Nottingham: From garden town to industrial slum (1750-1830)

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

21 Pages, Grade: 70% in England und 1,0 in D


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. Nottingham as a garden town
2.1 Population
2.2 Housing situation

3. Nottingham as an industrial slum
3.1 Population
3.2 Housing situation

4. Nottingham’s conditions after 1830

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

‘The streets, houses, and market-place here broad, cleanly, and elegant.’[1] With these words a German traveller described Nottingham in the early 1780s. In contrast to this another contemporary stated only a decade later that,

the streets are in general covered of the blackest kind, which sable hue is principally contracted from the dust of coal carts; and on a rainy day the heads of the passengers are saluted with streams of water from long projecting spouts issuing from the tops of the houses. The lighting and paving are articles which also require much improvement.[2]

It is obvious that during this time Nottingham experienced a considerable physical change, which transformed the elegant Georgian town of 1750 into a dirty and filthy industrial slum by 1830. During that period Nottingham had considerable problems with its population and its housing situation and could only helplessly watch its own decline. Especially, after the refuse of the corporation to enclose the open spaces in 1787, Nottingham had no real ways to escape its disastrous situation.

This essay will focus on the transformation of Nottingham during the period from 1750 to 1830 when the town had first the standing of a garden town and then the reputation of one of the worst slum areas in the country.[3] In particular, it will focus on the population and the housing situation during that period. In addition to that, accounts of contemporaries who lived in or visited Nottingham will be mentioned to illustrate the change within the town of Nottingham.

This essay will firstly examine the conditions and circumstances of the population and the housing situation in Nottingham when it was a garden town so from about 1750 to 1790/1800. Then in the third chapter Nottingham’s population growth and its changed housing situation will be discussed during Nottingham’s time as an industrial slum so from 1800 to 1830. In conclusion, the last chapter shall analyse the conditions of the years after 1830.

It will attempt to understand why, within eighty years from about 1750 to 1830, Nottingham changed its physical appearance so dramatically and which reasons contributed to this transformation from a picturesque garden town to an filthy industrial slum. Furthermore, it should make clear the conditions of the population, especially the working-classes who lived in the centre of Nottingham which became the slum area. It should make also clear that the people lived under bad living conditions during that time and that disease was rife. So the question remains why the garden town of the seventeenth century became an industrial slum by 1830? Why did it take place and how? Why was Nottingham unable to cope with the new situation? If the corporation had agreed to an enclosure in the 1780s Nottingham would have been transformed nevertheless in an industrial slum?

2. Nottingham as a garden town

2.1 Population

In 1750 and even before, Nottingham was called a fashionable, elegant Georgian town.[4] However, eighty years later, it was transformed by the industrialisation into a slum. In this period Nottingham experienced fundamental changes regarding population growth, the changing urban environment and the changing physical appearance. In the centuries before 1830, Nottingham was a typical English country town with an appropriate population, enough open green spaces for recreation and it had the typical flair of a small town. The Georgian town had a pretty market place and densely populated service centre. On the market place there were buildings like the malt cross from which proclamations were read and where political life took place. Furthermore, the market place had a number of houses with a colonnaded piazza along the frontages of these houses including shaped gables.[5] So it can be said that Nottingham in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was very picturesque and harmonious. That is how Thomas Sandby presents his depiction of Nottingham’s market place in 1740.[6] Not only Sandby, but also visitors of Nottingham and even local people gave their positive view on Nottingham’s attractions and diversity. Robert Sanders noted in his Complete English Traveller[7] in 1772 that,

…the situation is not exceeded by any in England… . …and in the principle streets are many fine houses… .The streets are broad and open and well paved… .Many gentlemen of great fortune reside here, which is not to be wondered at, as the prospect from the streets over the fields, and the windings of the Trent are so delightful, that it even exceeds imagination.[8]

Sanders said that Nottingham is a very clean town, well paved and the houses are in good conditions. Many better-off citizens lived in the centre of the town and could profit from the beauty of this town. Furthermore, a German traveller visiting Nottingham in 1782 said that Nottingham is ‘of all the towns I have seen outside London the loveliest and neatest.’[9] For him, Nottingham had a ‘modern look’.[10] Another account of Nottingham came from the local man, John Blackner, who said that ‘when the traveller enters this town by way of Chapel-bar, he is highly charmed with a view of the finest market-place in England’.[11] Consequently, Nottingham had a very positive image and was appreciated by both inhabitants and visitors.

