I recently took a visit down the city caves in Nottingham for perhaps the fifth or sixth time. Mostly in past times these occasions have been when accompanying visitors to our home. Although the visit is a but a short tour, I can honestly say I never tire of this excellent little historical site, tucked away in the city centre of Nottingham, rather incongruously inside an entrance to the Broad Marsh Shopping Centre.
There is one important change to visiting in the past. Previously the tour was self-conducted by the use of an audio device. The friendly and helpful ticket office worker informed us however that the caves had now changed hands and that there would be a real live group guide for the tour. Having been on so many various audio tours in the past, I looked forward to the personal touch supplied by a guide versed in the history of the site and was not to be disappointed.
From a visitor’s point of view, our day in Nottingham had started with some promise via a tram ride on the quick and efficient service from its Hucknall terminus. Arriving at the far Station Street depot adjacent The Midland Railway Station, the impressive sight of the Pitcher and Piano, an attractively refurbished large church in the Lace Market area loomed above us. Perhaps not unique but certainly rare – even in the current era of reconstructing many types of buildings such as banks and post offices into public houses, one cannot fail to be impressed by the interior of the Pitcher and Piano. It’s a strange mixture of feelings when one enters a pub that used to be a place of worship, I’ll say that straight away without hesitation. One can’t help but lament in some small way the sadness of a grand church being lost to premises licensed to sell alcohol to a weekend hoard of revellers but the world changes and so do its needs. Without being too churlish however I’d urge a visit to the Pitcher and Piano to anyone with an hour to kill and a thirst as it’s a most unusual experience. Personally I felt restrained whilst in there curiously, just as if I was still in a church.
The Pitcher and Piano, Nottingham
Back to the sub terrain and in through the outdoor and back into history then. Our personable guide asked the large-ish group if there were any local residents and I noted I was the sole one, a statistic that might indicate the caves’ popularity and visibility spreading to more and more outside visitors. With a crack and a pun or two we were heading down into the ‘real’ Nottingham, ‘land of cavey-dwellers’. This article won’t spoil what may become a visit in the future to the prospective visitor but suffice to say the cheery guide explained to the group of the many and varied uses of the caves by Nottinghamians in the past. These include the story of the tannery, illegal gambling dens and WWII air raid shelters.
Brushing against the iron-red bunter sandstone, it’s easy to imagine with the crumbling, dusty walls how easy it was to carve out some of the caves that were not naturally formed, the city of Nottingham was truly made for the temperate atmosphere of the caves being put to practical use. It’s well-spoken that much of the city is honeycombed with underground caves and whilst there has been access available from a handful of pub cellars and most notably underneath Nottingham Castle, the Broadmarsh Caves offer easily the most accessible and varied option. For a few pounds this tour offers a unique insight into the city’s past and can be entered whilst on a shopping trip to the city. As a resident I’d say it’s a not to be missed hour or two for the traveller to the Lace City.