==A quick history lesson==
Nottingham used to be called Snottingham (I wouldn't want to be living in Scunthorpe for fear of a similar future name change) but before the Norman Conquest (i.e. during the Saxon times) it was actually called Tigguo Cobauc meaning "Place of Caves" as named by Alfred the Great's chronicler Asser, a Welsh monk, in 868AD. The interesting thing about these caves however is they are all manmade, carved out of the sandstone, and as of the present there are some 500 caves around and under the streets of Nottingham making it the largest cave system in England, though to be fair that does sound a bit of a cheat. The first real historical recording of the then ever expanding cave system was from the 13th Century where they were used as homes by the impoverished masses. They were also used to house monks, prisoners and there is even a suggestion a leper colony may have existed down there. But the cool temperature of the sandstone made it ideal for other purposes such as a pub cellar, storing ice and a tannery. On a flashy note, the Duke of Newcastle in the 19th Century built a giant tunnel big enough for a horse and carriage beneath Park Terrace and Derby Road which is still accessible today.
But, the caves also have their dark side, often born from myths however, with nefarious types allegedly making use of their hiding potential for escaping the law (Dick Turpin to name one), as well as smuggling and black market activities, and there is even rumoured to be buried treasure ahoy. On a more disturbing note, some of these caves were also susceptible to bad weather and liable to suffer cave-ins or flooding with the consequence of destroying property - the worst recorded being in 1826 when a garden in Short Hill simply turned into a sink hole tragically taking the lives of 7 young boys with it. But despite all the interesting and varied uses for the caves, more and more were getting filled with concrete or rubbish in to accommodate new housing during the industrial revolution and to make way for a railway system. But come the 20th Century they were once again expanded upon, this time for World War II where some 86 existing caves were turned into air raid shelters with the walls reinforced with brick and steel, one even being able to house 8,000 people. Bombings were few in Nottingham, but they did happen so it wasn't in vain. After the war though even more caves were filled in for urbanisation although there are still a few are still in use for such things as a gun club's meeting and fire officer training. There are still unexplored caves however, and currently these are being explored as part of a big project so who knows what is left to be discovered...
==The Caves at Broadmarsh shopping centre==
It all sounds terribly exciting with the potential for plots of intrigue and the learning of historical events, and one place you can go to visit these caves are rather bizarrely within the Broadmarsh shopping mall - not the place you'd expect to find a cave system at all but there it is. You can also buy a combined ticket with the Galleries of Justice Museum for a 25% saving, but we felt it looked a little too child oriented and only had limited time before we were due to leave Nottingham so opted just for the caves upon our visit.
Audio Tours: Monday-Friday: 10:30am to 5:00pm. Last admission 4pm.
Performance tours (weekends and school holidays): Doors open at 10am (Saturday) / 10:30am (Sunday) to 5pm. First tour 10:30am, last tour 4pm.
===Ticket Type | Caves Only | Caves and Galleries of Justice Museum===
Adults | £7.50 |£12
Children | £5.50 |£9.75
Concessions | £5.50 | £9.75
Family pass | £19.50 |£33.75
Upper level Broadmarsh Centre Nottingham NG1 7LS
There are other ways besides the audio/ performance tours to explore the caves on offer by booking in advance on 0115 9520555 or at firstname.lastname@example.org:
1. Children's parties (horrible history or spooky ghost tour) where for £6 per child you can get: an actor led tour of the caves; an exclusive party room; free exhibitions, children's activities, and entry for guardians; a personal character autograph, and invitations. For £10 per child you can get the above tour for both the caves and Galleries of Justice Museum and some party bags and balloons. An extra £2 per child throws in a buffet and drinks.
2. Paranormal Events - you can join or run your own event strolling through the caves overnight for spooky ambience.
3. Through the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law (NCCL) /www.nccl.org.uk schools can book an education package for actor led tours linking back to the curriculum.
4. After Dark Events - a new feature led by "medium" Maria Davey offering an hour long tour from 5:15pm - 6:15pm where the history of the caves is learnt from communicating with spirits still lingering - sounds a different way to do it but entertaining nonetheless.
There is a small gift shop in the reception area which seems to contain the usual suspects like books, jewellery, fossils, stationery etc. but these do seem quite kid oriented as you'd probably expect and there are no onsite facilities like toilets, but everything you need can be found in the Broadmarsh shopping centre which you are already in.
==The Audio Tour==
I visited on a Friday whilst in Nottingham for the cricket the previous day, ergo a performance tour led by actors was not available to me so alas I can't comment on how entertaining that may have been but upon buying my entry ticket I was given a handheld audio guide that can hang around the neck which is basically an mp3 player in disguise so incredibly easy to use with volume and track skipping controls. You may well get suckered in to including gift aid when you pay since they are a registered charity but it only takes a minute to fill out and in doing so you will get free entry back to the caves for a year. The teller was very friendly and whilst we were sorting out payment we had a good old chat about the on-going cricket at the time and all the Australian interlopers taking over the area which ended with an amusing anecdote about how, as part of the usual service despite their disbelief, they were given convict numbers at the Galleries of Justice Museum which for some reason offended them. Tee hee.
