The other day, I went off on a wandering. I stroll around the city, looking at the sights and then try to find my way back home – a way to test my inner compass while I discover a new city. I’d walked for blocks and blocks and came to a dead end at a mall entrance. I decided to walk through the Broadmarsh Mall to see what was on the other side. Little did I know I’d soon be UNDER the mall!
Near one of the exits was a sign “City of Caves” and I thought it was possibly a kiosk for tickets, so I went to investigate. Surprisingly, it was the entrance to a tour! Back when they built the mall, the locals fought to save the caverns below.
According to the brochure from the tour, before it was Nottingham, back in 868, this area was called Tigguacobauc, which means “City of Caves” – all hand dug over the centuries. By the 1600s, the guides said the caves were damp homes to people who were poor. Some caverns under taverns were used for casks and one still had a safe hidden in the wall from the basement of a solicitor’s office.
As we toured, I was thankful for clean water sources. The well for the town was located a scant distance from the sewage pit. Seepage contributed to the high rate of cholera. Children’s jobs here included climbing down to pull junk out of the well. AND going into the pit to lower the levels of waste. Fortunately, they are all clean now and no smell or danger remains.
Soon, the caves were used as tanneries. This is where the tour made the kids squeal, as the costumed interpreter asked if any of them wanted a job. A few brave ones raised their hands. The job for kids? Fetching the poo (waste from animals, such as horses) and pee (human urine, often from tavern buckets). One of the few perks of tannery work? No plague in the caves. Apparently the smell was too much even for rats.
As we wound our way through the tunnels, we were transported to World War II, where another interpreter regaled us with tales of how the caves were turned into bomb shelters. A new cave was dug under a factory and could hold 8,000 people! Although not a primary target for the Germans, Nottingham was bombed during the war. With all of the bomb shelters, most were spared. (Approximately 120 deaths)
While we exited and climbed toward street level, I thought of the pub a third of a mile away – Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem – which is built into the hills and caverns under the castle grounds. You can still walk to the back of the pub and see the sandstone walls there since the 1100s. While many of the caves in Nottingham have been filled in or bricked over throughout the years, there are still some prime examples of how the city used the rock beneath them to carve out space for work, storage, and safety.
I can’t wait to see what else I stumbled upon in my wanderings!