Nottingham: Nottingham’s History Timeline

The fight for freedom of speech


John Fox, founder of the Quakers, was imprisoned in Nottingham’s guildhall/town hall in Weekday Cross, for daring to challenge the vicar of St Mary’s.


Gerard Winstanley, leader of the Diggers (a group of radical Protestants), came to Nottinghamshire where there were plans to set up a Digger community.


After the Restoration of monarchy supporters of the Presbyterian system, which rejected a church led by the king, were ejected from churches including St Mary’s in Nottingham. Dissenters continued to worship in cellars to avoid arrest and prosecution.


Hundreds of copies of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, a radical book that advocated for basic rights such as liberty and resistance to oppression, were read in Nottingham town. This was met with attacks by mobs on buildings and people.


Nottingham-born Susannah Wright was imprisoned for blasphemy for selling publications by Richard Carlile, a radical thinker at the time. She later opened a bookshop on Goosegate selling free-thinking publications. The shop was repeatedly attacked, but she refused to close.


Operatives Libraries, a radical initiative, set up public houses across the city to provide a source of uncensored opinions to working people in Nottingham, including challenging views on religion, politics and science.


Emma Martin, a Social Missionary, came to speak in Nottingham but was banned from speaking at the Assembly Rooms. She spoke to thousands on the Market Square instead.

From 1860

The Corporation barred Socialists from holding meetings in public houses in Nottingham and threatened to withdraw publicans’ licences who continued to host such meetings.

The fight for the right to vote


The Society for Constitutional Change, led by Rev. Walker of Nottingham’s High Pavement Presbyterian/Unitarian Church. called for an extension of the franchise.


Thousands read or heard the works of Thomas Paine which called for democracy. The Nottingham Corresponding Society was set up in 1797 to campaign for political reform and call for the vote for working men.


Hampden Clubs were established in most towns and villages across the Midlands and the North. They called for an extension to the franchise but were soon dominated by working people calling for votes for all men. Some even called for votes for all men and women.


The Pentrich Rising, led by Nottingham knitter Jeremiah Brandreth, saw 300-400 working people march from Derbyshire to Nottingham to ‘bring down the tyrant government’. Most just wanted more bread, but many called for the vote. Government agent provocateurs helped squash the rising. Over 20 people were imprisoned, 14 were transported and 3 were executed.


Riots took place in Nottingham after the Reform Bill, which aimed to extend the franchise, was rejected by the House of Lords. The Castle, Colwick Hall and a Beeston mill were burnt down. Three people were hanged at Shire Hall.


The Chartists were active in calling for universal male suffrage. Nottingham elected a Chartist MP, Feargus O’Connor.


The call for universal suffrage was continued on by the Socialists including Nottingham’s Thomas Smith, leader of the International Working Men’s Association. The first Socialist candidate for Parliament was John Burns in 1885, who demanded universal suffrage.

1800s to 1928

The fight for the right of all women to vote continued until it was granted to women on the same terms as men in 1928. Women’s suffrage groups were active in Nottingham.

The fight for the right to organise

1770s to 1810s

Regular riots in the town over food prices and wage disputes.


The first cooperative society, the Blue Ball Club, was set up. Many cooperatives and friendly societies were established in local communities and were seen as an early form of trade unionism.


The Luddite movement began in Nottingham. Members attacked textile machinery as a way of protesting manufacturers who used machines over human labour. This resulted in trials and hangings at Shire Hall.

1800s to 1820s

Gravenor Henson, a knitter from Nottingham and early union leader, formed the Union Society of Framework Knitters and made several attempts to obtain regulation of his trade through threatening strike action.


Six labourers, known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, were sentenced to transportation after founding a society and seeking to affiliate with the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, an early attempt to form a national union confederation. Successful campaigns were held in Nottingham for their release and pardon.

The fight against discrimination

1950s and 1960s

Protests and campaigning took place in Nottingham, and around the UK, to fight against the colour bar in housing, employment and public spaces.


St Ann’s Riots: racially motivated riots erupted in Nottingham as white people turned on black residents following an incident where a black man and white women were seen together at a pub. Several men and women were injured.


Asian factory workers in Nottingham, Loughborough and Leicester went on strike over working conditions, wages and racial discrimination. Despite a lack of support from their respective trade unions, widespread support helped win the strikes

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