by Paul Nix
Air raid shelters
A cave complex at the top of Pelham Street still shows signs that it was used, during the last war, as an air raid shelter. According to the Air Aid Shelter List for 1945 it was number 722 with accommodation for a hundred people.
Most of the cave walls are painted with white-wash and blast walls of brick have been installed. There are still signs on the walls for ‘entrance’, ‘exit’, ‘how to light the emergency lamps’ and directions for the ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’ toilets. Many of Nottingham’s caves, 87 are listed on the 1939/45 air-aid shelter list, were used as protection during the war. The caves alone, not counting the cellars, trenches and Anderson shelters, had capacity for 170/,0/0/0/ people Baker. Many of Nottingham’s now famous bakers started off with ovens built into the bunter sandstone, they were using, probably without knowing, one of the rocks inherent features its ability to retain heat. Due to the rock holding water, like a sponge, any heat generated in a cave (oven) is reflected back from the cave (oven) walls. An example of the efficiency of this property was shown when a long established baker moved to new and more modern premises. I interviewed a man who as a boy had been responsible for lighting the fire in the oven he told me ‘‘I used to get there at 4 am every morning to light the fire. When we moved to the new bakery the inside of the old oven was still too hot to get inside a fortnight later’’.
Caves under Peck Lane destroyed in 1975 were on the site of Smith’s Bank, Thomas Smith (1631 – 1699), Nottingham’s first ever bank, Melllors wrote of him, ‘‘He lived at the corner of Peck Lane. Being a trustworthy man, people from outlying districts, rather take their money through the dangerous county roads, left it in the care of Mr. T. Smith. For security of this money he had made under the kitchen basement of his shop three separate rooms cut out of the solid rock, approached by a trap door and ladder, and another set of rock rooms below these approached by steps partly under the public street.’’
A cave in Bridlesmith Gate, (the term ‘gate’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘gata’, which means ‘place of’ i.e, place of the bridle smiths,) retains all the hallmarks of being used as a forge. Deering says of Bridlesmith Gate ’’ was so called by reason of the great number of smiths dwelling there, who made bits, snaffles and other articles for bridles’’. The cave has a large central chimney which rises from the roof of the cave at forty five degrees, then narrows and rises vertically, thus stopping any rain from falling onto the fire. The inside of the chimney contained vast amounts of soot.
One half of a cave complex in Goose Gate contained Nottingham’s first brewery, Simpson’s Brewery, built in 1792 on land leased from Richard Arkwright, later Sir Richard Arkwright, the site originally contained three or possibly four early cave malting complexes. These were knocked into one huge cave for barrel storage. This cave plus the slaughter house cave, to which it is connected, form the largest cave complex under the city.
Malt produced in Nottingham’s cave’s was sold to local inns and taverns most of which brewed on the premises. Some brewed in caves, The Trip To Jerusalem, whilst others had brew houses above ground, but all would have maintained their cave-cellars to store the brewed ale. In 1697 during a visit to Nottingham, Miss Celia Fiennes did, as lots of travellers to Nottingham would do, visited a cave to taste the ale. She said ‘‘Att ye Crown Inn is a cellar of 60/ steps down, all in ye rock like arch worke over your head; I drank good ale.’’ Alas the Crown Inn is no more but recent investigations made during clean up operations in the caves at the Salutation Inn on Hounds Gate show the likelihood that it brewed its own ale for many years.
One half of a cave complex in Goose Gate was a underground slaughterhouse it is not large enough to have coped with cattle but may have only been intended for sheep, calfs or pigs. In it there are butchering thralls to cut the carcasses up on, with drains and spaces to put a bucket to catch the blood. A thrall found topped with sand turned out to be a salting trough used to treat meat to make it keep, they did not have refrigerators in those days. Investigation into the properties owners showed that over many years they had been pork butchers.
A trade that required a continuous fire to keep the tallow molten would have been relegated to a cave due to the by-laws appertaining to ‘curfew’: NB. a curfew was a metal device for covering a fire at night, the term originates from an order of William the Conqueror who worried about his subjects plotting against him at night, so he directed that at the ringing of the bell at eight o’clock everyone should rake up his fires and retire to bed.