As Sanders noted, in 1750 the wealthier citizens of Nottingham lived in the town centre, where they could profit from the cultural and political life of the city. The poorer citizens lived on the periphery and so there was a clear social differentiation between the social classes. But in the Victorian period, Nottingham’s image changed fundamentally. Even in 1750 Nottingham stood, like other English towns, at a social crossroads.[12] Due to increasing rural-urban migration, the population began to grow and the town began to change its physical appearance. In the years after 1750 Nottingham became a manufacturing and commercial centre with the success of framework knitting.[13] The resulting economic growth and the experience of an upswing attracted workers and labours from the surrounding areas and countryside. They started to move into Nottingham with their families to get a new job.[14] These people were responsible for the sudden growth of population in Nottingham. Because of the overcrowded centre, the middle-classes felt uneasy and they preferred to abandon their exclusive houses and retreated to the suburbs on the west side.[15] They preferred the western side of the town because of the influence of the wind, which often brought warm wind from the Gulf Stream and not the cold east wind. A second reason for the move to the west was that the wind, often brought from the west, brought the smell from west to east and not inversely. Consequently, the middle-classes were not afraid of smelling of the poor quality areas in the east. The better-off working-classes moved to the north of the town centre. So the centre of Nottingham was deserted and became over time a business centre.[16] But the rapid growth of population also transformed the core of the town into poor quality housing, which did not experience improvements in this period.

Many people were attracted by Nottingham’s industries, such as the hosiery, frame-knitting and lace industries. While the established industries, such as cloth making, tanning and ironworking, went into decline, the hosiery industry experienced a great upswing and so the following decades brought a great prosperity for the town’s economy but not for its image.[17] Because of the prosperity of Nottingham’s economy, more and more people came into the town and needed accommodation. From the 1780s on, therefore, new properties were erected, but because of the high demand they were built very quickly, cheaply and were not in good condition. They even had no adequate sewage and waste-disposal facilities.[18] The corporation permitted some developments because of the high demand of new housing, but the corporation also controlled these developments. This control led to big problems in the housing situation and the corporation failed to improve the well-being of Nottingham’s inhabitants. Another reason for the corporation’s intransigence was that the central government in London did not ascribe the corporation more independence and authority concerning the control of a growing industrial town.[19]

The development and the great success of the hosiery industry admittedly brought Nottingham a manufacturing base and a good industrial location, but this initiated the start of the development of an industrial town or even a slum. The population increase due to its good industrial location transformed Nottingham into an overcrowded industrial slum, which had no measures to avoid this evil, because the authorities did not see the necessity to take action.

The population growth in Nottingham between 1750 and 1800 was very rapid and was accompanied by complete confusion. The town grew from 10,910 people in 1750 to 28,861 by the end of the century. In 1770 there was a high increase over 22.5 per cent and once more in 1790 the population increased by 41.9 per cent.[20] These two high increases in 1770 and 1790 were the result of the migration of families attracted by new jobs in Nottingham. They came to get new jobs and better possibilities of work in the successful textile trades. Over the decades fashion changed and the technology developed and experienced new impetus. That is why even more people were attracted from the countryside to become part of these new developments and to be part of this economic rise.

2.2 Housing situation

After the Civil War and the Restoration in 1660, life in Nottingham normalised. The town transformed its housing and an urban renewal started with the refurbishment of streets and public buildings. Since the arrival of local family gentry from the countryside, some new houses were erected in a very exclusive and modern style such as the Plumptre House (demolished in the 1850s).[21] These houses had gardens and on the eastern side of the town some areas had orchards, market gardens or pastures. Thomas Sandby illustrated the market place of 1740, but he only showed the frontage of the houses. However, these houses surrounding the market place possessed small orchards to their rear. Furthermore, some owners on High and Low Pavement created so-called vistas or viewpoints over the surrounding countryside.[22] An example of this type is the Newdigate House. The majority of Nottingham’s houses during this period had two or three storey timber frame structures. The timber-framed houses were infilled with a daub made of clay. Only exclusive houses possessed tiles while the others had a thatch of straw. The latter type of house was often exposed to a danger of fire.[23]

Even the Badder and Peat’s map from 1744 shows that Nottingham was once a garden town with many open spaces. But the surrounding open fields and meadows, which belonged to the common rights, were already limiting the following development and the extension of Nottingham.[24] In the 1750s and 1760s the north of the market place was already densely populated with houses but in the rest of the town, houses were well spread and also gardens and small courts were preserved. So the Common Fields were still green spaces but with the increase of population in the 1770s and 1780s and the necessity of new accommodations they were rapidly built on.