Anyway, before you walk down a couple of flights of stairs you are given safety instructions, especially about not panicking if things start shaking as it'll just be the trams zipping by overhead and not a cave-in on the cards (which sadly we never got to experience), and offered the chance to wear some cave helmets by another member of staff, although this isn't mandatory and we opted (for the sake of fashion over safety) to decline and fortuitously not one bump on the head did we receive so it turned out alright in the end. Once you reach the bottom of the stairs your tour can begin by pressing play on the handheld / neck dangling audio guide which will last just over 30 minutes (unless you skip various parts). The guide eases you in with a quick introduction to the caves although if loads of people arrived at the same time and were all standing in the same place listening it could get a bit cramped for space. Then you simply follow the instructions on the audio guide to navigate the accessible caves, which is about 10 give or take (I couldn't work out where one cave ended and another started some of the time) and listen to the often fascinating narrations offering up information about the various sights in front of you and historical events / intrigues including some reconstructions complete with voice actors and their historically accurate dialects.
I quite enjoyed the audio tour myself although you do find it makes the journey stop start as you find yourself gazing at the same cave walls for extended periods whilst your audio guide is imparting valuable information so if you don't like stopping and hanging around this could get a bit annoying, but I suppose that is just the nature of such guides. I'd imagine, although I'm only speculating, that the performance tours would probably give all the same information but in a much more entertaining way, especially for kids so stopping may be less tedious in this format. The caves themselves didn't feel that cold, and there was definitely a different atmosphere to that of natural caves which are often eerie and chilly and with the mandatory stalagmites/stalactites to try to impale yourself on. You will learn about the Drury Hill basements that were down in these caves and see what little remains of the terrible slums and appalling conditions the poor poverty stricken souls that resided there had to live through, but without it these caves would not be open to the public as they were brought to the public's attention in 1971 when the street was to be demolished. Thankfully the developers agreed to invest in rather than destroy the caves and strengthened them enough so they could survive the shopping centre being built on top, completed by 1975. They weren't however open to the public until 1994, when people were once again able to explore the 13th Century caves in this area.
So what you really get is a history lesson through time, although a lot of it requires a good imagination to picture the bustling activity and conjure up just how unpleasant the smells were as you stroll through what used to be a tannery and get to learn about the leather making practices and how animal faeces were used to improve the process and also severely ruin the worker's days. On a positive note though, the rats were apparently repelled by the noxious smells coming up to street level which helped keep the bubonic plague at bay. However, you only really get information on the caves before you and not a fully encapsulating history of all the caves so for full on history buffs this may feel a little lacking. On the tour you also get to sit in the Horseshoe cave and hear about what secret meetings went on and the cunning alarm system to avoid detection, see part of the air raid shelter that one of the caves was used for complete with war paraphernalia, stroll through what's left of Drury Hill on into the Eagle Tavern cellar before finishing up in areas designed for kid activities like a history quiz and archaeological dig. There are also quite a lot of information boards dotted around that are suitable for adults and kids so there is extra information also available not on the guide, which is helpful enough that even if you opted not to use your guide you'd still learn plenty.
So there isn't really much more to it than a quick, fairly non-eventful stroll around learning fun facts about the caves. Audio guides alone may not thrill kids - I would think the performance tours are much more designed for the little ones and probably a lot more entertaining though I cannot say for sure - but they are pretty decent for the adults of the species. The tour is very quick at around 30 minutes so could be considered a little expensive at £7.50 and obviously won't be a day (or even a morning/afternoon) event so you may want to take advantage of the offer with the Galleries of Justice Museum if killing more time is what you're after which effectively makes it a little less expensive. I guess it depends what you're looking for as to whether you'll enjoy these caves - if you think you're going to explore all around the city and learn everything about the entire cave system you will be disappointed as this tour only covers 10 or so caves, plus the caves are not all interconnected so I wouldn't even know how possible this was, but if you are simply interested in history than this is a fascinating little glimpse into something created so long ago that has spanned a long timeline.
I'm becoming a frequent visitor to Nottingham these days as it's where my boyfriend lives. One of the things that we did on my latest stay was to visit the City of Caves attraction. I had been told already that Nottingham has a sprawling network of caves stretching across many areas of the city centre, including under my boyfriends house! Unlike the caves we have back here in the West Country which have large open entry points and form part of the rugged countryside landscape, the caves in Nottingham are fully underground carved into the soft sandstone, and the city has been built up over them so you wouldn't even know that they are there.
It depends on the day you visit as to what your tour will consist of. You will either experience a self-guided audio tour on week days, or a guided group tour on weekends. We went on a weekend, where group bookings are limited and you have to get your name down on the visitor list to secure the time slot that you want to join. It costs £6.50 for the adult entry fee, and because we gave gift-aid details at the time of purchase we also received one free annual pass which I thought was pretty decent and makes the price seem a bit more reasonable. Full visitor information can be found at the website http://www.cityofcaves.com/.