At the top of Mansfield Road, sometimes called Hang Man’s Hill, due to the fact that felons were executed there, in the grounds of the cemetery are the unfinished cave catacombs. They were started in early 1900 by a local company but it ran into financial difficulty and they were never finished or occupied.
A cave complex on Castle Boulevard is known to have been a hermitage, a satellite of Lenton Priory and was called ‘The Rock Hewn Chapel of St Mary Le Roche’, it is quite obvious that when the chapel was constructed they extended and modified some existing caves, that may have been there for many years.
A cave system in Bridlesmith Gate contained three charnel pits, one of the had vast amounts of Medieval pottery in it.
A cave in Bridlesmith Gate contained a rock-cut work bench that had been used by a Mr. Cox a Chemist to produce his patented Black Oils, their were also niches for urn type jars containing chemicals.
Their are a few examples of these in the Park, contained in the rock face that backs onto the castle.
It is recorded in the Nottingham Town Records that a conduit was constructed through the rock, along the length of Castle Boulevard to supply water to the new water works at the end of Castle Road.
Caves beneath a building that once belonged to a cutler in St. Peters Gate contained many used and worn out sandstone grinding wheels of the kind used to finish and sharpen the old cast iron cutlery.
Rock cut cells are still in evidence beneath the Castle and the old Shire Hall on High Pavement.
In the rear of caves in Fisher Gate there is a fish gutting trough.
A cave on Castle Boulevard has a rock cut fish tank, it was part of the St. Mary Le Roch cave complex. It was a satellite of Lenton Abbey and used for food gathering, growing and catching. The tank would have been for fish caught in the river Leen, it flowed past this site.
In the block of land between the Council House and Parliament Street was for many years a large foundry, that produced cast-iron ranges etc. Long Row’s original name was Gridlesmith Gate and folk-lore preserves ‘The little smith of Nottingham that makes the things that no man can’ this alludes to the great skill of the Nottingham founders, who it is believed all moved to Sheffield when Nottingham had it’s big clean up.
Garderobe (Medieval Toilet)
The cave complex in Castle Gate, a Malting complex, has a fine gardirobe (toilet); two meter’s wide, half a metre broad and three meter’s deep. The term, French in origin, comes from their original use ‘to guard your robe’. In days of yore, before the time of insect repellents and moth balls, in order to keep the beasties from eating your best robe you had to be a bit cute. Moths it seems have one thing in common with us they dislike the smell of a well used but not cleaned toilet’s (see where the term Bog comes from), so people discovered that if you hung your robes (clothes) in the toilet the Moth left them alone.
Mainly under the Castle in Mortimers Hole and the Western Passage.
In a garden three terraces down from the Ropewalk is a cave called ‘The Greenhouse”.
This name was obtained from the description given to it by the school who used it and termed it as ‘their greenhouse’. A buttressed brick entrance in the cliff face leads into a passageway that runs for some twelve feet (3.5m). At this point the passageway splits and goes off to the left. The junction in the passageway opens out into a small area where four steps go up to a bricked-up doorway. Looking down the chamber it has a trough running around its outer perimeter and at the far end we see a window which looks out into the gardens. The trough was partially filled with soil but at one end, there was a small fireplace built. A little investigation showed that from the fireplace a tunnel ran inside the trough, so that hot air produced by the fireplace would circulate underneath the earth – was this a Victorian cave seed-propagator? It was well-lit from the window which appeared to have contained coloured glass at one time.
Best example is in Mansfield, it’s called the Rock Houses. But Behind old warehouses on Cliff Road is the rear portion of a dwelling, construction of the building removed the front. Not many dwellings survived because when habitation above ground became more available empty dwelling’s/caves were soon converted in to something more useful, usually removing previous traces of style and use.
Caves to one side and the rear of a public house on Sherwood Street once housed a Leper colony, a window (hole in the rock) facing onto the Road is said to have been where people would have left food for the poor victims of this affliction.
A cave discovered in Castle Gate contains the best preserved example of a cave malting complex, a central flight of steps leads down to a large rectangular chamber with a central pillar.
