Nottingham: overrun with giggling, gambling spinsters?


It is almost three years now since I bid a fond farewell to Nottinghamshire, in favour of what most would deem the more sophisticated climes of Oxford. [In defence of this statement I remind you that the county is possibly named after a Saxon leader named Snot. Sophisticated this is not].

There are many things that the city of Nottingham seems to have been renowned for in the eighteenth century, including its production of lace and ale, and of course the legend of Robin Hood. One brief description of the city from The London Magazine in 1751 also remarked that the local area “abounds with liquorice”.

My favourite assessment of the city, however, is that of the amateur caricaturist and writer George Moutard Woodward. In his book Eccentric Excursions (1796), he dwells on the miserable weather before remarking that “Nottingham is far famed for its eminent exposure to high winds, and its rich production of OLD MAIDS!” The print above, taken from the book, portrays the city scene rather well.

“Mustard George”, as he was known, puts forward a rather damning appraisal of unmarried ladies of a certain age. While quite tolerable when they “recollect that they have passed their teens, and support an appearance and conversation suitable to the dignity of their station”, he laments that in reality spinsters have a tendency to “adopt the giddy manners of girls of sixteen”, when wisdom is most to be expected from them.

He continues:

“As to the Old Maids of Nottingham, they are in many respects a very harmless race of beings, remarkably partial to stiff stays, umbrellas, and striped great coats, and in general make a tolerable old-fashioned appearance”. That is, unless they are playing at cards with the local parsons, in which case a trip to the milliner’s shop is imperative. “Cards, (that universal bane to rational conversation) engrosses the time of two-thirds of the inhabitants, and is the subject of their daily thoughts, and midnight slumbers!”

The scene below, ‘A Promenade to a Rout on a fair Evening’ shows a train of dolled-up spinsters on their way to a private card party (rather aptly passing by a public house paying homage to the Virgin Queen). All in all, I rather like George’s vision of Georgian Nottingham: a city that blustered along in the wind and rain and whose streets, as the sun went down, were overrun with giggling old spinsters scurrying off to their late-night games of ‘Pope Joan’.


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