I'd been looking forward to seeing the caves for a while, but was a little confused when we arrived at the Broad Marsh shopping centre. Weirdly enough the entrance to the caves is a tiny little shop front at the bottom of the escalators on the top floor of the shopping centre! I thought this was a really odd access point, but it did get my curiosity going. When the group had assembled and was ready to take the tour we were lead to the back of the shop and descended a flight of stairs to the first part of the cave chambers. I would say there were about 15-20 people on our fully booked out tour, and some places felt quite crowded as the areas are small and particularly troublesome for taller people as the ceilings are low and some of the passageways require ducking down to avoid bashing your head! The actual structure of the caves looks impressive, with the pretty colouring of the sandstone and the gentle curves where it has been carved away into large openings. The sandstone is so incredibly soft that it crumbles away at the merest touch. I tested this out after our tour guide said that and brushed my fingertips lightly against the ceiling, which was within easy reach, and ended up with a shower of sand covering my hair and coat as the surface of the rock literally turned to dust!
Our tour guide was a nice older man dressed up in cave explorer gear, and he was very friendly and entertaining as he presented us with information about the city, the caves and their history. Some parts were quite interactive with jokes and questions, and there is additional information provided along the way with poster boards and photos, as well as props to give a realistic view of the environment as it would have been used. We were told of the various uses for the caves over the years, including homes for the poorest residents of Nottingham who could not afford houses and instead lived in caves that they had carved out of the sandstone rock, and cellars for pubs which were built over the top with wells for clean drinking water. The part that I personally found to be most interesting was the tannery area. This part of the caves was used as a tannery in the 1500's, and they went to great lengths to impress upon us that this is the only example of an underground medieval tannery in the whole country. The process was explained in detail and the area was set up so you could see how it would have been used for the work. There was another area just further on from this which was set up to show how the caves were used as bomb shelters during the second world war, and again I personally found this very interesting. There was a lot of attention to detail here, with familiar war time slogan posters and supplies decorating the area. A soundtrack was played as we sat around the edges of the "shelter" on small benches, to simulate the sounds and experience of what people would have gone through in a real air raid situation.
Overall the tour lasted about 45 minutes from start to finish. I was a little disappointed as I would have liked to see more and I thought that the actual areas of caves that we were given access to was very limited considering that the overall structure extends for a vast distance, as shown in the information printed around the caves on display. I would have liked the opportunity to take my time and spend a bit longer looking around at some parts, rather than having to follow the group, but I suppose if you're on the self-guided tour then this allows you to go at your own pace. The City of Caves is definitely worth seeing if you're around Nottingham and have some interest in the secret underground world that the caves have provided over the years.
Something that quite a few people have told me to do while still in Nottingham is visit the caves. I have known about this attraction since I first moved here but could never really be bothered to go. What I found extremely strange about this attraction was that the entrance is on the upper floor of the Broadmarsh Shopping Center. I thought it was a very strange place for an attraction to be but then after thinking about it more, caves are bound to be under something.
In order to get to the attraction, you can either drive and park in one of the nearby car parks but if you live in Nottingham, bus is probably the easiest way. Being in the city center, most buses will take you to within walking distance of the shopping center which is also a couple of minutes' walk away from the train station. The attraction is very central and easy to get from if you are in the city center.
The caves offer two different types of tour, an audio tour where you wear headphones and walk around at your own pace or a performance tour, where a guide takes you around and explains what the caves are all about. I opted for the performance tour because walking around caves on your own didn't seem like much fun at all to me. While you are waiting for your tour to start, you can have a little look around the gift shop although there isn't much to buy. Items for sale include books about Nottingham and a range of stones and rocks. The gift shop is severely lacking in any kind of fun items for people to buy, especially if you have children with you and they want something fun and cheap as a reminder of the day.
Before the tour begins, your tour guide will ask you to pick out a hard hat. Because of this, if you care too much what you look like, this is not an attraction for you. Hard hats look silly and are not comfortable but they are obviously necessary when going down into a cave. The first step on the tour is the Enchanted Well. It is explained that back in the day, the water coming from the well was seen to be a gift and was therefore worshipped by pagans. At this point, you can put coins into the well if you wish. This part of the tour doesn't last long and you are soon moved on to the Medieval Tannery.
The tannery was in operation from around the 1500s for about 150 years. This was a place which took great advantage of employing child labourers which was ok during this time. What I found interesting about this area of the caves was that the children working would get no days off and work 12 hour shifts. It was also explained that if anyone needed the toilet while working, they would have to use one of the tanning vats. While this was quite a disgusting thing to do, excrement was used to help the leather.
After the tannery is a small circular room which was once used as a gambling den. The room has a hole in the ceiling where rocks and stones would be thrown down in order to warn people down there to escape. Gambling dens were illegal so this gave whoever was down there enough time to get out and not be caught. Just around the corner are air raid shelters which are obviously from the twentieth century. Seeing as the tannery was from the sixteenth century, I found this huge gap in time to be a bit strange. Why were no other periods of time covered in the middle? Anyway, it was explained that during the war, not everyone had gardens or basements and lives in the slums of the city. Because of this, people were forced to come down here in order to survive.
After this part of the tour, the guide takes you back up the stairs to the gift shop and the entrance/ exit of the caves. Costing £5.50 a ticket (as I'm a student), I do feel like this attraction is extremely overpriced. The tour lasted just under an hour and while it was informative, it wasn't nearly as good as it could have been. Also, it is worth mentioning that this attraction isn't suitable for wheelchair users are there are no lifts, only stairs.
Opening Times and Prices (up to date on 1/11/12)
Saturday: Doors open at 10.00am to 5pm. First tour 10:30am, last tour 4:30pm
Sunday: Doors open at 10:30am - 4:30pm. First tour at 11:00am, last tour at 4pm.
