Saturday, 12 July 2008

City of Caves.

Still moored at Sainsbury's, Nottingham Canal.

Today we started to explore the city of Nottingham, the home of lace and bicycle's. Wandering up through the city we came across the trams which run from the railway station to somewhere north of the city. They are very modern and not too unlike the trams in Amsterdam. I think a lot more city's need to look at re-introducing trams. There is so much to see and do here it's a job to know where to start.

Broadmarsh shopping centre was built 40 years ago on land which were the 18th century slums of the city. The houses,on Drury Hill and Narrow Marsh were probably state of the art when originally built, were built over the old cave network in which Nottingham's residents used to live and work for 1000 years. The caves are all man made carved out with crude tools and water. When the shopping centre was under construction it had been planned to fill in the caves but thankfully they were seen as part of the city's history and saved and Friends of the caves started doing guided tours in 1972. They are still being explored to this day with the possibility of opening more of them up for visitors.

The guided tour starts on the ground floor of the shopping centre and descends down below the concrete floor where in place you can see the underside of the flooring and pipe work for various facilities. There is also brickwork from the foundations and basements of the tenement housing (slums). The first cave does have access to the open air but is sealed off for security, it's just as well because it used to be a 16th century tannery. The complete tanning process used to take 18 months with hides being stored in pits of lime and some brew made from Oak bark which became tannin acid. The stench must have been horrendous but what was worse was that boy's as young as 8 years of age worked in the tannery and their life expectancy was no more than 20 - 25 years due to Tannin acid poisoning.

The caves were the homes and work places of hundreds of people first recorded by a Welsh monk in 900AD. Even in the times of the plaque or Black death they had their uses as a a crematorium to burn the diseased bodies and set up a leper colony outside the old castle walls which was basically the town in those days. During world war 2 they were used as air raid shelters where up to 6000 people could take shelter from the bombing raids. One such raid was on the Raleigh Bicycle factory which made munitions during the war. It took a direct hit and even though the workers, mainly women and girls were sheltering in the basement many of them were killed.

After this introduction to what lay beneath our feet it was off to the castle which is not really a castle in the true sense of the meaning as it was finally rebuilt as a museum. The history of the castle goes back to the 10th century and covers many reigning monarch's, some good and some not so good. It has been transformed many times from wooden structures to block and stone. It originally stood about 50 feet higher than the present building so would have been an impressive fortress.

While wandering through the various chambers displaying crockery, silverware and clothing through the ages we stumbled across a guided tour which we were unaware of so we just tagged on the end, rightly or wrongly. The young man taking the tour was very knowledgeable and humorous and made the tour very interesting. It was now revealed to us the many underground caves and passages below the castle and you were never quite sure where you would end up next.

Each section was under lock and key so we were let in and counted, taken through each area and then counted again upon exit so that nobody got locked in. We saw a huge cave which had been used as a kings wine and ale cellar,this would have fuelled some really big booze up's. Many kings used the castle as a banquet facility and many grand banquets and balls were held there. Another cave was the dungeon where Robin Hood was reputedly held on occasions. It must have been sheer hell in this cave as it was next to the bakery so the prisoners, who would have been fed stale bread and water could smell the odours of what ever was being baked for the resident's and guests of the castle. Torture without a doubt.

Another passage took us out onto the cliff face below the castle but still above the city and river where cannons were placed to bombard anybody trying to approach by water. A second tunnel took us down to road level which had been a river before being covered in a culvert under the roadway. Upon looking up at this point the castle was way,way above us. Another passage bought us out into a courtyard which housed the kitchen, slaughter house and horse carriage stables from where footmen where sent in to town to collect guests for banquets and the like. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable tour.

To top it off we were left outside the oldest (reputedly) Inn in England. It was renamed to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in 1189 after a Kings return from a crusade to the Holy Lands. From the outside the Inn looks as if it is built in front of the sandstone cliffs upon which the castle sits but it is actually just a facade as it is built into some of the caves. One bar in particular is just a sandstone cave with a 65 foot chimney tunnel reaching up from the ceiling. If you come to Nottingham you have to come and see this.

While walking back to the boat we heard many sirens coming towards us, thinking it may be the fire service we were surprised to see 4 police cars escorting a police prison van in very close formation. He must have been a very important prisoner or they were frightened that somebody was going to try and free him. Surely no criminal is worth wasting this amount of Police resources on.


Nb Yarwood said...

A great post, thoroughly enjoyable, it has whetted my appetite to see Nottingham.
NB Caxton

Derek and Dot said...

Hi Lesley and Joe
Sure was something different being underground. Opens ones eyes to history. Keep up the interesting blog.

Khayamanzi said...

A great read as ever Derek and Dot! Particularly interesting to read about your lockable filler cap - something I've started thinking about. Have a great summer and I look forward to catching up when I get back.

Derek and Dot said...

Hi Andy
Thanks for the comments, a lot of interest in filler caps at the moment and not easy to find. We will be around your area in the winter. Catch up then if not before.
Dot and Drek

Jenny and Robin said...

Reading this reminded us of own visit to Nottingham back in 1999.
We also did a tour of the caves which was self guided using an audio wand.
Another highlight was was a visit to the lace museum. An elderly gentleman was only too pleased to start his also elderly lace making machine to show us how it was done using Jacquard cards.
A trip to Sherwood Forest is also worth a visit if possible.