During that time, three private landlords possessed properties around the town, among them the Duke of Newcastle. He was owner of the Castle Park Estate on the west side of the town. Furthermore, there were two families on the east side. However, the major owner of undeveloped land within the town boundaries was the corporation.[25] Because of the lack of real power to control and develop an industrial town, the corporation was ineffective and did not have the means to stem or improve the problems emerging in Nottingham. The result was that Nottingham developed itself without any planning, in particular with regard to the infrastructure of intact houses and well-kept streets. This lack of power became apparent when many houses in Nottingham were built in a simple and cheap way. The corporation lacked power to control the private developers. The latter were in an excellent situation to erect these houses in such an appalling condition. Another problem was that there were no covenants imposed on builders concerning the nature and conditions of houses which were erected in Nottingham.[26] So every builder could erect his house as he wished; modern and exclusive or cheap and simple. For example, in the Common Fields, land was made available for development, but because of the necessity of accommodation the prices shot up. Consequently, the builders erected the houses as cheaply as possible to ensure that the textile workers and immigrants to Nottingham could afford the rent.[27] The builders’ first priority was to earn as much money as possible, rather than to concern themselves with the welfare of the tenants.


[1] C. P. Moritz, Journeys of a German in England in 1782 (1965), p. 176.

[2] A. C. Wood (ed.), ‘Nottinghamshire by G. M. Woodward’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 61 (1957), p. 39.

[3] See J. V. Beckett and K. Brand, Nottingham: An Illustrated History (Manchester/ New York, 1997), p. 36.

[4] J. V. Beckett (ed.), A Centenary History of Nottingham (Manchester/ New York, 1997), p. 189.

[5] Beckett, A Centenary History, pp. 190-191.

[6] See Beckett, A Centenary History, pp. 190-191.

[7] R. Sanders, Complete English Traveller (1772).

[8] Sanders, Complete English Traveller, pp. 492-493.

[9] Moritz, Journeys of a German, p. 176.

[10] Moritz, Journeys of a German, p. 176.

[11] J. Blackner, The History of Nottingham (1815), p. 61.

[12] Beckett, A Centenary History, p. 190.

[13] See Beckett and Brand, Nottingham, p. 22; see R. A. Church, Economic and Social Change in a Midland Town, Victorian Nottingham 1815-1900 (London, 1966), p. 6.

[14] See Beckett, A Centenary History, p. 191.

[15] See Beckett, A Centenary History, p. 204.

[16] See Beckett, A Centenary History, p. 190.

[17] See Beckett and Brand, Nottingham, p. 22.

[18] See Beckett and Brand, Nottingham, p. 35.

[19] See Beckett, A Centenary History, p. 192.

[20] See tables 10.1 and 10.2 in Beckett, A Centenary History, pp. 192-193.

[21] See Beckett and Brand, Nottingham, p. 21.

[22] Beckett and Brand, Nottingham, p. 21.

[23] See Beckett and Brand, Nottingham, p. 20.

[24] See Beckett and Brand, Nottingham, p. 21.

[25] See Beckett, A Centenary History, p. 202; see C. W. Chalkin, The Provincial Towns of Georgian England – A Study of the Building Process 1740-1820 (London, 1974), p. 113.

[26] Chalkin, The Provincial Towns, p. 121.

[27] See Beckett and Brand, Nottingham, p. 36.

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Nottingham: From garden town to industrial slum (1750-1830)
University of Nottingham  (School of History)
Advanced Seminar
70% in England und 1,0 in D
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Nottingham, Advanced, Seminar
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Anne Sophie Günzel (Author), 2004, Nottingham: From garden town to industrial slum (1750-1830), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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