A small landing two thirds of the way down on one side has a well and a small cave, opposite this, on the other side of the landing is the upper entrance to the malt kiln. From the large chamber at the bottom there is a second opening into the malt kiln, this is the fire pit. The malting process in caves, started first by spreading malt thickly in the small cave, then water from the well was poured over the grain to steep it. When the grain has swollen and burst open it is quickly transferred over to the malt kiln, and spread in a thin layer on a net stretched over a charcoal fire in the bottom of the kiln, to kill the grain and stop it germination. This process used most of the cave’s inherent features, namely constant temperature, in the reign of King Charles 1 it was said ‘‘the subterraneous Malt Rooms, they used to make Malt as kindly in the heat of Summer as above Ground in the best Time of the Winter’’, and a total lack of daylight to stop the grain germination and pure water to steep the grain in.
See Charnel Pit
When demolition of building’s on Tree Lane was under way a cave was uncovered full to the brim with Nut’s (Walnut’s of course), it was not unusual to feed pig’s on nuts (usually at Mast Time), they would be driven into forests to eat their fill (I am told that it makes the bacon really tasty).
Lot’s of these and some bigger. See Tunnels.
At the bottom of Holowstone once stood a Post Office, a brick front hid the fact that the rest of it was in the rock.
Under the old Central Market (10m down) are the remains of the lower passageways and cells of the House Of Correction that stood on this site.
Virtually ever Pub/Bar/Inn/Etc. in Nottingham had one, best ones left are The Salutation, The Trip To Jerusalem and the The Bell Inn.
In a cliff face, on a garden terrace which did connect through a tunnel to the rear of a house on The Ropewalk, is a cave called the “Colonnade”.
The tunnel alas is now blocked at both ends, one end forming a car park and the lower end is bricked up inside the cave. The Colonnade is a rectangular chamber being 5 meters wide at the cliff face and going into the cliff for 9 meters. Inside the chamber there are three parallel rows of six pillars each, these are all free standing, connected only to the floor and ceiling. The height of the ceiling is 2.5 meters and is mostly level. All the pillars measure approximately 35 cm’s across but some are worn and one has had bricks put around it. The entrance to the cave is through a very large doorway with another pillar in the centre of it. From this entrance to the back of the cave the floor is covered in bricks laid flat and at the far end a series of steps leads us up to the bricked-up passageway entrance mentioned earlier. Looking down the left-hand wall of the cave there are six niches, each niche having a carved statue. Most of these are very worn, partially due to the nature of the rock, from which they are cut. Bunter sandstone carvings do not fare well in exposed or draughty positions, also these carvings have had many hands on them over the years. At least two of the statues are quite unrecognisable. The niche nearest to the entrance is an old bricked-up doorway. The right- hand wall of the cave has seven niches, all were plain except the third niche from the entrance end. In this niche, which has a rounded top, there is a crucifix and below this some writing has been scratched into the rock, but it could not be decipher ed. The floor of the cave is rock. To the rear of the cave, either side of the steps mentioned earlier, are yet two more doorways, these were also bricked up. The eighteen pillars in the cave each have a thick base which can be up to 51 cm’s across but 46 cm’s from the floor, they taper to about 35.5 meters wide. The pillars stay at this width to within 30/ cm’s of the roof where they again splay out. Most of the pillars exhibited a wasting effect about shoulder height, possibly due to people catching them as they pass by.
See Charnel Pit
Mr Rouse had Sand Mines in Sherwood Street, but after collapses where his men where buried alive he was closed down. These caverns were re-opened in Victorian times at Goose Fair and lit with gas for visitors. Now called the Peel Street caves, because that is where the present entrance is.
See Charnel Pit
Half a large cave complex in Goose Gate was a slaughterhouse containing a salting trough, and three butchering thralls, one of which had a sloping top and drain to allow the blood to run away into a bucket.
Beneath the Castle, in Elephant’s rock in Brewhouse Yard. some of the cave stables now tend to house many horses (cars), if fact lots of horse power.
Too many to mention, almost everybody had one.
The reason this cave has two names is because when originally made in 1856 it was a summer house, as this description in ‘Rambles around Nottingham’ indicates:
‘‘Aside above and supporting a garden terrace capable of being extended outward the top of the outer wing at any future period, but terminating in the meantime in a beautiful situated bower or summer house commanding far and wide the level in an enchanting view over The Park and Meadows with a blue liquid glimpse of the Trent looking out from the centre of the wooded landscape like a soft imploring eye upturned from earth to heaven. The dark feathery ridge of Clifton Grove rushing out of the sky and in the hollow beyond it the phantom outlines of the Charnwood Hills.’’
