doing whatever they pleased.
Parliaments and protesters
During the British Civil War, Nottingham declared support for the Parliamentarian fight against Charles I and his outdated idea that kings had a divine right to rule. In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries we fought in the streets and the workplace for everything from fairer food prices and political reform, to better working conditions and job security. Feargus O’Connor and Helen Kirkpatrick Watts made Nottingham a key battleground in the national and international movements of Chartism and Women’s Suffrage respectively. The Luddite movement – a fight for job security against falling wages – had its very beginnings here. A far cry from the modern usage of the word ‘Luddite’, the real Luddites were rebels who broke frames to save their jobs and make their common voice heard.
A castle atop the rock
At the heart of these stories, often as a symbol of oppression, was the Castle itself. It was the stronghold for Prince John’s supporters against Richard I and it was the site where Charles I unsuccessfully raised his Civil War standard to raise an army for the Civil War. In 1831, after a challenge to the status quo, the Reform Bill was rejected in Westminster. We marched through the city and torched the Castle – a hated symbol looking down on the people. Today the Castle has switched allegiances and forms the largest cultural organisation in the city. It recognises and honours Nottingham as a proud Rebel City of activism and protest against unchecked power, corruption and exploitation. Through the telling of stories past and present, Nottingham Castle now celebrates the city’s willingness to rebel, challenge injustice and force change. It promotes artistic expression and dialogue for the betterment of all.
Our art has always reflected our rebelliousness. D.H. Lawrence – the banned author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Rainbow – unapologetically flouted the law to produce some of the country’s most celebrated, controversial and censored literature. Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe both profoundly captured the universal sense of youthful disillusionment with authority that is still so visible in our rich youth sub-cultures. More recently, that persevering quality has been clear to see in the films of Shane Meadows, the breakdancing of Rock City Crew, the poetry of Panya Banjoko and the visceral music of Out Da Ville and Sleaford Mods.
The struggle continues
Once a rebel, always a rebel
Nottingham remains a Rebel City. Activism is coursing through our veins. We’ve battled racism in the streets since 1958 and, inspired by Eric Irons, we’ve continued to fight racial discrimination – including the founding of the UK’s first chapter of Black Lives Matter. Just look at those who fought to make misogyny an official hate crime, advocated for refugees, walked out of school for climate change, or made Nottingham one of the country’s most LGBT+ friendly cities. The hard work of our charities, grassroots organisations and community workers, as well as the high number of independent businesses, are all testament to that enduring Nottingham spirit – we won’t just accept the position you give us. If it’s wrong, we’ll tell you and if you don’t change it, we will.