23 July 2016


Here in Nottingham, where I have lived for the last ten years, one of the most famous buildings is The Bell Inn.
It is situated right in the City Centre, at 18, Angel Row. The inn dates from the Fifteenth Century and is the oldest pub in the City. Its cellars include hand-carved caves dating from the Twelfth Century.

The Bell Inn is of special importance to lovers of our music because for many years on Sunday lunchtimes a traditional jazz band has played at The Bell Inn. So it is a popular local venue.
Although the personnel has changed slightly over the years, there is a resident band and the quality of its music is high.

It was a special pleasure for me to be invited to deputise in the band on 13 September 2015 and again on 3 July 2016 and 11 September 2016, when the regular trumpet player was away on holiday. It was one of the best six-piece bands in which I have had the privilege of playing. There were on all occasions about 100 customers in the pub and many of them were obviously the core of regulars - seriously interested in the music and attentive to everything. Many customers were also enjoying the excellent Sunday lunch provided.

But telling you all this is just a crafty way of getting round to an un-jazzy subject that appeals to me. It is about Nottingham itself - a city which I have come to love. I want to share with you an interesting aspect of its history - how it got its name.

Fifteen hundred years ago, quite close to where I am typing right now, there lived Old Man Snotta.

To make a living, Snotta did a lot of trading. He set up Snotta’s Trading Centre where he bought and sold meat, animal fats, pigs, sheep, pottery, simple farming equipment, and especially garments, many of which had been made by his wife, his daughters and his sisters, who did their own weaving. His shop looked like this.

He also sold a nice line in designer footwear made from cattle skins by his son Wulfran.

Snotta was the local Mr. Big. So it is not surprising that the area round Snotta’s Trading Centre became known as Snottastun (Anglo-Saxon for Snotta’s Town).

Snotta built himself a home nearby (not too close, as he considered the Trading Centre a somewhat downmarket area). He chose a site conveniently near the river. The frame of the house was constructed from wood, cut from more than a dozen tree trunks. The house was basically one large room. For insulation, his brother – who was good at thatching – made him a thatched roof. They filled in the walls with planks and with wattle and daub. It must have been rather like this modern replica.
Being relatively prosperous, Snotta opted for a wooden floor, too. And he had a form of interior lighting – lamps burning animal fat. The house had no glass windows; people were still ignorant of glass, Mr. Snotta made do with vellum as a cover for his primitive 'window'.

In the centre of the home was a fire, built on a raised clay hearth. This was somewhat hazardous, but in the winter the Snottas were too cold to worry about the danger of the house burning down.

The house was built facing south, to make the most of the sun’s warmth.

As Mr. Snotta was quite somebody in the small community, the place where he lived became known at Snottasham. (Anglo-Saxon for Snotta’s Home).

In those days, just as today, when men such as Mr. Snotta died, the descendants often continued to run the business and live in the home. Descendants were indicated in Anglo-Saxon by the suffix ‘ing’. So his Trading Centre became Snotta-ing-tun; and his home became Snotta-ing-ham.

Other examples in England are to be found in Dersingham [the home of the descendants of Deorsige] and Walsingham [the home of the descendants of Wal].

A few centuries later, the Normans invaded England and they were particularly attracted to Snottaingham, where they developed a town and a castle of their own. But they were unfamiliar with words beginning 'Sn – ' and found them difficult to pronounce. So they dropped the 'S'. Thus, the place name eventually became simplified to Nottingham, which it is still called today.

I bet Old Man Snotta was rejoicing in his grave in 1980 when the Nottingham Forest Football Team – still bearing his name – won the European Cup.

But what about Snotta's trading centre at Snottaingtun? Well, the Normans weren’t so keen on that part of the region and left it to the Anglo-Saxons, with whom they soon integrated well. The Anglo-Saxons had no reason to drop the ‘S’, so it remained as Snottaingtun. And all that happened over the next thousand years was that its pronunciation and spelling were smoothed into the present-day Sneinton.

So today (no kidding) we have the glorious City of Nottingham, and – just a mile east of its centre – the suburb of Sneinton.

Well done, Mr. Snotta. Your name is thus curiously perpetuated in two adjoining locations.