Examination of this summer house, or bower, located a date of 1872 incised into the wall – at this point in time the inside of the summer house was carved with snakes, birds, monkeys, crocodiles, bats. Petrified stone was installed and so it was converted into a grotto. The carvings in it are quite extensive covering virtually all the flat surfaces, pillars, arches and recesses. Alas the roof collapsed inwards due to a bank of soil above the grotto falling onto it. The external appearance is of a doorway in the centre with a buttress either side and either side of each buttress is a large window (the frontage is some fifteen feet (4.56m) across and the height about seven feet (2.13m) to where a rocky ledge juts out two feet (61cm’s)). At the far right-hand side the doorway is guarded by a sleeping lion carved out of stone. Entering the doorway we are confronted by a pillar opposite (which is actually a buttress on the back wall), it has an enormous winged bat that seems to look down on you. The back wall comprises of three large arches each containing piles of petrified stone. Alas, the inside also contains two or three tons of soil which has fallen in from the terrace above. Both end walls seem to have a petrified block of stone standing in front of them. By standing in the middle arch and then turning back to face the doorway where we came in, we can see in the space above the right window, the date carved 1872, and in the left window space the initials of its architect ‘Mr. Alderman Thomas Herbett’. Although the roof section of this grotto has suffered somewhat the carvings that remain are very sharp and clean and I feel that when this roof is replaced and the mound of soil is removed this grotto might reveal a few of its secrets still lying hidden eg. how is the water supplied to produce the petrified rock? Are we looking at some very innovative Victorian pumping works yet to be discovered hidden underneath all this soil or was it just simply that pre-petrified rock was installed? We shall not know until most of this rubbish is cleared out. The carvings alone are well worth a view. At present it is possible to stand on the heap of soil and your head will be above the level of the original roof!
During the demolition prior to the building of the Broad Marsh Centre tanning and de-hairing pits were found in the caves beneath the site, tanning was one of Nottingham’s principal trades during the later medieval period and the area of these caves was a favoured location for tanning, being by the side of the River Leen, because tanning requires large amounts of water for the pits plus running water to wash the skins in.
Records show us that in 1667 there were ‘forty seven tanners yards in that place’ and that visitors to the town were frequently ‘‘saluted with a volley of suffocating smoke from the burning of tanner’s knobs and gorse’’. It was also in this year that the plague visited Nottingham which was transmitted by rats but it was noted that not only did the rats not go near the Broad/Narrow Marsh area but that there were far less casualties of the plague there. This resulted in the better off amongst Nottingham’s population buying up or hiring lodgings in the Marsh area at any price. The tanning complex beneath Broad Marsh centre was probably constructed circa 120/0/ working from the datable artefact’s found in its pits. There are two main chambers, one called the Pillar Cave because of its rock cut central pillar holding up the roof, part of which collapsed circa 140/0/. The cave lay abandoned for one hundred years when it was then enlarged to form a tannery. The second chamber called the Tannery Cave contained many pits cut to a depth of three feet into the floor of the cave and lined with red clay. Some pits had slots on opposing vertical faces so that the pit could be divided into two for use with smaller skins. The process required that raw hides were first taken into the Pillar Cave, where they were put into small wood lined pits in the floor of the cave containing lime to loosen the hair on the skin. It was then stretched on a four legged wooden contraption called a ‘horse’ where it was then scraped using a Beam Knife, a long heavy curved blade with a handle at either end. The skin was now treated with dung before being washed and then put into a pit. The pits were filled with alternating layers of hide then oak bark chips then hide then oak bark chips until it was half full, the pit was then filled with water. The skins would take up to three months to tan and would be transferred from pit to pit each time the tanning ‘liquor’, oak bark chips in water produce tannic acid, would be increased in strength. By 1739 there were only three tanners left in the town and these caves seemed to have been abandoned or converted into cellars for the new houses above.
