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Nottingham - Down Under...
Caves of Nottingham
Member Name: rachels_ratty
Caves of Nottingham
Date: 20/09/03, updated on 20/09/03 (271 review reads)
Advantages: Good quality chance to step back through the years, Good guides, I now know several different uses for poop...
Disadvantages: Not disability/baby buggy friendly, Not continuously guided, I now know several different uses for poop...
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
Drury Walk (Upper level)
Broadmarsh Shopping Centre
Telephone (0115) 952 0555
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.
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? ~
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.
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