Family pass (2 adults, 2 concessions, or 1 adult, 3 concessions)
Joint ticket with the Galleries of Justice Museum
Family pass: (2 adults, 2 concessions, or 1 adult, 3 concessions)
Having handed in all our coursework and have three months of summer ahead, we decided to go check out the Nottingham 'City of Caves' given we are going to be here studying a while, we might as well check out the attractions.
Paying £5.50 for a student ticket, we were thrilled to explore the caves, spurred on by the woman at the counter who told us it is 'not what you'd expect down there'. WOW. Let me just start by sharing my expectations.
I have previously seen a map of the sprawling caves around Nottingham and I've even been shown a video scan imaging of the caves during one of my lectures so I assumed we would be going on a trek like tour around these sprawling caves all over Nottingham.
So wearing my sturdy trainers, equipped with an audio guide (lasting 35 minutes) and a group of friends, we descended the steps...
Faced with a giant black curtain swaying in the wind, we froze in fear. We read at reception that there would be live actors. But none were to be seen so we calmed down and just shuffled along down a few another flight of steps.
Following the arrow, we were eager to explore the caves ahead and decided to ignore the audio guide and just pick up bits and bobs whenever. Peering into holes, nooks and crevices, we wondered where they would lead, but they were only small openings. And the stench of piss and poo began to creep up our noses.
After witnessing some tanning pools and a few alcoves, we turned a corner and entered this warzone area. And at the end of this corridor was the exit. What? The audio guide was still talking about war by the time we reached the end. WOW.
We were completely shocked at the swift 'exhibition' that these caves were. What did I learn? Not much. And what unexpected feelings erupted indeed!
The most fascinating thing I probably enjoyed the most was being able to hear the trams up ahead whilst waiting in the queue to get the tickets for this.
Avoid it like the plague- you can probably watch youtube videos and find pictures which are more stimulating than the cave experience itself.
It being Half Term, my brother, cousin and I decided to go to the double whammy of the Galleries of Justice and the City of Caves. Galleries of Justice were good fun once you got past their laughable temporary exhibition on Robin Hood.
Not so, the City of Caves. We were "welcomed" by the leopar-printed old harridan at the front desk who barked at us to sit down. It being Half Term, they had dispensed with the audio tour, so we were left to wander a large number of areas without any information. The two people who were 'actors' on the tour were ok, but we came out none the wiser than when we had come in, feeling as if we'd totally wasted our £6 entrance fee.
This attraction could be good, but they really need a tour guide to make it work. And to sack the front desk witch....
With it being the school holidays, I've been trying to keep my daughter busy and entertained . Not having access to a car, our adventures have been largely limited to areas we can reach by bus - and nowhere is more handy than Nottinghams City of Caves attraction, the entrance of which is situated on the upper floor of the busy Broadmarsh Centre .
If travelling on any of the local bus routes into Nottingham, the attraction is only a few minutes walk. It's also only about 5 minutes walk from the train station, and there is a large car park just outside the Broadmarsh Centre .
It is worth noting that there are two types of tours available, audio tours where you walk around at your own pace, with a walkman type device giving you the information, or performance tours, where you will meet various characters on your way around . My daughter and I opted for the performance tour, which takes place hourly . We had a few minutes wait, so we amused ourselves looking around the gift shop, which is both the starting and finishing point for the tour. The shop sells various books about Nottingham, including some on the caves, local ghosts, buildings of interest . It also sells a selection of fossils and geodes, starting off very small at quite reasonable prices, but becoming progressively larger, with some very attractive large pieces costing a few hundred pounds. In terms of souvenirs, there is little here that children would want to spend their hard earned pocket money on. Some may consider that a bad thing, but I personally was grateful not to be bombarded by my daughter requesting I spend an inordinate amount of money on a pencil sharpener .
Our tour began with a woman in a tunic and leather waistcoat requesting that we all select a hard hat to wear as we went round . With it being the holidays, there were quite a few people in our group ,around 15, and finding a hat to fit my six year old daughter took a bit of a struggle, as the sizes of the hats were not clear. The group then progressed down a narrow stairway and down a couple of narrow passages, to the first stop on our tour, the enchanted well. Here, our guide (in a distinctly eastern european accent) explained how important clean drinking water was, and the diseased that could come about from drinking contaminated water . She pointed out to us the place where a spring trickled down through the rock, and invited those of us that wished to to toss a coin into the well and make a wish, and many people did so as she explained how the druids would have seen water coming from the rocks as a miracle, and would leave offerings at the spring .
Our next stop on the tour was the medieval tannery, where our guide changed roles, and became the head tanner . I found this part very amusing, as she offered all the children a job, before explaining they would be working 12 hour shifts with no days off . She did however mention one of the jobs benefits - if you needed the toilet, whether solid or liquid, you would just use one of the tanning vats to relieve yourself, as poo and wee were both used in the curing of quality leather. She explained how the cave used to open onto the River Leen, and that the tanners would sneak out at night to illegally wash their skins in the river, sending poo, wee, and other nastiness into the towns drinking water. She emphasised the importance of always taking your break upstream, where the water was fresher, and explained that the tanning process was a lengthy and tiring process, requiring hard physical labour, with a lack of a sense of smell being a distinct advantage. This was also the part of the tour that stuck in my daughters mind, with her muttering about how she couldn't believed they used poo. This particular aspect led to some googling later, as my daughter wanted to know more .
