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18 June 2014
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Nottingham
Sneinton Hermitage cave houses.
© Courtesy of Nottingham City Council Leisure and Community Service, Local Studies Library.
Going underground: City of Caves

Cave Houses

Nottingham Castle caves.
© Courtesy of Nottingham City Council Leisure and Community Service, Local Studies Library.
Cave houses are not unique to Nottingham, but nowhere else had them in the quantity that could be found here. All cave "houses" were cut into cliffs or steep hills and accessed at ground level as opposed to the cellar caves, which were primarily accessed by ladder from above. However the city's poorest residents often found accommodation in cellar caves, which was of great concern to social reformers, and, in 1845, an Act of Parliament was passed to outlaw them.

Cave houses were frequently of two stories with carved stone staircases and fireplaces. Windows were glazed, and shelves and storage spaces might be cut into the rock; many had their own well. In 1620 Robert Cobert, poet and Bishop of Oxford, wrote of Nottingham:

"Where we observe the cunning men like moles, Dwelt not in houses but earthed in holes, Would you not think that men stood on their heads, When gardens cover houses there like lead, And on the Chimney top the maid may know, Whether her pottage boil or not below".

The largest group was the Sneinton Hermitage, which were built into the length of a 300-metre cliff. The last of these were demolished in 1904 as part of a road-widening scheme.

Words: Paul Baker


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