After the Norman Conquest, towns grew bigger, especially Nottingham. Even so, they were not very large towns, for there were not as many people in England as there are today. The streets were narrow and the houses were built close together.
The Chapel Bar
The Chapel Bar
Around each town there was a thick wall for safety against enemies, and the town gates were locked every night at sunset. The Chapel Bar (pictured here) was the last surviving town gate of Nottingham before it was demolished in the 18th century. Merchants who travelled to Nottingham to sell goods would have to pay money, called a toll, before they were allowed in.
The townsfolk were freemen who had paid their lord a sum of money to be free and they had to look after themselves. They chose a Mayor, who, with the help of his Aldermen, ruled the town. Every town had its own laws and punishments. The Mayor told the people what they must do through the town crier, who called out messages and news at the Market Square.
Streets in Nottingham
The narrow streets in big towns like Nottingham were very dirty. There were cobbles outside the shops, but in the middle of the road was a kind of gutter into which everyone threw their rubbish, even sweepings from the stables, dead dogs and other smelly things. People threw dirty water from upstairs windows, and pigs and chickens wandered in and put of the rubbish looking for food.
Water had to be fetched from the River Trent or drawn up from well in the town. It could also be bought from water-carriers that took it round the streets in carts or buckets. Food was bought from traders or merchants. People working in the same trade usually lived in the same street.
During the Middle Ages, people enjoyed watching plays, which, at first, were acted in the church porch. This was how the priests taught people the Bible stories. Sometimes these religious plays were acted in the Market Square or on a cart that went round the town. They were called Miracle Plays. By the later part of the Middle Ages, stories of Robin Hood had become widespread and many plays and games were based on him.
Two Knights Jousting
There were often tournaments held in the grounds of Nottingham Castle. The most popular sport at the tournament was jousting. In a joust, two knights charged at each other and each knight tried to knock his opponent to the ground. There was a Marshall, who made sure that everyone played by the rules and didnít cheat.
At a tournament, children and grown-ups also played games, some of which were rather rough. They liked to play football, handball, marbles and tops. They also liked archery and the cruel sport of bear baiting.
Bearward Lane (now Mount Street) in Nottingham was where the town bears were kept in cages, before being taken to the Market Square or castle grounds to be attacked by fierce dogs in front of a crowd of people.