We then briefly stopped in a small circular room with a hole in the ceiling, which, we were told, was a gambling den beneath a pub, where shady deals would be made and crimes planned . The hole was so that pebbles could be dropped down to warn those below to escape. Here, our yung guide left us, with instructions to round the corner, where we encountered an air-raid shelter, complete with gas masks, benches, and kettles. She explained how the tunnels were used as shelters during the war, as many people lived in slums in the city and didn't have gardens or basements where they could build shelters .She jokingly berated us for forgetting our gas masks, and explained the role of the ARP in ensuring the safety of people in the area . We then rounded the corners into the slums themselves- genuine cramped basements preserved when the shopping centre was built, showing the way people would have lived . There were some models of rats, indicating the low level of sanitation, and various boards explaining the problems which bad sanitation could cause , such as Cholera, Tuberculosis and Smallpox.
Then, we ascended the stairs again into the gift shop, the whole tour having taken about 45 minutes .
I personally very much enjoyed the tour, although I found that a large group in narrow tunnels sometimes made for a slightly claustrophobic feel . While I really liked the older guide who did the air raid shelter bit, as she had a genuine Nottingham accent, my daughter found the younger guides accent a little hard to understand, although I had no problems . Both guides I felt put a lot of spirit and humour into their roles, and helped to make what could have been a very dry tour amusing and interactive, talking with us and involving us in the experience.
The caves are open from 10.30 -5 daily, with last admission at 4pm . Performance tours are only available on Saturdays and Sundays , with times posted in the gift shop .
The one negative I can think of with this attraction is that due to steep stairs and narrow passages, it is probably not the ideal place for wheelchair users or for pushchairs . I also think very young children may find it a little dark and scary . But, for myself and my daughter, it was a perfect day out, and more than that, the tannery part led to my daughter demanding that I google for more information about the use of poo in leathermaking, which provided some interesting giggles!
The Caves of Nottingham now known as City of Caves Nottingham is located on the top floor of Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. It is 5 minutes away from Nottingham Train Station. City of Caves has won two top tourism publication awards, 'Tour of the Year 2004', and 'Nottinghamshire Family Attraction of the Year 2004'.
The opening times are:
Monday - Sunday 10.30am to 4 pm and the last admission 30 minutes prior to the closing time.
Admission prices are:
You can also buy joint tickets for the caves and the Galleries of Justice which is another tourist attraction.
The shop is open every day to shoppers as well as cave visitors. This is the first thing you see when you go in to the caves from the shopping centre. They sell fossils, special rocks, crystals, books, toys and stationery.
Before you start the tour you are given a hard hat to wear and then the guide gives you directions and tells you some information about the caves. You then walk through the different cave sections meeting different tour guides as you go along. You are told lots of information by the guides.
In the caves themselves there are different sections which have been named Enchanted Well, Medieval Tannery, The Slums of Drury Hill, Wartime Alert and Digging Further.
Enchanted well - Make all your wishes come true at the Enchanted Well.
Medieval Tannery - Experience the sights, sounds and smells of the only medieval underground tannery in the country, including the spectacular Pillar Cave dating back to 1250AD.
The Slums of Drury Hill - Where you can imagine living in a windowless, airless, dark and damp cellar for most of your life, with the noise and bustle of the slums of Narrow Marsh surrounding you.
Wartime Alert - Find out what it is like in the Anderson Shelter under the protection of the ARP Warden, who fears yet another severe bombing attack
Digging Further - Archaeologists are still investigating the fascinating maze of tunnels to see where they may lead and to discover the secrets they hold of their hidden past.
Having lived close to Nottingham for a few years now, one attraction which seems to stand out is the Nottingham Caves. As you drive into Nottingham you cannot but fail to notice that the town is situated on sandstone, and the prominence of caves are apparent in the Castle area and Brewers Yard. The part I never fully understood was the shop front within the 1970s shopping arcade known as the Broadmarsh advertising the city caves and yet seemed to sell nothing but miniscule rock trinkets, but which in fact is the modern façade built on top of several hundred years of Nottingham history.
The Broadmarsh shopping centre in itself is one of those modern buildings that were dreamt about in the late 1960s to help revolutionise town centres. Now granted I wasn't about for the early 1960s but looking at the Broadmarsh centre today it is hard to believe that the 1968 vision was to cement in the medieval caves to build this modern shopping centre above. Thankfully, historical societies intervened and as such residents and visitors to Nottingham can still go underground and experience Nottingham from centuries ago - in this part of town at any rate.
The attraction of the City of Caves has been affiliated with the Galleries of Justice, and until recently it was possible to buy joint tickets. Recently that is no longer the case and a ticket to the City of caves attraction will set you back around £5.50 for an adult ticket with concessions costing £4.25 and family tickets also available.
We arrived just a couple of minutes before the tour was due to depart, on a Sunday afternoon. Closing time is 430pm with the final tour departing 30 minutes before that. Personally I do not recommend that as I really don't think it gives ample time, although the 330pm tour gives an hour, which is reasonable. You are given a brief introduction to the geology of Nottingham and encouraged to wear a hard hat before descending the short flight of stairs to the caves below. There were about ten adults on our tour, although the numbers earlier in the day were in the mid twenties and there were no kids on our particular trip.
