Friday, 19 June 2015

Discover Nottingham's Secret Chambers

In 1330 Britain was under the rule of Sir Roger de Mortimer in opposition to the King, Edward III. Mortimer was staying at Nottingham Castle and the King was also in the town. From the Brewhouse Yard, a tunnel climbs uphill to the castle. This was the route taken by the Kings men to capture Mortimer who was subsequently hanged at Tyburn.
Nottingham stands on soft sandstone rock which is honeycombed with man made caves, more than 540 at the last count. The history of the caves is centuries old. They have been dug as communication tunnels, warehouses, brewery and pub cellars, tanneries, skittle alley, sand mines, air raid shelters and in times of overcrowding as dwellings.

Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem claims to be the oldest pub in England having been established in 1189. A number of others challenge this claim including The Bell and The Salutation, both in the city. The building itself is only about 300 years old having been constructed on earlier foundations. The name refers to the Crusader knights who would call for refreshment on their way to the Holy Land. The "Trip" stands against the cliff face of Castle Rock and several of the rooms feature excavations into the sandstone. It is even possible to sit under a rock chimney. Beneath the pub, a network of caves dating from about 1068 once served as a brewery. These are now the cellars and tours can be made. Beware the model galleon suspended from the first floor ceiling. It carries a fatal curse - touch it at your peril. Women should be wary of sitting in the antique chair for they will surely become pregnant.

In Derby Road is the Hand and Heart public house dating from 1866. Built as a brewery, the beer was stored in the cave. The public house was soon added and apart from the addition of a conservatory to the first floor terrace, has been little altered. Many of the public areas are underground. Enjoy your refreshments in a cave.

The Park is a large, exclusive residential estate, largely developed in Victorian times on land which was once the Castle deer park. The Park, partly gated, is still gas lit. The main pedestrian access is by a tunnel through the sandstone. Midway along is a stairway leading to the street above. Originally constructed for horsedrawn carriages the road was found to be too steep. A number of the houses have follies in the form of eloborate staircases leading to tunnels which lead to their gardens. Wealthy lace manufacturer, Thomas Herbert went one better. His cave features a number of statues carved from sandstone depicting "Daniel in the Lions' Den".

In the area of Mansfield Road a number of sand mines were dug. Several were on a commercial scale and the handworked produce was carried to the surface by donkey. Rouse's sandmine was the largest, about 200 metres in length. It was worked until 1810 and supplied an a nearby glass works. The mine was re-opened in the 1890's as a tourist attraction "Robin Hood's Mammoth Cave". A number of houses nearby had tunnels from their basements, directly into the mine.

Both Shipstones Brewery and Nottingham Brewery dug large cellars. The constant temperature of 14 degrees was ideal for storing beer. 28 underground malt kilns have been recorded each being of a spherical form with adjacent access tunnels.

The original Sneinton Hermitage was a medieval religious house cut into the rock face. It had included a circular rock chapel 12 metres in circumference and 6 metres high. It was supported by 6 large pillars. The rock face, 300 metres long contained Nottingham's largest group of cave dwellings. Many of these were of two storeys with stone staircases. Windows were glazed and often shelves and cupboards were cut into the rock. Some had their own well. Diversion of a road in 1904 saw the destruction of most. A few remained and have recently been restored and are occasionally open to the public

Nottingham once had many cave dwellings brought about by the high demand for housing in a rapidly growing city. The poorer of these were reached by ladder. Living conditions were appalling and overcrowded and an act of Parliament in 1845 banned them. This did not have a immediate effect for it was perhaps another 100 years before the last homes were vacated.

Even Church Rock Cemetery has caves! Laid out in an old sandpit, the graves are interspersed with a number of rock outcrops and two areas are linked by a gated tunnel. Midway is a junction where a second tunnel leads to a number of chambers originally intended for use as catacombs. Victorian funeral fashions changed and the project was never completed.

In the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre is the entrance to the visitor attraction "City of Caves". Here can be seen the remnants of Drury Hill, a medieval district that was to become an appalling slum. Two of the caves, one of which originated in the 13th century housed a tannery There are clay lime pits and vats to be seen and the cave opens to the River Leen where the skins were washed. This cave system is one of many used in wartime as an air raid shelter. excavations were made at that time to fill protective sandbags. "City of Caves" is open daily - their website has more information :

Most of Nottingham's caves are private property and a number are still in use, mostly for storage or as workshops. Many remain hidden under buildings and will perhaps be discovered in future years. The Nottingham Caves Survey website has much information including an interactive map.

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