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18 June 2014
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Nottingham
A restored Nottingham cave
© Courtesy of the Galleries of Justice
Going underground: City of Caves

Today the busy streets of Nottingham reveal few indications of the ancient structures hidden beneath the surface. Although above ground the city has lost its medieval buildings, hidden below lie an abundance of trade and domestic premises whose unique characteristics leant themselves to a variety of functions. In Nottingham there are more man-made caves than anywhere else in Britain.

The oldest reference to the caves appears in Asser's "Life of King Alfred", written in 900AD, in which the area is referred to as Tiggua Cobaucc, meaning "Place of Caves". The sandstone ridge upon which the city sits is ideal for excavation and the simplest of hand-held tools were required to make cave dwelling an attractive option.

Restored Nottingham cave.
© Courtesy of the Galleries of Justice.
The need for clean water and subsequent creation of wells were the most common motive for excavating the sandstone, however many houses also added cellars for storage. Some were adorned with elaborate carvings, pillars and staircases. A Victorian gentleman in the Park district carved a life size statue of "Daniel and the lion" in his cave grotto.

The caves also provided alternative dwellings, and, along the sandstone cliffs, houses were cut into the rock. At the County Gaol caves provided punishment cells for inmates. More recently the caves were utilised as air raid shelters during the Second World War.


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