There are five key areas of the underground tour and the first is the "Enchanted Well". The water was believed to be a gift, and was worshipped by both pagans and later religions, who often laid flowers around wells. During this early few minutes of the tour, you are largely unguided although there is opportunity to read some of the information boards giving insight into Nottingham's history. Before long you stumble upon the "Medieval Tannery" where the next guide will be waiting for you.
The tannery was in operation for about 150 years in the period 1500 onwards and in common with industry of the time employed child labour. It was also scorned upon by the residents of the city, due to the dreadful smells the tannery gave off (apparently essential in the process). I have to say that the tour is geared towards youngsters with the role play being the major part of the tour, as opposed to more general information about living conditions in the period. Nevertheless it was informative even if the information was a little basic. You do get to see Pillar Cave, dating from the thirteenth century, a kind of medieval latrine where pits were used to treat skins to turn them into leather.
For me the fast forward into the 20th century was rather too much, when we turned the corner to find ourselves into an air raid shelter, the major use of the caves during the second world war. We did spend a considerable part of our time in this air raid shelter with our next guide who did play a good part in re-enacting his role in the war, but somehow I felt cheated out of a few hundred years of history.
From the air raid shelter you move into the "Slums of Drury Hill". This is the original basement walls of the homes on Drury Hill in the Narrow Marsh area - an area which had been affluent in medieval times, but was the scene of deprivation in the nineteenth century, with many families renting out basement areas making the area nothing but a slum.
What is really bizarre, despite the fact that the entrance to the caves started here, but you finally end up in the underground area below the Broadmarsh shopping precinct. Here you can see where old meets new, literally the old slums (numbered) of the streets below contrast with the modern construction of this 1960s shopping centre and merge with the remains and foundations of old city centre public houses, the artefacts of which are displayed in glass cases underground.
I am glad I have seen the attraction, having lived in the region for over two years, but I do feel slightly cheated. I feel the attraction is overpriced as it does seem a little over commercialised and leaps too quickly from one historical period to another. By the same token, I am relieved for the tenacity of the local volunteer groups of 1960s Nottingham who did ensure that these caves were not concreted and therefore lost for ever.
Entrance fees are £5.50 per person at the time of writing (2008) and concessions available for £4.25. I feel if these were £1-2 cheaper then it might represent better value for money for most people. Obviously, with this type of attraction, there are a reasonable amount of steps and while you do not have to be particularly fit, this is not suitable for those in wheelchairs or those with push chairs. I am not a lover of tourist attractions which involve a degree of role play, although I can appreciate this might appeal to a wider audience.
The caves are open every day and you can see www.cityofcaves.com for further information.
~ BRIEF HISTORY ~ Nottingham City centre is built on BUNTER Sandstone, which has a depth of around 200 feet in places. Now Sandstone is very easy to carve into and so Nottingham has approximately TWO HUNDRED caves and all of them are MAN MADE. The first recorded record of the caves comes in 868AD and unquestionably these first caves were dug out for the purpose of dwellings. Lets face it. You have no home but you need shelter. Find a shovel or any other implement and dig! As the centuries passed by, caves were dug for tradesmen to use for their businesses. Caves have a constant temperature so were excellent for brewing beer and the Sandstone filters water clean, vital for health. Businesses that required fire could light them safely in a cave (no wooden building to burn down), and if you needed bigger premises all you needed was a pick... When I was a child I remember "going down" the caves on many occasions and always through some unassuming gateway/doorway in the proximity of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. You had a guide and were led through a whole series of caves and up and down numerous steps and steep inclines. Nowadays and I suppose due to more rigorous Health and Safety Laws, everything has had to be upgraded and more rigorously organised. Good or bad? Read on? ~ ALL-IMPORTANT BASICS! ~ Admission - Adults £4.00 - Children (age 4 to 14) £3 - Concessions £3 - Family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) £12.50 Location - Drury Walk (Upper level) Broadmarsh Shopping Centre Nottingham NG1 7LE Telephone (0115) 952 0555 E-mail email@example.com Opening times 10am until 4.30pm daily including Bank Holidays, except 24/25/26 December, New Years Day and Easter Sunday. Due to the number of steps this is unfortunately not accessible to the disabled and therefore not baby buggy friendly either. >~ T
HE TOUR ~ You enter the tour through the gift shop and don hard hats. The thought "Wow, have things become very dangerous down there?" did cross my mind at this point. I mean, when I was a child there was none of this rigmarole? Then again it must have been at least twenty years since I had last ventured underground in my fair home City! Your guide will take you down a spiral staircase, give you brief directions and leave you to your own devises until you meet your next "costumed" guide. On the way you pass very little by way of real interest. Theres a contrived "wishing well" and a few small displays depicting myths/legends. I have no idea if these are real or merely contrived but they were worth a peek and quite well laid out. All the time you are meandering though passageways and down small inclines. There are a few offshoots from the main corridor which are worth a quick look but unfortunately non of these are labelled so I have no clue what they were used for! Your first costumed guide meets you at the entranceway to the TANNERY, an area that stretches for quite a way and comprises of three main caves. The costumed guide is playing the part of the Tanners wife and she is looking for apprentices. Playing this role she imparts plenty of information but put to us in a way that was easy to digest and more importantly, easy to remember. Making our way through these three caves we learned all about the tanning process back in medieval times and let me say it was a truly revolting process. All I shall reveal here is that I now know how to remove blood and rotting flesh from an animal skin and that de-hairing it involves poop. Thats any old poop you understand? Any wonder why I think I will retain THAT information until the day I die! The caves here are perfectly preserved, the pits that held the animal skins whilst undergoing the tanning process are all in-tact and many a prop has been used to full ef