The two levels of rock-cut beer cellars of The Flying Horse Hotel are connected by a wide (2.5m+) tunnel. In the Park on Tunnel road in the largest tunnel in Nottingham caves, broader and higher than some of the local Railway tunnels.
DANIEL AND THE LION’S DEN: The name of this cave ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’ is purely because of the large carving to the rear of the main chamber – more of this later.
First we shall start in the main passage-way. I shall again quote from ‘Rambles around Nottingham 1856’ ‘At Mr. Alderman Thomas Herbert, an eminent lace manufacturer of Nottingham, is signalised by the advantage to which has been taken of the rocky garden terraces to produce the most harmonious series of artistic effects. Mr. Herbert’s house is accessible from both The Ropewalk now called Victoria Street, and from The Park or Newcastle Terrace to which road it is intermediate and whilst the garden plot contiguous to the edifice has been laid down with a beautiful bit of rewarding sward and decked with the choicest flowers including some fine exotics within a small but handsome conservatory not to mention affording over their balustrades a commanding Park view. An ornamental tunnel has been driven through the solid rock and under the public road at a considerable slope a distance of ninety feet.’ Our investigation of this tunnel showed it was in fact ninety feet long, the bottom end finishing in a window in the rock face and running uphill for some sixty feet and then flights of stairs until it finished at a bricked up doorway. Measurements made above ground show that this doorway emerged in a car park the other side of Newcastle terrace. Standing at the top of these steps , with our backs to the bricked-up doorway, it will be noticed on the right and left hand walls, at shoulder-height, small faces carved, two on each side. Unfortunately, three of these faces are virtually obliterated but the fourth, on the left-hand side is still very clean and sharp. The staircase , according to the l856 description, is said to be a copy in stone, of the one at Haddon Hall. As we stand at the top and look down this rather fine staircase, which is some four feet (1.20/m) wide, we can see both sides have carved balustrades and hand rails terminating at the bottom of the first flight in a large pillar with a ball on top. The ceiling height in this passageway is some nine feet (2.68m) high. This first flight of stairs is approximately fourteen feet (4.26m)long and terminates on a landing which widens on the left-hand side. In the rock wall where it widens is a statue of a man sitting with a small harp on his knee. According to the early description this is: ‘a figure of a Bard of the Druids playing upon the harp and surrounded by crouching dogs and objects of the chase.’ Unfortunately, the portion to the left was full of soil, which descended the left-hand side of the staircase and there was no evidence of any dogs. From this landing another fourteen feet (4.26m) staircase descends. Again, the right-hand wall is carved as balustrades etc. and finishes with a pillar as before but this time the left- hand side is broken up by a series of large pillars which were produced by cutting through the side wall, showing the soilly slope running down the other side. At this point the passageway is approx. eleven feet (3.35m) wide and nine feet (2.68m) high. Ornamenting the pillars and the left-hand side of the steps are winged lions, small animals and a lion’s head all clearly carved in the surface of the rock-face. upon reaching the bottom of the steps we are about thirty-two and half feet (9.90/m) from the brickwork at the top. to the left-hand side, through the pillars, can be seen a side cave. Dimensions are length thirteen feet (3.96m), width eight feet (2.43m), height seven feet (2.13m) with a doomed roof. in this cave there is a trough standing three feet (91cm) from the floor and two feet six (79cm) wide from the wall and runs all the way around the wall forming a ‘U’ shape. Returning again to the main passageway, where we stand is eleven feet (3.35m) wide, has four pillars in a line down the centre. At the point of the fourth pillar, the passageway narrows to ten feet (3.0/4m). (The roof here, though, gets higher, to nine feet six (2.92m)). Another six feet (1.82m) on from this point on the left-hand wall is large niche with a pillar. It appears to have either vines or a snake wrapped around it. Moving down the slope, a further ten feet (3.0/4m), the passage narrows to nine feet (2.86m) wide but still nine feet six (2.89m) high. On the opposing walls are two figures in niches – the one on the right-hand side is completely worn away – but the one on the left, is still recognisable as a figure. Again, the 1856 description calls these: ‘figures of the Chief Priest and Ovate or sacrificial priest of the Druids. Hand sculptured on either side of the passage near the bottom, the Chief Priest robed in flowing draperies derived from the best authorities wears around his temples a regal chaplet of oak leaves and bares in his hand the sceptre. The Ovate a less majestic figure is also characteristically attired.’ Moving on a further 10/ feet (3m) we come to a doorway in the left hand wall which leads us into a larger chamber. But first we shall finish with this chamber. A further six feet (1.8m) on the chamber terminates with a large window. Examination of the metal window frames showed that it had contained red, blue, and green coloured glass and that the large pane in the centre was of an orange coloured glass, through which a star burst pattern had been engraved, to give a white star on an orange background. According to the 1856 description: ‘At the far extremity of the tunnel a window charged with stained glass admits the daylight whose richly tinted rays flicker upon the stone floor like floods of sunshine streaming through the orange and rustic leaves of a dark oak grove in autumn.’ High upon the wall to the left of the window a small carved face, and on the right hand wall a little farther back facing the doorway into the next chamber are the initials, in a shield of Alderman Thomas Herbett. We will go through the doorway and into the next chamber, it is oblong, being 21 feet (6.4m) deep and 14 feet (4.2m) wide. To the rear of this chamber is a large alcove 12 feet (3.6m) wide and 8 feet (2.4m) deep. Going to the front of the chamber we can see a central doorway with a window either side with arched metal window frames, in which were found traces of the coloured glass which they had contained. In the centre of the main chamber there is a dome in the roof. The top of the dome is fifteen feet (4.5m) from floor level. The main roof of the chamber is seven feet (2.1m) high. At the four corners of the dome stand four pillars from floor to ceiling each pillar measuring twelve inches (30/cm) square and terminating where the dome is formed in the ceiling. At the very top of the dome is a two foot (60/cm) circle which according to the 1856 description also contained coloured glass. To the rear of the chamber, in the alcove, is the carving of Daniel in the Lions Den. It contains Daniel and six lions, and to give you an idea of its size the whole carving must be in the region of some fifteen to eighteen feet (4.5m to 5.4m) high. The lions measure six feet (1.8m) from the head to the base of the tail. Daniel himself measures six feet (1.8m) from shoulder to knee. So as we can see these are one and a half times life size. Standing with our backs to Daniel and looking down the left hand wall we first see an archway of some two feet (60/cm) wide. We then have a buttress, three feet (90/cm) wide followed by another archway some five feet (1.5m) wide. Next is a buttress and at the top of the buttress an hour glass is carved in the rock. Another buttress of one foot (30/cm) is followed by an archway of four feet (1.2m) at the top of which a large face is carved with its mouth open, investigation showed it was designed to be an air vent. Looking across to the opposite wall there is a blank section from the front window to the doorway into the long passage. On this wall was another shield with the initials of its constructor, Alderman Thomas Herbett. The opposite side of the doorway there is a one foot (30/cm) wide pillar followed by another arch. Just after the arch there is a large chunk of rock wall which has been brick faced and was none to secure. An arch and a buttress followed by an arch and a buttress concludes the opposite wall. It is quite obvious from the constructional details of this system that it was finished to a very high standard. Alas time and the elements have done their bit to destroy this creation, one of the rear legs, of the lion at the bottom, has fallen off and a lot of carvings that are in close proximity to he main entrance and windows have suffered from the weather and in recent times vandals but all is not lost and it is hoped that when present building work on the site has been completed and the premises occupied, so as to alleviate the trespassing/vandal problem, the door and windows could be restored to their former glory.
A large cave exists under Wollaton Street/Derby Road, so far this is the largest single cave without any sort of central support, documentary evidence shows that its last occupant was a coach and wagon maker.
Jalland’s The Wine Merchants in Goose Gate in August 1870/ took over caves beneath their property for long term wine storage, construction and design of these caves shows they were carrying on from where previous wine merchants had practised their trade for many centuries.
Caves once under the old Drury Hill, now destroyed by the construction of the Broad Marsh Centre, were used as wool vaults and gave their name to the street above, Vault Lane. It was at a later date in memory of Alderman Drury that it changed its name to Drury Hill. Wool, helped build the prosperity of the town.
Under th steps of the Ice Stadium is a small cave (possibly a Cock Fighting Pit) with a crude carving of a cockerel and a comment on one wall that says “I sheltered here during the first Zeppelin raid on Nottingham”.