Nottingham's undiscovered caves

Throughout the world cities have been built upon the ruins of a former civilisation and nowhere is this more true than the industrialised city of Nottingham. Thinking about Nottingham it's hard to think beyond Robin Hood and yet this ancient city which was incredibly significant during the middle ages, has a dark, eerie and fascinating history which in many respects blows the legend of Robin Hood away.

cavesIncredibly, Nottingham is built on a man made system of underground cavities, caves and grottos that make a whole network that is distributed throughout the city. It is estimated that there are over 544 known caves but with many still undiscovered, who really knows? These caves have been used for a vast array of purposes, including dungeons, beer cellars, summer houses, wine cellars, tunnels, sand mines, bomb shelters and a bowling alley.

4 of these caves are currently in use as visitor attractions and for commercial purposes and visitor attractions:
- The city of Caves attraction, in the Broadmarsh Centre
- Mortimer's Hole beneath Nottingham Castle
- The unique cave-restaurant at the Hand & Heart Public House
- The Cellar-caves at the trip to Jerusalem Pub

Some of the cave systems are occasionally publicly accessible by mean of organised tours but most however are not accessible.

Drury Hill Caves
cavesDeep below the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre are the last remaining caves which formed the 19th century Narrow Marsh slum. In here large families would live in a single room and poor sanitation and little air flow led to severe break-outs of cholera, smallpox and tuberculosis. Close to here was the only known underground tannery in the UK. It was here that the most appalling conditions led to 8 year old children had little choice but to fill great vats with human exctrement and urine which provided amonia for the tanning process. The process would have led to the children developing claw like hands as the process stripped away their own flesh.

These caves are all part of the City of Caves attraction and it's here that visitors may take a tour and discover the disturbing truth of the caves for themselves.

Peel Street Caves
The Peel Street caves like many of Nottingham's caves were used as housing for the poor and homeless who didn't have the means to live in a 'real' home. During the Industrial revolution workers flocked in their droves to this industrial city which immediately led to a severe housing crisis. Enterprising landlords would let out these caves so the poor of Nottingham lived underground in these dark, damp and usually disease filled habitats which were not fit for animals, let alone humans to live in. The experience of visiting theses domestic caves is far removed from the clean regularity of modern urban living and offers a tangible link to medieval Nottingham.

All of Nottingham's caves are cut in to bedrock of sandstone known as Sherwood Sandstone, formed 200-280 million years ago.
This sandstone spreads immediately north of the Trent floodplain, covers much of Nottingham city centre and is subdivided in to a 3 main rock types:

1. The Lenton Sandstone is fine grained sandstone about 30m thick and is the oldest and lowest of the units.
2. Above this is the coarser Nottingham Castle Sandstone which is around 60m thick.
3. Toward the east of Nottingham city centre lays the Mercia Mudstone which overlays the Sherwood Sandstone. This is a much younger outcrop and consists of much finer sandstones.

The caves were lived until at least the seventeenth century because in 1845 the St. Mary's Enclosure Act banned the rental of the caves and cellars as houses for the poor. None of the caves are of natural origin, but the soft sandstone made it ideal for residents to easily carve away at the caves - creating a hole the was big enough for them and their families to exist in.

Nottingham Caves Survey
cavesSeveral years ago the "Nottingham Caves Survey" initiative began in an attempt to research and map the underground network. There has been several projects related to the location, exploration and restoration of this maze that has remained hidden underground for centuries. Thanks to this work, what has emerged is a fascinating history which pieces together remnants of Nottingham's history which has massively enhanced the understanding of the city's cultural and historical heritage, revealing it's past and offering answers to facts and events in its history.

One of the most innovative projects is an audio-visual program that aims to digitize the structures of the cavities, faithfully reflecting its geological composition and the area occupied by each. This video of the cave system can be found here.

Members are also working on a proposal to secure underground Nottingham as a UNESCO heritage site. The incredible caves are too often treated as little more than annoying construction setbacks or anomalous ground conditions, suitable only for bricking up, filling with concrete, or forgetting.

As I said before, there are only a few caves publicly accessible and I'd like to invite all the people who are attracted to this heritage to visit and explore them, such a curious and important part of the History.

There are Audio Tours (Monday to Friday) and Performance Tours (Saturday and Sunday and available everyday throughout the school holidays) and there is a vast range of prices depending on the customer's age.

I strongly recommend that you book your visit in advance to avoid disappointment. Some tours do sell out due to popular demand.

I already tried it, now it's your turn!! For more information on the city of Nottingham visit Nottingham's page.


By Agueda Martinez Sanchez

Date: 2017-11-28 13:17:47