fect to show what life was like for the tannery workers (but without the smell thank goodness). Life must have been pretty tough for those who chose tanning as a profession but pay was 6 shillings a YEAR and that included a roof over your head and two meals a day! Needless to say, the Tanners wife was most disappointed not to get any takers for the vacant apprentice jobs, although I did volunteer my 13-year-old daughter. Six oclock start for her in the morning! From here you move several centuries through time and onto one of the many remaining AIR RAID SHELTERS. During the Second World War, Nottingham had an in-built and perfect protection system for its residents, the caves. The largest cave used for this purpose isnt actually on show or in the city centre, its under the old John Player cigarette factory and is/was large enough to hold 9,000 people. The one on show for the sake of demonstration here is a tad smaller. Much much smaller in fact. There were roughly 20 people in our group and things were a little bit, lets say cramped. So, apart from the obvious reasoning behind using caves as air raid shelters, what made Nottingham caves perfect for the job? There are two intertwined reasons our (once again) costumed guide gave us. The first is that Sandstone is THE perfect shock absorber. You would have had to have taken a direct hit AND been close to the surface to have been hurt. The second reason is quite simple. Some of the caves had to be altered/extended to make them suitable shelters. The excavation process produced sand. This was used to make sandbags, which were distributed to the populous of the city to protect their homes and placed round lamp posts to prevent people hurting themselves during the blackout. Props were of course included on this part of the tour as an attempt to make things a little more realistic. Gas masks were passed around, as was a ration book. There were wartime posters on the corrugated metal roof and we
entered the shelter to near darkness and the distant explosions of bombs. Sandbags were placed against all the walls for seating and all in all it was well done and educational marred only slightly when the guide forgot where he was in his "script"! From here you are pretty much left to you own devices, you cannot get lost as the route is pretty much in a straight line and in any case, theres nowhere to wander off too! The remainder of the tour does however hold plenty of information and you can take as long as you like looking at the other caves and reading the available information. The first exhibit was a small display showing a half buried and (of course unexploded) WWII bomb. Then you pass by what was DRURY LANE (slum housing demolished when the Broadmarsh Centre was built) where they have replicated what the back yards looked like and what was going on under the ground. These showed plainly and in stark detail exactly what life was life for Nottingham?s poorer residents. One of the yards contained a couple of privies and a woman cleaning; the next display showed a child sleeping on the floor in a cave. It is sad but true that very often, for the poor, the only choice for a roof over their heads was to literally dig their own and to fit them in wherever they could. The final "main" area was a pub cellar where it really doesnt take much imagination to picture barrels. There are various traditional pub games set up here like shove ha-penny and skittles, a game for which I have no idea of its origins ? "bat-a-rat" (my 13 year old read the name, turned and hit me!) and there was a sandpit area with small spades for the kids to dig for fossils. Apparently they bury small fossils here for children to dig up, however I cant vouch for this as my grumpy six year old wouldnt even give it the time of day and my 13 year old was too busy trying to bat the rat; me! >~ ANYTHING ELSE? ~ Wel
l no there isnt, not really. At the entrance/exit there is a small GIFT SHOP that to be honest is pretty poor unless you like semi-precious gemstones or basic wartime memorabilia. The selection for younger children was especially dire but that said my youngest is now the proud owner of a purple glow-in-the-dark stag beetle. Isnt this mother lucky hey? My daughter got herself a replica medieval ring and I came away with a gemstone key ring. Well, semi-precious. Actually I have no clue but it looks good! It was a shame this was poor but I am informed (by my 13-year-old font-of-all-knowledge) that the gift shop at the Galleries of Justice is far better. Hardly the point when standing at the exit to the CAVES! Well there is a point there; the same company owns the cave experience, the Tales of Robin Hood and the Galleries of Justice. So I suppose they just share what they have out and to be fair, space is very limited at the caves entrance. ~ MY THOUGHTS ~ Overall, the caves tour does represent pretty good value for money. The staff estimate the tour will take you an average of 45 minutes but apart from the two guided areas you literally can take as little time or as long as you want to. There is no one there to hurry you on and, as we discovered, the tour runs in a loop with the entranceway underground meeting up with the exit; you could go round and round all day if you wanted! We spent well over an hour looking around and that was with a fractious six-year-old? The staff were all friendly and knowledgeable on the subject matter and both guides made sure that the children in the group could see. Everything was explained clearly but without anything being dumbed down, something I hate. The route for the tour couldnt have been any simpler and areas where you couldnt go were completely inaccessible. All displays were well labelled although I felt some of the detail level could have been improved. All in all though, they were more tha
n adequate and certainly provided enough basics for everyone. A disappointment for some, I suppose could be that you only get a taster selection of caves to tour through. Hardly surprising though given the sheer number of caves that Nottingham has and as I have already mentioned not all of these are within the city centre area. Some of the caves are no longer safe to view due to total disuse, others are still in use and therefore still classed as private property. I also know that some people are disappointed by how few really old caves are on show. This is because they just dont exist. Well they do, but now under other guises. The beauty of Sandstone is that it is very adaptable, so many caves dug out for their original medieval purpose have been adapted/altered/extended during the centuries so little or no trace remains of their original purpose. So, overall I left the caves quite impressed. It was like visiting an old friend that has changed slightly over the years but it still recognisable from twenty years ago. Yes the whole tour has now become far more commercialised but the character of the experience hasnt been lost. I do only have two real quibbles with the tour. The first would be that I did miss the continuous guide from my childhood (my Mum has told me that they were using audio guides, they now seem to have scrapped that). The two guides there were excellent but there were large areas left un-guided and therefore you had to glean information from the boards. Fine for basics but I, personally would have like more detail about ALL of the caves we passed through. The second niggle is that as there are only two guides you do have to hang around and wait for the first one to finish her "spiel" with the previous group before you can really get going. My six-year-old got pretty bored and I have to say I was getting a little "twitchy" by the time the first guide turned up. The fact that there is no café facility
here matters not one jot considering you are, in reality, in the middle of a shopping centre with several eateries! However, the lack of toilets?Suppose thats why the staff dont hassle you about leaving. They KNOW you have to come up for air at some point! Oh, and almost forgot ? on the question of the hard hats. Yes they were needed I was amazed to find. Several passageways are narrow with Sandstone outcrops and one doorway (from the Tannery) was really quite low. Very low in fact! 4/5 overall and with hindsight, not suitable for children much under the age of around 8 due to the fact that small children just wont appreciate the exhibits or tour.
Think of Nottingham, and what do you think of? Robin Hood and the Sheriff? Yeah, I'll give you that. Lace and textiles? Okay, fair point. One of the best places for shopping in the country? Good one. How about caves? No? Think again! Nottingham is a city of caves. It's built on sandstone, y'see, which is soft and really easy to dig into. Many early inhabitants lived in caves they made along the cliff line which runs through the city, and they've been used for many things since. The Caves of Nottingham is a fairly new attraction (1994) which aims to show visitors this secret, underground side of Nottingham. The amazing thing is that the caves you see are under the Broad Marsh shopping centre, and narrowly escaped being completely destroyed when the centre was built in the 1960s. It consists of a self-paced tour around a loop of preserved caves, starting close to the surface in an air raid shelter, and passing wells and cellars before coming to the showpiece Pillar cave, which was used as a tannery in medieval times. Each visitor has a handheld audio guide, where you punch in numbers to hear the appropriate commentary - many heritage sites now use these - and there's also the compulsory hard hat to wear! The tour is quite entertaining, and geared towards children. The tale of the caves is told through the voices of two children, a "spirit guide" and a narrator; the children find themselves in various situations according to where you are in the tour (e.g. at one point they are working in the tannery), and ask questions of the "spirit guide" to find out more about when/where they are. More information is provided by the narrator. Some people might find the audio tour a bit childish, but I like it, and think it's great that the information is accessible to all ages. You can stop and start the commentary as you like, and repeat it if you want to, so you don't miss anyth
ing like you do with taped guides. There are also information boards to peruse at your leisure, where there are appropriate (i.e. brick!) walls to attach them to, so those who want more information can easily find it. It's not especially interactive, although there are a few things to "do" around the tour, like feel different animal skins in the tannery, or play pub games in the cellar cave. The games are all traditional (although I question the tradition of splat the rat as a pub game), and the kids I've seen there love the novelty of skittles, hoop-la etc. How times change :) Indeed, just being in the caves, having the audio guide and wearing a hard hat, seems to be quite an experience for many younger kids, and they do enjoy it. The tour is not that long, aout 35-40 minutes depending how much looking around you do as opposed to listening to the commentary, so they shouldn't get too bored. So, as an attraction, I'd recommend it as an enjoyable and interesting stop on your tour of Nottingham. It's definitely different! I'm a local and I found out loads about the city and its history that I never knew! Hang on, what about the practical stuff? Well, accessibility is naturally a bit limited. The caves could never be wheelchair-accessible without extensive modification, but there are also lots of steps, uneven floors and low ceilings to catch out the infirm or unwary. They've made the caves as safe as they can without destroying their basic nature, but it goes without saying that you should be a bit careful. You'd probably want to carry little kids (who still need hats :), and they'll let you leave buggies at the top. Audio guides are also available in foreign languages - French, German, Italian and Japanese if I remember correctly. It's a shame they don't do some of the Indian languages which many of the local population speak, though. Prices are r
easonable: £3.25 and £2.25 for concessions, [updated from the thisislondon website, where there is also a printable 50p voucher - cheers to "dlpugh" for this info]. It's also easy to get to, right near Broad Marsh bus station and car park (50p off if you visit the caves), and the rail station is close by too. Being in the centre, you can take the tour as a break from shopping - on a hot day it's great, as the caves are a steady 14 degrees C!